#inConversation with Shakti Raj Singh

#inConversation with Shakti Raj Singh

The next racer in line for our ‘Have a seat, champ’ powered by JK Tyre, Castrol POWER1 RACING, OnePlus and autographix.com in which we talk to the racers who will be participating in the Final Round of JK Tyre National Racing Championship which will be held at the Buddh International Circuit from 16th to 18th November 2018 is Mr. Shakti Raj Singh. He is a 41 year old Corporate Professional who has participated in multiple sports at various level with superbike racing as the current sport that he fancies. He belongs to Rajasthan, was born and brought up in Lucknow and landed a job in Gurgaon. See him rev the bejesus out of his Daytona 675R on the BIC during the championship and this is his story of his stints with motorcycles and racing: 

When and how did you come into motorcycle racing?

Motorcycles as machines have always fascinated me from childhood. My father being a staunch automotive enthusiast, used to bring home various auto magazines on a regular basis and I used to drool and day dream flipping pages of the motorcycles section. All the posters of the then greats like Kenny Roberts Jr., Max Biaggi, Loris Capirossi, Mick Doohan, Sete Gibernau and the like with their fancy race bikes in colorful livery were put up all over my room walls and all I wanted to become was a superbike racer. It was the two stroke era then and seeing my interest in motorcycles my father bought me a 65cc 2 geared moped when I was in class 8th at the age of 13 and promised me that if I get good grades in my 10th boards, he will buy me the motorcycle of my choice.

Luckily I did manage to get grades beyond his expectations and the motorcycle deal was on. I landed up buying the Suzuki Shogun, a bike which I kept for more than a decade and I was so attached to it that I still see it in my dreams. I also kept a Yamaha RD 350, a rocket of a bike for its times, for a few years and used to do a lot of street racing, cross country & off-roading with these bikes. As time went on, slowly it started to dawn on my parents the risks I was taking while riding was too much and also I was doing reasonably well in shooting at national & international level so a lot of time and energy was going in there, along with B-School preparations. Therefore, I had to forgo riding motorcycles for a few years. That said, the sheer love, insanity & passion for motorcycles remained, with me never missing the MotoGP races on TV.

My second coming in motorcycles happened in 2011 when I was well settled in my career and that same time all major motorcycle brands started to enter India. That’s when motorcycles started to become a part of my lifestyle. I experimented with a lot of bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 636, Repsol Honda Fireblade, Suzuki Hayabusa and even a Harley Davidson to discover my calling and figured out that sports and super sports with an inline 4 or inline 3 cylinder engine was what I want to ride.

In the same year the world class & FIA approved Buddh International Circuit became operational in Delhi NCR and hosted Formula 1 races in 2011 & 2012. In later part of 2012 & 2013, Buddh International Circuit started hosting open track days for superbikes and that’s where it all started for me. With me being based in Delhi NCR, a Honda Fireblade parked in my garage and a world class circuit in my city, the temptation took the better of me and I became a regular at the open track days.

At the open track days I met a lot of likeminded riders who were extremely skilled, fast & competitive. They inspired and motivated me a lot and told me about India’s first & only superbike championship, the JK Tyre FMSCI National Championship which happened for the first time ever in 2014. On hearing the stories and getting Goosebumps, innate sportsman spirit and my fiercely competitive outlook in sports totally took over and I landed up doing my first JK Race in 2015 where I came 8th. The rest I guess is history. This would be my fourth appearance in the JK Race and I still continue to ride at the track with these riders who motivated me and they organize track days regularly for our group called #takeittotrack.

What has been your biggest achievement in racing so far?

I guess besides getting top 10 finishes at the national level year on year in racing and becoming a faster rider every year since 2015, my biggest achievement has been my deep sense of fulfillment, gratitude and satisfaction that I have been able to live whatever I dreamt of ever since my childhood days. Racing motorcycles adds a sense of purpose to my life, it motivates me to stay fit & healthy, motivates me to earn money and above all live every day of my life to the hilt with no regrets.

Where do you want to see yourself in the next 5 years as a motorcyclist?

Well 5 years down the line I see myself as a faster, more skilled & a safer rider. I also do see myself undergoing formal & organized race education from leading superbike schools of the world and possibly migrating from the 600cc class to the 1000cc class of racing.

How are you training/preparing yourself for the JK Tyre Championship?

Every racer goes through three layers of training or preparation and I guess I am no different. First is track time on the saddle, I try to get as much time on the circuit as possible, constantly pushing the envelope doing different things while on laps, to shave off seconds. The second is bike modifications and installing performance parts in the bike to suit my riding style and optimize bike’s performance. The third is being physically fit for which I hit the gym and train regularly.

How do you keep yourself fit, mentally and physically?

I’ll take the mental fitness part first. Superbike racing is a sport which you need the reflexes of a fighter pilot and to keep my reflexes sharp I go to the shooting ranges and practice the sport of my past, Skeet shooting. Also for mental fitness, I am a strong believer of the Power of the Subconscious mind, where what you think & believe will come through. So I mentally & realistically orchestrate the outcomes which I need from my life, eat sleep repeat them day in & day out and till date this practice has never let me down.

For physical fitness, I train four days a week with the focus on core & functional training, strengthening & endurance exercises for legs and running for 20 minutes. This is the bare minimum which I feel one needs to do to deal with aspects like hard braking, intense acceleration and g-forces of high speed turns.

How important do you think is the JK Tyre championship for motosports, particularly motorcycle racing in India?

I think JK Tyre championship is extremely critical for the development and evolution of motorsports in India. JK Tyre has a rich history of identifying & promoting motorsports talent. JK Tyre is a perfect example of what a corporation can do when the entire promoter family is passionate about a sport.

The popularity of JK Tyre championships has steadily grown over the years amongst participants, audiences and media. You need more such business houses to promote motorsports in India.

What do you think are the most important things to prepare as a racer that one should keep in mind?

I feel the following are the most important:

> A highly competitive spirit

> The ability to accept & manage risks & adversities

> Mental strength & physical fitness

> The ability to be a devil on the motorcycle but a nice guy off it

Could you please tell us how are you preparing your bike for the JK Tyre championship?

For the bike, I am installing performance parts like race brake pads, race master cylinders for braking, direct brake lines, right engine maps for tuning, adjusting the suspension settings to my liking, putting a race double bubble windscreen for better aerodynamics and replacing regular tyres with race slicks tyres to name a few. Needless to say prepping my safety gear like racing leathers, helmet, gloves & boots to prime condition.

Which bike will you be riding in the JK Tyre championship and why?

I will be riding a race prepped Triumph Daytona 675 since that is the bike I have been riding over the last four years and have built it to my liking. It inspires a lot of confidence in me and is a good enough tool to compete in the 600cc category of the JK Race.

Have you had any crashes while riding and in particular racing? If yes, what did you learn out of it?

I have had some near misses and lots over shoots but nothing that’s been major. I guess I have been lucky. The scariest was an overshoot of the parabola of the Buddh Circuit, but being a world class circuit, it has huge run off areas and gravel traps which avoided any major harm coming my way. As a racer one accepts the fact that falling from the bike is part of the game.

The learning from my incident was that your bike will go where you look. So if you look off the track, you will go off the track. One should always look where one wants to go.

You have your own racing team, Speed Angels. Can you please tell us more about your team?

Yes I have my own racing team, the Speed Angels. It comprises of 2 riders in 600cc class & two riders in the 1000cc class. This will be our third appearance as a team in JK Tyre championships. In the 600cc class, there is Dr. Aman Ahlawat & myself and the 1000cc class there is Pranav Malik & Sukhjit Singh.

Last year Dr. Aman Ahlawat bagged the second runner-up trophy in the 600cc race at the JK Race and Pranav & I had top 10 finishes.

How did this idea of a team come to be and what was the inspiration for the name of the team?

A little vision of the future & easing out the logistics of racing / track days led to the formation of Speed Angels.

Today racing superbikes is an individual sport, but we feel it is just a matter of time before the team angle comes into play. With increasing popularity, manufacturers, OEMs and other related brands will start investing in the sport. Manufacturers will start to field their factory & satellite teams. Riders will also go for a price like they do in countries where the sport is more mature & evolved. And this aspect has already started showing their colors and when the time comes, we will be ready.

Also the larger reason for a team was to create a support platform for our team members, essentially to ease out the operational & financial burden since most our racing expenses are self-sponsored. There is also a non-glamourous part to the life of a superbike racer like loading & unloading the bike on a trailer since you can’t ride the race prepped bike on public roads, spending hours with tuners & technicians, booking hotels & airlines for travel, researching hours at end for the right performance parts, watching training & race videos for learning and the like. All this unsexy work then gets divided if you have a team. One can stand for each other and ease out the burden since most of us have day jobs, families and careers to take care of.

Also the fringe benefits of a team is that if you have the right talent in numbers you can get sponsorships. Though sponsorships are not big in India, yet in motorcycle racing some brands do come forward and support in kind or products for branding & visibility. So those goodies also add up as a benefit the racers.

How do you manage your team basis the fact that you are racing as well?

The best part of our team is that we are like minded & culturally aligned. So all the riders are a mature set of riders with no egos. So managing them is no problem at all. Yes some time does go in administrative work, but it all gets well divided so that no one is distracted from the core objective of racing.

What do you think are two biggest issues that are hampering the growth of motorcycling racing in India?

By my assessment, the two biggest issues are lack of government support and negligible competition exposure to racers.

Motorsports, especially superbike racing is still perceived as a rich man’s indulgence, whereas perceptions are so different from reality. The top racers of India come from relatively average backgrounds like me who have comprised on many other aspects of their lives just to make their passion into reality. The Government of India should take superbike racing under the ambit of Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, align with Sports Authority of India or Indian Olympic Association where racers get benefits of low or no import duties on race bikes and parts. Government grants like those in sports of Shooting, Boxing, Wrestling, Badminton etc., will help the sport in a long way and reduce the struggles of a racer.

Also right now JK Tyre is the only business house who is promoting motorsports in a big way. JK Tyre Championships is the only competition exposure the racers get. That too once in a year. Trust me one race in a year is not good enough for talent to grow. All the year’s hard practice goes down the drain if on that race day something goes wrong. More competition exposure is needed, more races are needed for racers to average out their luck and errors to perform at their best since races are different from Track days. On track days you fight for time where as in race you fight for a position and it is that exposure to the fight for position which gets limited if there are not enough races.

Superbike racing needs more brands or business houses to come forward and organize more races. Right now sponsor brands don’t come forward since there is no visibility through media. Media doesn’t come forward because there is no TRP or viewership. TRP is not there because the audience does not understand the nuances of the sport. So to a great extent if the media educates the audience like it did for cricket over the last 20 years, I see no reason why TRPs will not increase to IPL levels. Motorcycle racing is truly a spectator sport full of thrills & spills, in fact MotoGP gets the highest TRPs in Europe after football.

Therefore a little help from the Media, Business Houses and Government can go a long way reducing the struggles and woes of superbike racing.

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