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Racer Akhil Rabindra’s journey from go-karting lanes to Aston Martin Academy

Akhil Rabindra

Akhil Rabindra   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Bengaluru’s Akhil Rabindra talks about being picked for the Aston Martin Racing Driver Academy and more

Akhil Rabindra, 23, when asked about the predominance of Formula One in motorsport, compares a 100-metre sprint to long-distance races. “We all know Usain Bolt because 100 meters is the most popular of races. But not many would know about Mo Farah [who has four Olympic gold medals in 5,000- and 10,000-metre races].” This analogy, especially in India, is on the mark. For, here, apart from a niche segment, the discourse on motorsport racing barring F1 is virtually non-existent compared to the ball games — cricket, football, etc. This is perhaps why the news of Akhil being the only Asian among the 23 drivers picked for the Aston Martin Racing Driver Academy would have escaped many.

The drivers of the academy, according to Aston Martin, will get to attend seminars that focus on “simulator work, engineering and technical analysis and marketing and PR.” They will also have access to nominated mentors. According to the 23-year-old driver, it wasn’t easy to feature in the renowned car manufacturer’s list. “There were over 100 applicants. You are on it for a year. After you submit your CV, you have to do a simulation test, a fitness test and an interview,” he says.

Akhil’s rise in his still-nascent career mightn’t be blistering like the pace of Bolt during the final stretch of a 100-metre dash but it matches Farah’s steadiness. In 2014, he represented India at the FIA Young Driver Academy. In 2016, he switched from single-seater racing to GT racing (that involves multi-seat racing cars). The following year, he became a part of the McLaren GT Driver Academy. He is competing in the European GT4 series as well as the 24H European Series.

Just a decade ago, Akhil, in his early teens, began racing in the go-karting arenas in Bengaluru. “My dad’s side of the family was into cars. Whenever anyone in the family got a new car, there was always talk about speed, power and performance. So, I was, in a way, always interested in cars. But the only four-wheelers I could legally drive were at the go-karting centres. Dad used to take me to Grips in Mysore Road and Torq03 at Marathahalli.”

Akhil was, most often, faster than other kids. On one of these go-karting sessions, the owner of the place suggested his father let Akhil try professional karting. “In professional go-karting, the vehicles go double the speed, about 120 kmph [as compared to recreational go-karting]. More speed was more fun,” he grins. Thus began his racing career.

Even as India produces promising young talents like Akhil, no F1 driver has come from the country after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok. Akhil believes it has to do with the lack of exposure, infrastructure and “a racing culture” in India. “There are plenty of channels for cricket but we don’t get all the racing we want on TV,” he says, “Our infrastructure is not enough. Racing circuits require hundreds of acres of land. It is obviously a financially dependent sport.” He, however, sees improvement at grassroots-level. “There are a lot of championships for newcomers. At the go-karting level, the situation is good. These go-karters go on to junior Formula racing. So, the opportunities are getting bigger.”

Despite its affluence, motorsport in India, Akhil believes, is slowly becoming more inclusive. “If you are a talented driver, irrespective of your financial standing, there are sponsors out there who will support you.”

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 8:47:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/racer-akhil-rabindras-journey-from-go-karting-lanes-to-aston-martin-academy/article30107065.ece

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