The 2012 F1 Indian Grand Prix kindled a fascination for racing cars in Amith Kutty. He was only eight when he accompanied his father to the track in Greater Noida to witness fast cars whizz past. It didn’t take long for this fascination to turn into obsession; when he returned home to Chennai, on a friend’s insistence, Amith took to playing Codemasters’ F1 2012 video game.
Whilst he started with humble joysticks and keyboards, Amith soon transitioned to using a racing wheel to enhance his gaming experience. In under a year, the boy from Chennai was besting some of the world’s fastest virtual racers and winning a handful of e-racing tournaments.
In May, Amith won the third season of Indian Sim Racing League (ISRL), a virtual racing series that began in April. He started season four of the league (now renamed Indian eRacing Championship), which began on July 28, with a win. He also participated in Ultimate E’s all-star race that featured former F1 racer Narain Karthikeyan and Le Mans Series driver Arjun Maini.
In Class XII this year, Amith says, “I race (virtually) for about two hours every day. The lockdown has allowed me this time.” His short yet successful e-racing career has fetched him cash prizes, a trip to Sri Lanka and, more importantly, created a gateway to the world of track racing.
Says Amith, who received the opportunity to enter a karting programme at Karthikeyan’s racing academy in Coimbatore, besides a training stint and test with Volkswagen Motorsport India, “I had planned to transition from virtual to track racing this year.”
Amith dreams of racing in Formula One. His first track experience was in Coimbatore this March, when he drove the Formula LGB 1300. “It was more challenging to drive a real car. In virtual racing, you feel the force only on your hands. In a real car, you feel the force on your entire body, and there is a risk of crashing,” he says, adding that virtual racing has, however, “equipped him with the basics of driving” to quickly adjust to the car.
Amith’s progression has been temporarily halted due to the pandemic. While he hopes for it to end soon so he can get back out on track, excitement around e-racing is on the up. According to the BBC, the 2019 F1 Esports Series attracted 58 lakh viewers online.
Virtual racing is catching up in India too. Sirish Vissa, the head of Volkswagen Motorsport India, says, “With the continuous development of this platform, it intends to offer a near realistic experience along with reaching out to a wider audience of potential race drivers.”