The general perception of motorsports is one of glamour and fame, Formula One being the pinnacle of motorsport, conveys to it’s followers a life of jet-setting millionaires who travel the world and race at exotic locations ranging from Monaco to Singapore. The reality however is far from it. We currently live in a scenario where a vast majority of racing drivers have to spend money to make it onto the grid at all. Finding a racing driver who makes a living purely through motorsport is a difficult task especially in a country like India where the sport is just about finding it’s feet.
One individual who seems to have worked out a successful formula from themselves is Aditya Patel. Aditya began his foray into the world of motorsport at the age of 4 and despite achieving success in formula car racing, an astute move to switch to tin-top racing has seen him attain what a lot of racer strive to achieve, which is earning a living through motorsport alone.
Aditya is currently backed by Audi and has been a part of their motorsport program since 2012. His big break came in 2009 when he contested a few rounds of the Polo Cup series in Germany, which led to a full time drive in the rebadged Scirocco Cup in 2010 and 2011 and his performances during his two years in the series ultimately paved the way for his current position with Audi. Apart from being a racing driver, Aditya is also performance instructor for the company, helping both existing and prospective customers of the brand experience the full potential of the German marque’s line up of cars through a series of events conducted across the country. So how exactly did all this come about?
“It was back in 09 when I had an opportunity to contest the Volkswagen Polo Cup in Germany” recalls Aditya. “Though my initial plan was to take part in another year of the Formula BMW championship, I dropped those plans in order to see if this (the Polo Cup) would be something I was interested in. After running a year in the series I quite liked the atmosphere, the Polo Cup was run as a support race to both F3 and DTM and the weekends were quite big. I decided to do another year in the Scirocco Cup the following year and from there I knew this is where I wanted to be.”So was the transition from racing Formula Cars to Touring Cars difficult? “The first year was a bit of a challenge, mainly because I had never driven a Touring Car on a track before. I still remember my first weekend in Hockienheim, where I went into practice with zero testing and everything felt a bit odd. I had ABS in the car, a power steering and a regular gear box though that was something I had raced with in the past, the only thing was that is was a left hand drive though again that was not so much of an issue. It took a couple of races for me to understand the nuances of racing touring cars especially with respect to the weight transfer that occurs on these cars and once I figured that out along with a few other details I was on pace after that.”
So is there a particular ladder for aspiring GT racers especially those coming from India? “It’s not exactly a Formula One kind of ladder in terms of structure but there is one. The way I went about it was I started off racing in one-make championships (a championship which is run with only a single make car with almost identical setups) in the form of first the Polo Cup and then the Scirocco Cup in Germany and from there I moved into GT racing. So to answer the question yes I would say there is a bit of a ladder, you can’t just jump into racing a GT car straight away. That being said these cars aren’t very difficult to drive, if you are a very good driver it won’t take you too long to get used to it, it’s just that the last few tenths are the hardest to close in on but I guess that’s the same with all forms of motorsport.”“As far as the best place to start, there are actually plenty of options. The U.K. has a lot of good options though most of these championships are quite expensive. A good place for an Indian to start would be the Ameo Cup though there is also the option of racing single seaters in the country. Honestly there is something about racing Formula Cars that you can’t replicate in a Touring Car. You also learn from each car, when I switched back to single seaters I found that I was better at driving them as I learnt how much of the track I could use and also the fact that the touring cars I had raced had a power steering forced me to learn how to get as much feedback as I could from the track which when I switched back to the Formula Car helped me get to grips with it instantly as Formula Cars give you instant feedback. Both Touring cars and Formula cars compliment each other in a way so I think it’s important for an individual to race in both cars.”
So has the road to establishing himself as India’s premiere GT racing driver been challenging? “Well there’s nothing in particular that I found extremely challenging. In terms of funding I’ve been fortunate enough to have the backing of Audi as well as J.K.Tyre for many years, I’ve raced in Europe and in Asia so I can’t image what my biggest challenge has been, there’s nothing really I can point my finger on!”So what’s his advice to anyone looking to follow in his footsteps? “Motorsport is not just Formula One of course, there are a whole lot of options available to drivers. It is expensive there’s no doubt about that, but if you really love it don’t give up! A lot of people also seem to get into racing because they think its glamorous and they think they can earn a lot of money out of it, which is a bad misconception really. Almost all of us do it because we enjoy racing and the money we earn from it is secondary, in fact motorsports costs a lot of money and we spend a lot of money pursuing what we love. In terms of returns it’s quite difficult though it does come back to you at some point in the future. I think for anyone looking to start its highly important for them to enjoy it before they think of making a career out of it.”