Driven: Volkswagen Ameo Cup race car

For someone who has never driven a race car, there was a lot going on in my mind.

Driven: Volkswagen Ameo Cup race car
Start action
Atmosphere in the garage
Benjamin Gracias
Volkswagen Ameo Cup engine detail
Volkswagen Ameo Cup, Dash Display
Volkswagen Ameo Cup cockpit
Johir Suresh
Volkswagen mechanic at work
Track action

I was going to drive the race prepared Volkswagen Ameo car that is used in a one-make series in the Indian National Championship. The car has a 1.8 litre turbocharged engine that produces over 200 horsepower. Moreover, gear change is via paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.

Now, this machine is quite different from a road car. There was suspense and I did not know what to expect.

There was a little confidence in me because the folks at Volkswagen had told me that if I could drive a road car, it is not too difficult.

It's D-day. Excitement builds as I reach the Madras Motor Race Track. I am asked to get into the car so that the mechanics could adjust the seat according to my height. Getting into a car is a bit of an acrobatic task and one has to really crouch and wriggle to get in.

Frankly, it feels a bit stifling in the car. We have seen drivers getting out of the car all soaked in sweat. It was clear why it happens.

Former race driver Rayomand Banajee explains the way the car works, and general dos and don'ts. He explains racing lines to take, where to brake and how to throttle. Theory is fine, but it was going to be different while actually driving.

Getting strapped up in the six-point racing harness is uncomfortable, particularly for a first-timer. But it is the life-saver. Wearing the helmet in the heat of the car is also uncomfortable, but again essential.

By now, I was getting to understand what race drivers go through. It is clearly not just about starting on the car and stepping on the throttle.

Once the engine is on, there is a roar of the GTI engine that has been race tuned. Soon, I am on my way. It is a bit confusing at first because we are used to the floor gear lever shifting. But, you soon begin to understand.

It took it a bit slow so as to understand the car first. I tried to remember all that Banajee had told me: try to move in straight lines, hit the apex and get ready for the next corner, try to throttle when the car is not turning, watching the multi-colour display that reads out all car parameters and more importantly the LED gear shift indicator etc.. Executing all that the first time in a race car is a bit difficult.

I tried to follow instructions as much as possible. The car shoots forward when you press the throttle. The gear shifts give the car jerks, particularly while downshifting. I realised I had to grip the steering wheel tighter. I was scared that my hands would come off it.

The straight line acceleration feels exhilarating. It is a bit more complicated at the corners because there are so many things to think about. After a while, I began to feel more confident. I began shifting to higher gears and take turns at slightly higher speeds.

After a couple of runs, there was a clearer picture in my mind about what race car driving was all about.

I also realised the kind of fitness and sometimes physical strength drivers need at higher speeds. It was a task doing it with no one else on track. But it is something else to be competing with about 20 others. It takes guts and nerves of steel.

My respect for race drivers and riders went up so much more. It is a tough sport.

 
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