Hard road for a champion rider

Happy to be on the podium… Rajini Krishnan with the trophy after finishing third in a race of the 2009 Petronas Asian Championship at the Irungattukotai track, near Chennai.-K.V. SRINIVASAN

Rajini Krishnan, who suffered a hand injury in Doha recently, hopes to get back to the Petronas Asian Road Racing Championship by mid-May if he gets a sponsor. By Stan Rayan.

As a teenager, Rajini Krishnan used to gaze longingly at bikes zipping down the road, near his home at Arumbakkam in Chennai. The deafening roar was music to his ears and he envied the young men who rode the bikes. He too wanted to ride like them, but had to wait until he started earning.

“One day my friend took me to a race track… till then I did not know that we had a track in Chennai,” said Rajini. “I also realised then that racing existed as a sport and I became very interested.”

Rajini started racing bikes only at 22 but within a year or so, he started winning National titles, starting with the 150cc class.

“I’ve been winning National Championships regularly in different categories, from 150cc to the 600cc, from 2003. But I took a break from the Nationals in 2009 to focus on the Asian GP,” said the 32-year-old champion rider.

He ascended the podium at the Petronas Asian Road Racing Championship — a rare feat for an Indian — by finishing third in one round.

Rajini currently leads the Losail Asian Road Racing Series (run by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation, which also hosts an annual round of the MotoGP World Championship) with 100 points after winning four of the five races run so far, while his city-mate Deepak Ravikumar is on the next rung with 87. The Losail Series, which began in January, ends on May 25.

“Both the Petronas Asian Championship and the Losail Asian Series are 600cc events but at Losail, you have only one type of bike, all Yamaha stock bikes and almost all are 2005 models,” explained Rajini, the 600cc super-bikes national champion. “But the Petronas Asian is a big event, a very tough one; all the top manufacturers and top riders are there and it is run in different countries,” he said.

According to Rajini, there are even former MotoGP and Moto2 World Championship riders in the fray at the Petronas Asian Championship.

Life is tough for motorcycle racers in the country, especially for the ones who are thinking big. The sport is very expensive and despite India being one of the world’s biggest markets for bikes, sponsors are hard to come by.

“I ran only two rounds of the Asian GP in 2010 as I couldn’t get full sponsorship and in 2011, I joined another team, they ran me in three rounds and then it stopped,” Rajini explained.

So, when he went for the Petronas Asian Championship’s pre-season test runs in Malaysia, Rajini realised that the world had turned a lot faster.

“I had been away from the (Petronas) Asian GP for a year, so I was around one and half seconds slower in the test runs,” he said. “If you look at the riders there, everything is different, every day they do testing; they are on the bike the whole day. And they have factory teams like the Yamaha and Honda… a privateer’s bike will be slower when compared with factory bikes.”

Blessed with better facilities, top riders from countries like Japan, China, Thailand and Malaysia prepare well.

“They do fitness (training) three days a week and motocross or super-moto for three days… they do these regularly that the bikes seem to be a part of them,” explained Rajini. “But we don’t have such things in our country.”

Still Rajini, who suffered a hand injury in Doha recently, hopes to get back to the Petronas Asian action from the second round by mid-May if he gets a sponsor.