| Ride high: Vijaykumar taking off on a triple jump
It took just a single lap in the first moto for B. Vijaykumar and C.S. Santosh to establish themselves not only as pack leaders but also crowd favourites. The cheers for India’s top two motocrossers began on the approach to the triple jump and built into a roar as the two jumped over 30 feet in the air. “On our tracks in Bangalore, you will often see them jumping as high as a double ' or even triple-storey building,” says Arvind Pangaonkar, general manager, R&D, TVS Motors and head of TVS Racing.
Vijaykumar and Santosh, products of the Bangalore-based bike manufacturer’s intensive motorsport programme, were participating in the fifth leg of the MRF National Supercross Championship 2005, held in Chandigarh recently. The event was held on an 800-metre dirt track shaped like a horseshoe, with its showpiece being the triple jump and ramp-and-tabletop.
Two-wheeler motorsport includes road racing, rallying, flat track racing, freestyle and motocross. Freestyle, as well as motocross and supercross (the first is held on natural terrain and the latter on a man-made track), are the most spectator friendly because of the spectacular jumps. “The jumps may look dangerous but motocross is much safer than road racing and rallying. The average speed is only about 80 kmph. If you do take a fall, you don’t get seriously injured because you are not going very fast and falling on soft soil,” says former five-time national motocross champion Shyam Kothari.
But motocross riding requires more skill, particularly for its showpiece item ' the jumps. Kothari explains how riders tackle jumps: “You keep your speed constant. You look at the landing spot, not the jump itself. You blip the throttle towards the end of the jump. In a double or triple jump, your landing needs to be more precise. And you must jump only high enough to clear, otherwise you’re wasting time. Sometimes, your front wheel goes up. Then you brake in the air and the inertia makes the bike horizontal again.”
A split-second error of technique can be costly ' as happened with Vijaykumar in what became the most thrilling race for spectators. The reigning national champion, he won the first moto but in the second allowed Santosh to overtake him on a berm (an embankment on a curve). In Vijaykumar’s words, “When you go into a berm, you shut off the throttle and then open it. I took a second longer than I should have, so I got slowed. And I hadn’t realised that Santosh was on my tail. I was in the outer line and he was in the inner line and he overtook me.”
India’s first motocross, the Sun Scramble, was held in Jaipur in 1975 by a famous “group of five” ' Jitender Pal “John” Singh, Chandrashekhar Singh, Yuvraj “Mithu” Gurwani, Amarjit “Bapu” Singh and Pradaman “Punnu” Singh. The 52-year-old Punnu still participates in the national championship despite numerous dislocated bones and a steel rod in one leg. “We rode Jawas, Crusaders and Sherpas in that first motocross,” he recalls.
Thirty years on, the national championship has foreign bikes. There are also machines with Indian engines and foreign bodies as well as stock bikes ' in an attempt to promote the sport and make it affordable for youngsters. TVS has been grooming talent since 1987, with the first rewards in 2003 when Vijaykumar won two races in Sri Lanka and became the first Indian to achieve a podium finish abroad.
But India still lags behind the Southeast Asian nations in the Asian championships. “We don’t have a culture of extreme sports. I started at 19. Abroad, they start in their early teens. My parents didn’t want me to do it because they thought it was dangerous. Though, now they are happy,” says 21-year-old Santosh, who recently trained in Australia.
Motocross is the most physically punishing of all the popular adventure sports, and the retirement age is generally the late twenties. Riders point out that “the body takes an enormous beating even in a six-lap race”. A very high degree of fitness is required. “We ride three days a week and do fitness training three days a week. Fitness training includes gym workouts, weights and swimming,” says Santosh.