Rayomand Banajee is one of the veterans of Indian motorsports. He’s one person who can claim to have seen the drought as well as the impending tide sweeping in the Indian motorsports scene.
At one point, he had tested with a certain Daniel Ricciardo for Formula BMW. While Ricciardo is taking his first steps with the Red Bull Racing team, Banajee is heading his highly successful Formula Car and Go-Kart Racing Team.
We caught up with the Champion to know more about his transformation from a racer to a team owner.
When and why did you quit racing?
I quit at the end of 2008. It was when the recession was at its worst. I had lost my biggest sponsor – Speed (Bharat Petroleum). They had stopped all promotional activity due to the massive losses they were incurring. I was very keen on International Formula Racing, but I wasn’t able to get the required funding for this.
From coaching point of view, what goes in to preparing a champion racer?
A talented racer might be quick. But a champion needs to be much more than that. Commitment, dedication, physical fitness, mental toughness, intelligence, knowledge of the sport, etc . are all crucial to be a champion.You’re a tough taskmaster when it comes to discipline.
So how important a role does discipline plays in motorsport?
I’m tough only with those who are very serious and want to reach a high level. Racing is not easy and a lot of effort is required to be successful. Any person in any sport needs to be disciplined if they want to achieve something. Lack of discipline means you lack the focus required to get up there. Those who are pursuing it as a hobby don’t feel any pressure from me.
When one of your racer (Ameya Bafna) was getting hair in his eyes while racing, you cut off all his hair and then you returned the favour by going bald yourself when he won the race. Is this true? Why did you do it?
*Laughs* Yes, it is true. I had told Ameya to cut his hair multiple times. He ignored this and when it reached a point where his hair was getting in the way, I ensured that he went bald. It was to teach him a lesson that I meant business and if something was required, it had to be done. Another driver Raj also went through the same procedure later.
At the same time, I wanted to show the drivers in the team that I was well capable of doing the same things that I made them do. So, I promised to go bald myself if either of them won their first race that year. Ameya soon won the 3rd round of the National Championship. I kept my word and shaved off all my hair.
How has motorsports changed over the years in India?
When I started racing, there was just 2 categories of car racing possible – Formula Maruti & Saloons. Sponsorship was an alien term! We did not even have 2 stroke kart racing in India. Since then it has grown enormously. Today, we have an extremely high level of karting in India, thanks to the JK Tyre FMSCI Rotax Championship. It is this series that is churning out drivers of high quality. Proof of this is, that our drivers have won 5 International Titles in Karting.
Tell us about your academy.
The Rayo Racing Karting Academy is based out of Pune. We have various levels of training programs for drivers. Members can then use our karts regularly to practice over the weekends. It’s very exciting because we have a quite a few drivers in the 5 to 7 year age bracket.
What do you think should be done to change the sponsorship scene in India? How can motorsports grow in a cricket-crazed nation like India?
There is no single solution. Formula One coming to India of course gave a huge boost. The single biggest requirement would be to have more circuits, especially karting circuits around the country. The craze for motorsport is actually very high in India. It’s just that people do not have anywhere to go.
The costs are also extremely high. Government support in terms of reducing import duties and taxes would certainly help to bring down some of these costs. Other things like wider coverage from the media and some companies realizing that they do have an alternate to cricket (by funding events, drivers) would also be very helpful.