Triumph and tragedy on race track

Last Updated: Wed, Oct 19, 2011 09:25 hrs

Motorsports has been hogging the headlines for both the right and wrong reasons. On the one hand, the good news is about the Buddh International Circuit being delivered on time and in pristine condition as promised, and on the reverse is the fiery death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas during an Indy race outing.

Going by media reports, the BIC would be a good advertisement for India a year after the Commonwealth Games fiasco. No, I am not planning to attend the inaugural Indian GP, but for sure, will be monitoring and rejoicing in the occasion that is at once historic and path-breaking.

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours with Indu Chandhok, one of the founder-members of the Madras Motor Sports Club, the first such organization that was formed back in the 1950s in a bid to regulate the sport. It was a fascinating afternoon with Indu, who turned 80 in July, at his beautiful, must-visit home at Wallace Gardens in Chennai as I sipped tea and listened to many a tale of the pioneers.

For him, the coming of Formula One to India is especially satisfying and a culmination of his efforts through the decades to get the sport from one level to the next. "When I look back, I wonder how we managed to do all those things that we did and still survive! We took a huge gamble to invest in a new track at Sriperumbudur, but eventually, I think it has worked out just fine," said Indu.

Obviously, there is a lot of hype in the run-up to the Indian GP that promises to deliver a lot more action than what we have seen this season. Although Vettel and Red Bull have already annexed the two titles at stake, there is plenty to look forward to on a track that is new to all drivers and hence negates any advantage.

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However, a couple of laps suffice for the drivers to learn the track and its characteristics, especially the incline followed by the sharp right at turn 3 that the cars will be approaching blind and of course, the long back straight of 1.2 km where the cars will be touching top speeds of 300 kmph-plus.

Far more than the straights and corners, the drivers would be more focused on the braking areas that would dictate the entry and exit speeds. In track racing, a mistake at one corner compounds and affects the lap time. As such, the drivers would be keen to get their entry speeds right, besides of course the aerodynamics of the car that will be dependent on the track configuration and the choice of tyre compound.

While India would be celebrating her entry into Formula One, on the other side of the globe, racers are mourning the death of Wheldon. I watched the footage on the net and you need to have a strong heart to see the 15-car crash. A few hours after the incident, I happened to meet up with Akbar Ebrahim whose son Armaan is all set for the Indy Lights series next year. Akbar was obviously shaken up as we discussed the crash, for he feared for the safety of his 22-year old son who would be racing in the same series in a few months from now.

Racing of any form is always dangerous. I have had a taste of it as I participated in the Formula Hyundai race a few years ago and also driven the saloon cars around the Sriperumbudur track several times.

While the saloon cars offer you some protection, the Formula car with its low-slung chassis is something else. It can be scary and thrilling all at once like it was for me when I sling shot out of the last corner into the straight and touched about 170kmph at the brake point before turn 1 in Coimbatore.

These thoughts went through my mind as I watched again and again the Wheldon crash. Oval racing is probably the most dangerous in Formula racing with far too many cars bunched up and racing at 200 kmph-plus speeds. A tiny mistake is sufficient to lead to a major crash as happened in Las Vegas and perhaps, it is time the authorities took a closer look at the Indy format and made it as safe as Formula One.

Thus, the past few days have seen the enactment of death and birth on two sides of Planet Earth with Wheldon and the BIC. While we mourn for Wheldon, the Formula One fraternity is eagerly looking forward to the newest destination. By the looks of it, the F1 caravan can expect a red carpet welcome and typical Indian hospitality that, when at its best, is unmatched.

So, here's wishing the best for the Indian GP. One just can't wait for the red lights to go off!

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