It was an eventful, yet disappointing race at Brand Hatch. So, things should have become better back home. But Sailesh Bolisetti got a surprise. He returned home to India only to deal with a stubborn visa officer and not-so-gentlemanly racers!
After the Rockingham disappointment, where a failed driveshaft robbed us of a certain victory, there was a feeling of optimism going into round four of the British GT championship at the legendary Brands Hatch circuit.
We were at the half-way point in the championship (which has seven rounds in all), so I drew some satisfaction from the fact that we had endured our share of bad luck early (-ish). Now was the time to push and stop only to see out the championship.
But just three days later, it all went wrong once again.
To start with though, things were looking good when we hit the track on Saturday. We decided to run the first one-hour session with my teammate Phil Glew in order to find a good race setup for our Evora GT4. The car had been completely rebuilt post-Rockingham and showed searing pace. Phil posted a time, 2.8 seconds quicker than the second fastest car. In simple terms, we were miles ahead and looked set for a good result.
There was only one qualifying session for the single two-hour race on Sunday, and Phil went out missing out on pole position by just 0.003 seconds. It was disappointing, but not a disaster, as we knew it was a two-hour race and losing one grid position wasn’t the end.
On race day, English weather once again refused to play ball, as dark clouds loomed large and the rain came in a couple of minutes from race start.
Just like in Nurburgring, the car was on slicks in the wet, but I was extra-cautious and held on. The rain stopped in 10 laps or so, but just as I started to settle in, I lost control of the car at the fast Westfield right-hander. There was a crunching (sort of) sound before losing steering control. Racing drivers hate to be passengers and at that point I was one; doing 130kph or so and having no say in the car’s trajectory!
Once out of the car, I couldn’t really resolve my thoughts. All I know is that I watched the whole race from behind the barriers, sitting with the marshals instead of being behind the wheel.
Once the car was recovered, we discovered that both front wishbones (suspension arms) had failed in quick succession – that’s why the front-end refused to respond.
Although the team has taken up the matter with the manufacturer Lotus Cars, I think the damage has been done. We are now third in the standings instead of fighting for the top spot, which we would have done, had we secured the result we were capable of in the last two races.
With over a month-long mid-season break before the next round at Snetterton on August 4-5, I decided to head back to Vizag and recharge my batteries.
I also got a chance to revisit an old battleground, a place where I learnt the ropes of motor racing. The Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore, was one of two road racing circuits in India (the other being the Madras track), when I was racing in the national championship. So heading back to the same paddock was déjà vu.
Not much seemed to have changed at first glance. Battle-bruised Maruti Esteems with high-pitch exhaust notes were still ruling the roost in the touring car category. It was fine by me, since I have raced an Esteem before and even alongside in Polo Cup that I won in 2010, and which allowed me to progress into the international arena.
But what really hit me was the racing etiquette (or lack thereof!) out on the track. The Polo Cup, now running with new petrol engine, had young drivers who were cautious about raking up damage bills. As a result, the racing was mostly disciplined even though a tad monotonous for a spec-car series. The grid during my time was definitely more daring.
But the Indian touring cars were a stark opposite. With most drivers being on the other side of the half-century mark in age stakes, the races played out more like demolition derby than actual racing. There was a massive 6-car pileup triggered by a T-boning incident amongst several other instances, with some really questionable moves on track.
Speaking from experience, I have also been on the receiving end of this practice several times – everything was planned and orchestrated and not an impromptu racing incident due to driving error or some such.
This isn’t the worst part though. The fact that this happens time and again brings into question the authority of the stewards at these events. Being in my second season of international racing, I have witnessed how strictly the sporting regulations are enforced abroad.
Even pure racing incidents are investigated meticulously and penalties are handed out aggressively to deter such behaviour. The racing license has a points system (like road car license in most countries) and it can be docked after a limit, which basically means you can’t go racing for a long, long time.
The majority of the Indian touring car grid is made up of gentlemen racers, who are racing for fun and not to make a career out of motorsport, but their on-track behaviour is anything but gentlemanly. They may not care whether they finish on the podium or DNF, but that shouldn’t give them the right to ruin the races for those who put in a lot of money and effort.
Anyway, moving on from an eventful weekend in the windy locales of the textile city, it was on to the sweltering heat of Chennai with a mission to secure a 6-month extension to my UK visa.
Due to some inexplicable bureaucratic procedure, I can’t seem to convince them to give me a visa longer than six months, despite providing more than enough paperwork to show that my racing season in the UK lasts longer than six months.
In the past, I always applied for a 2-year visa and got 6 months in return – it’s like some sort of rationing. Since I knew a 2-year visa was a lost cause, I decided to apply for a six-month visa. Surprise, surprise – the application got rejected and I had to reapply, necessitating a second visit to Chennai.
Fingers crossed now. I do hope I get a visa in time to make it to Snetterton next month!
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