If you’re a petrol head, and if you ever manage to snag an invitation to Gautam Singhania’s office on Altamount Road, in Mumbai, you should take it up — as a car enthusiast, you’ll be happier than a pig in muck. The walls that line the approach to the office are covered in auotomotive memorabilia, giving you some sort of clue about Singhania’s singular passion, and the basement adjoining the waiting area is inhabited by an old-school hot-rod, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a classic Ferrari 355 and a Ferrari 458 Italia (and these were just the cars present when I happened to be there). Also in the basement, under a very expensive looking tarpaulin, is a Ferrari LaFerrari (which translates, somewhat pointlessly, to ‘Ferrari The Ferrari’). Never mind the silly name — this limited-edition beast is the most hardcore road-going Ferrari ever built, making more power than Ferrari’s own Formula 1 car; anyone with one of these in their basement is not kidding around, either about their love for speed or their financial capabilities.
As you’re ushered into his private office, it’s like being teleported into a 12-year old’s wet dream. Every available bit of real estate is covered with yet more automotive erotica — incredibly detailed scale models, posters and other artwork, actual engines, racing trophies and the like. Singhania politely insists that this is a personal space, so no photos are allowed; he’s also pressed for time, suggesting that we get down to business as quickly as possible.
It’s been a rather good period for him as far as racing is concerned, and he’s been in the news for winning both races of the Ferrari Pirelli Open at Brands Hatch, in the UK; coming second at a round of the Britcar Championship at Oulton Park, in the UK; representing India at the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli at Silverstone, also in the UK; winning both rounds of the NGK Racing Series at Yas Marina, in Abu Dhabi; and fighting his way up a tough field to take third at the Ferrari Mondiali race, also at Yas Marina.
Besides these, Singhania is big on drifting, and he won the All Stars European Drift Championship in Malta in 2012, on his first attempt, becoming the only Asian and Indian to do so. He owns the lap record for a non-open wheel car at the BIC Formula 1 track in Noida, and as founder of the Super Car Club, he brings together others who share his love for fast, exotic machines — it’s almost as if he has 97 Octane coursing through his veins.
“It all began when I was about four years old. I had a little go-kart that I would throw around and tinker with, and before I knew it, I was taking racing lessons at 16 and participating in my first rally at 18. When I think back to the buckets of bolts I used to race, I wonder how I ever did it, but it was all part of the learning process”, Singhania says.
Things are a little different now — one day, you might find him taking off to Sweden for a spot of ice driving, on another he might be flying in a Japanese drifting expert for some one-on-one tips and on a third, you could well expect to see him taking jet-pack lessons in Goa, getting up to four meters above the water’s surface (and having some serious bruises to show for it). “I try and stay fit. The fitter I am, the better I race, and the better I race, the better I feel. I believe in doing things the right way – you may as well be dedicated about it, otherwise it’s a waste of time. The racing I take part in is extremely competitive, with drivers fighting for one hundredths of a second, and it’s amazing — that’s the way racing should be.”
Heading the Raymond Group, the world’s largest producer of worsted suiting material, can’t be a walk in the park, so how does he manage to tread the tightrope between business and pleasure? “Look, if it’s a priority, you’ll find the time for it. It’s a matter of discipline – I typically work on a 12-month cycle, so I know pretty much what I’m doing next October. Someone once said, you take a bowl and fill it with big stones, which are your leading priorities; then you fill the spaces with smaller stones, then you fill in any remaining spaces with sand, and finally there’s no space left — that’s how I work.”
Ask him about his favourite cars and it’s no surprise that he names the Ferrari 458, given that he’s had so much racing success with it. “I’m an Italian supercar guy — I love Lamborghinis and Ferraris, and I think the Ferrari 458 is the most magical car I’ve driven. I’m not a Porsche man — they’re great machines but they’re not for me, and I’ve never quite gotten used to a Mclaren. No motorcycles, either — I fell off one years ago, and that was that.”
Singhania is also clear about one thing — he’s not interested in getting involved in the promotion of Indian motorsport. “Quote me on this if you like, but politics is killing Indian motorsport, whatever little of it there is left. We have so many enthusiasts in the country, we have such a fabulous F1 circuit, but where has that left us? I’ve been invited many times to step into administration, but god’s given me the wisdom to know what I can’t change; I enjoy my racing, and I’m going to stick to what I enjoy.” Considering the number of races he’s been winning, it’s quite likely that Gautam Singhania is going to be enjoying himself for some time to come.