The Circus gets Ready to Roll

February: The new season is nearly upon us. All across the globe, motorsport folk are heading backing to school as the winter break draws to a close.

Paddocks in Spain, Florida and Portugal are filling up with teams doing shakedowns and pre-season tests. Drivers are scrambling to get their deals done. The ones that have the deals in hand are sorting out their calendars, getting their kit organised, booking flights and finishing their last big push of winter fitness training. Engineers and designers are looking at their newest creations with nervous excitement – will the car be reliable, will it be gentle on its tyres, will the car be consistent, will the setup window be big enough for all circuits and most importantly, will the car be fast ? Mechanics are learning the nuances of their new cars – the spanner sizes they need are a bit different, the wiring looms need to be installed differently, the bodywork doesn’t quite fit, the driver’s need new seats to be made. Elsewhere, marketing teams are making their plans, PR guys defining their strategies and the sponsors are working on new ways to leverage their tie ups with the team. Truckies are making sure that all the new equipment will fit in the transporters. Team managers are ensuring that the motorhomes are in good condition and the new catering teams are prepared for the season ahead. So much to do… and time ticking away so quickly !

The winter is the hardest time for any driver in so many ways. With weeks of uncertainty it’s always a challenge to stay focused and prepare in the best way for the season ahead. I decided that this winter I was going to spend a bit more time in India with my family helping out on various bits back home. I worked a lot with my dad on helping to re-structure the shape of Indian motorsport for the future. Times have changed a lot in India and it’s time we moved forward and fell in line with the International way of operating. Get the car manufacturers involved. Get them to form alliances with suppliers like tyre and oil companies and promote new categories of racing and rallying. Create new classes and build up a more structured way of working with the existing ones. It’s amazing what people like JK Tyre and Amaron have done for grass root racing all these years but they can’t be the ones having to splash the cash all the time, especially when the car manufacturers are the ones who can benefit the most from the sport.

I really enjoyed my second favourite sport this winter too – cycling. Despite the whole saga around Lance Armstrong, I still believe that cycling is one of the most fantastic sports in the world. I was a huge Lance fan and defended him very vocally to all of my friends until I saw THE interview. I felt betrayed and hurt. I took it personally, as did so many of his fans around the world. What struck me more than anything was the lack of remorse in his tone. I really feel for the guys who slogged for years only to finish short of winning because they were beaten by a man on illegal substances. The only way for Lance to gain some form of respect and credibility in life is to go out there now and work with the UCI and WADA by telling them all the ways that he and his team doped over the years so that they may learn ways to police this in the future.

I digressed… As I was saying, I thoroughly enjoyed my winter of cycling in India this year. It’s normally very difficult to train with the traffic situation but this winter I found a group of guys who would all get together to ride at 5am before the traffic would start. The “MadRascals” in Chennai are one of many new groups sprouting up across the city and the country and it’s fantastic to see so many people using cycling as a way to stay healthy and as a way to socialise with friends. If only we could have safer roads for people to ride on, the sport would take off in India. Already, on the coastal road where I normally ride heading south from Chennai, where I used to see 2 or 3 people on a weekend, I now see 40-50 riders per weekend !

As I write this, I’m still unsure of my program for the season ahead. It’s very clear that the funding for a race seat in F1 is out of reach once again so my focus is to carry on in Endurance racing of some kind. I’ll carry on doing various bits and pieces of TV work for a variety of channels as well some simulator work in Formula 1 which will be interesting but at this moment there are lots of balls in the air and I’m waiting to see how they all fall in to place.

Ahh… the joys of the pre-season !