My parents could never understand my fascination with watching cars going endlessly around a circuit. At 15, I even convinced dad to get me in to F1 only to realise that you need to own a gold mine and have balls big enough to put every single penny into racing, along with possessing god-like driving skills. Fortunately for dad, I had neither but the bug of competitive driving never really left me. Lucky for me, Volkswagen Motorsport decided to call a bunch of scribes to get a real feel of racing in their Ameo Cup race cars.
Sure, the race pepped Ameos aren’t exactly F1 cars – hell, they don’t even run at Formula 2000 pace – but this was my chance at racing without the prospect of bankruptcy. VW’s motorsport team organise a driver selection programme at the beginning of every year and 20 budding racers get a chance to go racing. So that’s how I found myself in Nomex, in the driver’s seat of a bonafide race car, ready for on-track action.
Our weekend itinerary consisted of three days split into a practice session on day 1, another practice session followed by a qualifying race on day 2, and the final race on day 3. On day 1, all the journalists were briefed about the track, fastest lines to choose, track rules, controls in our race cars, and more. We were told that a waving flag was not someone cheering us but a marshal trying to tell us something important. With instructions finally out of the way, our coach Rayomand Banajee let us loose for the practice session.
The Ameo Cup is a proper race car developed over years of Volkswagen’s learning after racing Polos and Ventos, and it feels superb. The automatic gearbox unit on the Ameo works fantastic for rookie racers like me, not having to spend time thinking of what gear to be in, when is the exact time to shift while following the track lines, though the manual paddleshifters are very convenient as well.
The car also gets a recently incorporated launch button that is specifically developed for grid starts and is calibrated perfectly (not too much of power, not too little either) to give the initial boost. How does it work? Press the launch button, go full on the throttle and clutch pedal completely, and then dump the clutch completely in a single go. Simple!
After the practice session, we were taken around the track by Rayomand Banajee and racing champ Karthik Tharani to show the exact lines and speeds to carry around the track. The final race went pretty smoothly, and I managed to record my fastest lap time, consistently for four consecutive laps. I didn’t finish on the podium. In fact I was nowhere close to it, but the sheer joy of racing for the first time in my life was an incredible experience. I had tasted speed, the urge to go faster lap after lap and the mindset of a race car driver, all in a single weekend. A dream had come true for I had finally experienced The Thrill of Driving.