Pilgrim's Progress - Polo Cup and JK Racing Finale
What do you say about a racer in his third season of the Volkswagen Polo R Cup? A racer who fought for the championship till the very last round in his first year in the series back in 2011, losing it to Vishnu Prasad at the last race of the season. A racer who took the championship battle down to the wire in his second season of the Polo Cup too, this time conceding the title to Sandeep Kumar at the last race. Perhaps you can say that he took things seriously enough to ensure that he didn't have a near miss a third time in a row. He graduated from college, took a break from working and decided to focus solely on racing. How did he do this? Well, other than a fairly grueling physical fitness programme, he engaged the services of Ameya Walavalkar, himself a five-time national karting champion with two national racing titles under his belt, as his driver coach. Add to this a rigorous simulator training session, that would go on for up to six hours a day as the race weekend approached and the race preparation took on a rather professional level of seriousness, which is very commendable. And when it was time for the very last race of the 2013 season of the championship, Rahil Noorani was locked in battle with Prashant Tharani for the title. As things would play out, Noorani would take second place in the final race, with Tharani finishing third. That third near miss would be narrowly averted. Rahil Noorani would, on his third attempt, be crowned Volkswagen Polo R Cup Champion.
Rahil Noorani in the Race Polo at the BIC - winner in his third season in the championship
A lot has changed in the Polo Cup since the series kicked off in India back in 2010. That first year of the championship saw a crop of already established racers get behind the wheel of the Race Polos and slug it out. And it was one of the country's more promising tintop hopefuls, Sailesh Bolisetti, who would ultimately win the championship and head to race in the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup the next year. The rest of the pack were new drivers and as a result, in some cases the racing lines blurred, merged and collisions became a matter of course over a race weekend. With single seater championships of a certain standard, such as the FB02 series amongst others, opening up in the country, the established racers seem to have opted to head there instead. The Polo Cup then became a championship for young drivers, some with absolutely no prior racing experience, to rise through the ranks. In the second year of the championship in 2011, fighting Vishnu Prasad for the title were Oshan Kothadiya and Noorani (the former in his second ever season of racing and the latter in his debut season). The trend continued into 2012 and 2013 where it was drivers who had cut their teeth driving Race Polos who were slowly finding themselves in a position to win the championship itself. Drivers like Noorani, once again, along with drivers like Angad Singh Matharoo, Prashant Tharani and his brother Kartik Tharani. An encouraging sign.
Rahil Noorani - 2013 Volkswagen Polo R Cup champion - receives his award from Mahesh Kodumudi, president and MD of VW India, as Prithviraj Siddappa, head of motorsport looks on
"The Polo Cup has started attracting completely new drivers and has seen a lot of raw talent, which is good for Indian motorsport," says Rayomand Banajee, multiple national karting and racing champion. And this raw talent doesn't seem to be taking things lightly. Other than the fact that Noorani has won himself a drive in the 2014 Volkswagen Scirocco Cup Championship, and also won himself a sponsored spot in the FB02 championship in India, the other drivers are taking things seriously as well. Runner-up, Prashant Tharani tells us how he's been focussing on trying to get into a tintop series abroad, considering the likes of the British Touring Car Championship. He also tells us he's got big plans for his brother Kartik, who has shown tremendous promise with three podiums over the course of his first season in the championship.
Prashant Tharani chased Rahil Noorani in the title hunt till the very last race of the season
But even amidst the atmosphere of positivity about the progress our drivers have made over the past few seasons in the Polo Cup, there's a reality check that comes by way of a certain South African driver. Jeffrey Kruger has won seven of the ten races held in 2013. And he's won them in a rather dominant fashion too, on what are essentially home tracks for our drivers. For the final round of the season, Jeffrey's sister Robyn Kruger also dons a helmet and goes flat out against the rest of the drivers, racking up a podium along the way. It's the likes of Jeffrey and Robyn, then, that are the benchmark these drivers have to measure themselves against. If catching Jeffrey on their home tracks has been so hard, the challenge will double or even triple when they get to tracks in Europe and face a whole grid of drivers as quick as him. The task ahead is daunting.
Robyn Kruger, Jeffrey Kruger and Rahil Noorani on the podium
Another driver with a daunting task ahead of him is Vishnu Prasad. The 2011 Volkswagen Polo Cup champion chose to spend the 2012 season of racing in India, opting out of the Scirocco Cup deal due to budgetary issues. But it is the 2013 season that has proved to be his best season so far. Prasad has competed in the single seater championship the FB02 and been given a run for his money by Akhil Khushlani, an old hand, Arjun Maini, a karting star and member of the Sahara Force India Driving Academy fast on the rise, and Chittesh Mandody, as gritty a driver as you're likely to find.
Vishnu Prasad at the head of the Formula BMW pack
But Prasad has risen to the challenge, and won what has been one of the more challenging championships of his career. The win earns him an F3 test. "It's a dream come true," he declares unable to conceal his delight. He's won the National Karting Championship, the FB02 title, and finished runner-up in the LGB4 class as well.
Aditya Patel, Vishnu Prasad, Chittesh Mandody, Arjun Maini and Karun Chandhok on the podium
Our pilgrims have progressed thus far. For them to make it further and rise through the ranks of international racing as well, will take a lot not just money, but grit, determination and plenty of focus. Will they make the cut? We'll have to wait and watch.
Sarosh Hataria had already sealed the Formula LGB4 championship at the previous round at the BIC
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