GREATER NOIDA: It’s a nippy late winter evening at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida. The fourth and final round of the 18th JK Tyre Racing Championships has come to an end and most racers are swapping their steering wheels for something slower and involving fewer RPMs. Formula LGB 4 racer Ajay Kini, though, will exchange his steering wheel for a joystick — a plane’s joystick.
While the Chennai-based 26-year-old moonlights as a racer, his day job is that of a pilot with IndiGo. “I took to racing much before I wanted to become a pilot,” he tells City Express. “Becoming an automobile engineer was a natural progression when I took to racing. But people suggested that I train to become a pilot. I got into a programme thanks to a scholarship by Kingfisher but by the time I was done, it was recession. They weren’t able to give me a job. But IndiGo did,” he says.
But what that hides is how his middle class family — (as he describes it, at least thrice in our 20-minute conversation) — originally from Mangalore, was able to afford his taste.
“I badly wanted to drive a go-kart in Chennai. But a drive for five laps would cost around `100-`150 and my family was reluctant to spend so much. One day I convinced my mother to take me to one of those places. There I managed to put in one of the course’s fastest ever lap times and this further emboldened my resolve. Then I heard that a former karting champion was coming to Danny’s karting (in Chennai) for a training session. The course cost `15,000, and my mother, seeing the determination on my face, pledged all her gold without even telling my father. I’m happy it worked out for me,” he says.
Are there any similarities between the cockpit of a racing car and a aircraft? “In a racing car, I can perhaps make a mistake or two and I might get hurt. But flying is a zero-error job. Also the speed — I feel it more in my car. I don’t feel a thing while flying.”
Given that most of the racers here are either from or have been trained in Coimbatore or Chennai, he relishes that the language of choice in-and-around the paddock is Tamil. “People from the North sometimes wonder what we are talking about. In a way, we (Tamil speaking people) have all the power here. No north Indian slang,” he says. After a fourth place finish in the LGB 4 race on Sunday confirmed his victory, he will now race in the JK Tyre Racing India series in 2016. “I can hardly wait!” he says.