Sarath Kumar: "My international stint helping Indian riders now"
Indian ace rider Sarath Kumar believes his international exposure is reaping results now, as the knowledge imparted is helping riders in India prepare better for the challenges abroad.
The 24-year-old became the first Indian to compete in the 125cc category during the 2011 season riding the Aprilia.
Though Kumar was unable to qualify in Qatar and Jerez, the Chennai-based rider competed in Portugal to finish 24th among the 32 riders.
Five years since, Kumar is now a well known figure within Indian motorsport as he competes in the National championship as well as in the FIM's Asia Road Racing Championship, in the highest class.
In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, Kumar talks about battling injuries he is currently suffering, as well as talks about the rise of Indian riders, since his international stint.
First thing, how's your knee now?
"It’s still not 100 percent because we have been pushing back to back. I am racing in the National Championship for my team Ten10 Racing and Honda, we want to win the championship.
We don't want to lose points so even if I finish fourth or fifth, it’s ok for us to collect points so that when I am fully fit, we can push for wins."
How long do you thing it will take then? How it happened?
"It will take one more month to recover minimum, right now it’s around 80 to 90 percent, I would say.
This happened in March during my training session at Motocross. During a jump, I lost control and fell on my knee.
I got a ligament ACL tear and we decided to go for surgery. Normally when it's a bone injury, it recovers soon but ligament takes more time because we have to give muscle the time to recover, to strengthen it.
But why the rush to compete?
For every rider who get injured, they want to get on the bike soon, same with me and when we signed for the 600cc category in the ARRC, I didn't want to miss the races.
As I don’t have much experience with 600cc, we decided to race so as to gain experience because I didn't want to waste time learning the bike after recovery.
In Thailand it was very bad, I couldn’t ride at all but Japan we managed to qualify on a tough Suzuka circuit which has many left corners, which is where I struggled due to the injury.
Our target was to qualify below the 107% criteria on our own, which we did. I managed to finish the truncated Race 1 but Race 2 I couldn’t race because of swelling and so we decided not to take anymore risk.
So, what's the plan for the three remaining rounds in ARRC?
"Our plan is to score points in Indonesia and I am confident with the bike even with an injured knee. Yes, when I change direction, it hurts but by Sentul, I'll be able to fight within the top 20 and once the confidence is back, I can push even more.
By the Indian round, I'll have some more time to recover and my experience would only improve, I should be on pace, so I hope it will be a good show in front of the Indian crowd.
When you are injured, how's the mindset normally while racing?
"We are conscious while riding, one has to think about the injury also because it is easy to think that despite the injury I am a hero and I can do great. It won't make sense because if you crash again it will become very worse.
So you have to be conscious, also when you ride you have to take risk, you have to push but always keeping the injury in mind.
For me at the moment, I am going for experience, so there is no need to get aggressive.
In Suzuka, when it mattered, I took calculated risk and went two seconds quicker from my practice time to qualify with the 107 percent time - so when you are not 100 percent, you have to take calculative chances.
Talking about your future, where do you see yourself in few years time?
"Nothing's confirmed but for at least the next two years, I plan to stick in the ARRC in the 600cc category.
Yes, we are trying for a Moto2 wildcard, certainly not this year but in future, depending on what Honda decides. We are also looking into championships in Europe especially the Spanish one's."
Obviously you had your chances competing at the highest level riding the 125cc bikes, do you think the move came early for you?
"Yes and no, it was a good experience and at the same time it was not a right move also. But personally I felt that my going helped the Indian riders as whatever I learnt there, I brought the knowledge back and we shared our experience with many budding riders.
Like before, no one had proper fitness regime, no one practiced on dirt tracks but we brought with us proper information and the Indian riders were interested in knowing more so as to improve their riding skills.
These days when I have youngsters seeking advice, the thinking level has gone up, they want to compete at the top level but they want to go through the proper channel with utmost preparation.
So, the experience we brought, it improved Indian motorsport and now we see nearly 10 riders competing internationally.
I don't want to take all the credit but one of the reasons was us because when we returned, people came forward to seek guidance as to see where they are struggling and where they can improve."
So, where do you think the Indian riders are lacking?
"The biggest difference is practice and then the bikes, facility, training method. Everything is different, internationally riders have bike, not the production bikes customised to race one's like in India, but proper prototypes which makes a big difference.
Having said that, even with the shortcomings, our riders are still giving them a good fight, I am not saying we are winning but we are competing well.
It's improving nicely in India with lots of manufacturer support like Honda working with us which is a success, all our international experience, we are sharing.
And if we hadn't done our international stint, maybe today we would have been just racing with normal bikes, who knows!"
Finally, you are in your mid twenties now, we see in Moto3, riders aging between 14-16 years competing. Do you think age is a factor here?
"No age is not a factor because if you see Malaysians there are many rider about 32 years and also Thai and Japanese riders.
So, at the moment I think I am at the right age to compete in the 600cc and by the time I am 30, I'll have enough experience and maybe I'll be fighting for title.
Yes, the riders these days start very early, like 3-4 years in Japan, 8-10 years in Europe, 10-12 years in Indonesia, so on. While in India, many start at 15-16 years, so we are behind.
In addition, the bikes are different, the tyres too and the international riders compete in various championships to keep themselves alert which is not always the case with Indian riders.
But even with all the shortcomings as I said before, we are fighting well with the Asians especially in the ARRC.
So, the talent is always there in abundance, they just need lot of practice at the right age in the right facility, which is lacking here but improving."
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