Suzuki pioneered the trend of media races in 2015, and looking back I realize that I might have had a role in it. Well, it so happened that in May the same year we got a press release from Suzuki that they will be launching the Gixxer Cup, their one make race championship, in June, to be held alongside the National Motorcycle Racing Championship. Just so you know, such press releases come under that category of emails which don’t warrant a reply; we just publish them after changing the language slightly to avoid any penalties by Google for publishing duplicate content. Many portals do not bother; they just publish the press release as it is.
However, this time around, intrigued by the race bike, I ended up replying that I would love to review it. A couple of days later, I got an invite that talked about offering us a “preview opportunity of the Gixxer SF Race version at the Kari Motor Speedway”! Honestly, I do not think that it was my email that got Suzuki to plan everything within a couple of days and roll out the invites. They would have thought about it perhaps during the stage where they discussed the media engagement for the Gixxer Cup. Therefore, my email can at best be taken as an example to prove that, yes, the law of attraction exists.
So, our first exposure to the race bike did not come in the form of a race, but as a preview of the bike and Gixxer Cup. We were just let loose on the racetrack on the race-prepped Gixxer SFs to enjoy the bike and the track. You may read about it here: Suzuki Gixxer SF Race Bike Review. The following year, it was a race. Okay, it was not really a race, as the format mirrored that of “qualifying”, which meant that the rider with the best lap time wins. It was a good decision by Suzuki as it ensured that no one engaged in risky overtaking maneuvers, leaving the bikes intact for the real racers who would be racing them the next day in the first round of the 2016 Gixxer Cup. Of course, there were a couple of crashes, including mine in practice laps, but nothing severe that would have rendered the bike unrideable. You may read all about it here: Suzuki Gixxer Cup Media Race. The article also contains raw video footage of practice and race laps.
The latest edition of the Suzuki Gixxer Media Race was held in 2018 and, yes, this story should have been published at least before we changed the calendars on our walls. But since it’s always better late than never, I felt it would not be a bad idea to write this piece now, especially as this time it was not only a proper race, but also one that was based on a popular race format that had not been used by any motorcycle manufacturer yet in India: Endurance Racing!
Suzuki had invited 18 journalists, but since this was an endurance race, we were paired in teams of two via the good old lucky draw system. Two chits of each number (1 to 9) were made and riders with the same chit number were paired to form a team. Also, motorcycle endurance races’ duration may range between four to twenty-four hours, but JK Tyre and FMSCI officials (the organizers of the Indian National Racing Championships) perhaps knew that most of us motoring journalists are probably as fit as our government, so they had kept it at 75 minutes. After a 15-minute practice session on Saturday evening, we shamelessly acknowledged that we’re far worse, so they further brought it down to 60 minutes. Qualifying was also pushed to Sunday morning due to time constraints on Saturday (I think we guys ate into the 10-minute qualifying slot completely somehow).
The rules were simple too: clock the maximum number of laps in those 60 minutes, but no rider should exceed 25 minutes at a time. That meant a minimum of two rider switches, and the lap where the team is switching riders would not be counted, of course, because you’re not crossing the finish line but coming into the pit lane. The pit lane speed limit was 40 km/h, which also had to be strictly adhered to. I got paired with good friend Benjamin from BikeDekho, and we kept our strategy simple: switch when you’re tired, to avoid crashing due to fatigue.
But then disaster struck. Benjamin got severely unwell on Saturday evening. His condition had further deteriorated by next morning and I thought we would not be able to race. But hats off to the chap’s spirit, and skill; he went on to clock his best lap time that was nearly four seconds faster than mine, and that helped us qualify in 6th place! The final qualifying time of a team was the combined average of the two riders’ best lap times.
But having spent the last ounce of energy in qualifying, Benjamin just wasn’t able to even stand anymore. But he didn’t give up! It was race time soon and, seeing Benjamin’s condition, Suzuki were kind enough to get one of our pit crew members to hold the bike for me. It was a Le Mans-style start, which requires your teammate to hold the bike for you while you stand across the track, and run towards it on 3-2-1-GO!
Let me tell you something. A pole position or a good start doesn’t matter as much in motorcycle endurance racing as do two things: consistency and quick switchovers. We got the first part covered (I was “consistently” slow around the track) but messed up the first switchover BIG TIME! Exhausted, I came into the pit lane in the 17th minute, but Benjamin wasn’t geared up completely as, apparently, he wasn’t expecting me to come back this early. BIG MISTAKE! So while teams were switching riders within five seconds or less, Benjamin took three and a half days to gear up and go! Okay, he took three and a half minutes, but it felt like days. But he did not give up (whereas he could have) and that’s all that matters! Had he given up, I would have just stood by the fence and watched others race. Coming all the way and not getting to race –now that would have been really disappointing. Thanks to him, I got to race at least!
He came back in 11 minutes, but this time we switched over in no time, and off I went to play my second innings. I don’t know why but this time I felt stronger, and faster. I guess the 11-minute rest worked. Hence, I was able to go on for 23 minutes before our crew pulled out the board with our bike number on it, which meant that I am supposed to head back to the pit lane to switch. With just around five minutes remaining I didn’t want to, but that would have meant a penalty/disqualification, so I had to come back. The final switchover was again smooth and the race was over in the next few minutes. And I was happy that Benjamin got the opportunity to take the chequered flag.
The results were announced shortly thereafter, and not surprisingly we had finished last.
I won’t lie that we weren’t disappointed. Of course, we were. But we were also content with the fact that we did not give up at any point, and completed the race.
Finishing last in a competitive sport doesn’t make you a loser; giving up, before putting in your ALL, might. And that’s something I’m not letting happen. Ever.