Summer is nearly here. But the heat was deceptive this Saturday. A fresh, cool breeze edged puffy, white clouds towards the blazing sun, bringing an intermittent shade. It didn’t really matter though. The heat was irrelevant at the Buddh International Circuit.
The pitlane was buzzing. My friends, the bikers, tapped their feet, adjusted their leathers and wiped down their superbikes lined up in a neat row. Aprilias rubbed shoulders with the R1 and Hayabusas. The stunning Kawasaki green stood out among the blacks, reds, and golden. The circuit was beckoning, its turns shimmering in the sunlight. The riders were waiting for that moment when they could push their machines to the limit, take the corners nice and low and blast down the straights.
It wasn’t just any other track day though. This one was special. We, the spectators and the riders from the Group of Delhi Superbikers, were all there at the invitation of the Mahi Racing Team, India’s first World Supersports team and cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s baby.
Four men walked in, their Kawasaki Racing Team shirts stood out among a sea of leathers. These were familiar faces, ones seen on television mostly, racing down incredible circuits, standing on the podium and spraying champagne. We were expecting them. The masters of their machines: Kenan Sofuoglu and Fabien Foret. The two have had an interesting start to the season. Sofuoglu, the 2012 WSS world champion, gave the Mahi Racing Team its first win this season at Phillip Island. Teammate Foret came an impressive 4th.
They are here however to promote and introduce superbike racing to a cricket-crazed country. It’s about time. After all, the World Superbike Championship will make its Indian debut in November, at the last race of the season.
Foret said, “Apart from getting to interact with the group of superbike enthusiasts, the activity will also help us know more about the Buddh International Circuit. We have heard so much about this circuit and getting a first-hand experience of the track can prove to be a defining factor in the overall season.”
It is a pity Sofuoglu said looking around that they can’t ride the track with the other bikers. But, it is here, he said later that the Mahi Racing Team will come to at the end of the year, maybe as champions, or maybe to win the championship.
This is a beautiful circuit, Andrew Stone, the team’s technical director, said and they are looking forward to coming to India and racing, and winning. It’s something the team has to do and they know it, Stone says with a laugh.
A win in India will do a lot towards popularising superbike racing, more than what a few scattered events can. It is a big concern. After all, we are talking about a country whose primary obsession is cricket. And perhaps the most publicity superbikes have received so far, have been negative in nature – of rash riders and accidents. Many riders in the superbike community, including the G.O.D.S, have tried to battle these labels – they have tried to create order amidst untrained chaos. And it is a growing community bound together by a love for powerful machines that have their own, special beauty. The road ahead however, is difficult. Widespread publicity will bring in ticket sales, important if we are to see a long-lasting association with the sport.
But these questions of popularity and publicity did not seem that important on Saturday. The interaction was over. The briefing was done. The pictures were taken. The riders were edgy. They wanted to get down to the business of riding. And so they did. The circuit beckoned and it’s a call only a rider understands.