Come April and Ajith Kumar will hit the Formula 2 circuit at Silverstone in U.K.
Acting is a profession he strayed into by accident, but motor racing is an activity Ajith Kumar pursues with passion. When he burns the tracks at Silverstone, U.K., in April this year for the season opener in Formula 2, he will be satisfying his hunger to achieve a different kind of success from that of being a top star in Tamil films.
FIA Formula Two Championships, or F2 as it is popularly known, is a low-cost series (in comparison to F1, of course) of motor racing that provides a platform for young drivers to compete in international circuits and gives them a chance to step into the highest echelons of motor sports — F1. It's considered a feeder event to F1, in providing talented drivers.
Says Ajith, “The Championship winner will get a free test drive with the Williams F1 team. And, all the top three winners will qualify for a super licence which will enable them to get into Formula 1.”
When he first raced internationally, in the Formula BMW Asia Championship in 2003, his best results were in Korea (Qualified 4th and finished 6th). Subsequently, in 2004 Ajith raced in the British Formula 3 Scholarship Class, where he achieved two podium finishes, both in third place at Donington Park and Knockhill.
“When I first came into films, I was pitted against established stars. In F3 too, I was racing against established drivers. It's a different matter that many of them either failed or didn't last the course. By sheer staying power on the track without doing anything foolish, I ensured I got these wins,” says Ajith.
After that, Ajith went back to doing films, delivered two successes in “Aegan” and “Billa.” He then got busy with “Aasal” and wouldn't have given racing a second thought if he had not run into old friend Narain Karthikeyan, the first Indian to have driven an entire season of Formula One.
“The MRF Racing championships were going on in Sriperumbudur and their newly developed Formula car was being run. Narain invited me to take part in the third and final round of the event. It was then that the bug bit and I didn't think twice before saying yes,” says Ajith. For someone who was stepping onto the track after some years, Ajith romped home a decent 7th of 11 cars, with just two seconds shy of the winner. Later, at a dinner, Narain suggested that Ajith, with all his passion, interest and natural talent as a race driver should try the F2 series. “He put me onto Jonathan Palmer who was handling the European F2 series. A few days of negotiations later, I was signed up.”
Ajith had never been in an F2 car before. With its entire architecture being different from F3, he did the next best thing. “I went to Malaysia, hired a V6 Formula car which has more or less the same tech-specs, and spent a week getting used to driving a car with paddle shifts and brake-throttle arrangements.”
With no time to work on sponsorships for the current year's season, Ajith decided that he would enter the series nevertheless, with the hope that corporates would realise the potential of sponsoring a star racer. He enlisted the services of Piers Hunnisett, who owns Eurasia Motorsport Management to manage his affairs in Europe. “It is necessary to turn into a thorough professional from the word go, especially in a highly competitive series like F2. I could only do that by getting the necessary aid and support of people who are in the know of things. The cars are all of one-make and very close to a Formula 1 machine.”
For Ajith, motivation is the driving factor, be it in films or in motor sports. Asia is fast becoming a major region for Formula 1, with China, Malaysia, Singapore and possibly India too joining the bandwagon. “Formula 1 is steadily moving to Middle East, South East Asia and Asia. This is the time to encourage a lot of our youngsters to take to motor sport. With India also on the F1 radar, I thought I could use my celebrity status to attract a lot of our own viewers to watch international races and develop a keen interest in the sport. I hope I inspire many youngsters to take to this sport.”
Ajith knows the odds are stacked against him — he is 38, hasn't raced in six years, and will be pitted against many established drivers. He hasn't raced in most of the circuits. “But, what encourages me is there are two other Indians in the series — Armaan Ebrahim and Parthiva Sureshwaran, both of whom are more experienced than I. Combined, we will be a formidable force as an Indian contingent, although we are all individual drivers. This is probably the first time in international racing that there are three Indians on the track. I feel motivated and will give my best.”
As for role models, Ajith says, “I look up to Narain and Karun Chandhok. They have achieved status and success like no other. They are role models for most race drivers in India.”
The attention he pays to health and fitness to survive the stressful racing environment, has made Ajith hit the gym circuit and also have control over his diet. Since the release of his last film “Aasal”, for which he gained weight to suit the character, Ajith has shed almost 10 kilos. And, he has strengthened his neck and shoulder muscles.
“Right now, my heart says that I should set an example to many youngsters who want to get into high level racing. If I, at my age, can get to do what I am doing, why not others who are much younger” he asks with his trademark gentle smile.