Kush... the joy of being a Maini!

Karting from the the age of five, while accompanying his brother Arjun Maini at the local karting tracks, Kush has pretty well grown up with racing.

Kush Maini is learning the ropes fast and is now pretty sure as to what to do in the year 2019.   -  Special Arrangement

Coming from a family of racers, starting with dad Gautam Maini, who dabbled in the sport in India before brother Arjun set the tracks on fire on his way up to the F2 level, being around fast cars was not something new for Kush Maini.

Karting from the age of five, while accompanying his brother at the local tracks, Kush has pretty well grown up with racing, but it was not until this year that he really came into his own, finishing third in the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) F3 championship.

This is by far his best season in cars since moving across to Europe and Kush has had to really work at it. Even as brother Arjun was starting to race seriously, winning the Sahara Force India’s talent hunt back in 2011, for Kush, it was a while before he began a concentrated effort, though he started racing by the age of seven.

“My dad was a racing driver and my brother followed in his footsteps. I remember I was five years old when my dad took me to a karting track in Bangalore where my brother used to go often. And, as soon as I drove for the first time, I fell in love with driving and I was really intrigued by the sport,” says Kush.

“I expected him to want to race because he was always with Arjun and me when we went karting. And it was only a question of time. But since he was less than eight years old before his first race, I had to actually take signatures from all the parents of all the competitors that they had no objection for him to race,” his father Gautam adds. Incidentally, it was a race in which his brother was participating too and little did they know that both would be making it a serious endeavour.

So at what point did he realise it was a little more than a hobby? “For the first three years it was really a hobby more than anything, But it wasn’t until I was 10 years old, when I won my first national championship race, that I started to really take it seriously and putting a lot of time into it.”

Winning a race is one thing, but to do it consistently over a season is a whole new challenge and to be focussed was something he had to work hard at. “I think generally I was always an aggressive kid and I think I found it really hard to focus when I was younger even in school. So I would say that was the hardest thing for me to work on. Also, I think I never really took it as seriously as I should have when I was young. Yeah, I was quick on the track, but not as mature as I should have been off it.”

Once that was sorted, in 2011, Kush won the National Karting Championship comprehensively, winning every race, and was on a high as he set across to Europe to compete amongst the best. But reality struck soon and the youngster had to brace himself to compete amongst the best in the world. Ultimately, he finished fourth in the CIK-FIA World Karting Championship.

Speaking about his move to Europe, Kush says, “Obviously, after dominating the national championship in 2011, my confidence was really high, and I definitely underestimated the competition in Europe. So my first race was a reality check. But I kept fighting and in my second year in Europe was competing for the World Series Karting championship in the mini category. I felt I really grew a lot in those years.”

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It was during one of those races in Europe that both his father and brother too believed he could go a long way.

“I remember it was the European Championship in Sweden and something went wrong in qualifying and he had to start almost last in the heats. It started to rain and he was going 0.7 seconds a lap quicker than anyone. He passed several people along the way and finished second, which was absolutely unbelievable. That completely convinced me of his talent,” says Gautam.

The last year has been quite good for Kush with eight podiums in 12 races.   -  Special Arrangement

 

For Arjun, it was another kart race that convinced him of his younger sibling’s talent. “Kush’s aggression and belief in his abilities were always strong points for him and you could see it from when he was young. I think his best moment was in karting when he won the opening round of the WSK Master Series in La Conca (Italy). Despite being so young and inexperienced, compared to the competition, he pulled off a miracle that day.”

However, unlike his brother, the step up from karts to cars was not something that happened easily for Kush. Arjun had been quickly able to adapt to cars, finishing second in the BRDC F4 championship in 2014 and losing a shot at the title only in the last round. But it took Kush two years at the F4 levels before he found his feet.

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Speaking about the 2016 and 2017 seasons where he finished 16th and eighth in the standings, Kush says, “I think my first two years in car racing were real learning curves. I had minimal testing due to a broken shoulder which did not help, but, honestly, the pace was there. It was just me trying to stay calm. I had too many crashes and I just needed to understand that this was a lot different from karting. You know these cars are really fragile and with one touch your race is over. I had way too many accidents, which I definitely overcame in 2018.”

The year 2018 was also a revelation for Kush right from pre-season testing, where he topped the sessions. It carried into the first half of the season with some impressive podiums, wins, pole positions and fastest laps that put him firmly in the title fight, just a few points off the leader.

Arjun Maini, Kush’s elder brother, at the Haas F1 Team headquarters in May 2017 on the announcement of his induction into the driver development programme. Arjun’s exploits have been a source of encouragement for Kush.   -  Special Arrangement

 

“I think I matured a lot as a driver and obviously learnt a lot. After the first 12 races we had like eight podiums and we were in championship contention. So it definitely shows the step I made personally from the year before.”

However, the second half of the season was a big letdown with only one podium in the final four rounds of the season. This saw his title challenge fizzle away, even though he finished third in the standings, the gap to the top ballooning to 165 points.

And it is something Kush hopes to learn from as he prepares for the 2019 season, stepping up a level to the Formula Renault Eurocup.

“A lot of things are out of my control unfortunately and some out of the team’s. It was really disappointing because I definitely believe my team and I deserved to be fighting for the championship until the end. But you know the second part of the season made me personally a lot stronger, so I am going to make sure I work really hard to make 2019 even better,” he signs off.