In search of the next star

Arjun Maini,who finished runner-up in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship in the UK.-

There are a few Indians, who are slowly but steadily making their mark on the international stage in junior formula races. S. DIPAK RAGAV takes a look at three young guns.

It’s been close to 10 years since Narain Karthikeyan made his Formula One debut in 2005 and became the first Indian to race in the highest-form of motorsport. While his debut raised the profile of the sport in the country, since then only Karun Chandhok could manage to get into F1, albeit just for half a season in 2010 and one more race in 2011. In the meanwhile, the country hosted three F1 races but the search for the next star continues. To be successful, it is not enough to be quick in competitions at home but also be able to do well in international (European mostly) competitions in the junior levels, where the standard is extremely high.

It is a long process but there are a few stars in the making, who are slowly but steadily making their mark on the international stage in junior formula. Here we take a look at three young guns.

Arjun Maini

Recently, 16-year-old Arjun Maini from Bangalore, narrowly missed the BRDC F4 Championship by just three points in his first season in cars in Europe. Maini was the winner of Force India’s “One from a Billion” nation-wide karting talent hunt competition in 2011. The youngster won the JK Tyre Junior Max competition in 2011, before heading to the UK to compete in karting with backing from Force India in 2012. Maini first drove a kart at the age of five, introduced by his father Gautam, who himself was a racer. “I recall my father laying out tyres over the track to help me to understand the turning point, the apex and the exit. My father used to also stand on the main straight and ask me to brake where he was standing. What I did not know was that he kept moving closer and closer to the corner as he saw me get more and more comfortable with the kart. Later I realised that he was making me brake much later. I was lucky to be trained by my father who understood racing and therefore my learning of the fundamentals was correct,” says Maini.

After the initial periods of success that included being declared the minimax National Champion at the age of 10 followed by the talent hunt, Maini headed to the UK for a season in karting. The season though did not pan out as well as he would have hoped for and he failed to make the cut for the Force India’s driver academy. Maini has since then bounced back with good results in his first season in cars in 2013, finishing runner-up in the JK Racing Series and following up with an impressive campaign in the BRDC F4 this year. Maini says his next focus will be on securing a F3 drive for which he has scheduled some tests in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, his brother, Kush Maini, has made sure he is not left behind in the family and is racing in international karting events. He recently finished fourth in the CIK FIA World karting championship.

Jehan Daruvala

Another promising talent making waves on the international stage is Mumbai’s Jehan Daruvala. The 15-year-old was one of the runners-up in the karting talent hunt and the first and only inductee so far in Force India’s young driver academy. After a tough season in 2012, Daruvala won the British KF-Junior karting championship in 2013 and also scored a podium finish this year in the KF World Karting Championship, finishing third. About the rude awakening he had in 2012, in his first international outing, he says, “The first race at the PF circuit was a real eye opener. The weather was terrible. It was very cold, wet and windy. The temperature was about 4 degrees and there was occasional hail. The driving conditions were so alien to all of us that Arjun, Tarun and myself were about 2.5 seconds off in the wet.”

JEHAN DARUVALA... successful outing this year.-RAJEEV BHATT

Daruvala also had a successful outing this year in the competitive German championship, finishing second. He was leading the title fight until the last race where some controversial decisions marred his chances of winning the title. “In the last round at Genk, I had a slim four-point lead over Martijn van Leeuwen. In the second final I needed a top-three finish to win the championship, provided Van had a bad final. As luck would have it, Van and the pole sitter Allesio, clashed on the first corner and went off the track. I was third by the second corner. I managed to come to second before the end of the first lap. I was shocked to see red flags being waved. There was no such situation to warrant a red flag. In fact, all the karts were back racing on the grid and hence even a yellow flag was not warranted, let alone a red.

“This was disappointing, as I would have sealed the championship if the race had progressed fairly. The race started after another red flag incident. What made things even more unfair was that it was started in a single file (which is never done) with Van in second and me in sixth. Hence any opportunity of taking advantage of the start was neutralised by this very unusual decision.”

One of the interesting aspects during his 2013 season in karting was his battle and collisions with Michael Schumacher’s son Mick, which did not please the seven-time Formula One champion. “In the first four races that I drove with Mick in 2013, we had contact in three of them. They were all racing incidents. Michael was upset about the repeated incidents and had a word with me about it. It was really nothing much but because of his stature, it became a big talking point.”

For next year Daruvala says, “I will be participating in the Formula Renault 2 championships. I will be participating in the NEC and ALPS championship. Since a few of the races between the two series are on the same weekend, I need to decide which championship I will focus on. I will do the other one to gain more experience.”

Tarun Reddy

The 16-year-old Chennai boy had an impressive 2014 campaign in the MRF FF1600 National Racing Championship and stormed home to win the title with 11 wins from 14 races. Reddy, who was the final runner-up in Force India’s talent hunt, has abundance of speed. In his first season of cars in the MRF 1600 last year, he finished an impressive third in the standings. He says, “This season has been very good for us. I think the main difference from last year was that the mistake factor was very minimal, last year in my first year of cars I showed I was fast by picking up pole positions and wins but this year I managed to do that on a consistent basis and was mentally more mature.”

Reddy who started karting at the age of eight says his immediate success laid the foundation for choosing to pursue it as a career. “Winning in my first weekend of go-karts and going onto win the National championship in my first year of racing made me and my family believe that there could be a future for me in motorsport and since then we haven’t looked back.”

Reddy also took part in the competitive Formula Renault BARC UK Championship and had some impressive results including three podium finishes. He says, “The competition, to start with, was a lot tougher and more competitive. In the second half of the season our pace was very good as we were constantly in the top two or three after practice but we didn’t manage to extract the best out of what we had done in qualifying. That is something I will be working hard over the winter to try and improve on.” Since the Schumacher era, focus on fitness has increased tremendously and Reddy has a specific moto-racing trainer in the UK to be able to compete at the top level.

Reddy is currently competing in the MRF Challenge while firming up his plans for a full season in Europe next year. He won one race to become the youngest winner of the series during the first weekend in Qatar in October with two rounds to run in Bahrain and Chennai.