This might be the most fun weekend I have ever had. This is the truth and I write this hoping that my wife, like always, doesn’t read my article. I was invited by Volkswagen Motorsport to take part in an Ameo Cup race weekend and being a huge motorsport fan this was like a dream coming true. What made the invite even more alluring was the fact that it was a media race, so at least there was some hope of not finishing last. On a serious note, every journalist (including me) present that weekend was really competitive. Even with scarce racing experience, we didn’t embarrass ourselves by any measure and we did put on a show.
On the surface, all the journos were smiling, being nice to each other and claiming to be the worst drivers ever. But as the weekend went by, smiles turned into frowns, jokes were getting more and more sarcastic and it came to a point where all of us became fierce competitors, ready to kill each other (thankfully just while driving). Over the weekend everyone’s true inner self came out. We had Abhik Das from Auto Today, aka ‘Hamilton’ who was sandbagging the whole of practice and then boom! On pole. Then, there was Nikhil Bhatia from Autocar India aka ‘Maldanado’ who was quick, erratic and T-boning rival publications even in practice! Poor Ashok George from TopGear India aka ‘Barrichello’ was the victim of his rage. And then there was me, colourless the whole weekend, but come the race I turned into a dive bombing manic.
At first glance, the Ameo Cup Race car might look like a normal compact sedan with fancy stickers and a big rear wing stuck on it. But it’s so much more than that. To begin with, it gets the 1.8-litre direct injection turbo petrol engine from the Polo GTi which makes 205bhp. Those horses are put through a race spec sequential 6-speed transmission, which can be controlled via the steering mounted paddles. Then there is the suspension which is extremely stiff and runs on 2-way adjustable KW dampers and Eibach springs. Braking is via an all-round disc setup. Although running on steel discs, the Galfer brakes proved to be fade-free with a positive pedal feedback. The dash of the Ameo remains but everything else has been stripped off. There is just a driver seat that is a racing bucket and you get a rollcage and six point harness for safety. Then there are those slick tyres from MRF which are sticky, durable and get the best out of the potent package. All this has resulted in a race car that is huge amount of fun and capable of posting laptimes that can put supercars to shame.
The practice session went really well for me. I was quick right out of the box and managed to top the first two practice sessions while finishing second in the third. Abhik Das finished the final practice on top which surprised everyone because he was nowhere in the first two session. Like a seasoned racing driver he underplayed it by claiming it was just a one off and he wasn’t consistent. What overshadowed everything though were the number of crashes in practice which clearly showed that everyone were pushing to get on top of the Ameo Cup race car to be competitive. So committed were some that funnily they crossed the chequered flag not once but twice at the end of the final practice session. Which obviously got them a penalty.
Although I wasn’t showing, I went into qualifying pretty confident of being in the fight for pole. But as it turned out, it ended up being much more difficult than I thought. In the 15 minute session I got around 5 hot laps, but I pushed too hard on the first two and my understeery driving ended up overheating the tyres. The fact that the qualifying session was in the afternoon under a hot baking sun made grip levels sketchy. So I backed off on the fourth lap cooled down the tyres and went for it on my final lap. I did mess up corner 4 (a tight left hander) which cost me time. But other than that my lap was mostly clean and a time of 1m55.43s flashed on my instrument panel which, I thought at that time, was enough to give me pole. I had improved by almost a second in my practice time. But as it turned out, the sandbagging Abhik Hamilton who was on pole by four tenths by doing just a handful of laps, was in the process saving his tyres for the race too.
Few minutes before the race I was extremely nervous. There were a million thoughts racing through my mind and I was still aiming for the win. So I was thinking of getting a perfect start and going in the lead. And if that doesn’t work out, then a tight corner 2 or corner 4 seemed to be my best bet to overtake Abhik. I also knew that if I don’t make a move on the first lap, then judging by Abhik’s pace and tight nature of the Madras motorsport racetrack, overtaking later would have been next to impossible. But as the five lights went out, all my plans went haywire. I got a good start, but the guys behind me got an even better one. Instead of attacking for the lead I ended up defending in the first two corners. By now Abhik had taken normal racing lines and was at least five car lengths ahead of me. When I braked hard at corner three, I felt that something wasn’t quite right with my brake pedal but I just ignored it and carried on. As I approached corner 4 at around 190kmph, I hit hard on the brake and to my horror the pedal didn’t depress and I went into the corner at least 40kmph more than I should have. As I ran across the grass, I looked at the pedal box to see what went wrong and and it was just my miserable luck that the bloody seat cushion had come loose and jammed under the brake pedal. Somehow I managed to remove it and re-joined the race down in sixth.
Rather than dwelling on what had just happened, I put my head down and was on the mission to at least get a podium finish. Lap by lap I caught up with the front guys but I was pushing too hard and was all over the place. I first passed Raunak from Motoring world, then Siddharth from Zigwheels who made a small mistake in an otherwise fantastic rookie race. Nikhil Bhatia was following me through and was having a fantastic race from his lowly starting place. By now Abhik was long gone but I did have Anosh from Car India and Ashok George in my sight. I caught Anosh with just two laps to go but it was extremely difficult to pass him. Ashok took advantage of our dog fight and pulled away from us. I kept the pressure on Anosh and finally with two corners to the finish he ran wide and both Nikhil and I were able to pass him and I finished in third position.
Post-race round up
While doing the in-lap after the race I was both frustrated and happy. But then I reflected on the race and I thought if I had not made that mistake during my opening lap, I wouldn’t have had as much fun or had as much adrenaline pumping through my veins. This is what racing is all about. Even if I don’t win I would never say that I shouldn’t have raced. Of course, there is no other feeling like winning. But even to be a part of a race weekend is an emotion like no other. Racing gives you a high like nothing else. It gives you happiness, curiosity, tension and adrenaline rush, all at the same time. The three days behind the wheel of the Ameo Cup race car left me grinning wide and extremely happy for weeks! Thank you Volkswagen Motorsport India.