The world has a penchant for crowning child prodigies; more so in the areas of arts and sports. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, early this year, wanted to be portrayed as someone who could drive at the age of three and win yachting races at nine to improve his standing among the citizenry.
Jokes apart, India too loves its young achievers. Cricket and chess seem to possess a lion’s share of them, but there is no doubt that success is springing up in other disciplines too.
The 15-year-old Bengaluru-based driver Kush Maini became the first Asian to win the prestigious Trofeo Margutti in Italy.
After having missed out on a podium in the first round of the World Series Karting (WSK) Champions Cup, he earned a second-place finish in round two before finishing fourth overall.
A second-place finish at the World Series Karting Gold Cup in Italy proved that it wasn’t one-off. “The level I drove in Europe was really high. It was the highest level of karting in the world. Not many Indians have even made it into the top few slots. To get multiple site podiums and winning a few races was really good,” he says.
Kush sees this as part of a step-by-step process towards reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
“I first went to Europe in 2012. Every year, I have been achieving different things. I keep building. In Europe the drivers are much more aggressive. It’s really good for learning. In 2012 we started with zero podiums. 2013 was one of my most successful years in karting. After three years of karting in Europe, I am one of the most successful Asians. I am really happy that I have put India's name in the karting circuit.”
The year also saw him make a foray into Formula cars. He finished second in round two of the JK Tyre Racing Series and became the youngest-ever to achieve a podium in the championship. He contends, “This was my first race. On the first day, I was within a second of people who have been racing for years. By my second race, I almost won. I think Europe has helped me a lot.”
Inevitably the string of achievements at such an age brings with it more pressure and expectations. For all the abundance of young talent in the country, very few have made it to the top at the senior professional levels.
“There is a certain amount of pressure. It is necessary to maintain the momentum. It’s hard because you have to be really consistent.”
Kush feels he has the necessary backing and motivation to turn into a top-notch senior pro. He says, “Mostly I just motivate myself. I just say if these guys can win, why can’t I? I do what I love. But everyone wants to win. Even if you say it is just for fun, you want to win at the end of the day. I would do anything possible to win. If that means sacrificing my childhood so be it. Because racing is number one.I have a team behind me – to take care of my physical as well as mental training bits. My mind coach is Shree Advani, Pankaj Advani's brother. He has helped me a lot to hold off pressure and give my best.”
He adds, “Karun Chandhok has been helping me a lot in deciding my career. He has a lot of experience in Formula cars. My dad wants to give me the best and not many kids in the world can go racing at this age. I feel blessed. Hopefully I am good enough to convert that to become India's next F1 driver.”