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Speed Racer

PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY
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interview There are no pit stops for Aditya Patel. The 23-year-old gears up to drive for Audi, and at the upcoming i1 Super Series

It's a bright sunny morning... a wonderful day for any outdoor sport. The ground outside Aditya Patel's house is bustling with cricket enthusiasts cheering players on the field. But inside his house, Aditya is unmoved by it all. His interest lies in a different sport — one which sends his adrenaline soaring and head spinning as fast as the wheels of his car. He is a racer, a Touring car driver to be specific. “I have played a lot of sport but I've never been fascinated by any of them. Except racing…it got me hooked. I guess it's the speed that got me interested,” says Aditya.

The 23-year-old developed an interest in the sport watching his father, Kamlesh Patel race. He would accompany his father to the race track and be thrilled by the purr of the engine. The only place where he could replicate what he saw on the track was at the karting arena. Every weekend, Aditya and his younger brother, would pester their parents to go karting. He was just 11 then. “We'd take part in events and competitions and that's how things moved forward.”

Podium finishes

After numerous wins in local and regional races in this format Aditya made his Formula Rolon debut in 2006 and clinched a few podium finishes. The following year a win at the JK Tyre event ensured sponsors for the Formula BMW Championship in 2008 and he raced in Malaysia, Singapore, China and Macau. “It is difficult getting sponsors for Touring cars because this format is in its nascent stages in India and most of the sponsors have heard only about the F1 format. But I feel after the F1 event in Delhi more people are developing an interest in this sport and will gradually get to know about Touring car races too.”

In 2009 Aditya started racing for Volkswagen and in the same year became, along with fellow racer Ashwin Sundar, the first Indian to have driven Touring Cars in the Polo Cup in Germany. In 2010 he debuted at the Volkswagen Scirocco R Cup and was part of it last year as well. One of the most watched races in Europe, doing well in this could mean being selected by automobile giants to drive for them. “Quite a few legendary names participate in this race, including F1 drivers. Some of the names I can recollect are Johnny Herbert, Martin Brundle, Derek Bell, Nicola Larini…Every time before a race I would check the list for big names and my jaw would drop. It's quite something to be competing against them,” he adds.

This year the speed racer will be driving for Audi. “It was like a Christmas gift. I got a call saying I'd be driving the Audi GT3. An extremely fast car, its a dream come true to be driving it.” His schedule for the year begins with the i1 Super Series to be held across Asia, which he explains, is like the IPL of racing. There are nine teams participating from different cities and the event gets underway from February 11.

Does being a Tour car driver bring him as much recognition as other sports? “I wouldn't complain about the recognition. Given that the country has only about five international racers we get enough coverage.” He mentions that he signed his first autograph in 2007, for a man who came up to him at the Irungattukottai race track and after a bear hug, asked him to sign on his cap.

In Germany, where this form of racing has caught on in a big way, this baby-faced sportsperson has quite a fan following. He gets to sign numerous autographs and there is a woman who attends almost all the races and on a regular basis gets him to sign on various objects, for her daughter. A hot favourite among the women there, is he? “They are much older!” he laughs.

Aditya is rather calm for someone whose occupation is whizzing around in sports cars. Used to life in the fast lane, is there any road rage when he's driving on the traffic congested roads of Chennai? He flashes his toothy grin and replies, “No. I just listen to music and drive at a comfortable pace and if anybody wants to overtake I slow down and let them go ahead.”

What does he intend to do after his racing years are over? Take charge of his family's automobile business or would he try his hand at interior decorating like his mother? “The only time I tried interior decorating was when I was in school, for an inter-school cultural event. My team mate and I came second among quite a few teams.” But clearly, that's not incentive enough. “I want to do something related to motorsport. I can never imagine myself sitting behind a desk doing a nine-to-five job,” he grins. What is the one thing that he loves about racing? “Everything, especially when you win a race and they play the Indian National Anthem and hoist the National Flag, no matter which country you are in.” Now, that's some incentive.

PRIYADARSHINI PAITANDY

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