The road to racing
Anmol Singh Sahil on his obsession with cars and representing India at the highest levels of racing
When you brake hard and corner at 100 kmph on a racing track, the tires squeal. Often the car turns 90 degrees. It’s a matter of routine for seasoned drivers but of excitement for rookies and spectators. For the parent of a first-time racer, especially one sitting in the passenger seat, it can be frightening. It was while taking the turns at the speed of 100-120 kmph during a track event at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), Greater Noida, that Anmol Singh Sahil recalls his father getting visibly scared. “He was almost trembling. He was saying ‘slow down beta. It is your first time. Don’t get excited too soon’. I have the footage where he is asking me to slow down and it is pretty funny."
But Sahil didn’t slow down. In fact, he lapped quicker in his stock Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI than many faster cars in the group of 15 during that 30-minute event in 2015. But once the fear subsided, Jitender Singh Sahil, a businessman from Ghaziabad, was also convinced of his son’s driving abilities and his choice of career.
Sahil, 23, was always interested in cars, even as a child. “My parents tell me I was obsessed with toy cars since I was probably two or three years old," says Sahil over the phone. “I was able to recognize the make of cars on the road when I was just 5."
It isn’t surprising that he took the wheel even before he was in high school. “It was just like taking the car in and out of the house for mom," he says. “I was always tall so driving wasn’t that difficult for me logistically." Sahil clocks in at 6ft 2 inches.
His interest in cars grew over the years and since he couldn’t drive one yet, he took to racing simulators. Gran Turismo Sport on PlayStation became his favourite. In 2015, car maker Nissan brought to India the GT Academy, a driver discovery and development programme. Thousands of gamers and rookie drivers were chosen and after various challenges, 20 applicants were selected and then mentored by Karun Chandhok, one of the two Indians who have participated in Formula One racing. Sahil was one of the riders.
By the time he completed the programme, he had found his calling. “My mother was supportive, but it was difficult to convince my father," says Sahil. “So when the BIC event came up, in which I could take my car and drive it on the track, I decided to take my father along."
Three years down the line, Sahil is a regular at the Volkswagen Ameo Cup—India’s one-make touring car championship, held over four race weekends at three race tracks across India—Coimbatore, Chennai and Delhi. Sahil won the junior championship last year.
Today he drives his stock Skoda which has been “completely tricked for track usage. It looks like a normal car but under the hood there is nothing normal." Sahil draws his inspiration from F1 legends Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. Next on the list, he says, is to win the Ameo Cup championship, which will ensure a sponsored seat in the F1600 Championship Series. If he wins, he will be racing in Formula 2000.
“My motivation is competition, to be the best racer in the world. To represent India. I consider myself to be a good driver. Now the race is to become the best in the world," Sahil says. Along the way, he also wants to “finish (his) BBA which (he) had to drop out of in 2015 because (he) wanted to pursue racing as a career."