I wonder if these nerves go away after you've raced a few times. I was sitting in my leathers as the riders from the last race start pulling into the pits and I'm as nervous as I was when I was sent to the principal's office in school for chucking a duster at my friend's head. I was sweating buckets and the ridiculously hot weather wasn't helping. I was so nervous that I was just one step away from actually shivering. I kept telling myself to calm down. Deep breaths... Deeeeeep breaths!
But wait! How will I find which spot on the grid is 14th. Now I'm really panicking. I turn to Abhay Verma, a seasoned hand at these races and ask him. He says there will be someone waiting to show us to our spots. Thank god.
We soon head to our spots on the grid and prepare for the sighting lap. I could see one of the officials coming down the grid announcing something. Turns out there will be no sighting lap. The race was about to begin.
The lights came on and quickly went off. I popped the clutch and tried to make up as many positions as I could before the first corner. But I had forgotten how impossibly difficult it was to launch the race-spec RTR 200. I remember the street bike being difficult to launch, but the race bike had taken that up a notch. The bite point in the clutch is so late and so aggressive that you can't gradually slip it to get a smooth start. As soon as the clutch bites, the bike surges forward. So you pull the clutch back in and then there is no thrust. So you let it out again and you get jerked ahead. This went on till I managed to gather enough momentum to let the clutch out fully. I vaguely remember passing a few people as I headed for turn 1.
Turn 1. Pick the bike up and over into turn 2 and brake late and tip into turn 3. I managed to carry good pace out of turn 3, which meant I had a bit of an advantage coming into the back straight. I tucked in behind another rider and halfway through the straight, managed to slingshot past him and the guy in front of him. But I knew how aggressive these guys were. They weren't going to let me go so easily. I tried braking as late as I dared into turn 4, but I knew someone was going to out-brake, out-corner and out-accelerate me. But I somehow I made it stick.
I had decided that I was not going to count how many people I overtook. I wasn't even going to count how many laps were left. I was just going to give it all until the chequered flag came out. So that's what I did.
A few laps into the race I had just managed to overtake a group of riders and I could finally see the lead pack ahead. I was feeling more comfortable on the motorcycle now. I had found a sort of rhythm and the flow of the track was coming more naturally now.
I was coming into turn 5 with my eyes on the rider ahead of me. From the corner of my eye, I could make out two motorcycles coming in on the inside. I pick the bike up very slightly to make sure they don't run into me. They pass me on the entry and promptly went and ran into each other. The bike closer to me went into a tankslapper and the rider got flung off his motorcycle. All I could think of was not running into the guy. Thankfully, he had the sense to let go of his motorcycle. I aimed for the gap between him and his motorcycle and accelerated. Phew! That was close. But the evasive manoeuvre had landed me off the track. As I managed to bring the motorcycle back onto the track but as I looked up, I realised that the lead pack had disappeared. But I could see another rider in the distance. That'll have to do then.
I started off after him. By the time we were on the start finish straight, I had managed to catch him. But he was quicker entering corners. I decided to slow down my entry speed and open throttle faster. This worked. Even though I had been passed again, I started gaining ground thanks to faster corner exits. Before long, I had passed the number five motorcycle again. I started pulling away on the back straight and soon had a comfortable lead over him. And as I got to the start finish straight again, I could see the chequered flag. My five laps were done.
The feeling was a mix of relief and disappointment. I knew that if I had a few more laps, I could have caught up with the leading pack. But it's okay. Maybe next time.
I pulled into the pits and quickly got off the motorcycle. Rishaad had already finished his Vento Cup race and was waiting. "You finished 8th!"My only hope for the race was to not come in last. But it turns out, with the few places I gained at the start and the few overtakes I managed to pull, I had gained six places. Not bad! But forget all that. In the process, I had also managed to clock a fastest lap of 2:50.723! That was just 2.6 seconds off the fastest lap time of the race - 2:47.097.Not bad for a first attempt.
But the problem is, I've caught the bug. Racing on the track was a feeling unlike anything else. The adrenaline, the butterflies and the mere fact that there was no wayward motorist out to get me were the most addictive feelings in the world. Maybe it's time I did a whole season of this. And if I actually go to a track school before that, I might do even better! Hey Shumi, when's TWO again?