Holding together under stress on the race track


V Rajvirdhan in his Esteem

One of the qualities I look for in our champions is articulation of thoughts. Over the past weekend at the sylvan Kari Motor Speedway in Chettipalayam near Coimbatore, during the JK Tyre FMSCI National Car Racing championships, I found two young drivers Goutham Parekh and V Rajvirdhan who are blessed on this count.

Goutham Parekh, 24, is from a family that does business in Chennai and drives in the Formula LGB Swift class – the only formula series that is now being raced at the national level in India. In the 2010 championship, he finished third overall and, with some overesas racing experience under his belt earlier this year,  has set his eyes on winning the championship this time around.

Rajvirdhan, 27, is from a Coimbatore business family and competes in the Indian Touring Cars (Super Saloons) class. He finished third overall last year behind Subash Chandra and Sailesh Bolisetty and has the hunger to do better in his modified Esteem this year. When he realised that Formula One was a dream too far, he gave up racing and studied engineering in Indiana.

The conversations with these lads were informative and illuminating and towards the end my chats with either man, I asked him to give me an example of holding his nerves together under stress. They did not take more than a moment each to come up with fine examples from their driving careers.

Goutham Parekh in his Formula LGB Swift

Goutham recalled a race in wet conditions in Coimbatore in 2008. “I was leading in a wet race but I had to be calm in order to finish it. Had I been a little more aggressive in wanting to keep the more aggressive drivers behind me, I could have gone off the track completely and there could have been no comeback. I kept myself calm and relaxed by focussing on my breathing.”

Goutham said he also learnt a lot from racing that year. “I lost a lot of points because I was aiming for a podium finish in all races. As a result, I had to settle for fourth place in the championship. I learnt then that each point counts if I were to do justice to my driving and the car that I have.

“I learnt the importance of finishing each race and pick up as many points as I could,” he said. “There have been a few races… actually, a lot of races in the last two years where it has always been a pressure situation. There are four drivers whose lap times are pretty much the same and are bunched up all the time. And there is enormous pressure to drive in such conditions, especially when it is wet.

“It is important to stay calm. The heart is beating faster when you are racing. And it is important not to enhance that by getting tense. You then are out of breath and are not able to perform at your peak. For it is all a complete package – your mind, your body and your reflexes all put together,” he said. “You need to be very focussed and very calm.”

Rajvirdhan recalled a race on the Irungattukottai Race Track in Sriperumbudur where he started fourth on the grid worked his up to lead the bunch by the fifth lap . Having done the hard work, he realised his car wasn’t quick enough to pull clear. “I had five cars tailing me and ended up with the most harrowing 10 laps but I managed to hold them back,” he said.

“I told myself to stick to the racing lines as long as I could,” Rajvirdhan said, pointing out that he took the route that let him take track corners in the fastest possible way, using all of the available space on the track to try and be on a straighter line. “That race was as much about essential driving skills as about mental strength.”

Rajvirdhan, of course, has to shut his mind off another critical factor – that his father, B Vijaykumar is among his competitors. Mind you, there are not too many who face such a predicament. “I have learnt a lot from him but on the track, he is another competitor. Initially, it was tough when I was very conscious and would not outbrake him or overtake him,” he says.

For four days a month, these young men ignore business interests and focus on becoming one with their favourite machines, driving them.  And to hear them speak about their passion for speed with intensity is the icing on the cake that the adrenaline filled weekend in Coimbatore really was.