As first-time visitors to the Buddh International Circuit, we stood in awe of the sheer dimensions of the complex. Long before we even reached the entrance gate we were greeted by the sound of tires burning rubber on a warm October morning. Adding to the special atmosphere was the fact that we were guests – that grand treatment for being the mobile app partners of the Vento Cup.
Gasha escorted us to the team’s paddock – ha, that was a new word for us!
“There are the cars and on that side is the pit lane. You can see the action along the straight leading to the start-finish line. And there’s a giant screen up there for seeing the rest of the action. Now I’m going to leave you guys to explore on your own. Don’t you get into any trouble!” Gasha warned me with a mischievous smile.
“Oh! Don’t worry, I won’t run on the pit lane!”
At the paddock, the race cars posed like rock stars, sporting sponsor tattoos, shiny glasses and modified accessories. As we admired the cars, a large horn began blaring warning sounds. A few bikers were riding into the pit lane. As soon as the bikes entered their team’s paddock, the noise stopped.
We stepped on the pit lane to cross over to the fence – a single wired wall beyond which was the race track. Standing at the fence and looking straight ahead, a speeding racer becomes a mere blur, with the vibrating air being the only evidence of his* existence.
“Excuse me, Ma’am” cried a lean heavily tanned man, jogging towards me. His head was tightly gripped by a red cap and headphones, his white shirt read ‘Marshal’.
“I’m sorry, but no slippers allowed. It’s against the rules.”
I stepped back and apologised. He jogged away, blowing his whistle while I stood at the edge of the paddock, and watched at a distance. A little while later he walked up to me and said, “I am extremely sorry, Ma’am, but those are the rules. I just cannot let you cross. Maybe we can arrange for some boots for you.”
I was surprised and humbled, if not a little embarrassed by his generous offer to help me (strangely the phrase pleasant user experience came to my mind).
I managed to arrange a pair of shoes on my own to make it to the fence – yes, I waited for the warning sounds to stop before crossing – so that I could watch the racers speed away barely a few feet from me.
That shot of adrenaline down my throat, I came back to the paddock. The Marshall caught me returning the boots to its barefoot owner and we all shared a hearty laugh.
The Vento Cup was scheduled to start at 11:30 am and we were asked to move to the lounge upstairs so that the cars could be taken out. The drivers, covered from head to toe in fireproof overalls, gloves, shoes and headgear were fastening their seat-belts as we moved away. A short while later, we were leaning against the railing as the modified Volkswagen Ventos began grunting out of the paddock below us.
They went around the track for a formation lap and lined up at the starting grid. The five lights in front of the grid illuminated and went out to signal that the race was on. The cars shot out of sight within seconds – but the sound didn’t go very far away from us. A minute later the sound grew louder and the race leader entered our line of sight. With cars moving fast – apparently the average speed around the track was 133 kmph – it was hard to keep track of who was who. What was clear was that there was a sizable lead, growing bigger with every lap, between the first and the second car.
The horns of the pit lane began blaring again. A car came in – it’s rear wing hanging precariously by one bolt. The pit crew quickly removed the wing and he drove off.
It was in the fifth lap that we identified the Ideafarms car – our car – unfortunately quite far back in the standings, but fighting hard with two other cars.
As the chequered flag was waved, the podium finishers crossed one at a time; the midfield finished much closer. Our car came seventh (hey, at least it wasn’t last!)
With the Vento Cup championship having drawn to a close, we stayed back to watch the Asia Road Racing Championship, with some fierce looking bikers leaning scarily close to the track on the kerbs. More than one biker skidded off. While their bikes were quickly removed by the ever vigilant marshalls, the bikers hitched a ride on rather slow moving scooters back to the pit lane!
During one of the races, one biker suffered a massive accident and lay motionless on the track for an extended period of time. Spectators on both sides of the track ran in the direction of the biker, while red flags were frantically being waved. An Ambulance raced to the biker. It was then that I noticed a large gate along the fence to let the Ambulance take a shortcut through the pits to the medical building behind the paddocks. The Marshal, with whom I had interacted earlier, turned into a traffic policeman whistling out clear instructions for the quick movement of the Ambulance.
Amidst all the adrenaline and exciting sounds around the track, this incident was a rude reminder of the perils of motorsport and it’s not all fun and games on the track.
Early in the evening we decided to leave, and leaned over the railing for one last look at the speeding daredevils performing wheelies and standing up on their bikes while crossing the line at full speed.
Two sounds of a whistle directed our attention to the pit lane below. The Marshall waved at us. We waved back and burst out laughing as he pointed towards his boots and nodded his head in what seemed like a question!
On our way out, we peeked into the paddock where the the cars were getting a thorough checkup and greasing and thanked Gasha for a very memorable day.
We left the circuit in good spirits, wondering when we would return – perhaps not anytime soon. But when we do, and quite likely for next season’s Vento Cup finalé, I’ll make sure I have shoes of my own.
* While the field this year was all male, last year’s Vento Cup featured two female drivers competing against the men.