Coimbatore, 19 August 2019: The second round of the Champions Yacht Club Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) for four-wheelers held at the windmill farms of Kethanur in Palladam, near here recently, threw some exciting results what with the terrain turning slushy and tricky with heavy rains lashing the plain dirt tracks a few days before the rally and track laced with pellet-size stones turned challenging for many a driver.
With the stalwarts and bigwigs biting the dust, the focus was on brothers Chetan Shivaram and Dilip Sharan, who won the overall honours keeping at bay, the marauding Younus Ilyas and Harish Gowda, who settled for a second place.
The INRC4 class was won by Goan Vaibhav Marathe and Arjun Balachandran while the INRC Junior class went to talented youngster Fabid Ahmer, who also took the overall third with Sanath Gopalan. Both these winners are from Team Champions, who provided the necessary financial and technical backing which eased much of the troubles of these motorsports athletes, who always suffer for want of proper sponsors.
The SUV Challenge was won by Lokesh V Gowda and co-driver Sudhindra BG. In this article, Lokesh Gowda, who is emerging once again as a successful driver in this class, will be featured as he prepares for the third round in Jodhpur next Sunday.
Excerpts from an interview:
When and how did you take up motorsports? Is there anyone in your family, who was into motorsports?
No, there is no one in my family with a motorsports background.
But as a teenager, I was always intrigued by motorsports especially the two-wheeler cross country rallies. In 2001, I was presented with an opportunity to participate in a local autocross event which also had two-wheeler races and it was an instant addiction.
What was the turning point in your young career then?
I won a category in my third race against the professionals in the sport.
From there-on I followed my passion and participated in local autocross events. But it was the selection by the Yamaha Factory team as a rider for Team Yamaha India that proved to be a turning point in my career. That was in 2002.
How successfully were you with Team Yamaha?
I toured the country racing for Team Yamaha for the next 3 years winning multiple events. However, winning the MRF National Motocross Championship in 2003 and 2004 is the highlight of my biking career. I became a National champion for two years in a row before Yamaha pulled out of racing in India in 2005.
Why did you stop rallying two-wheelers?
I continued rallying as a privateer under the 2-wheeler category for a few more years but had to stop due to an on-track crash at INRC Chikkmagalur event in 2009. I fractured my right elbow and damaged my right shoulder. So I was forced to stop bike rallying.
Tell us about your shift to 4-wheelers.
I could not stay away from motorsports for too long, so I moved to 4-wheeler dirt racing in 2011 because it offered much comfortable driving in comparison to 2W rallying which became a bit risky due to my arm injury. Here I could still race without causing more damage to my injured shoulder or elbow.
How did you fare with four-wheelers?
Starting with Indian National Autocross Championship in 2012 where I finished as the first runner-up, I moved into Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) in 2013 as a co-driver. But then I was back as a driver in 2014, taking part in the K1000 Rally and went on to INRC Coffee Day Rally where I finished 2nd on the podium. In the following years, I continued participating in several Dirt Events, Autocross Events, Quarter Mile drags along with INRC and winning many of these races.
Why did you stop abruptly?
Unfortunately, in India, a motorsport athlete’s passion takes a backseat when it comes to making dreams a reality. The lack of recognition and funding to this sport by the government and the lack of sponsors certainly affected many of us, who struggle to save and spend on the sport. The self-budgeting severely affects the performance and though the passion keeps it alive, it runs dry pretty soon. The same happened to me and so I had to stop rallying again after 2015. Getting a sponsor was a big task.
How did things change?
Champions Yacht Club is also the new promoter for INRC and they have certainly made a lot of improvements and the standards increased, which is good for the sport in our country. Moreover, many drivers were able to get support to continue their motorsport activities as they were inducted by Team Champions.
So you are going strong in your second innings?
Thanks to Mr. Vamcy Merla, who brought in the support from Mr. Subhakar Rao and Mrs. Hemamalini Nidamanur, Directors of Champions Group. They have come forward with immense support and the funding by taking me as part of Team Champions and most importantly their confidence in me as a driver, and their interest towards the betterment of rally drivers and motorsports in the country turned the years back and made it possible for me to stage a successful come-back. So I joined Team Champions in 2018 and returned to the world of rallying. I won INRC1 in the Rally Sprint event. This INRC season I am taking part in the SUV category. In the first round at the South India Rally in Chennai, I had a mechanical issue with my car I could not finish the rally.
How was Coimbatore rally and what are your future plans?
The second round of INRC at Coimbatore has been great and rewarding considering the unsuccessful run I had at Chennai. Thanks to JK Tyres for their great support and for sponsoring partly for the Rally of Coimbatore, I finished first in the SUV category along with my co-driver Sudhindra BG. I am looking forward to the next round in Jodhpur and winning this year’s championship title.