For years, I had been trying to break into the small community that is the Motorsport clique by some way or the other and finally, Team Principal of Mahindra Racing, Dilbagh Gill invited me to the Hong Kong ePrix to experience Formula E in the flesh. And there I was, in the ‘Pearl Of The Orient’ to begin my first adventure as a journalist.
It was Thursday and I had just walked down the magnificent Victoria Peak when I received a phone call from Mahindra Racing’s Marketing Manager, Akshay Deodhar. He told me that there was a media event at the Grand Hyatt at dusk and he wanted me to be a part of it.
It would turn out to be a historical day for Mahindra Racing; their revolutionary partnership with Japanese Electronic Solutions Company Renesas would be announced and I was very lucky to witness it personally. There, I got the opportunity to talk to Nick Heidfeld. The interview with him was my first with a driver who had an FIA Super License and I’ve got to admit that it feels absolutely amazing to meet a driver who you have seen race for your entire childhood.
The interview went really well and finally I asked him something that I wanted to know from him since a long time. I questioned him about the thing that bought him to Mahindra when they were in a really turbulent period; he said that it was the Team Principal, Dilbagh Gill, his sheer passion of racing and determination to win which brought him to the team. He said that even today, he gets amazed at how persevered Dilbagh is to win the Championship and the way he transfers it to motivate each and every member of the team.
Then, I got the opportunity to have a chat with the jaw-dropping personality that is Dario Franchitti. At first, I could not believe that I was talking to a three-time Indy 500 winner but after a while, things started to sink in. We had a long chat about racing and how it has changed over the years. I didn’t keep a track of time and eventually, I had to leave the party because it was getting too late and the next morning was a big one.
Friday. The media day.
We got the accreditation done and we were in. We kept our bags in the lockers at the media center and grabbed some breakfast before going to the star-studded pitlane. Unlike other racing series, we were able to interact with a lot of people in the pitlane without having to wait for a long period of time. Firstly, I got the opportunity to talk to the man behind Audi’s thirteen “24 Hours Of Le Mans” wins, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. Talking to the person who I was always fascinated by felt like a dream come true; there was something different about him which I didn’t feel when I was with anyone else. While we conversed, he caught me speechless for a moment and I don’t really blame myself!
Then, I wandered around the pitlane and conversed with several drivers in Nico Prost, Daniel Abt, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Luca Filippi, Andre Lotterer, Felix Rosenqvist, Maro Engel and the defending champion, Lucas Di Grassi. Then, I got the opportunity to head out for the track walk with Felix Rosenqvist and it was an absolute treat.
After all the interviews had concluded and the seductive cars had returned from scrutineering, I met 3-Time “24 Hours Of Le Mans” winner Allan McNish. We started to talk about his role as a sportscaster and slowly, we moved on and conversed about a wide range of topics which included his days at Le Mans, his iconic Le Mans winning partnership with Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello and also the future of motor racing. An hour passed by and we ended the conversation because of an emergency technical meeting at Audi which as the Team Principal, he needed to attend. It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with anyone and I can look back and call it an hour well spent!
I arrived at the track while the first free practice was on and got the chance to watch these beasts at their absolute best. Firstly, I was absolutely amazed at how much these cars danced around . I have seen cars of several other racing series go past me but this was just something completely different. I had expected these cars to be very stable but they slid around a lot and the drivers needed to tame them, as if they were wild bulls. It was an amazing sight!
Then came the sound of the cars. Yes, I agree that they are not as loud as the petrol powered cars but these cars are loud and the noise that they make is much soothing to hear; it doesn’t hurt your ears and that adds up to the sustainability bit for the series. I was euphoric to see these cars in action and it was an experience like no other. After watching a chaotic qualifying from the media center along with some of the best journalists in the industry, I headed out into the pitlane to talk to some drivers about qualifying the race which was coming up.
To my delight, Micheal Andretti was willing to spare out a few minutes for me and I had a wonderful time talking to him. Then, it was time for the race. I have to admit that if I had to choose between watching a race at home, trackside or from the media center, I would definitely choose the third option.
You would ask, ‘Why not trackside? Didn’t you say that it felt amazing?‘ or ‘why not at the comfort of your house?’ The reason for the same is pretty simple; the feeling that you get when you’re watching a truly dramatic race along with many others who share the same passion as you while having the most delicious sandwiches in the world cannot be replicated. The media center buzzes when a race is underway, with opinions being shared from every corner of the building and it feels quite wonderful.
The race on Saturday was one of the most chaotic ones Formula E had seen and at the end, everyone in the media center applauded Sam Bird’s stellar drive which saw him took the win. Then, I quickly sprinted to the E-Village to attend the podium ceremony, which in itself was a very special moment.
After the race, I was honoured to be a part of the Mahindra Racing’s garage to look around and learn things about the car while the core members of the team took part in the debrief of a rather satisfactory race. Just getting up close with the car felt brilliant; these machines look much more delightful in person than they do on the TV screen.
Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday in terms of what I had to do until the race; the only thing that was different was the fact that Felix Rosenqvist had taken pole position for the race, which meant that there were smiles all around the garage of the team that invited me to the event, Mahindra Racing.
I got the chance to ask the elated Dilbagh Gill a few questions post qualifying and he said that the team was pumped up to get the winner’s trophy back to the factory in the UK, something that they eventually did.
The race was absolutely dramatic with the leaders spinning out at different points of time to hand Daniel Abt his first Formula E win on his 25th birthday. He was overjoyed by the result and was celebrating vigorously on the podium, much to the delight of the fans around. Then, I got the chance to talk to him and several others in the official press conference and also in the media pen.
Hours after the race had finished, I was waiting outside the Mahindra garage to thank Mr Gill, who so generously invited me to the race. Then, as I was leaving a track, I got the opportunity to talk to the great Alain Prost and we struck up a healthy conversation.
An hour later, while I was savouring my fried chicken at a KFC in Wan Chai, my phone started to buzz with many people sending me messages. I opened it to find out that just minutes after I left the racetrack, Daniel Abt was sadly disqualified for a technical infringement with his car, handing the win to Mahindra and Felix Rosenqvist.
A fitting end to a weekend full of drama, both on and off the track. If there is one thing that I learned from this experience, it would be the fact that you should never hold back; prior to this event, I was rather shy of talking to drivers but then I realized how much I could miss out on simply because of my shyness. Then, something inside me changed and I was, interviewing some of the most iconic names in Motorsport without any fear.
A dream come true. Thanks Mahindra Racing.