Anyone who wins this championship [LMS Cup]will definitely be noticed all around the world. The grid is so tough and full of talent. And the level of drivers is quite high, especially the top 10." Aditya Patel had this to say of the Audi R8 LMS Cup Championship just ahead of the second race at the second round of the series at Buriram, Thailand. He did sound quite confident going into the race weekend. After all, he'd just qualified seventh on the grid for the race and was hoping to make up a few places and quickly make it to the top five on the grid. However, fate sometimes has different plans.
When the race started, on the very first lap, things came undone. Aditya's R8 LMS was hit from behind on C4 of the 4.55km-long Chang International Circuit by Rahel Frey. The collision pushed him to the gravel, but he was quick to recover, only to find that he had lost a place. On the second lap, he dropped to number nine on the grid. From where I was sitting in the grandstands, it appeared that the reason for the drop in position was another collision of some sort. Eventually, after three more laps, Patel pulled into the pits. While I first assumed that the reason he retired was very likely to be the technical issues that he had told me were plaguing his car all weekend, this wasn't the case. Aditya told me that the first collision had ended up damaging his engine and hence his chances to complete the race. The second incident, Aditya explained, was a close call, with no contact after all.
While it was a closely stacked grid for the first race, the second race saw Martin Rump put a 7.2s gap between him and the rest of the pack
The truth of the matter is that Aditya did look a little slow all weekend. He said that while it was partly his car, it was also down to the fact that right after Shanghai, this was the first time that he was racing or rather sitting in the R8 LMS Cup car. Of course, going to a karting track or driving a 180PS road car doesn't count. Think about it in this way. You practice in a kart day in and day out and then you end up in a 550PS supercar!
Aditya currently is backed by JK Tyre and Audi India. And given that he's the only Indian driver on the grid, the question of whether or not the R8 LMS Cup would make it to India was inevitable. Aditya smiled at the thought of the Asia-based championship coming to India soon. "There will be nothing like it," he quipped. Apparently the management is keen on bringing the race to India's Buddh International Circuit. Audi China as well as Audi India are keen on it too. However, nothing is concrete yet. The series, if it does come to India, will be a push in the right direction, considering that it will be a step up from the other tin-top racing series in the country, the Volkswagen Vento Cup. It could also be a catalyst for tyre manufacturers apart from MRF and JK to invest in the growing Indian racing talent pool. Indian racers then can slowly graduate to racing in 500PS+ machines which in turn will mean more visibility globally. Like Aditya says, "Any visibility is better than no visibility!"
Martin Rump took a fantastic lights-to-flag victory in the second race
Of course, the weekend wasn't a total loss for Aditya, given that he did manage to finish the first race in seventh place. This is Aditya's second full season in the R8 LMS Cup, a championship in which he hopes to grow. Let's not forget that Aditya was one of the young drivers in India who set a goal early on that tin-top racing was to be his ultimate destination. With this in mind, he gave up on single seaters and focussed his attention on saloon cars. It's an opportunity that has paid off in the long run. After racing in the Volkswagen Polo Cup in Europe, switching to the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup, and then coming into his own in the Audi R8 in several racing series (that even saw him win a race at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring), Aditya is now an Audi India driver. The goal, as he's told us so often, is to become a part of the Audi pool of drivers, which means that some day he might even get the call up for something like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It's been a huge amount of progress for someone who eight years ago was racing Formula Rolons! And it's this thought that floats through my head as I watch Aditya saunter through he paddock, fully kitted out in Audi gear. One can't help but feel a thrill of pride that the tricolour is being represented thus in international motorsport!
I met Aditya at Buriram Airport on the way back to India where he was his usual cheerful self. He was looking forward to the rest of the season, especially with a few tracks that he's familiar with. And when racing life is dull and he isn't competing in the R8 LMS Cup, his life as a race instructor at Audi India keeps him busy. But there's no denying he's got his eye on the prize as far as a career racing sportscars goes. If the Audi R8 LMS Cup does make it to India, perhaps there will be some more Indian racers who will be able to take a similar step in the right direction, then!