IT was a case of `so near yet so far' for some, but for a few others it was a runaway victory. That well sums up the opening leg of the eighth JK Tyre National Racing Championship held at the Kari Motor Speedway track in Coimbatore recently. The drivers who made the best use of the microlight flying strip, the inverted `B' shaped track that boasts of a 900-metre downhill straight, were Rayomand Banajee of Pune and Ayub Khan of Chennai. The dynamic duo ended the day with a double title each and without raising much sweat. However, Ameya Walavalkar of Mumbai had to huff and puff right through to a double victory.

The three double winners, Ayub Khan of Chennai (left), Ameya Walvalkar of Mumbai and Rayomand Banajee of Pune, display their trophies.-K. ANANTHAN

The Formula LGB (1300cc), the premier category of the championship, turned out to be the most exciting race. Pole sitter Gaurav Gill, the Formula Maruti JK Tyre National Racing champion of 2004, swept ahead at the start and stayed there comfortably for a few laps. Even as he whistled his way merrily down the straights, eventual winner Ameya overshadowed a dangerous looking Sarosh Hataria on lap four for the second spot. He did not wish to stay quiet out there. He had other plans — to catch Gill by surprise. And he did that quite neatly in the seventh lap slipstreaming past the leader in the first corner. It was from here that the spectators were dished out real action-packed treat. Having lost the lead in the first corner, Gill pressed hard and gained it back in the fourth, only to lose it again in the very next lap.

Gill did not give up. In the 13th lap, he hounded Ameya down in a fierce battle. In fact, he had the edge over the Mumbai driver in the first corner before a costly lapse, in the penultimate lap, saw him lose three places. But, he fought his way up impressively to finish second.

Ameya had a more comfortable run in race two. He started smart, gained an early three-second advantage, and converted it into a fine double.

Ayub resumed his winning ways in the Esteem Saloon category. The stocky driver, who last won a national championship in 2001, had some hiccups with his car the day before the race. But, he set it right on time to make it a double-podium finish.

Thrilling action as Radha Selvarajan (No. 3) of Chennai is locked in a tussle with Arun Vasu (No. 4) in the first curve of the Esteem Saloon class race.-K. ANANTHAN

The first race also saw the cars bumping and hitting each other. Many headlights and taillights were smashed in the process. The cars that sustained the maximum damage were that of B. Vijayakumar's and Sivaramakrishnan's.

The Formula Maruti category saw the lean and hungry looking Rayomand, the 2004 Asian Zone karting (Indian leg) champion, clocking the fastest lap time in both the races. The Pune youngster knows the track like the palm of his hands. Despite that, he did not try anything crazy. He started on pole in both the races and took the chequered flag with comfort.

The results: (FISSME) Race 1 (15 laps): 1. Rayomand Banajee 19.45:064, 2. Gaurav Dalal 19:51:497, Amitrajit Ghosh 19:53:094, Novice: Kapil Khanna 20:46:755, Tuner: Venkat & Kumar, Fastest lap: Rayomand: 01:18:112. Race 2: 1. Rayomand 21:34:237. 2. Amitrajit Ghosh 21:36:301, 3. Gaurav Dalal 21:40:811, Novice: Saahil Shelar 21:52:781, Turner: Bhaskar, Fastest lap: Rayomand 01:18:148. Esteem Saloon (Race 1): 1. Ayub Khan 20:25:948. 2. Radha Selvaraj 20:27:394. 3. K. E. Kumar 20:38:794, Novice: Saran Vikram 20:38:880, Tuner: Satish, Fastest lap: Ayub 01:20:652. Race 2: 1. Ayub Khan 20:36:491, 2. Radha Selvaraj 20:46:108, K. E. Kumar 20:51:907, Novice: Divya, Tuner: Mohan & Maladri, Fastest lap: Ayub 01:21:017. Formula LGB (Race 1): Ameya Walvalkar 16:28:609, 2. Gaurav Gill 18:34:223, 3. Sarosh Hataria 18:53:662, Novice: Fazal Khan 18:50:054, Tuner: P. D. Sathyanaraya, Race 2: 1. Ameya 18:23:285, 2. Gaurav Gill 18:29:689, 3. Sarosh Hataria 18:34:297, Novice: Rajaram 18:51:271. Tuner: Amalraj.

Promising start by Team Valvoline

BIG dreams are built on strong foundations. And, in its maiden venture, Team Valvoline has built the sort of base from which it is not difficult to climb to the top.

In the recent first round of the JK Tyre National Racing Championship in Coimbatore, Valvoline fielded a comprehensive team comprising Amitrajit Ghosh (Kolkata), Deepak Chinnapa (Bangalore) and Amanpreet Ahluwalia (Delhi). The team did not expect to start with a bang, but the boys actually did manage a good show — Ghosh ended the day on a bright note for Valvoline with a strong third and second place finish in two races.

"We knew they (the boys) would give their rivals a run for their money, but a podium finish in the season's opening leg comes as a big bonus. We now know where we stand," said Alok D. Sharman, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development, Valvoline Cummins Limited (VCL). VCL's effort is not only to make racing and karting popular in the country but also more lucrative and affordable to the youngsters. "Our idea is to take the sport to the masses and make a mark in the international racing arena," said Sharman.

Valvoline's rich history in motor sports dates back more than 100 years and includes championships in Formula One, Indy Cars, World Rally Championship and NASCAR Racing to name a few. But it tested the waters in India last year by sponsoring promising drivers for events like the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm Rally, Formula Maruti and the popular Himalayan Rally in Shimla.

Besides these, VCL also joined handed with JK Tyre and co-sponsored an international go-karting event in Dubai in December 2004. The Indian team then comprised F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan, F3 driver Karun Chandhok, Armaan Ebrahim, Rayomand Banajee, Ameya Walavalkar, Ishaan and Deepak Chinnappa.

Sharman was happy that his team's entry in the JK Tyre National Championship comes at a time when motor sports is on a high in India after Karthikeyan became the country's first driver to gain a place in F1. "We would be glad if we produce a driver of his calibre in the near future," said Sharman. The expectations are high, but nothing really is impossible. — Rayan Rozario