Swiss motorsport enthusiast Neel Jani describes what it’s like driving to Khardung-La in an F1 car. The thrilling journey, captured live on camera, will be telecast on Discovery Channel on October 21
Neel Jani conquers Khardung-La, driving all the way up to the highest motorable road in the world. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? After all, numerous motorists have pulled off this feat. But Jani’s achievement stands out for its sheer audacity — he manoeuvred an F1 car on the narrow strip of a pathway leading to Khardung-La, often suppressing the machine’s — and his own — capacity for speed. An innate love for adventure prompted Jani, a Swiss race car driver of Indian origin, to accept this challenging assignment from Red Bull Racing last year.
“I take on a mountain challenge almost every two years,” Jani explains in a telephonic interview. Previous to the Khardung-La experience, he figured in a driving expedition to Table Mountain in Cape Town, also orchestrated by Red Bull Racing. However, neither Table Mountain nor, for that matter, any other mountain he had scaled on four wheels had prepared Jani for Khardung-La. The journey to the Himalayan peak is a lesson in patience and resilience not only for this race car driver, but also for anyone who watches the film shot live by Discovery Turbo.
Khardung-La: Race Car Extreme, which premieres on October 21 at 8 p.m., on Discovery Turbo and is simulcast on Discovery Channel and Discovery Channel Tamil, captures the exhaustive preparations by the Red Bull Racing team and the chilling moments experienced by Jani as they try to set a world record.
Jani spent weeks getting himself ready for the adventure, but his hard work paled in comparison to what the team put in. “They devoted six months to planning and preparing for the mission.” Giving a blow-by-blow account of the record-making drive, the programme takes the viewers to Milton Keynes, the home of Red Bull Racing, New Delhi and the Ladakh Valley, showing how the never-say-die team transports the car and five tonnes of Formula One equipment all the way to Leh. The programme also shows graphic details of how the car was prepared for the heights, including the use of nitrogen in the air-valve system.
The worries that plagued Jani included fear of acute mountain sickness which can kick in at an altitude of 8,000 feet (at 18,380 feet, Khardung-La soars much above the danger mark), uneven roads and narrow strips. Supply of oxygen cylinders tackled the first, but the others were more stubborn. For most of the trip, Jani had to curb his instinct for speed and drive cautiously. “Initially, the path looked easy. But as we proceeded, it got bad and then worse,” says Jani. Slow and steady were the watchwords. “Our focus was not on timing, but on completing the trip safely.”
However, amidst the tension, he could not help but notice the beauty of the Ladakh range, and the features it shares with the mountains back in Switzerland.