School of Fast

It’s hard to settle upon a more effective and sustainable form of thrillseeking than motor racing. It’s not without reason that daredevils, royalty and movie stars have, for decades fed off its allure, to enhance their own or vice versa .


Which explains why I was particularly chuffed when Volkswagen Motorsport India invited us to participate in a full-fledged race weekend. None of that neon-lit, fast and furious nonsense; a legitimate circuit race, held at India’s own Buddh International Circuit (BIC). Volkswagen Motorsport has been in the thick of Indian motorsport for the past five years, with the all-new Vento Cup replacing the long standing Polo Cup series on the national calendar. They decided to let a few auto hacks have a go at this racing business.


The Car



10 race-spec, VW Polo TDIs were issued for what was dubbed the ‘Media race’. The Polos had done duties in previous Polo Cup rounds and have been stripped-out to conform with FIA specifications. This meant that any trapping that could identify it as a street car, had effectively been removed, including the air con and driving aids such as ABS and traction control.  This is also done to offset the car’s bulk, most of which lies up-front, with the 1.6 litre diesel unit producing 130 odd bhp and easily over 30 kgm of torque. A bucket seat and a five-point harness to keep you tighly strapped to the seat as G-forces have a go at your organs while the other bits of the interior were hollowed out, and refurnished with a roll cage and a fire extinguisher.


The Rules of engagement



Our shakedown cruise began with two 20-minute practice sessions on day one. With the pit lane open, all drivers simulaneously headed towards the track, just to acquaint themselves with the cars and analyse their racing lines. The ‘fast line’ is essentially an invisible ribbon, running across the length of the circuit, adhering to which allows you to carry the maximum speed in the shortest time. The practice sessions helped get a sense of the car, detecting where its grip lay, calibrating the right gear shifts at the right turn points. The leaderboard constantly displayed each driver’s fastet lap, allowing you to push the car to its absolute limit. Admitedly, this resulted in a spin out or two – given how front-heavy the car is, the rear tends to get very light, very quickly. Unassisted by traction control, the Polo TDIs make for excellent learner cars.


The qualifying session is much the same, except there’s a smaller margin for errors. You’re battling for grid positions here (arranged on the basis of lap times) so there isn’t any time to waste.


The Race



Buddh is a proper high speed circuit, with an acute, off-camber, hairpin leading to a kilometer long back straight followed by a set of high speed chicanes and a fairly technical, swooping curve called the parabolica. After that comes another high-speed chicane leading to the penultimate corner and then onto the main straight. Having started third, I didn’t have to wade through a block of traffic. VW Motorsport’s professional instructors had advised us to just stick to the fast line, which required you to counterintuitively take the wider line on the outside of a corner and then power out of it.


The track’s own pace allowed the car to turn into a corner in third gear, with the first half of the track demanding hard braking before corner-entry, and the latter allowing for relatively high speed trail braking, whereupon the brakes are released after touching the apex of the curve. A lot of these technicalities escape you in the heat of the moment, one of which saw me go into a corner too aggressively, chasing the tantalising possibility of taking second and eventually dropping down to fourth. For the next five laps things remained status quo – at least for the first four of the eight cars that were racing on track.





Having a head full of track manouvres can make you a crashing bore at parties, but true track dominance really lies in the technical details. There really isn’t any substitute to your everyday need for speed than proper track time. Then there’s the sheer, undiluted joy of it – if it were any more fun, it’d be illegal.


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