After notching up his first podium in single-seaters, Kush Maini is poised to follow in the footsteps of elder brother and FIA European Formula 3 racer Arjun.
Maini is India’s next prolific karter to make the transition to single-seater series, doing so after a few illustrious years in karting championships across Asia and Europe.
The Indian got his first taste of winning in 2010 when he took part in a Yamaha race in Malaysia. The following year, he returned to India to compete in the National Karting Championship, where he swept the Micro Max category, dominating all six races en route to the title.
He followed this triumph by finishing runners-up in the Junior Max category of the championship in 2012. This feat was made to look all the more impressive by the fact that he was the youngest driver in the category.
Apart from his karting duties, Maini has also been in action in other parts of the world. Some of the highlights from the year include victories in Trofeo G. Pagliuca and Indonesia Kart Prix, and a couple of second place finishes in Trofeo D' Estate and Trofeo del Garda in Italy.
Move to World Series Karting
The big breakthrough came when he jumped to World Series Karting in 2013. Maini immediately impressed, finishing second overall in the Euro Series category and third in the Masters category, including a win at La Conca International Circuit.
More recently, he finished fourth in the WSK’s Gold Cup, and won the Trofeo Margutti, becoming the first Asian driver to get his hands on the prestigious title.
Maini feels the ultra-competitive nature of karting championships in Europe, particularly WSK, prepares aspiring racers better for the future. After all, these championships have been a breeding ground for the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, among others.
“Karting in Europe gains you a lot of experience as it's really competitive,” Maini told Motorsport.com. “They are likely 80 karts and they are really quick and champions of their national countries.
“But I would advise people who are coming to karting newly to first finish the Indian championship and win it. And after it, they can move on to Europe and get more experience.
“But in Europe it’s really hard, and the first year is only running. From the second year, you try and fight.”
And that’s why Maini is not ready to make a full-time graduation to single-seaters just yet. Next year, he plans to dovetail his commitments in the JK Tyre Formula BMW championship with four to five months of karting.
First two rounds in single-seaters
For now though, he’s focused on the JK Racing India series. The 15-year-old gradually improved his results over the first round, finishing sixth, fifth and fourth in the three races scheduled on his debut weekend.
“The first round went really good because it was my first car race. I’m about four years younger than the average of the people here. So it’s a huge step for me. But all the racing in Europe has helped me with my race craft.”
In the second round, Maini went one better, making his first podium appearance on the rostrum.
“To be able to be second in the championship behind Vishnu (heading into the final race of the second round), who’s been in this category for three-to-four years is really special,’’ he said.
“And now, we’ve notched up a podium and we are fighting up with the top guys who’ve done the series for a long time. So I’m really happy. Let a few races go past, I’ll be up there.”
Willing to learn from mistakes
The second round of the JK Racing India series brought light to lack of experience in single-seaters. But Maini was quick to admit his mistakes and vowed to come back stronger next time.
“It’s mostly about experience because it’s was my second round. I know I can’t use it as an excuse, but experience is really important in these cars. They are bigger and much different than karts,’’ the Indian said.
“Akhil (Rabindra) has been driving in Europe as well in formula cars. He sold me a dummy, I went to cover, locked up and went out. I tried controlling it, but two people got past. Every mistake you make, you learn from it and come back stronger.”
Maini, who has already shown flashes of pace and brilliance during his brief stint in cars - such as making a fine move over Krishnaraj Maharaj during the opening lap of race one - will get two more rounds at the Buddh International Circuit to prove his calibre.
Key role of father
Maini’s rise to prominence wouldn’t have been possible without his father, Gautam, who himself is a racer in his own right. His contribution, as Maini insists, is indelible.
“There are very few fathers in India who could give all their life just to support their kid's racing. So I’m really thankful to him,’’ Maini said.
“He’s really supportive of my career and without him, I wouldn’t be here. Even if I had the talent, I could do nothing without him. So he’s the one who kick started my career and he’s literally spending his life to help me.
“So I’m really really happy and hopefully one day I can give him a gift back.”
Following in the footsteps of Arjun
Kush also has another racing driver in his family. His elder brother Arjun currently competes in European F3, after finishing a close runner-up to George Russell in last year’s British-based BRDC F4 championship, and has been an a good teacher to Kush.
He hasn’t been hesitant in taking advice from his brother, who also serves as one of his driver coaches.
But once a racing driver is strapped into his car, all personal relationships take a back seat. The sole aim becomes beating your rivals, and Kush is no different.
“I want to beat him. But first I would have to learn from him because he’s a long way ahead of me. I'm learning from him, and hopefully, one day I can be as good or better than him.”