Mangalurean Ashwin Naik vrooms his way into international motorsport

Florine Roche
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru

Mangaluru, Apr 7: For those sceptics who believe that looks, talent, success and luck don’t always go together, motorsport champion Ashwin Naik is certainly an exception. This 'namma Kudla' champion with loads of talent and with an attitude that can be simply termed as inspirational, has achieved the unthinkable by accomplishing the rare distinction of being the be the first Indian to enter the British Rally Championship held in London on March 5 and 6.

Teaming up with driver Amittrajith Ghosh of Kolkotta, Ashwin has not only made a grand entry in this championship but also has won laurels for India in the international arena in motorsports by finishing third in the podium, quite an extraordinary feat as far as India is concerned. It is no mean achievement to come third on the podium in a competition that witnessed participation of 120 cars and 28 cars in R2T, the category in which Ashwin and Ghosh participated.

An ecstatic Ashwin who was the co-driver (navigator) of Amitrajith in this rally minces no words when he says, "It was a dream debut for us and it turned out to be an extraordinary moment when we realised we had finished 3rd. It was a proud moment because with this achievement we demonstrate that India has the technology and wherewithal to compete in international motorsports. This achievement of ours will be etched in my mind for ever because making our presence felt in British Rally Championship is no mean achievement."

Ashwin has now set his eyes on the European Rally Championship and 2017 WRC- 2 championship. Nearer home, he has the National championship in July 2016 where he is representing Team Mahindra Adventure. He will also team up with driver Suresh Rana to represent Maruti Suzuki in Grand Vitara to participate in the Desert Storm Rally from Delhi to Rajasthan in April this year. It is a 7 days rally and they have to cover 2800 kms distance. He has just returned from a three-day ‘Festival of Speed’ in Arunachal Pradesh sponsored by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh.

Transformation for the better

The duo has come third in the podium and attracted eyeballs of tuners but it has come at a great personal cost for both of them. Out of the 20 lacs that cost them Amrittarjith had a sponsorer for only Rs 3 lacs and the rest of the cost was borne by both these participants. However, he bears no rancour or there is no remorse because he believes that their credible show in British Rally would open them newer boulevards of opportunities in the coming days. The transformation of Ashwin from a youngster who loved performing motorbike stunts on his bike on secluded roads of Mangaluru in the late 90’s into an international motorsport champion makes quite an awe-inspiring reading.

What is striking about this handsome and charming speedster is not just his passion for motorsport but his unassuming nature and simplicity despite his enormous accomplishments as a motorsport champion both at national and international shores. The beginning into this sport was in two-wheeler rally in the mid 90’s and by 2000 he had switched over to four wheeler category and then Ashwin Naik had arrived on the scene of motorsport as a co-driver to get into history record books of motor sport of India.

Ashwin was initially drawn to motorsport just by the sound of the Dolphin cars that were coming in and out of the garage in his neighbourhood before and after participation in the Chickmagalur rally. He was a youngster and the mere sound of these cars fascinated him. When he got his bike during his KPT days when he was doing his Civil Engineering he was thrilled and he says he used to practice stunts in the strip of the road which has now become a runway for Mangaluru Airport. With little advice from friends, well-wishers and having realised that road was not the right place for his talent and that rallies would be the ideal ground to test his skills and he proved himself right.

Grabbing the opportunity

What is that makes a good motorsport champion and Ashwin comes out with a quick riposte "a good driver, a very good co-driver, a good car, a good tuner and luck." In the course of the conversation it is apparent that what Ashwin terms as a ‘luck’ is another word for hard work and it can be said that luck has only 5% role to play in anyone’s success story. Ashwin has come a long way from the time when biking or racing was viewed as a kind of betting or a sport meant for unruly and macho children of rich families. However, he respected his instincts and he followed his passion with the right earnestness. Now with the rich experience of participating in over 200 rallies and winning all the nationals Ashwin is quite a happy man now for following his inner voice. He is the only co-driver in the country to win all the national rallies and naturally, this being a glamorous sport, his fan following on Facebook has crossed over 5000. Despite his stupendous achievement, he is not the one to rest on his laurels and has a busy schedule ahead. He has clear cut goals and is working towards those goals.

The so called luck factor beckoned him in the form of a co-driver in the late 90’s though it was not his forte. But being very passionate about motorsport Ashwin did not let the chance slip away from his hand. When he got a chance to be the co-driver to an unknown driver in 2000 he agreed because he thought "if I love this sport I have to do it." And he did it in style and since then there has been no looking back for Ashwin as he has reached the zenith of his career as a motorsport champion winning almost all major national rallies and with some and international wins to his credit as a co-driver.

Does he enjoy being a co-driver? "Yes, I enjoy every bit of it or else I wouldn’t have continued something which I don’t really take pleasure in doing. The job of a co-driver is much more challenging and with has greater responsibilities. Many a time the co-driver is much more experienced than the driver because it is the co-driver’s experience and expertise that that plays a major role in a motor sport," Ashwin recounts. A co-driver has to possess certain unique qualities such as good reflex action, good communication skills, good eyesight and also loads of money. Many a time in rallies the co-driver has to be better prepared than the driver. Ashwin is fortunate to be endowed with all these qualities and much more – yes, the desire to be the best and be the winner and that he says, has really made a difference to him in terms of his accomplishments as a motorsport champion.

Co-driver - Key to success

The job of a co-driver is to guide the driver who depends entirely on the co-driver. "Sometimes drivers can be aggressive and it is the co-driver who has put a break on their adrenaline rush by guiding them precisely. In fact the relationship of the driver and co-driver is that of a husband and a wife. There has to be good understanding, good communication and trust on each other," he points out. At the same time he is quick to add "in the case of Amrittarjit and me we do not know is essaying the role of the husband or wife. It does not matter because the relationship and understanding is the same and this association has worked wonders for us since our bonding in 2007 and it is still going strong." That the partners share a good chemistry can be gauged from their performances in the last one decade.

Ashwin points out that the job of the co-driver is to guide the driver based on the pace-notes they make and therefore communication between the driver and co-driver is the key to success. He has to guide the driver on what lies ahead on the road, the ups and downs, when to turn, the severity of the turn or the curve etc,. A wrong instruction to the driver in a high speed rally resulting in a wrong move can prove too dearer and hence proper direction at the right time is very crucial. Rally driver will determine the speed and angle of the turns depending on the communication and instructions he receives from his co-driver. Speed being one of the major criteria in such rallies the co-driver has a consummate role to play to be successful.

Before the rally begins both the drivers go on a ride to inspect the route of the rally. In the first ride the driver gives notes to the co-driver who takes down all important points. In the second ride the co-driver has to read out this notes and the driver checks if it is right and once it is approved it becomes the bible for the participants for the remaining period of the rally. Communication between the driver and navigator is very important and they communicate through intercoms due to high level of noise in the car and also because they have to wear headgears and other safety equipments.

While the sport is exhilarating especially for the spectators and is challenging and equally exciting to the motorsport champions, the drivers have to endure and carry on the task in extreme high cabin temperature which touches almost 58 degrees C. "It is almost like an oven inside and it is only the excitement arising out of the adrenalin rush that helps drivers endure such extreme heat," he declares. Motor sport drivers have to be conditioned athletes and Ashwin keeps himself fit with regular endurance training to endure the unique physical stresses that this sport demands. Apart from his regular rallies Ashwin also runs an adventure club to help and guide youngsters interested in motor sport.

Motorsport which is the other name for speed, thrill and endurance has found the right macho man for India in this Mangalurean lad. Let us hope he reaches greater heights and brings more laurels to the country in the days to come.


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