1992: Birth year
1996: Dad gifted a Go-kart
2001: Go-kart broke, this time, beyond repair
2002: Discovered the local Karting track at the age of 10
2005: Went hunting for sponsorship to be able to race in the National Championship. Raced in a city rounds at the local track (How starting out Business Development this early framed me as a businessman today)
2010: Participated in the Force India One From A Billion Wild Card Round, finished 3rd over-all.
2012: Selected by Toyota to race in the National Championship out of 3,300 applicants after 3 rounds of selections on karts & racecars. Completely sponsored by Indus University & Electrotherm
2013: Finished 2nd in the season finale and received the Best Teenage Driver Trophy
2014: Tested the Formula LGB 4
2014: Accrued part sponsorship for the British Ginetta GT5 Cup, couldn't gather the full budget.
2014: Selected by Nissan to compete in their GT Academy International Finale in the UK out of 5,000 drivers. Selections done through sim racing, racecars, fitness tests & media rounds.
2015: Selected by Nissan to compete in the Asian GT Academy Finale in the UK out of 10,000 drivers. Finished 3rd in the Asian finale. Declared Nissan GT Academy India Winner.
2016: Awarded a scholarship to compete in the MRF MMSC Formula 1600 championship. Fastest racecars in Indian National Championships at the time.
Ran out of luck & money to continue racing. Why I stopped instead of persisting.
2019 (For fun): Finished 2nd in the X1 eSports Racing championship : still got it ;)
I get this question a lot. Very initially, I couldn't explain it myself.
There are two major reasons:
1) While racing, you're almost always in a flow state. Your mind and body in perfect synchronisation in a way that you're neither thinking about the future nor the past, you can't, otherwise you will most definitely crash. The concentration required while racing cars is that high. That state of flow is experienced by most individuals when they experience their art, it could be dancing, singing, painting, football, chess, etc. This feeling, as most artists will tell you, is addictive. And thus we race. We are addicted to the flow state.
2) Most skilled and talented individuals seek validation for their expertise in the form of a big paychecks, a title against their name or simply competing against one another. Racing, as most sports, is a zero-sum game. It rewards only the winners. Driving cars is one thing, driving them well is another, driving them on the absolute limits of adhesion is something very few can master and when you compete against equally talented people at a sporting event, the satisfaction that one gets from being the best at what they love is unparalleled.
If you didn't know it, racing is possibly the most expensive sport. Very few make it to the top, mostly sons of billionaires these days. As a son of a Bank Manager, I was just pushing my luck all along.
I remember meeting a veteran Indian driver at the age of 13, who rubbed his two fingers together while asking me, 'how much money do you have?'. It's not rude, it's giving a kid a reality check early on so that he doesn't waste whatever little there is of his parents' money. If I were to meet the 13-year-old Akshay, I would recommend the same thing. Because frankly, I just lucked out.
Deep down, I always knew that it wasn't going to be a career for me, racing cars professionally for the rest of my life. In the racing world, there are two terms, paid drivers and pay drivers.
Paid Drivers: The ones who are paid to race cars. Out of 15-20k drivers in the world, maybe a few hundreds are paid to drive. A few are termed Factory Drivers! But they need to be Pay Drivers first and prove that they are worthy of being a Paid Driver.
Pay Drivers: The ones who pay to race cars. They pay the team that provides the car, the mechanic, the engineers, tyres, fuel, damage etc. Usually, racecar drivers spend a few crores before they have that 1 in a 10,000 shot at being a Paid Driver.
I belonged to neither of the category. I was just in the right place at the right time to be able to exposed to the sport enough that it would change my life forever while making me addicted to it! Neither did I pay nor did I get paid.
I once struck a sponsorship meeting with a big public oil company's Marketing Director who was curious to meet me as he was a motorsport fan. We met at the biennial Vibrant Gujarat Summit in 2015 where over a one-hour long conversation, I told him about my journey as a racecar driver. At the end of the meeting, he told me, "I cannot promise if I can support your 2015 campaign, but I can tell you this that for a son of a Bank Manager, you have come very far in this sport"
And this defines it for me. I had talent and that's what ensured I got selected by Toyota & Nissan during their driver hunts. But, I was lucky those driver hunts existed in the first place!
I have not competed in any of the world championships, or half the national championships. Neither have I driven on most racetracks around the world or got paid for what I did. I have raced in one National Championship in a One-Make format with Toyota and competed in the Asian Camp of Nissan's GT Academy. I stopped because I ran out of money and luck.
But, racing is a life sentence. Somehow, I have managed to dig out a tiny switch in my brain that has partially allowed me escape from the life sentence as I indulged into my other passion, Entrepreneurship, to continue my dream of becoming a racecar driver again. My ambition is to build a scalable business entity, reach a particular stage and then get back to racing with my own investment. Although, off-late, Entrepreneurship is becoming equally rewarding and addictive! The good part? Atleast there's meritocracy!
It was Juan Manuel Fangio, the legendary five-time World Champion, who once said,"Driving fast on the track doesn't scare me. What scares me is when I drive on the highway (and) I get passed by some idiot who thinks he is Fangio"
With a million people dying every year on the roads, neither can I enjoy a car on public roads, nor do I wish to at the risk of other people's lives. When I was young and extremely stupid, I used to say that if my car can do a 0 to 100kph in 10.2 seconds, why should I take 10.3? That's how I drove, redlining the tachometer in every gear before shifting, wheelspinning, inches away from disaster. Now, I barely exceed 50kph in day-to-day commutes. Driving is only of joy when it is on the racetrack. While, it is a luxury to drive on racetracks on a regular basis, I think when the world is only commuting with Autonomous, Connected & Electric vehicles that are Shared, not only will we have a new era of transportation, but, a new era of motorsport. (Here's what I think will happen to the motorsport industry)
On the other hand, the technology of Autonomous Cars is extremely fascinating to me, and I'm not alone. Here's Rocket Scientist Brandon Pearce, who left his job at Virgin Galactic to join Zoox(a multi-billion dollar Autonomous Transporation start-up from Silicon Valley), had to say about why he chose the Autonomous Car industry,"It was interesting enough to work on rockets. Even though they're hard, it's a solve problem. With Autonomous Vehicles, we don't actually know what the solution is yet. We think we're on the right path but nobody's done it, so actually getting to be involved in something where we get to blaze the trail was really exciting for me". And this is where my curiosity for the world of technology comes in.