In his early twenties, Akshay Gupta is reaching the winning pedestal of motorsports. The tale of his life speaks is not only about speeding up to reach the epitome, but also holding on to hustles. In each unconventional career, one needs to be a disciple to his discipline. After years of rigorous practice, he decided to miss his first national racing championship to be able to stand beside his mother. Subsequently, the following year found him racing much ahead of racing drivers.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EPISODE
- After winning the national Finals in Chennai, Akshay went to Silverstone, UK to compete against other Asian countries.
- In 2011, Akshay went for the Force India driver selections and fared well against drivers competing in the national championships for years.
- In 2012, he got selected by Toyota to race in their upcoming Etios Motor Racing National Championship for 2013 out of 3300 drivers.
QUOTES AND TAKEAWAYS
- “You can be someone who loves cars just by knowing they exist, but to love speed, you have to experience it.”
- “Be persistent, keep working hard, be true to yourself and always be yourself.”
- “Nothing comes easy and there’s no such thing as luck.”
Tell us a bit about your childhood. Did you always envision yourself to be in Motorsport?
When I was 2 years old, I used to wake up to the sound of an engine in our house and cry. I only stopped crying when I got into the passenger seat of our car. Then I got a joy ride around our small town in Rajasthan. My days were spent playing with toy cars. My dad saw my interest for cars and got me a go kart when I was 4 or 5 maybe, sadly without an engine. Fortunately, our house was surrounded by mountains. So, I used to ride it down the mountain slopes and did quite a bit of speed for a vehicle without brakes. I guess I had a liking for cars since the day I was born but I got addicted to speed when I started riding that soap box down the slopes. You know, you can be someone who loves cars just by knowing they exist, but to love speed, you have to experience it.
I never knew there was a profession like being a racecar driver. But when we shifted to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, I used to enjoy driving the go-karts at the local karting track in the city. I saved up money all week to eventually ride my bicycle down to the track and spend the weekend there.
When I came to know about the racing championships that happened around India, I wanted to be a part of it. I was already competing against myself at the track, and I remember doing good lap times. The costs of racing in the national karting championship were astronomical, so I never quite did it. Then the karting track was shut down. I spent the next few years racing on computer games. Only when I was 15 and I started following motorsport on TV, I realised that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
How has been your bon voyage so far as a car racer? What has been the most memorable experience in your journey so far?
It has been a rollercoaster to be honest. When I began, a veteran told me that I can’t do it without money. You know, I belong to a middle class family. But I said to myself that there’s nothing that can’t be done. Thus began a journey of countless driver selections, sponsorship meetings, presentations, emails and cold calls.
In 2011, I went for the Force India driver selections and fared well against drivers competing in the national championships for years.
In 2012, I got selected by Toyota to race in their upcoming Etios Motor Racing National Championship for 2013 out of 3300 drivers. We got trained by professional racing drivers from Japan, and had 2 exhibition races to prepare for the 2013 season. Come 2013, I had learnt enough from those few outings in the racecar and was amongst the top 3 in the practice sessions before the race. In the last race, I finished 2nd and got the Best Teenage Driver trophy.
I knew I had what it takes. Because I was competing against national champions in that series and was up there in terms of lap times. I had decided to sort out the budget to compete in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge in the UK. I also got myself a job as a journalist for a national print magazine to further help my cause. I have a record of the meetings I went to that year, 63 in a span of 6 months and 1000s of emails. I did this while managing a job as a journalist and regularly giving auto engineering exams in a different city. I could never get 45 lakhs to do the championship. Then I heard about GT Academy coming to India. A platform which required zero investment. If you could prove your talent, Nissan took you to the epitome of the sport and made you their pro racing driver. I left my job, packed my bags and came back to my hometown to prepare for the selections.
After hours in the gym, many more hours on the simulator, controlling my diet to the last calorie and doing meditation to increase concentration, I got selected out of 5000 drivers in the country to represent India at the International GT Academy finale in 2014. But then my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumour, two days before I was supposed to leave and I didn’t leave my mom in the ICU. I worked harder the entire year and got selected again in 2015, this time out 10000 drivers to represent India at the Asia finale.
At the Asia finale, we were tested on 9 different cars on 8 different race tracks and a very difficult GT Ninja fitness challenge in a span of 7 days in a span of 7 days before they narrowed down top 5 out of 30 to represent their respective countries. I was selected to represent India. I was in the top 5 out of Asia from 2,50,000 drivers! Now, all that was left was to win the final race, I was started 4th because of a crash in the previous race with Thailand. I finished a step higher in 3rd and on the podium of the Silverstone International circuit. Before me were Phillipines and Indonesia, while Thailand and Japan were after me. It felt amazing to be the reason that the Indian flag was waving at the circuit. A privilege to be mentored by India’s ex-F1 driver, Karun Chandhok. I was 10 seconds away from winning that million dollar contract with Nissan. I regret not winning, because that’s all that matter at the end of the day. But motorsport has taught me a lot. I’m a completely different person than I was 7 years ago when I decided to buck the trend and do what no one has done in Indian motorsport before. I’ve become a better individual.
But the most memorable experience for me was during this one race in the UK for the GT Academy competition. You know how people talk about living in the moment, not to think about the future or past? I believe that motorsport is the perfect example of living in the moment. While racing, you’re concentrating so hard that there’s absolutely no thought. If you think, you will surely make a mistake. Meditation has helped me increase my concentration in this regard. But, in that one race in the UK, I was concentrating so hard that I had almost lost sense of being there. I don’t remember controlling the car or feeling my body there, it was surreal. I was driving the car, but I didn’t know, it all happened on its own. I believe people call it transcendental meditation? Whatever it is, it’s a high. That’s the most memorable experience for me so far. I believe that I’m the happiest when I’m in the racecar for those few moments and I would do anything for those moments of happiness.
Raising funds come crucial in the domain of racing. What is your opinion about this? Do you think many potential car racers are confronted which a setback for this?
When you’re racing, there’s a highly advanced machinery that you’re driving. To develop automotive technology is a lot of money. Thus each part of racecar, built for a limited quantity, costs a lot. To understand and adjust this advanced machinery, you need an engineer and mechanics. Tyres are especially developed and we use aviation gas to run them. All this means that it costs a lot. An average F1 drivers spends about 35-50 crores to get to Formula 1. The lower ranks are filled with thousands of aspirants and despite pouring in money, there are only 22 seats in Formula One.
I believe people need to know this before they get into the sport. Of course you need money, very few make it only on talent. But I’ve also learnt that motorsport is a brilliant marketing platform.
If you’re talented and if you work hard enough, you can see how brands can benefit from being a part of your career. To be a successful racing driver, you need to be a great businessman. Obviously it’s easier if you’re born rich. But if you aren’t, you have to face it and learn the art of marketing yourself, selling yourself and marketing the brands associated with your career.
It’s a constant process with few returns. For someone like me, he/she has to think of earning a living at this age. Imagine going to several meetings, managing your diet, fitness and marketing the brands you’re associated with. It’s a full time job. You can’t possibly have another job with it. To be successful in the sport, you have to give everything to it. From where I’m, I see that it will take me 4-5 years more to earn a living as a professional racing driver, if things go as planned. So, last year, I decided to earn from the sport itself. Thus I co-founded a company called AU Motorsport and you can say that I’m working on being an entrepreneur to be able to afford my expenses of racing cars around the world while also building Indian motorsport.
Whom do you lookup to as a car racer? Can you tell us why?
Ayrton Senna. I’ve read so many books, seen documentaries about him and watched many old races. He was without a doubt the most dedicated driver in the sport. His attention to detail, raw talent, ruthlessness and the will to win are second to none. Of course, he was rich and never had to worry about the money. But I know several such drivers with money, who get distracted and waste talent and resources.
Not only this, he used every bit of his success in the sport to help the people of his country. A Brazilian friend of mine who was working in India told me how her brother’s schooling was funded by Ayrton’s charity organisation, years after his death. Millions of Brazilians worship him for his deeds. I think he was great both inside the car and outside of it. That’s something.
Do you follow any techniques which caters yourself to be organized?
Before a race, I study everything about the racecar and the race track. I also try to find out everything about the people I will be competing against. I even try to replicate the setup to a simulator and then practice for hours.
Of course, for a competition like GT Academy, there was little I could do because of the unpredictable format. But, I’ve maintained this habit to read the regulations from page to page and to keep all the rules in mind, to be able exploit them. To watch all the onboard videos of the track I’m supposed to race on. And to find out all the little details of the racecar, for instance.. How many laps does it take for the car’s tyres to come to optimum temperature, how many laps before they are finished, how does the car behave, anything I should be aware about. With limited resources, it’s difficult to get used to the car before the guy who has done 100s of laps of testing in the same car because he could afford it. Knowing the ins and outs of the car helps me to get comfortable in it quicker and that helps me exploit it more.
Can you take us to a high pressure situation on track which you experienced?
It has to be the final race of the Asia finale in the UK. I had been through a lot to get there. To win the competition and become a pro racing driver for Nissan. I was representing India, many of my friends and family members were watching it live back in India. Karun Chandhok had coached me well and he was counting on me for India to win.
I was starting fourth and I could only hear my heartbeats as I was strapped in the car, concentrating on the lights to go out. I had a bad start and by corner 3 of the first lap, Thailand hit me from the side. I lost 5 seconds to the leaders in an 8 lap race. With tenths separating me and the front runners. I knew that to win now, something had to go wrong for the front runners, a crash perhaps? I kept pushing hard, the entire race was the most high pressure situation of my entire life. Wish I could win it for India and myself, but I finished 3rd.
What is your message for our readers who are mostly the millennium youth?
Be persistent, keep working hard, be true to yourself and always be yourself. Nothing comes easy and there’s no such thing as luck. And most of all, drive safe on public roads. We are the future of this country with the maximum amount of deaths in road accidents in the world. We have to develop an understanding for road safety and follow the rules. Racing should be left for the race tracks and streets are to commute in orderly, organised and controlled manner. Drive/ride safe everyone.