COIMBATOR: Eunless you’re exceptionally lucky or exceptionally rich, being a racing driver often means navigating more hurdles off the track than competitors on it. Case in point, the likes of Vishnu Prasad and Karthik Tharani who end their seasons, often as title winners, not knowing whether they’ll be able to drum up enough sponsorship to race in a few months.
But even by race-driver-standards, Ananth Shanmugam’s problem is unique. The 19-year-old, who finished on the podium twice in the Euro JK16 category of the 19th JK TYRE—FMSCI National Racing Championship here on Saturday, is looking at a couple of years without racing. The reason? He has to go join the army.
Ananth’s parents moved from India to Singapore before he was born and he is citizen of the country. But Singapore’s compulsory military conscription rules mean that the aerospace engineering student will have to answer the call of duty once his studies are done. For any other 19-year-old, a couple of years in the army may not be that big a deal. But for a racer, taking a two-year break at what is perhaps the most important juncture of their career, can make an already-tough sport even tougher to break into.
“I will be 21 when I get out,” he says. “It’s tough, but hopefully it won’ be too late to restart my career. Ideally I would like to be able to race internationally at that point.”This is Ananth’s third year in the JK Tyre NRC and the sheer distance he has to travel to get to a race means he has it tougher than his competitors. “I had an exam yesterday in Singapore,” he says.
“That means I could not get here in time for the practice sessions. I landed here at around 12 in the morning of the day of the race. And I had to go straight into qualifying without any practice.” The result? A very creditable second place in the first race. Ananth then repeated the feat in the second race of the day as well.
Ask any young racer what their ambition is and the answer usually is very generic — Formula One. But Ananth is a lot more pragmatic. He knows that he has already lost time — Ananth started racing rather late, when he was 13 — and is about to lose a lot more. “I love racing in various one-make races,” he says. “But at some point, I would really like to race GT cars as well. Maybe in US, as they’ve got a really good motorsport culture there.”
And for someone with that ambition, the JK Tyre series could not be a better platform to learn. Usually present on the sidelines are the likes of Aditya Patel and Armaan Ebrahim, both of whom have made a mark internationally racing touring cars. “I talk to them but it’s usually on how to improve my technique in single-seater racing,” says Ananth. “But I also ask them about GT cars as well. The wealth of experience they have is immense. It’s good that I can get something out of it.”