| Sahil (right) with Karthikeyan
Mumbai, Oct. 14: Sahil Shelar lives, and breathes one dream — to compete in Formula 1 races one day and win. The 14-year-old has just moved a step closer to his goal by becoming perhaps the youngest go-karter to be signed up by a big sports management company this week.
9 Yards, promoted by the Walchand Hirachand group, has signed a two-year contract with the go-karting prodigy from Powai. Sahil will join the elite list of celebrities like tennis star Leander Paes, footballer Baichung Bhutia, Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting and actress Manisha Koirala, all signed up by 9 Yards.
The Class IX student of Bombay Scottish, Powai, was only nine when his love affair with motor sports began. “I still remember watching with excitement Michael Schumacher’s win at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1997. That was the beginning,” recalls Sahil, chatting at the sports club at Hakone Go-Karting Sports Centre at Hiranandani Gardens in Powai.
Within three months of watching his idol Schumi on TV, Sahil began lessons at the Hakone go-karting tracks, the best of the three tracks in Mumbai. Within nine months, Sahil was the fastest at the sports centre.
“Sanjay Sharma, head of motor sport, JK Tyres, noticed Sahil’s skills and his control over the kart and encouraged him. Due to the inherent dangers in racing, my parents were a little hesitant initially... But, after his achievements, everyone supports him whole-heartedly,” says Sanjay, Sahil’s father and the chief pillar of support.
Sahil’s performances in go-karting made India’s best racers, Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandok, sit up and take notice.
Sahil finished as the runner-up at the Compaq go-karting championship and the group finalist at the JK National Go-Karting Championship in 2000. He won the KNK Formula Championship in Goa in the under-16 category, and the Pepsi Championship at Hakone in Mumbai in 2001. He not only won both the Mumbai and Bangalore leagues of the JK National Go-Karting championships in 2001 in the under-16 category, but was also found to be the fastest among 105 participants across all categories.
“You have to go through a number of stages and levels before you can qualify for Formula One. After winning go-karting championships, you have to qualify through Formula India followed by Formula Asia, and Formula Three or equivalent races before you can qualify for F1. So, it is a long way ahead for Sahil,” says Shelar Senior who wants his son to gain valuable experience on foreign karting tracks.
Sahil participated in his first race on foreign tracks in the AMC Dunlop Endurance Championships and the AMC Dunlop Junior Championship in Sepang, Malaysia, in April this year and came up with a fine performance.
“Sahil had a lap time a shade slower than the winner, the Malaysian five-time national karting champion. He also had two accidents, but it was a great learning experience,” says Sanjay.
Sahil’s performances and potential made 9 Yards zero in.
Navneet Sharma, CEO of 9 Yards, said: “Sahil’s performances have been very promising. He had a podium finish in Malaysia. Both Karun Chandok and Karthikeyan recommended him. We have been looking at spotting and promoting talent in non-cricket sports like motor sport, soccer, golf, tennis, squash, and Sahil seemed like a perfect choice.”
9 Yards will underwrite expenses for Sahil’s races in the US and the UK. In return, Sahil will designate a week every month for promotional events with companies and products associated with 9 Yards.
With his passion for go-karting, Sahil has made many friends. He regularly speaks to Karthikeyan and Chandok who guide him, and shares a special relationship with Sachin Tendulkar. A keen go-karter, Tendulkar races with Sahil regularly at the Hakone Go-Karting tracks.
“Sachin is a wonderful human being. He will come at 11.30 in the night and will race late into the morning,” says Sahil, who consulted the cricketing idol before signing the two-year contract.
But Sahil’s most thrilling moment came when his idol Schumacher sent him a greeting card. “Schumi is the best. He has been my inspiration all along. You have to be the best to be among the 20 who compete in F1. I want to be one of them one day,” says Sahil.