2015 Ferrari Challenge: Gautam Singhania, India's gentleman racer
It isn't rare for the rich to splurge on indulgences some on vices and some on philanthropy, but only a handful actually devote their life outside work and put it on the line in search of glory. The chairman and managing director of the global textile conglomerate, Raymond Limited, Gautam Singhania found his obsession with the world of motorsport. When not overseeing the affairs of the world's largest producer of worsted suiting fabric, Gautam is busy honing his driving skills or training for his next motorsport mission.
His love for supercars saw him form the first ever supercar club in India. But just owning supercars in India is now passé for the uber rich Gautam wanted to be the master of his creatures. Gautam spent time with some of the best driver coaches in the world tuning his machines and fine tuning his craft. It was time to put his abilities, natural and acquired, to test. Of course, he had fulfilled his ambition of driving a Formula 1 car in France, had driven a Ferrari 360 Modena in a road and track rally across Europe, and a Lamborghini Gallardo in Europe's Cannonball Run. But it was time to enter the world of competitive motorsport.
Fast lap times and precision driving were Singhania's primary focus but his innate interest in rallying also pulled him towards the art of oversteer. And so his passion gave India its first purpose-built drift cars and a private drift track at Raymond's Thane facility. In September 2012, Gautam was invited to Malta for the final round of the Drift All-Stars. "Attend the event? No, I think I'll participate, thank you very much." But to participate in a pro drifting event, he would need to qualify for a pro licence, which not surprisingly, hadn't ever been done by an Indian. He would have to enter the amateur drift category and qualify in the top three. Gautam was not only one of the most impressive debutants, but qualified first and obtained his pro drifting license. Gautam loved the experience but drifting was still a lot of play, he wanted something more seriously competitive. Drifting is a lot of about style and impressing the judges, but there's nothing quite like the sense of victory when crossing the finishing line first, after battling it out with other competitors. The circuit beckoned.
Gautam Singhania in his Ferrari 458 Challenge that's painted in the Indian tricolour, during the race start at Mugello
One of the customer engagement activities that Ferrari offers is the opportunity to buy their old racing machines, which Ferrari maintains and brings to racetracks across the world where they can be driven. Customers of Ferrari road cars can also participate in the Ferrari Challenge Racing Series against other non professional Ferrari owners. Gautam participated in the World Finale of the 2014 Ferrari Challenge in Abu Dhabi as a wild card. The first race saw the 49-year old Singhania qualify fourth and finish the race in third in his category the first debutant to ever finish on the podium in the Ferrari Challenge. Could he become the first ever debutant-winner in Race 2? That was the plan, however, the exuberance proved costly as Gautam braked a fraction of a second too late and rear ended Rick Lovat's 458 Challenge. A disappointing DNF but lesson learnt. The bug had bitten him. He had his eyes set on the championship next year. And while he was at it, he also took his Ferrari 458 Challenge to the Buddh International Circuit and set the lap record for a production car dusted shoulder all in a day's work.
Gautam Singhania with his Ferrari 458 Challenge supercar
For 2015, Singhania didn't want any loose ends. He had the skill, now he needed the best support, which came in the form of Kessel Racing. By now you ought to know it had to be one of the best, if not the best racing outfit at the Ferrari Challenge. The question who should train Gautam for the championship was answered by the question who trained the 2014 champion? Enter former F1 driver Andrea Montermini, exit a few extra seconds off Gautam's laptimes.
Fast forward to the end of the 2015 season of the Ferrari Challenge OVERDRIVE is part of the media contingent at the Mugello Circuit which was to be the setting where Gautam Singhania would be making history the Finali Mondiali (world finals) of the 2015 Ferrari European Challenge. With two races to go in the final round of the 2015 championship, it was mathematically impossible for Gautam to win the championship in his maiden year, but his second position was under serious threat from Erich Prinoth. In Race 1, Gautam claimed his maiden pole position in his 458 Challenge, just ahead of championship leader and inevitable champion Jacques Duyver.
The chairman and managing director of Raymond crossed the finishing line after 16 laps of intense battling, having led every lap of the race. Gautam became the first Indian to claim pole position and then went to better that record by becoming the first Indian to win a race in the Ferrari Challenge. He also became the first debutant in the history of this championship to score 10 podiums with one race to go. Race 2 was relatively sedate as he finished seventh in his category. But the result was enough to seal second place in the overall standings at the 2015 Ferrari Challenge Coppa Shell championship. There wasn't going to be any of the celebration that is customary to such victories his day job had him running to catch his flight back to Mumbai. As he walked up to his motor home, we caught up with a visibly exhausted yet satisfied Gautam Singhania. And the obvious question was What's next?
Gautam Singhania on the top step of the podium for Race 1 of the Ferrari Challenge round at Mugello
"The 2015 season was very satisfying indeed. We didn't get first place but second place in my very first season is something I'm happy with. I want to come back stronger next season and win this thing that's what's next." Upon the suggestion of a possible go at GT3 racing, he simply smiled and said, "Why not. The sky's the limit."
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