To be completely honest with you, I’ve always been skeptical about driving simulators. Call me old fashioned but how does racing on a Playstation or a personal computer can make you a better racing driver on a real world racetrack? I attributed my pessimism to the lack of feel of being connected to the road and the missing fear factor associated with sitting in front of a monitor knowing fully well that if you crash, you can simply re-set the game and start over. In fact when Nissan launched their GT-Academy talent hunt in India in 2013, I made a bit of mockery of my trial run, spinning the car several times and eventually ending my trial by doing donuts on the virtual racetrack. Fast-forward to a few years later and I really wished I had taken the concept a bit more seriously.
With the cost of racing growing each year, drivers are forced to find alternative means to get the seat time they need and one of the most inexpensive ways to do that is by using a driving simulator. It was barely 6 months after I had mocked the concept that I was back in a simulator again and I began to realize that training on a simulator can be a very-very useful tool for drivers who face both testing restrictions as well as budget constraints. In fact during my travels with the Maini brothers in 2015, I had the fortune to get a peek into the Izone Driver Performance center, which is one of the top simulator centers in the U.K. and this had me wondering if the concept could work in India.
Enter Team Alchemy Performance Racing School. The academy was founded by brothers, Karthik and Prashant Tharinisingh earlier this year and is looking to take motorsport in India to a newer audience while at the same time greatly reducing the financial outlay required for a newcomer to enter the sport. Karthik is a three-time national champion having been successful in both touring cars as well as formula cars, winning the 2014 Volkswagen Polo R Cup and the 2015 MRF Formula 1600 championship as well as winning a championship in the drag racing class in 2017, while Prashant was a bit of a maverick during the 2013 Polo R Cup finishing second in the championship and has since gone on to forge a strong career in endurance racing, racing on some of the most iconic tracks around the world.
Since the concept was long overdue in India, I immediately got in touch with Karthik to better understand exactly how the academy worked and what his plans were moving forward. “Since the concept is unheard of India, especially for students who are either pursuing their engineering or are in school, I thought to myself (while I was training on the simulator myself) that it might be a good idea to get the word out there especially since the simulation software used today is pretty damn good.” Using his experience as a driver coach for Volkswagen as well as serving a private coach for a few drivers in the formula 1600 category, Karthik is well versed in helping beginners, “We get a lot of different drivers coming to us. We have a lot of college students from Formula Student racing teams and also some novice racing drivers who are looking to do some pre-season preparation, so I try my best to segregate the batches to ensure I can cater to their needs. With the college students we have to start with the basics like racing lines, brake points etc. so its important that they have a strong foundation.”
Another point Karthik touches on was one of my earlier reservations, which is the lack of fear while driving on a simulator. “I try my best to stress to the newcomers that a simulator is going to be useful only if they take it seriously and that continuously driving over the limits is a waste of their time.” So what about the drivers with some racing experience? “The cool bit about using a simulator is that you can tailor it however you want. There are just so many options to choose from and you can design a program specific to a driver’s needs. We’re currently working with a driver from the Ameo Cup and for him our focus is to get him familiar with a Front Wheel Drive car so a good option would be the Renault Clio Cup car which is quite similar to the Ameo. In fact while dealing with an experienced driver we can also analyse the data provided by the software to help the driver better understand where they are losing time using graphs as well as explaining concepts such as weight transfer which is quite important in touring cars. In short our approach is more analytical.”
The next question I had in mind was if there were any pre-requisites for someone to enrol in the program, “No there are none really, we send out a small information packet to those who come with zero experience. The package contains the fundamentals of motor racing as well as a small summary on what they can expect during the course.”
Another aspect of simulator racing is the actual competitions that take place around the world. Esports seems to be gaining significant traction in the motorsport community especially after the roaring success of the 2017 F1 Esports series, 2018 will see all the Formula One teams bar Ferrari run official outfits for drivers to compete in. So is this something the Alchemy Performance Racing School is targeting? “Its definitely on my mind though its something that I haven’t looked into seriously if I’m being honest. However before I look towards starting a team I would like to improve my own performances as I still have a long way to go myself.”
Though the team seems to be doing well at the initial stages, there is still a long way to go. So what exactly does the future look like for the team? “First of all we want to reach out to as many people as we can and be accessible to everyone who is looking to get into the sport as we’re very economical and the coaching we provide is also quite professional for the price. We would also like to have more sims in our centre as the technology keeps evolving and things that used to be quite expensive are much more affordable today. Finally going back to last question I think me and my brother will be entering the Esports arena in the near future and once we have a few good students we can look at entering it as a team.”
The true litmus test for the team will come only once their drivers start competing either virtually or on a racetrack. If the model does prove to be successful, you can rest assured that there will be more performance centers which crop up across the country. Here’s hoping that the concept catches on!