24 Hours In OVERDRIVE: We Live Le Mans At The Kari Motor Speedway - Overdrive

24 Hours in OVERDRIVE: We live Le Mans at the Kari Motor Speedway

02 Feb 2015  /  0
Motorsport Editor

“These are going to be the longest ten minutes of my life,” Aditya Patel’s voice crackles over the radio. The lot of us sitting in the garage is on edge, some of us anxiously watching the timing screens, some biting our nails, others doing a quick calculation of exactly how much fuel the red diesel Audi A3 that Aditya is driving has, to check whether or not it will make it to the finish line in the time that’s left. The clock is ticking away. The 24 hours that stretched away seemingly endlessly at the beginning of the event are now in the final minutes, fast heading towards the very final seconds. And it’s set to go down to the wire at the Kari Motor Speedway. We might not have Audi R18 TDIs, this might not be the Circuit de la Sarthe, and we might not be the metronomic precision driven pit crew you’re likely to see at Le Mans. But the tension, oh the tension, I assure you, is very, very real.

24 Hours of OVERDRIVE with Audi A3s (7)

But let’s rewind a little to a time when we weren’t quite so on edge. When the reality of the 24 Hours in OVERDRIVE was still a distant dream, the mere seed of an idea taking root in Bert’s highly fertile imagination. Pushing Team OD to the limit, and testing the absolute edge of our own abilities and the ability of a machine is always something that we have relished. And after attempting a 24 hour endurance event at a speedbowl last year, everyone who’d had a taste of it, wanted more. What would be more challenging than that? Well, to put two cars through their paces at a full blown racetrack. And if the cars happened to have four rings on them representing the brand that looks very likely to soon overtake Porsche as the winningest manufacturer at Le Mans, it would be all the better. And if the cars weren’t race machines, but instead the bare basic that the brand could provide us with – in this case the Audi A3s – allowing us to see what it takes to put a real world road car to the ultimate endurance test, things would be still more interesting. So it is that we found ourselves, one sweltering day, at the 2.1km long Kari Motor Speedway at Coimbatore. A little out of depth perhaps, but raring to go!

24 Hours of OVERDRIVE with Audi A3s (5)

The R8 bowed out before the A3s began their test laps

Why the Kari Motor Speedway, you ask? Well, a Formula 1 Circuit like the Buddh International Circuit was far too expensive for us. And the Madras Motor Racing Track being a faster track was likely to wear our tyres out quicker. Which is why we zeroed in on the track at Coimbatore – affordable and the sort of surface that wouldn’t rip our tyres to shreds over the course of 24 hours. There was another key factor we believed would help us in case of any eventualities during a 24 hour event – visibility. Standing at the tower at the KMS, you can see absolutely every corner of the track, and in case one of our cars broke down during the event, we’d have an accurate visual cue of exactly where it was stranded.

 Tyres galore with plenty of JK Tyre’s finest

Tyres galore with plenty of JK Tyre’s finest


A coin toss decided the driver roster

A coin toss decided the driver roster


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The mandatory tyre check before the endurance run


Of course, there were other differences from the precision-based sport that is endurance racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We didn’t have the likes of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Andre Lotterer to pilot the Audi A3s for us. But we did know that we needed as much help from the Pros as possible. So we roped in Aditya Patel, the only Indian driver to have competed in and won his class at the prestigious 24 Hours of Nurburgring, Armaan Ebrahim, former A1GP and GP2 Asia racer who has now transitioned to GT racing, Rayomand Banajee multiple national karting and racing champion and now one of the most respected driver trainers in the country, Vishnu Prasad former Volkswagen Polo R Cup Champion and double FB02 champion, and Chittesh Mandody, twice national karting champion who has also made his mark with gritty performances in single-seater racing. And to balance out all the Pros at the event, we added our bunch of Ams from Team OD. All good drivers, albeit with limited racing experience. Bert, Halley, Rishaad and Alan rounded up our helmeted troopers.

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But, if we really wanted to live the Le Mans life and do it right, we needed someone to crack the whip on all of us and make sure that the otherwise right foot heavy racers would behave themselves. Someone who’d also make sure that our pitstops weren’t slack, but as fast as a bunch of untrained greenhorns could manage. But most importantly someone who knew enough to take a quick call of when to call a car in, and when to take the risk of keeping it out on track even though the bars on the fuel gauge were dropping faster than the Greek economy. And we found exactly the person we needed in Sirish Vissa, head of motorsport, Volkswagen India. Vissa has seven years of Le Mans experience under his belt, from the time that he worked as race engineer for the American Panoz team. And when we saw him banish a pesky camera crew who wanted us to do a mock pitstop for them to film again, in the middle of our endurance run (in the middle of it I tell you!) we knew we’d found just the right man for the job. “I don’t care who you lot are, my cars stay out and don’t stop until my event is done with,” he bellowed, somehow still with a broad grin on his face. Result – hastily retreating camera crew. Oh, and he also terrorised our racers. Chittesh, who was doing a balancing act on a piece of pipe just before the race start was given a stern “You will get off that pipe because I don’t need a racer with a twisted ankle!” Surely enough the young lad soon put his feet back on terra firma.

The racing shoe replaces the sneaker before race start

The racing shoe replaces the sneaker before race start

And once the green flag signals things are go, it’s a blur of headlights and floodlights at the Kari Motor Speedway

Team OD manages to rig up their very own fuel, er... rig!

Team OD manages to rig up their very own fuel, er… rig!

Back to the race proper, though. When it comes to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the teams start preparing for the next event the day the chequered flag falls on the current edition. That gives them a solid head start on us. Because from the time the idea took shape to the time that we found ourselves at the racetrack, it was no more than a month. And when we got to the track, twiddling our thumbs for a bit, waiting for our cars to arrive (they were held up at the workshop) and our racers to arrive (nearly all of their flights were delayed) and little things like fire extinguishers to arrive (which mysteriously took their own sweet time to get there) we were beginning to get anxious. Once the cars did arrive our anxiety levels mounted somehow. We realised that the A3s came with wheel nut bolts that we wouldn’t be able to undo during pitstops, so we needed to borrow wheel bolts from a Vento FIV parked at the track. “Reckon we’ve bitten off more than we can chew?” I asked Sirish, having just returned from a sojourn to the Super Speeds garage at the track where I’d been sent to cabbage an infrared thermometer. “Ideally we ought to have been here yesterday, to do a full tank to empty test of the cars around the track and gauge the extent of tyre wear too,” he replied. I took that as a yes.

24 Hours of OVERDRIVE with Audi A3s (10)

24 Hours of OVERDRIVE with Audi A3s (33)

The race at legendary Circuit de la Sarthe kicks off at 3pm. We were aiming for a 4pm start for our 24 Hours in OVERDRIVE. Of course it would be a little later than the ideal timing, but it would also give our drivers the opportunity to get used to the cars in bright sunlight before dusk gave way to darkness and the circuit was lit up by floodlights. Well, the dart fell a long way off the bullseye as far as timing was concerned. The sun went down on our test laps when we sent out young guns Chittesh and Vishnu to get us feedback about the cars’ performances at the KMS. Dusk quietly slipped past while we were jimmying our refuelling rigs and charting out the driver roster and ensuring the mechanics wielding the wheel guns were up to scratch (“That was a test and you failed!” Sirish wagged his finger at the two startled technicians.)

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And once the green flag signals things are go, it’s a blur of headlights and floodlights at the Kari Motor Speedway

Finally at 19:20:22 to be precise (running at IST) the green flag fell on the track and we were off. Our race engineer/race director/team principal had decided that it was Aditya Patel who’d set off in the diesel Audi A3 while Chittesh Mandody would be sent out in the petrol A3. Game on, so to speak. Leading up to the flag off, there had been complicated strategies that were discussed. The decision from the beginning was to put the more adaptive and perhaps experienced racers in the diesel A3 in order to try and do longer stints and have them conserve the tyres over the course of the 24 hours. The roster for the car was to be Aditya, Rayo, Armaan, Bert and then back cycling through the drivers. For the silver petrol A3, Sirish had allotted Chittesh, Vishnu, Rishaad, Halley and Alan. Seeing as the petrol would likely require shorter stints and more pitstops in any case, having an extra driver did seem to make sense. The cars went by lap after lap. For someone used to watching 15-lap races at the KMS, it was something else indeed. Half an hour down, I realised, and still twenty-three hours and thirty minutes to go. Stifle those yawns fellows, it’s going to be a long night. Not to mention the day that will follow soon after!

The cars were a blur through the night. And the pitcrew were a blur during the pitstops

The cars were a blur through the night. And the pitcrew were a blur during the pitstops

Driving in the dark at the Kari Motor Speedway was proving to be manageable for our racers though. Aditya and Chittesh both know the KMS like the back of their hands, and given that the track had been lit up so very brightly, there was little that could get in their way. “It’s more exciting for sure, but not more difficult,” Chittesh would tell us later. Meanwhile both him and Aditya ended up encountering the roving canine that would patrol the track constantly as the hours went by, startling every one of our drivers by first showing up at C3, then soon after at C5, orbiting the track moon-like. The fact that racer boys will be racer boys also became apparent soon. In order to maintain a laptime of around 1min 27sec to ensure we met our target of 1,800km over the course of the 24 hours, we needed to balance going fast without getting too hard on the brakes or steering. And then young Chittesh’s voice burst through the radio. “I’m not braking hard anywhere at all, but I’m able to go a little faster. Can I just maintain this speed?,” he pleaded. Well, no such luck for the rev happy lad. It was a resounding “No!” that was relayed back to him. And just to make things all the more clear, Bert sent out a strongly worded message on the pitboard that cannot be repeated in a family magazine such as ours.

Driver changes, tyre changes, brake pad changes and refuelling all done nearly as well as Audi’s Le Mans pit crew. We did say nearly

Driver changes, tyre changes, brake pad changes and refuelling, all done nearly as well as Audi’s Le Mans pit crew. We did say nearly

The first stint for both cars and drivers proceeded without incident. But it was the laps that led up to 54 that saw the entire lot in the pitlane scurry around with some anxiety. You see, Lap 54 was pitstop time and we needed to make sure that the car would come in at the right time, that the front tyres, which were all that we intended to change at that point were ready, with mechanics with wheelguns on standby. But most importantly, our refuelling rig, which consisted of a water pump immersed in a drum of petrol, worked properly. Yes, the precision sport that is endurance racing had just been introduced to the concept of Indian ‘jugaad’.

As the night progressed we managed to improve our speeds.

As the night progressed we managed to improve our speeds

Start the stopwatch. Chittesh hops out of the car. Vishnu climbs in with a freshly charged walkie talkie. The windscreen is given a quick wipe. The front tyres are changed. Fuel is pumped into the car. The tyre temperatures are measured all around. Oil levels are checked and topped up. The door is slammed shut. The lollipop says first gear. And out he goes. Stop the stopwatch.

Chicken was roasted on a spit

Chicken roasted on a spit made for appropriate repast in between stops

Time recorded 3min 47.15sec. Not so bad for our first pitstop we think. But the look on Sirish’s face implies that we really must do better. We try when the diesel Audi comes in, on lap 66, with Rayo replacing Aditya. Well, this time it’s 3min 49.00sec. Teething trouble. We’re sure we’ll get better. Or incur Sirish’s wrath!

The serious business of noting laptimes

The serious business of noting laptimes

With Rayo out on track putting in some steady times on the new front tyres, we realise that the reason the tyre wear on the diesel Audi A3 was so very pronounced was because of the fact that Aditya had tried saving the brakes and instead used the tyres to help scrub off speed. Good call that! And while the racers are out on track, with the lights of the cars one streak of red as they go past the main straight, loud engine note trailing in their wake, the rest of us ready ourselves for the many long hours ahead. The chaps who have already raced head into the tower to catch some sleep. The chaps yet to head out on their stint, also head out to catch forty winks. And the rest of us grab some dinner, some energy drinks to help keep awake (“Don’t drink that stuff! It’s bad for you!” – Bert) and keep one eye on the stopwatch, and the other on the live timing screen. We’ve all settled into a nice rhythm at the track by now. The racers putting in steady laps out on track. And the crew mechanically noting things down and checking data. The odd burst of energy does occur. “Look out for Rayo’s brake discs! They’re glowing!”, Vishnu shouts on the radio. Ah, glowing brake discs – reminiscent of Le Mans in all its glory! Aside from that, and the odd rude message (in jest we assure you) on the pitboard, all is proceeding smoothly. The fuel levels seem to be holding up well, the tyre wear is in check. But it’s early hours still.

A quick nap between driving stints

A quick nap between driving stints

By the time of our second round of pitstops, a definite pattern has emerged. We know that the petrol has to come in far earlier than the diesel. And so Vishnu, after 80 laps, gets swapped for Rishaad. Rayo in the diesel stays out for a total of 116 laps, eventually getting replaced by Armaan. It seems like this is now the battle of petrol versus diesel. Our cars aren’t racing each other, well, not consciously at any rate. Reliability and endurance, and clocking those all important 1800km are still the targets. Nonetheless, our simulation Le Mans seems to be getting scarily true to the real deal. Fatigue starts to set in for all of us.

The signs on the pitboard went from standard to just bizzare.

The signs on the pitboard went from standard to just bizzare

Eventually we experience the first driver feeling a little uncomfortable in the car. Rishaad comes into the pits earlier than expected, the heat getting to him, along with the fact that eating dinner right before heading out on track in a standard seat with a seatbelt (no racing seat and harness in these stock A3s) didn’t help matters much. With Halley replacing him, things are soon back to normal, with the silver and red cars constantly whirring around the track. But then the second of our drivers to fall to the vagaries of the racetrack is Halley. It’s not easy being buffeted about in a stock car around a racetrack.

24 Hours of OVERDRIVE with Audi A3s (13)

Is that a hint of a smirk playing on your (yes, this means you) face? Well, well, well. Picture this. You’re belted into the seat of a car like the Audi A3. Now go on, extend your hands ahead of you and grip that imaginary steering wheel. Now steer once to the right and then to the left. Repeat this 12 times for the 12 corners that comprise the KMS. And multiply that into 100 laps. That’s 1200 steering inputs. Now brake for each of those corners. And then step on the gas for each of those corners. That’s 2,400 times you’d need to brake and accelerate per stint. Try doing this when you’re tired and have to drive in the dark, with lights disorienting you at the racetrack and tell me no fatigue sets in! And we notice this when each of the drivers gets out of the car. Whether it’s the Ams or the Pros like Armaan, who does the longest stint of the 24 Hours, clocking 135 laps in the diesel A3. And so what if one of our drivers threw up in the car, that happens all the time in endurance races. Drivers sometimes relieve themselves in their cars too. Which, and we can’t thank the universe enough for it, didn’t happen here.

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The last pitstop before the final dash to the chequered flag. . .

While the petrol A3 makes it till Lap 244 before Halley is replaced by Alan, the diesel A3 makes it till Lap 317 before Bert goes in for his first stint. It’s well past midnight – nearly 3am in fact. There’s a sleepy race director who asks Aditya to take charge for a while, when he catches some shut-eye in one of the cars parked at the pitlane. There are some people gathered around a bonfire attempting to roast some chicken that eventually stayed on the skewers for over five hours and somehow could have still been resuscitated and gone on to live a healthy life. And there are members of the pitcrew (which essentially includes our head of marketing, events guys, yours truly at a pinch, and whichever of our drivers happens to be awake at that point) trying to stay awake through it all.

After which we were anxiously watching the timing screens and hoping we’d make it to the 2000km mark

. . . After which we were anxiously watching the timing screens and hoping we’d make it to the 2000km mark. . .

Then, in the dead of night, we have our first panic situation thus far in the event when Bert is out on track, putting in consistent lap after lap, having clocked over 100 laps. On Lap 102, though, the brake pad warning light comes on. Sirish is roused from his slumber. The crew is readied for what will undoubtedly be a long stop that will make us lose time. It ends up being 10min 52sec long – including refuelling, changing the front tyres and front brake pads. In terms of timing, the pitstop is far better than we thought we could manage. And soon Aditya finds himself out on track for his second stint. It’s the diesel A3 that has surprised the head of our race crew, in how hard it was on the brakes. At least how much harder it was on the brakes when compared to the petrol. While over the course of 24 hours, the petrol cycled through one complete set of brake pads, the diesel used those many, plus an extra set of front brake pads too!

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Which we did when the chequered flag fell

And we did make it to the 2,000km mark when the chequered flag fell

Speaking of the petrol A3, Chittesh goes out for his second stint, followed by Vishnu who also gets his second stint out of the way. And instead of circling through the rest of the roster, as was originally planned, Sirish takes a call that we need to put in quick laps during the night, when the track is cool and tyre wear will be at a minimum. And so Chittesh is summoned once again (he’d just about curled up on the mattress) for his third stint.

We’re past the halfway mark by now. The fact that 12 hours have gone by, the fact that the sun has risen at the racetrack, that peacocks are crying to signal the break of dawn, it all seems surreal. The truth is, we’re all in zombie mode. We’ve got to make sure that we cross the 1,800km mark. Living Le Mans – it’s tough!

Once the sun is up, things seem to progress smoothly. The daylight has somehow helped refresh us all to a certain extent. The diesel A3 is two whole pitstops behind the petrol A3, and as the day progresses that number goes to three. Given that we’re more than confident of crossing the 1,800km mark with each passing hour, our sights turn greedily to the 2,000km mark. Will we be able to clock enough laps to help us achieve our new target? Will our cars last, will the tyres last, will the fuel last? Will the petrol catch the diesel or somehow will the tables be turned in the battle of the fuels? There are so many questions and it’s only the ticking of the clock and the whittling away of the seconds that hold the answers.

Triumphant Chittesh and Aditya brought the A3s home

Triumphant Chittesh and Aditya brought the A3s home

Everything proceeds almost mechanically at this point. Drivers out on track. Pitcrew readying themselves for the tyre changes and refuelling. Laps being clocked, hours going by. And the sunlight slowly changing from harsh, to the relatively subdued hues of dusk. And as suddenly as it all started, the last stint is upon us. Aditya in the diesel Audi A3 begins his third stint. And given that it’s going to be the final dash to the chequered flag, he’s a little more liberal with the throttle than he ought to have been. The laptimes drop to the early 1 minute 20 seconds. As does the fuel in the tank. To bring the car home, he really does have to nurse it to the finish line. Bringing him in for more fuel will lose us laps, and kilometres too. But keeping him out could mean he will run out of fuel on track. Sirish decides to keep him out and just see how things go. My nails are reduced to stubs.

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In stark contrast, Chittesh, who’d been warned all through about being too fast, decides to start his final stint in the petrol A3 with great amounts of caution. And the fact that he’s so judicious in his use of the accelerator also means that the fuel situation in the car is excellent. The petrol will make it to the chequered flag all right. Not only that, but, despite having done 11 pitstops to the diesel car’s eight, it still might well make up the deficit laps, catch and pass it.

The cars go round the track, over and over again. “Should we push it or play it safe?” Chittesh asks over the radio. At this terribly crucial moment, playing it safe seems to be the better option. But from having a 15 lap advantage initially, the diesel now has a one lap advantage. And as the very last minutes of our 24 Hours in OVERDRIVE slip away, the red and silver Audis are nearly side by side to take the chequered flag. The petrol having completed 967 laps, and the diesel having completed 968 laps. Oh, and we’ve managed to cross the 2,000km mark with more than a few kilometres as a safety gap.

And suddenly we experience a whole other side to Le Mans. The side that comes after the tension, the fuel battles, the pitstops gone right and wrong. This is the part where we can whoop and cheer. Where champagne bottles are popped, and so what if they don’t fizz and froth and bubble over. Where there are firecrackers in the sky to celebrate a hard fought battle. No, we know there’s no Henri Pescarolo in our midst, and there’s no laurel wreath to adorn our drivers’ necks. But there’s smiles and laughter and happiness on a job well done. A battle won. And a Le Mans that we’ve managed to live through. And just a few sheets of data to analyse after. To get us ready for the next one, perhaps?

Meet our drivers: –

Aditya Patel

Total number of stints 3
Total number of laps 234
Best time 1min 19.108sec on Lap 900
He’s our racer with the 24 Hours of Nurburgring class victory under his belt. He’s also our racer who, given the slightest opportunity will wreak havoc with the pitboard and come up with quips on the walkie talkie. Like when someone frantically shouts “There’s a dog that’s parked himself at C2!” Aditya, as acting team principal, will say “Tell him we said hi!”. But Aditya also managed to put in some very consistent laptimes. Proved to be incredibly fit and very spritely all through. He could also be counted on to refuel cars very well. A little too well for Armaan Ebrahim’s liking, but more on that later. Patel said that the toughest part of the endurance run was when you ended up out on track for over an hour, looked down at the fuel gauge and realised that the bars hadn’t dropped at all. “That was mentally tough,” he says, adding that, “Keeping our minds off the loo was tough too!”

Vishnu Prasad

Number of stints 2
Total number of laps 167
Best time 1min 19.797sec on Lap 424
Vishnu’s a driver who likes going flatout. Of course we wouldn’t let him. And to make matters worse, after keeping a close eye on just how fast he was going, we even roused him from his slumber to take the graveyard shift at the wheel. “What more do you want from me?!” he’d shouted in his sleep. But he dutifully came to the car in time for the driver change. Was set to climb into the car too, when Sirish asked where his helmet was. That roused him a little! The part of the endurance run that challenged Vishnu the most was the night stint, he says. “Because of the lack of visibility and also having to make sure we took care of the car in terms of brakes, tyres and fuel consumption all through.”

Rayomand Banajee

Number of stints 2
Total number of laps 250
Best time 1min 22.491sec on Lap 665
Ever the man with the plan is Rayo as he’s popularly known as in the Indian motorsport fraternity. He was the driver who wanted to stay out longer than anyone else. No matter what the situation was. “Rayo we need you to come in in two laps.”, “But I have enough fuel.”, “But my tyres are just fine!”, “But my brakes will last!”. The answers would come flying back at us. But we made him pit anyway. Like the other racers, Rayo thought the hardest part of the endurance run was having to drive at 30 per cent of the pace, because at that pace, boredom does set in, he said. He also had a tricky stint to contend with when his radio conked off and he had to, at one rather unfortunate point, contend with making a phone call on his cellphone to the pits, all the while trying to maintain a consistent laptime. There was one other part - when the temperatures in the afternoon went so high that the brakes started to heat up with the brake oil losing its viscosity. Luckily though, things worked out okay in the end.

Chittesh Mandody

Number of stints 4
Total number of laps 345
Best time 1min 18.632sec on Lap 594
“I’m not pushing it at all. I swear I’m not pushing it!,” Chittesh would come out of the car and declare to anyone who was willing to listen. Of course, his laptimes would prove otherwise. Eventually all the ribbing got to him and he made sure that his very last stint was calm and relaxed. That was after he set the fastest time of the event with 1min 18.632 on Lap 394. Why did he go so fast on his in lap? Apparently nature had called. And loudly at that! According to Chittesh, this was the sole challenge the event posed him. Other than that he seemed to think throwing a road car around a racetrack for 345 laps was a piece of cake. Honestly!

Sirish Vissa

Number of stints All
Number of laps All
Best time Er All!
Sirish was the driving force behind getting the cars to cross the 1,800km mark, and then the 2,000km mark. He pushed the drivers, telling them when he wanted them to slow down. “If you two don’t stop fighting on track I’m going to come after you with a gun.” And voila, we’d have calmer driving. He pushed the pitcrew and ensured the changeover time during stops was kept at a minimum. And he also had the broadest grin on his face when it was all done. “I miss endurance racing,” he’d say to us eventually. And we can certainly see why. Perhaps the person who had to do the most brainwork through the 24 Hour run, the cogs in Sirish’s head were constantly moving. According to Sirish, the most stressful part of the entire event was to keep in mind that the A3s we had on track were normal road-going cars and not racecars, which meant that we needed to ensure that we didn’t put them under too much stress. And he was also slightly concerned because he’s usually used to working with a highly trained pitcrew, and we showed up there, rank amateurs, losing his cars time with each pitstop!

Bertrand D'souza

Number of stints 2
Number of laps 225
Best time 1min 19.420 on Lap 899
Bert put in some terrific stints, with steady driving and consistent timings. He really did keep up with the racer boys. On occasion, we’d have to send him a reminder though. “Bert I see what you’re doing,” Aditya said to him on the radio as the laptimes dropped to the early 1min 20s. “Who died and made Aditya king?”, quipped our Ed in Chief. Well, he dropped his pace in any case! The toughest part for Bert appeared to be the fact that there was no racing harness or race seat that holds you into place firmly in the stock A3 that we had. And so he ended up being tossed around from side to side, which meant when he climbed out the car, his back wasn’t in the best shape. And the pain hadn’t really quite faded away before we summoned him for his second stint. And insisted on keeping him out for over 100 laps. Again.

Alan D'cruz

Number of stints 2
Number of laps 169
Best time 1min 22.815 on Lap 322
Alan has a heavy right foot is what we discovered. We’re really not sure how or why but his stints in the car would consume more fuel than anyone else’s stints. But each time we sent him out on track he would clock steady timings, precisely sticking to the laptime that was asked of him. And when he wasn’t driving he was helping refuel. Handy chap to have at the races! The concentration that was required lap after lap in order to stay within a second of his target time is what challenged Alan the most. And small things like not placing the radio back in its slot properly would distract him causing him to lose a few tenths here and there. “It was hard to find the right balance between squealing tyres, burning brakes and burning fuel,” he declares. And while he felt there wasn’t much physical stress, the unsupported seats meant that he had to hold himself in place with his left leg, and given that the A3s were automatics he was stuck in one position, which meant muscle fatigue set in.

Rishaad Mody

Number of stints 2
Number of laps 126
Best time 1min 20.952 on Lap 609
Rishaad had already done a high speed challenge before but he found this much more demanding than driving flat out at a speedbowl. Though the average speeds were lower, there was a lot more to do in terms of braking and steering, he felt. Plus he came to Coimbatore just a day after a long haul flight from USA and his body clock was still a bit mixed up. “My first stint also came after a meal of, what was in hindsight, far too much delicious chettinad food. Jet lag combined with a full stomach and an accidentally turned off aircon resulted in some uneasiness that made me cut my first stint short. The second stint was easier, and thereby much more fun but still quite a bit of a challenge and after over two hours in the not very supportive seat, I was secretly waiting for the fuel light to come on! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat; but this time hopefully with a proper race seat installed.”

Halley Prabhakar

Number of stints 2
Number of laps 160
Best time 1min 23.631sec on Lap 856
Halley also had a rather tough time at the KMS. And he’d had more than a 24 hour event, when we think of it, considering he’d driven down from Bombay to Coimbatore just the previous day. Our second driver to feel the ill effects of driving on a full stomache. But once he’d dispensed with some of his dinner his laptimes just got faster! And he cleverly went out on an empty stomach for his next stint. There’s a good lad! The challenge, according to Halley, was driving at midnight and getting consistent laps in. “Avoiding using the brakes often and at the same time not shifting gears too often was also hard. As was driving at least 80 laps a stint.”

Meet the Audi A3s

The A3 is the entry to the world of Audi and is currently the most affordable car you can buy in India that comes with four rings on the grille. This family sedan is powered by a choice of two engines - a 140PS 2.0-litre diesel and a 177PS 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol. Dual clutch automatic gearboxes made our life on the track much easier. Some chose to shift manually while others left it in automatic but the box worked perfectly in both cases. We chose the A3 to show that even the most basic of Audis is perfectly up to the challenge of running non stop at high speeds on a racetrack. While they may look the same from the outside both felt quite different on the track and each had its own strengths. The diesel while not as powerful, consumed a little less fuel that enabled it to run more laps before needing to come in for a refuelling. The petrol on the other hand was running quicker than its sibling and also was kinder to its tyres and brakes. It was a close battle between the two but the diesel eventually clinched it being able to run just a few more laps than the petrol thanks to the lighter appetite for fuel.

Oil's well

Oil is the life blood of any engine and it becomes particularly important when you are running an engine as hard as we did. 24 hours of high speed driving at a racetrack is about as much load as an engine will ever take in its life time. It was imperative then that we give our Audi engines the very best which is why the stock engine oil was drained and both engines were brimmed with fresh Mobil 1 synthetic 5W-30 oil. We noticed something interesting in the way the cars used the oil. In the first few hours, both engines which were relatively new were consuming small amounts of oil in each stint, lasting about two and a half hours. We would top up the oil at every fuel stop. But as dawn broke, both engines seem to stabilise and the oil consumption simply stopped. It seemed the Audi engines were combusting more efficiently the longer and harder we pushed them! For the remaining 12 hours we didn’t have to use any more oil and the engines ran sweetly without complaint right to the very end.

Tyres, tyres everywhere

Just to be on the safe side and ensure we had enough tyres to go the distance, JK Tyre helped us out. We asked for a few extra sets of tyres to be delivered to the Kari Motor Speedway. They sent us 160 tyres in all! Of course, we used nowhere as many of the P225/50R17 UX1 94Vs that they sent us. We just used a total of 28 on the petrol Audi A3 and 24 on the diesel. The highest temperature we recorded was 81 degrees on the front left tyre after Armaan’s 135 lap stint. Tyre wear was higher on the front left tyres because the track was clockwise. But the tyres did last, and the only reason they were changed sometimes as much as 15 laps before they really needed changing was because the car needed to pit for refuelling in any case.

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