Bengaluru’s 23-year-old Akhil Rabindra is a race driver from India who competes at the GT4 European Series, driving an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 for the PROsport Performance team, achieving multiple podium finishes in the 2019 season. He is the only Asian to be selected for the Aston Martin Drivers Academy last year and also competed at the inaugural X1 Racing League representing the Hyderabad franchise.
Akhil who works out of Edinburgh, Scotland had made the right call and chose to fly down to India to his home in Bengaluru, a couple of days before the lockdown and now have been eagerly waiting to hit the tracks. In a freewheeling conversation with The Bridge, the speedster narrates his journey.
Started his journey 2010, with casual go-karting, Akhil graduated slowly from formula car to racing GT. “I was always fond of go-karting, I used to go for a lot of go-karting events. It was this hobby, which I channelised into my profession. Racers get their driving licenses at the age of 16 and soon I was eligible I took up motorsports seriously. I jumped into formula cars (formula 3) and later made my shift to GT,” says Akhil.
In India, motorsports draw barely any interests apart from F1 and remain that distant cousin to other ball games. Akhil’s interest in go-karting initially fuelled the desire to pursue racing seriously. “There was no one in the family or anyone I knew personally before who had been into the sport, it just happened. I picked up my inspiration from our national hero Arman Ebrahim, who was racing Formula 2. He was always very active and was looking for a racing or go-karting tournaments. He had set a benchmark for driving and fitness and showed a way how to maintain physical vigour. Then I started following Formula 1 seriously and Lewis Hamilton is my role model,” says Akhil, when asked about his inspiration.
Transitioning from Formula car to GT was a well-thought decision for Akhil as the latter proved to be promising to have a greater prospect and have a more secure base than the highly competitive Formula 1, which lies atop the pyramid of motorsports. “In GT racing it is always two or more drivers per car, that’s why the population is suddenly bigger. And we have almost 10-12 manufacturers, from Audi to Aston to McLaren to Ferraris, all have racing departments and are racing different championships,” explains Akhil.
Starting his GT career in 2016, Akhil has already made it big by becoming Asia’s only driver to be picked for the Aston Martin Racing Driver Academy would have escaped many. In his short career, Akhil has been able to taste success being the fastest among other Indians in his category. In 2014, he represented India at the FIA Young Driver Academy. In 2016, he switched from single-seater racing to GT racing (that involves multi-seat racing cars). The following year, he became a part of the McLaren GT Driver Academy. He is competing in the European GT4 series as well as the 24H European Series.
Talking about his experience at the Aston Martin Academy, Akhil shares,
“I got selected in the Ashton Martin Academy in 2019. It has to be one of the biggest highs of my career so far. It came as an opportunity to maximise our effort and time to learn the nitty-gritty of driving and develop our skill. In GT racing there’s a person known as a factory driver, who is one sponsored by a vehicle manufacturer in official competitions. As motorsport competition is an expensive endeavour, some degree of factory support is desired and often necessary for success. These drivers are highly trained and we get to mentored by them, which has immensely helped me develop as a racer.”
Even as India produces promising young talents like Akhil, no F1 driver has come from the country after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok. Akhil believes, there should be the right amount of focus in the grassroots to develop the core for motorsports. “Racing is slowly picking up in India. In order to grow, the grassroots need to be developed. Various championships are also coming up lately. Even tournaments are coming up at college levels, so beefing up the grassroots will pave the way for better growth of motorsports in the country. A financial barrier could be a problem because motorsports are expensive, but with sponsorers pitching in, there’s plenty of scope in the future.”
When asked about the popularity of formula one over any other form of racing in India, Akhil says, “Of Course, F1 is marketed more in India, with having some big superstars like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, earlier we had Schumacher. However, one has to consider that it is like the 100m race in Olympics, where one Usain Bolt remains the king, however, GT Racing is more of the 4,000-metre race compared to F1.”
The whole idea of racing cars and sustaining injury through accidents could still be a major hindrance for motorsports gaining popularity in India, restricting itself to be only a viewed sport. But the 23-year-old opines, motorsports has never been safer than what it is today. “Injury is perceived to be a lot in our sports because of the obvious reasons that we race fast cars. In most sports and even in our sports, technology is shifting drastically. So as we move ahead, the safety standards are improving every day. We are not much worried about injuries. From a driver’s point of view, I don’t see the risk of injuries. I assure, whatever car I am driving is up to the mark and safety standards are met. Cars are safer than ever in GT Racing or even Formula Racing.”
Rabindra, who is a part of the business development team in his family business (ASM Technologies; they provide engineering services out of India), is juggling between his day-time work and indoor training at home amid the lockdown. He plans to be back with Aston Martin and race in Europe once the conditions get relaxed and good for racing returns.