CHENNAI: When Chetan Korada was a toddler, his mother used to place toy cars at a distance and watch her little son make his way to them. “That’s how I taught him how to walk,” says Padma. Many kids love Hot Wheels, but little do we expect them to become racers, and that too using artificial limbs. Chetan was born with a deformity in both legs — the bones below his knees grew crooked — and when several corrective surgeries didn’t offer respite, doctors said Chetan will have to take to a wheelchair, or get his legs amputated.
Padma okayed amputation -- she didn’t want Chetan to go through life on a wheelchair, waiting for science to come up with a miracle; top doctors she consulted weren’t anticipating such inventions. “That is the age when you start walking. I wanted him to walk,” she says.
“Pain was consistent and continuous," she says. In his growing up years, Chetan's prosthesis legs had to be changed every six months and whenever the stitches opened up, he’d be bedridden. But Chetan always got back. He started walking the same time as kids of his age and played football, basketball, tennis and other sports.
“He never showed his pain; he has a positive ego. And I never showed him sympathy but allowed him to go through it, telling him he’s special, he can do it,” shares Padma. Grateful, Chetan, whose smooth gait never betrays him, says, “Because I had no clutches, I learned to balance my body. Physio and sports made my muscles strong; my school (The School KFI) too gets credit for never treating me differently.”
Chetan pursued Audio Engineering diploma along with BBA (distance-learning) to become a DJ and also frequented Chennai’s go-karting tracks.
“Back then, there were only two — Danny’s Karting and Kart Attack,” recalls the 31-year-old. Before F1 came to India, racing wasn’t accessible. Seeing his passion, in 2007, a classmate whose father was a racer took Chetan to Madras Motor Race Track on track open day. “I hired a Formula LGB Swift, but wasn’t sure I’ll fit in it with my prosthetics. Instead, I felt so comfortable that I knew this is what I want to do.”
Soon Chetan applied for a professional license. Besides mandatory medical tests, he had to undergo “special on-track trials as the federation wanted to assess whether I’d be a danger to other drivers. Seeing how beautifully I controlled the car, they became confident.” In the early years, Chetan learned by observing other drivers. In 2009, he began training with F3 champion Akbar Ebrahim and won that year’s MMSC Summer Cup.
While most racers only focus on training and testing different cars, Chetan also runs a direct-marketing business with QNET. “Initially, my family supported me, but later I’d win the investment back with the prize money. Yet having understood the economics of racing, how several talented racers drop out in a few years because the sport isn’t cheap, I wanted a passive source of income. When I started out, we’d spend Rs.1.5 lakh a year, but today every series costs Rs5-Rs7 lakhs.”
Since 2011, QNET has also been his sponsor. Chetan has participated in over 150 races, won another cup, been a runner-up champion twice, second runner-up champion once and an instructor for Nissan PS3 GT Academy and TATA Prima truck racing program.
“As I began finishing in the front, I realised that motorsports not only requires the mind but requires every muscle to be efficient,” shares Chetan, who is now training with Ramji Srinivasan’s QLP Sports.
The racing-business-fitness balance didn’t come easy to him, but Chetan has now found a routine that works. His day begins with breakfast at 7 am followed by a two-hour workout, research on cars, specs, etc., lunch preparation, two-hours on a custom-made racing simulator (it offers him 70% experience of racing different cars, on different tracks) and business till 9.30pm.
“He even sleeps to the sound of cars,” says his wife Manasa, who covers herself up “like a mummy” to shut the noise out. With only five days of track-practice a month, to make up for the simulator’s limitations, Chetan maximises his learning during the three-day track-practice before races “to see how the car handles it. I know I’m competing against much better racers, who’ve had a lot more cockpit-time.”
Internationally, Billy Monger, Alex Zanardi and Frédéric Sausset race with prosthesis legs, but unlike Chetan they lost them to racing and use modified cars with hand-controlled clutch, break and accelerator. “Handicapped is a mental situation, it’s not in my dictionary. I don’t use modified cars because I don’t like to depend on anything. That’s why I avoid prosthetics with hydraulics and springs; Elite by Endolite allows me to feel the pressure, the GForce, the push-back, and manoeuvre accordingly.”
This year, Chetan plans to up his game by participating in three national series instead of his usual one and go international with MRF International Challenge; a Southeast Asia Pacific series may also be on the cards.
Podium Finishes and Racing Highlights
2017: Second runner-up champion in MRF MMSC FMSCI National Racing Championship.
2015: Runner-up champion at MRF FMSCI National Racing Championship.
2014: Finished fourth out of 24 finalists in the Mercedes Benz Youngster Driver Challenge shootout session.
2012: Wins MMS Mini Enduro and Sprint.
2011: Runner-up at Kart1 series and enters national arena with JK Tyre FMSCI National Racing Championships, where he finishes first in one of race despite starting as 12th among 23 cars.
2007-2010: Participates in several junior races with Formula Maruti cars and is crowned the MMSC Summer Cup Champion in 2009.