‘Throttle the gas open and roll it off for just enough momentum to take you into the corner. Open the gas again at the equilibrium point to carry you out of the corner.’ This is flat tracking 101, as told by former champion and the founder of Italy’s Di Traverso flat track school, Marco Belli. As easy as it sounds, this can also be just another bit of information shoved in your prefrontal cortex, especially when your enthusiasm on the throttle throws the bike off the track, as the right hand searches for a non-existent front brake lever.
Yes I crashed, but it was all part of the learning experience at the two-day Indian edition of the Di Traverso school, led by Belli himself. A select group of journalists were invited to experience the mile-long John Singh Motorway, founded by Vijay Singh Ajairajpura, owner of Rajputana Customs and builder of the customised Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750s for this track. The track is dedicated to his late uncle, who used to be a motorcycle racer and conservationist. To keep that spirit alive, Vijay’s father (the owner of this property), himself a proponent of organic living, opted for 25,000 litres of soyabean oil against the conventional choice of engine oil to be mixed with dust and gravel to create this track.
And who better than Harley Davidson, in the presence of their India MD and former Australian enduro rider Peter MacKenzie, to invoke the values of flat track racing here. Trivia time. The bikemaker, has been one of the few pioneers of this American motorsport that originated from the dangerous board track races of the early 20th century. Ovals would be built of oiled wood planks and weekend races would draw crowds of 80,000 to 100,000 people. But as a result of some fatal crashes and the treacherous nature of the sport, organisers moved to the safer option of dirt, following World War II. And it was at this point in history that Harley and its rival Indian embraced the sport. The rise in popularity of other racing forms would unfortunately take a toll on flat track racing in the successive decades. But a new bumper broadcast deal and the rekindling of the famous rivalry in the last season of American Flat Track, the sport is set for a new lease of life.
Back to the John Singh Motorway; it’s actually located in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere being a village called Shahpur, 80km north of Jaipur, along the National Highway towards Delhi. But the jagged hills and lean jungles made for landscapes that looked like a cross between Mad Max Fury Road and Lord of The Rings. The sun wakes up from behind the hills and sets in a picturesque flurry of red and pink right on top of the track.
Rumbling between my thighs was a customised Harley, as mentioned earlier. These 750cc V-twins form the bigger category of flat track racing, with the other one being in the 450cc range. With that said, the bikes did feel a little uncomfortable for this sort of an activity due to their long tanks. A little bit of tweaking and you could rest your bum on the cushion.
But it’s all okay when you’re in the safe hands of Belli & Co. On the CV of the former flat tracking champion is also the design of the track at the Tavullia Ranch, owned by a certain Valentino Rossi. He knew his audience here; and his words in the introductory classroom session were simple and easy to comprehend. He put us through 3-4 sets of flat track cone drills on Day 1 to help learn throttle modulation, swerving the bike with one’s lower body and even taking control with just the right hand. Unlike the principle of tarmac, one has to utilise the width of the flat track and corner at apexes, forming a near-diamond shape on the oval expanse. Of course a crash course doesn’t ensure expertise on the subject, but it’s a good place to begin.
Day 2 started with more complicated drills, including drag races in pairs. My partner was budding filmmaker and former VJ, Yudhishtir Urs aka Yudi, who also happens to be a passionate rider. Owner of a Ducati Monster 795, he’s a part of a biker gang that goes for international biking expeditions annually. While on our way to the track from Jaipur earlier that morning, he confessed how he’s intent on learning the basics, without risking too much on the track in terms of speed.
So when the two of us drag raced, we shared the spoils 1-1; it was all for fun. The last and most competitive part of the day though was to follow. The entire bunch was again divided in twosomes for 5-lap races. This time, my Round One opponent was Kunal from the Rajputana Customs, who obviously downed me by a daylight margin and went on to eventually win the championship. Yudi too got knocked out in the first round, but came to his own in the loser’s championship — that comprised all racers who lost in the first round. Although he didn’t claim the eventual shield, it was almost like the soul of the flat track racing suddenly entered the body of the guy who was advocating a safety-first approach not too long ago. He ended up as probably the best student at the flat track school, embodying what it takes to learn this mad art.
“You have to let go of that fear. That’s when you truly enjoy flat track racing. Just control the throttle and let your lower body do the rest of the talking,” said Belli as he handed out the certificates of participation. With the Indian market opening up for sports other than cricket, this initiative from Harley and Rajputana Customs could be the first step in the direction of an exciting motorsport avenue in the country. Just like the rest of you, we’re waiting for the John Singh Motorway to be opened for public. And when it does, see you there.