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FACE-TO-FACE Forget rush hour. DIVYA KUMAR talks to speed racers Narain Karthikeyan, Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel about what they do when they are away from the track

They live life in the fast lane, literally. Sleek cars, exotic locations, the adrenaline rush of speed… race car driving is about as glamorous as it gets. Right?

“Sure, motorsport and glamour go hand-in-hand… on TV,” says F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan, laughing.

But what about their jet-setting lifestyle? I ask, still determinedly clinging to my illusions.

“Actually we spend most of our time travelling somewhere or the other doing events,” says Armaan Ebrahim with a rueful shrug.

But how about between events? I try, faint but persevering.

“I go to college — I’m studying economics at Loyola,” says Aditya Patel with a shy smile. “I actually have better attendance than most of my friends!”

Okay. Clearly time for me to recalibrate my assumptions about the lifestyles of racing drivers. And what better time to do so than now, while chatting with India’s top racer and only F1 driver Narain, the rapidly up-and-coming youngster Armaan and the new kid on the international circuit, Aditya. The three came together in Chennai recently for the launch of season two of the Amaron Karting Challenge for school kids in the city.

“I think once you go professional, a racing driver’s life, like with other professional athletes, becomes about airports, hotels, and coping with jetlag,” explains Narain. “I’ve been to a lot of places, but I’ve hardly done much sightseeing or visiting.”

“Yeah,” Armaan chips in, “it’s like, you rate the airports and the hotels, that’s about it.”

“But, you know,” Narain says with a grin, “most of my friends are doing nine-to-five jobs, so when I think of that…” (all three start laughing) “what we do is a million times more exciting and we should be thankful.”

Certainly can’t argue with that! When they do have some time to themselves during the off-season, you’ll see them training. In fact, Narain and Armaan have just finished a joint training session at Coimbatore, where Narain is based.

“It’s nice to have someone to train with,” says Chennai-based Armaan, “On your own, it can be boring.”

“We do a lot of heavy-duty fitness work during our time off, which we tone down during the season,” says Narain. “Plus, of course, we do karting.”

Karting? Really? “We can’t practice on an A1 or V6 car whenever we want, so this is a good way to keep sharp,” he explains. “Even great drivers such as Schumacher do that. And it’s good fun to race together, though we don’t get to do it often.”

Fun activities

And they do get to do other fun stuff too – Narain, for example, enjoys trekking, and is considering getting a private pilot’s licence like his father. “Actually, when I was a kid, I wanted to be an Air Force pilot,” he reveals.

Armaan also returns to his first love – cricket – by playing club cricket in his free time, and tries his hand at some squash, ‘tries’ being the operative word. “I’m really, really bad at it,” he says, laughing good naturedly.

When Aditya’s not readjusting to being back in college (“When you’re travelling and racing, everything is so fast, and then on Monday morning, you’re back in the classroom.... it’s crazy. I feel like falling asleep.”), he’s hanging out with friends and listening to music. “I like almost everything – old music, new music, rock, pop – but not rap and hip hop,” he says firmly.

Soon, though, all three will be back to racing on circuits around the world when the second half of the season kicks off in September. Narain, in particular, will be kept busy with the A1 swing, which starts off in Italy on September 25, before moving to Asia, then on to New Zealand, the Americas and back to Europe, up to May. Armaan will continue with the fourth round of the Formula Renault V6 Asia championships in China, and Aditya with the Formula BMW Pacific championships in Singapore.

As someone who’s been riding the ups and downs of a pro-racer’s life since the early Nineties, Narain’s glad for his wife Pavarna’s company along the way. “She travels with me for quite a few races actually,” he says. “Which is good for me, because it can get boring — like I said, the hotels and the airports and the circuits — and I’ve done it for a long time now.”

Armaan and Aditya, on the other hand, will have their dads along for company, with the rest of their family joining them on important occasions. “My mom and sister come with me for the close races, like at Malaysia,” Armaan says, referring to his recent win at Sepang.

Yes, it may not be all glamour, but it sure is one heck of a ride!

PHOTO: S. S. KUMAR

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