Today, we converse with Saurav Bandhyopadhyay, one of the more experienced RACING drivers in Indian Motorsport. Saurav has raced karts, single seaters, VW Polos and now, he is competing in the Volkswagen Ameo Cup, in which he finished in the Top 5 this season.
He has been through both, the ups and the downs of the rollercoaster ride that is Motor Racing. Saurav enjoyed a fantastic season this year and he is working hard to win the Ameo Cup next season. We head into conversation…
Soumil: So Saurav, have you driven the road version of the Ameo that you race?
Saurav: Actually, I haven’t. I do own a Polo GT and I’m a big fan of VW.
Soumil: Is there any difference that you find between your Polo and the one that you drove in the Polo Cup?
Saurav: Oh it’s a totally different car! Nothing bar the body of the car is shared by the road going Polo and the Polo cup. Since the objective of the series is to promote the Polo, the exterior of the car is the same as the road version, but apart from that, nothing is the same. The suspension, the brakes, the engine, the gearbox; everything is different.
Soumil: But aren’t these cars very heavy? I always get fascinated by seeing such heavy cars being raced at really high speeds.
Saurav: Haha, racing is very fascinating! But yeah, these cars are very heavy but the great quality of roll cages in the car make them fun to drive. The current Ameo that I drive weighs more than a ton but it’s such an amazing car to drive.
Onboard Lap with Saurav: MRF MMSC Volkswagen AMEO Cup 2017, MMRT, Chennai
Soumil: Is the Ameo oversteery or understeery?
Saurav: It’s neither to be honest. It just has tremendous grip although you can make it oversteer at times with the correct tyre pressure and setup. It’s handling can be tweaked according to the setup but it is the perfect car.
Soumil: Apart from racing, I’ve heard that you train drivers too. Is this true?
Saurav: Yeah, it is. I’ve trained a lot of drivers for Rayo Racing.
Soumil: So, according to you, is there any young driver who you see shining really bright in the future?
Saurav: Yes, I do. Aaroh Ravindra, the National Rotax Championship leader is one of my favourites. I trained him at the start of his career but later, Steve Hodges took over his preparation. Aaroh and I compete all the time; whenever we are at the track, we will just jump into the kart and see who can put in the fastest lap time! I particularly like him because he is a very technical driver who thinks a lot. For instance, the discussions that we have over a single corner can last for hours at times! He is very hard working and the effort that he is putting is paying off well for him. I don’t see why he won’t be a star in the future. Aanjan Patodia, Yash Araadhya and Arya Singh also impress me a lot and I’d love to compete with them.
Soumil: Moving on to India’s best prospects to get into Formula One: Arjun Maini and Jehan Daruvala. Do you think that they have a realistic chance of getting into Formula One within the next five years?
Saurav: Why five? From the way that they are progressing right now, I think that they will make it in four years, possibly three if things go extremely well. But sadly, their talent alone will not be enough to get them into Formula One; their connections and funding matter a lot too.
Soumil: That is the sad truth of Formula One; your talent is not enough to get you a drive, you need to have a strong backing too.
Soumil: Do you think that they deserve a shot at Formula One? Are talented enough to do that?
Saurav: Yes they are. I have raced with Jehan as he was at Rayo Racing some time ago and believe me, I was fascinated by what this kid could do. What I really like about Jehan is that he works hard; very hard. All the time he would look at videos of himself driving and he would try to rectify his errors and work towards correcting them. I really hope that he gets into Formula One soon. It will be really great for Indian motorsport.
Soumil: It has been quite a gap since the last time an Indian raced in Formula One. Do you think that this upcoming breed of Indian drivers will be better than the previous ones?
Saurav: Yes, I think that they will be better than the older ones as they (Arjun & Jehan) have a lot more international exposure than Karun and Narian. From the looks of it, the newer drivers seem much better equipped to put in seriously good performances.
Soumil: I agree. Whenever you watch Formula Three or GP3, you see Jehan and Arjun performing so well considering that it’s their first season and that just puts a smile on your face.
Saurav: Haha, yes it really does! I am really impressed by the performances of our youngsters and I love the way both of them drive. Maybe I am slightly biased towards Jehan since I know him personally, but I believe that Arjun has an equally good shot at getting into Formula One. Who knows if they get there together. That would be incredible.
Soumil: Moving on, let’s talk about motorsports in India and what should be our approach towards promoting it. People do know about racing here but it isn’t as big of a sport as cricket or football. You being a businessman yourself, how, according to you should we appeal to the masses?
Saurav: So basically, our main approach should be making more noise. Literally and metaphorically. People here do not know much about motorsports here but whenever I get introduced in a social situation as a ‘Racing Driver’, people are always amazed and fascinated. There is some ‘wow factor’ about racing which no other sport has and I feel that we need to tap on that ‘wow factor’ to amaze people and that way, more people would want to watch racing and so, the sponsors would like to invest more in this market, the opportunities will increase and gradually, India will become a much larger market for motorsport.
Saurav: Fans need touch n feel of the sport. We need to give them some visual content like Formula E does.
The reason why their fan base is growing rapidly is because they offer videos of their races to fans for free and that’s why people can watch it anytime on the go and get entertained. At least sometime they will be like ‘someday I’ll make out some time to watch a live Formula E race’. Now that’s how you gain fans and popularity and I believe that Indian motorsport drivers must draw some inspiration from the same.
For instance, when we organized the Indikarting National Series, while promoting it online, we received a much better response for video content than images.
Soumil: So before you race, do you make up a plan of what you want to do in the race or do you just go with the flow?
Saurav: I do make up a loose plan but in a sport like racing, plans don’t always work, so I generally tend to go with the flow.
Soumil: Do you like to be like Gilles Villeneuve; be the fastest in every corner and every session or like Alain Prost; willing races at the slowest possible speed?
Saurav: No, I don’t like to be like that at all. I want to win the race, set the fastest lap and win championships but the primary goal is always to be the fastest. I don’t want to calculate the points and risks before making an overtake; I simply want to be the fastest driver on the grid and the most successful one too. It’s fun being the quickest driver on the grid, you get the bragging rights among the drivers!
Soumil: So Sourav, would you rather go for a long drive in a GT machine like an Alfa Romeo or would you rather race with Saloon cars which are not so fun to drive?
Saurav: Racing any day! I get bored on the road. Racing, be it with any car, offers a thrill which you cannot experience by doing anything else, even if you are doing 200 on a highway. Racing is surreal.
Soumil: If you had a chance to race in any series in the world, which one would it be?
Saurav: I would love to race in Formula E. There, the drivers are always trying to overtake each other and the competition in just fantastic. I seriously enjoy watching Formula E since those guys are overtaking each other all around the track! It’s just an amazing series and racing in Formula E would be like a wish come true.
Also, I would love to race in Indycar but at the road courses, not the ovals.
Soumil: No ovals? I feel that they are the best thing about Indycar after the competition.
Saurav: Haha, the competition is very high over there! I would not race at the ovals since they are very dangerous. I think we saw that during this year’s Indianapolis 500 with the crash of Sebastien Bourdais and I don’t think that it is safe enough. Instead, I’d love to race at the road courses and the cars are just fantastic. There is so much of competitiveness in the series that it is just on a different level. I prefer Indycar over Formula One any day.
Soumil: You’re not alone! As we come to the end of this interview, I would like to ask one final question.
Saurav: Please, go ahead.
Soumil: What’s next? What are your aims for the near future?
Saurav: For next season, I’m aiming to win the Ameo Cup and I’ll be working super-hard for it! Then, if the funds are available, a move to single seaters is what I’ll be aiming for! Until then, in the off season, it’s time for some training!
Soumil: It was a pleasure talking to you, we will converse again at the start of the next season. Cheers.
Saurav: Yes. Definitely! Cheers.