“Racing makes heroin addiction look like a vague wish for something salty….Peter S. Egan.
I might not have sampled heroin, but can still relate to this popular quote. And it’s all thanks to Honda for offering us motoring journalists an experience that left us yearning for more. To start with, the Honda One Make Race 2015 was painfully postponed due to the unfortunate floods in Chennai and it was a desperate wait of two months before we hit the Madras Motor Race Track at Sriperumbudur. Honda flew 12 journalists to the concluding race of the season and unlike my previous stints at the track being confined behind the barricades as a mere spectator, this time I was in the middle of the action.
The weapon of choice made available to us was the Honda CBR250R – a cracking hoot around the track in its racing avatar. The bike was put under a serious weight loss regime that include a cowl replacing the headlight, a single piece rear cowl with a thin foam seat, no radiator fan, no mirrors or any kind of lights, no pillion footrest and a free flow exhaust replacing the hefty stock unit.
With having shed substantial weight, performance bits were loaded to the One Make Race Honda CBR250R. An exhaustive performance parts list read a new ECU, light free flow exhaust, a quick shifter button that eliminates use of the clutch during upshifts, two engine maps controlled by a toggle switch, higher placed rearsets, aluminium sprockets, stiff front suspension with spacers and thicker fork oil, stiffer rear shock sourced from Endurance and race compound MRF Revz FC1 (front) and C1 (rear) tyres for that leechy grip.
Being an owner of the CBR250R for more than a hundred thousand blissful kilometers, the difference could be felt right from the word go. The eagerness of the engine to rev with minimized effort and still retaining that trademark Honda refinement was a delight and so was the surge on every upshift. The higher placed pegs and sticky lower profile rubber push you down to lean angles which you never thought you could achieve making knee dragging an easy affair.
The first day began with the Honda Ten10 Racing Academy media camp where valuable insights on racing and everything ancillary to this exhilarating activity were highlighted by Mr. Ramji Govindarajan- former motorcycle racer and current Director of Ten10 Racing Academy. Every theory session from Ramji i.e. riding, braking, cornering etc would be followed by track time under the guidance of multiple One Make Champion Mathana Kumar and S. Sarath Kumar. Riding with India’s only torchbearer at MotoGP was no less than a privilege and one of the most cherished experiences during the event.
The effectiveness of this theory-practical exercise was instantly evident- I could feel I was going quicker than the previous session with reduced apprehension of sliding off the track on corners. Having come out of a motorcycle crash a few days before the event- the bubbling anxiety within was put to rest by Ramji whose tips not only managed to kill the fear to some extent, but made the track experience even more enjoyable. With just a couple of hours of Ramji’s training brought about a drastic change in my riding approach, I greedily wished I could have spent a month alongside him at the track.
Getting into leathers was an experience (and a project too), but the confidence it adds is staggering. In fact every part of the riding gear was provided by the Honda Ten10 Racing Academy which in addition to the racing suit included helmets, gloves and shoes. Not a great outfit to move around in Chennai’s hot weather, but the added confidence on offer compensated the initial discomfort well enough. Day one was pure enlightenment and brought us to terms with aspects of riding which lay dormant at the back of our minds, but the training ensured that it was brought to the fore and implemented in the right manner.
It was an action packed second day with events ranging from practice laps to qualifying to actual racing between the big boys taking place. For the first time in the history of Honda One Make Race, girls hit the track towards qualifying for the first ever Ladies Race on Sunday. We were given practice laps before starting the battle for top positions on the starting grid. Every outing on the track was so intriguing, I would simply forget the timings – half an hour felt like ten minutes of riding leaving me wanting for more. Qualifying turned out to be a forgettable affair as the riding gear went missing and by the time it was made available, the qualifying session was over putting me on the list of DNQ (did not qualify) within 115% of the pole setters time. Though I still went around enjoying the track time, the delay ensured that I started the race from the back of the grid in eleventh position – but the brighter side was that I was still racing. Another exciting day was brought to a close with the qualifying session making us feel the fraction of what professional racers do striving to beat the clock, the opponents or their own lap times.
Day 3 was finally here- the moment which we were all waiting for. It was race day and post a close shave and a near high speed crash with a fellow rider during qualifying, I had resolved to be at ease and ensure that I don’t crash no matter what. But the adrenalin rush was starting to show up in anticipation and continued to amplify till all riders lined up on the grid waiting for the red lights to go off.
Umbrella girls by your side, spectators in the stands, pit-lanes and watch towers- it was an emotion that simply cannot be put in words. The red lights come on, the adrenalin rush suddenly manages to calm down as the tacho-needle bounces off the rev limiter. With the target to pass as many riders before turn 1, the red lights went off and I made a great start gaining 3 places in a matter of seconds. Not sure what struck me, but I was riding in a way that I have never ridden in my life ever – maybe a devil’s spell was upon me and I’d say it was all for the good. I kept on gaining places, though I did manage to lose a few again due to over-aggression, but fought to snatch them back. Two laps out of four were already over- but riding like a possessed rider, I had no focus on the number neither knew what position I was in- just wanted to ride as flat as I could.
Aggression overtook sanity and a minor mistake saw me lose a place and it was only later I realized that I had lost the place on the podium by just one slot. Though I did regret for a few minutes, I was overall pleased with the progress made during the race. In fact everyone was so pumped up and heedless of the places riders finished at, they didn’t take off their leathers for the next thirty minutes. Lunch was offered along with the good news that one more race was scheduled for us with riders lining up based on qualifying than the outcome of the last race. This time I decided to take it easy and not trying aggressive moves to gain places and managed to finish in fifth position again starting from back of the grid. Though the race did feel subdued in comparison to the first, it did quench my urge for more track time leaving us all satisfied at the end of the day.
But the action wasn’t over yet, the first ever ladies race saw spectators cheering the girls at the top of their lungs followed by Group B (Open), Group C (165cc), Group D (165cc novice), CBR150R Novice and Honda MMSC One-Make Championship CBR 250 (Open) and it was heartwarming to see localites cheering for their favorite riders. The people there love motorsport, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that majority racers hail from the South. I wish only if this infectious love for motorsport could spread rapidly to other parts of country that would best serve a sport that takes nothing less than unparalleled passion and dedication to keep going.
Finally three days of ecstasy came to an end and we readied ourselves for the return. Looking back the Honda One Make Race Championship, there was never a dull moment- even while we were not riding. Seeing the racers clean their bike themselves, technicians constantly fine tuning the machines to gain that fraction of a second from a previous test run, parents in the pit lane cheering for their kids, including daughters, and finally the racers unleashing themselves from behind the helmets is an ecstatic experience.
It is anything but impossible to not be captivated by the action happening around. It brings that deserved respect for motorsport when you witness the effort at the backend put together to see the racers cross the finish line in a triumphant manner and it does hurt to some extent to see all this go un-noticed by majority of the country’s population. But an optimistic me believes that the scenario would change very soon.
It’s been a week since I am back from the Honda One Make Race 2016, but the sounds of those machines still resonate in my ears. I can still see Sarath riding ahead of me asking me to slide my butt off the seat on that tight right hander, I can still hear Ramji telling me to keep my knee in line with the curbs while tackling corners and the tilted view of the road ahead still flashes in front of my eyes. It wasn’t just a track day, it was an educational endeavor that would remain hard coded in mind and I wish such endearing opportunities keep coming. Thanks Honda and Ten10 Racing academy for a remarkable weekend.