At first glance, Nayan Chatterjee may look like your average teenager – casual clothes and laid-back mannerisms. But once he starts talking about racing and motorsports, you can see the passion in him, the passion for speed that has taken the 19-year-old from the karting tracks in Mumbai to international podiums.
Nayan is an international kart racer who has participated in several racing championships across the country and the world. Competing in the ‘senior’ category since 2013, Nayan has won more than 25 national trophies and in his fifth year in the competitive kart racing,
In a chat with Firstpost, Nayan Chatterjee spoke about taking up racing as a career, his journey to the podium, the growth of and response to motorsports in India, his goals for the future and more.
On starting on the road to racing
I started karting when I was 13, I used to go to Powai and have fun on the track. My mum used to take me and there were times when I used to sit for 10 minutes, drive around and come back and there were times when I used to sit there for the whole day, beat the lap record and get my name up there. So we went for a training program, and the coach said I have some talent and I should do this race. Then I did the JK Tyres rookie cup and I finished 12th in my first race, so he said this is really good result and we should start national championship. In 2012, I started in the national championship where I finished second in the Senior Max and I won the kart open twice in a row. In 2015, I finished third in the championship again, and in 2016, I finished the Asia Max Rotax Max DD2 championship in second place, I have also finished third in the BMW now, so quite a few championships in hand, but you always want to do more.
On going from karting for fun to choosing it as a career
To be honest, even I don’t know how it happened (laughs.) I just enjoy the thrill, sitting in a kart, and the speed was something I couldn’t get off my mind — the overtaking maneouvers, all the drivers, the ambience everything was just perfect, you just don’t feel like getting off the track. So once you are, you don’t feel like studying or doing anything, you just feel like driving around and the fun of winning is another level.
On his training and coaches
A multiple national champion and an international champion also, I have been trained by Akbar Ebrahim from Meco Motorsport and his son is Armaan Ebrahim who finished second in the Super Trofeo which took place in Asia. They are lovely coaches, and the best in India. No one is as experienced as Akbar Ebrahim, the first (Indian) driver to be called by Formula 1, but he couldn’t make it there but he is the first (Indian) driver to make it to F3 and probably win in it. He said that nothing comes in easy, you put in a lot of hard work, if you don’t work hard you don’t get what you aim for, and that’s the reason his son is doing so well. He is 27 now , he’s a very good friend of mine, and a great coach so I get to learn a lot.
On infrastructure for racing in India
India has got a few tracks but Mumbai has none. The best track in India right now is the Buddh International Circuit in Delhi, but unfortunately Formula 1 is not taking place there now. We have got a lot of place, we can build a lot more tracks I don’t know why it is not happening, so let’s just leave that to the experts. I trained at Kolhapur, it’s a track by the Mohites, even his son is racing right now, and I did a lot of training in Coimbatore in the formula cars.
On his family's reactions when he chose racing as a career option
To be honest, I was shocked my mum put me in racing (laughs.) My mum got me to a training camp and said that this is where I need to be. In the start she said that studies are most important and with racing, studies are also primary. To get ahead in life you need to be educated, so definitely she was the main supporter, and I have my aunt and my dad and my brother who have always been there.
On balancing sports career with academics
It’s a bit difficult but I am trying to. I think my school was very bad in terms of supporting me in the sport… I was a bad student. I think out of 356 days, we used to have school for maybe 180 days and of those 180 days, I was not in school for a good 100 days. I was in a different track, learning and I used to come with a huge amount of backlog and nothing really could get to my head, I used to just barely making through my assignments and exams. But now I am happy, I am learning a lot more in motorsport and I am being recognised and many people are following the sport now. So I feel proud that I did put in a little effort in school also.
On racing as a competitive sport in India
Since 2005-2006, that’s when I started watching Formula 1, the only thing we used to understand is that the red coloured car is Michael Schumacher. Now a lot more people know about racing so it’s definitely building up. I think in the next few years it should be even better. Nowadays I have people coming up to me and asking about how to join and where to join, they are putting in the effort. The crowds during the JK Tyres event was massive — around 30,000 people — the whole grandstand is filled so I am really happy to see the turnover in motorsports this year. I have never seen something like that before.
On financial support for racers
As you’ve heard, racing is a rich man’s sport and we are from a very basic, middle-class family. We have got sponsors, and most of my money is my dad’s, but JK Tyre, Venus Entertainment, Cello have been sponsoring me for the last few years and I am here because of them. You need to have your talent, you need to have your fitness factor, you need to be really good at what you are doing, that’s when the sponsors come.
On his role models
You might find this a little weird but I like Valentino Rossi though he is from Moto GP, I think he has this cool attitude when he gets on to his bike, his suit, his helmet, his attitude; he is always peppy, he is 37 years old, and has nine world championships what more you can ask for. I also like Fernando Alonso from Formula 1.
On his preparation before a race
So we have two switches in us – bulls**t mode and serious mode. When you get into the car, you go on to serious mode. Once you are in the car, you have to concentrate, if you make any mistake, that single 10th of a second is a matter of a world championship. Once you get into a car, there is nothing else, unless you are having a look in your car, you need to know what you are doing where and what mistakes you are going to avoid. Every corner if you lose one-tenth, you lose a point; in a track like Buddh which is 15 corners, you lose one-and-a-half-second.
Just before getting into the car, I listen to some music to calm myself down. Once in the car, I get nervous at times, so once the lights go off, no one is my friend there, that’s all I know, I am just racing – every move I make, I try to lunge over the other guy so that he can’t catch me up that fast. It’s a lovely feeling when you are in the car and when you are driving.
On unwinding while not racing
I do play badminton, tennis, basketball, go cycling or skating or swimming. Mostly, these are fitness activities and I go out with my friends.
On his plans for the coming season
I need to set my budget up for 2017, I need to drive something way better than that formula BMW so I am looking at something at the F3 level or equivalent – it could be a salon car prototype also. Let’s see how it goes. I am not doing the F4C for sure because the grid is about 10-12 drivers, it’s not that you want to go and get a podium but you need to learn a lot more from better activities and better competition. So I am looking at a 20-25 grid, thinking of the BRDC F4 or the Formula 3 in Italy, let’s see how it goes.
On his goals for the future
I want to find a lot more sponsors and reduce the load on my dad. On track, I am looking forward to getting a championship, most number of wins for Indian motorsport and I really want to see the sport growing and a lot more people coming.