Nayan Chatterjee usually wears a smile but behind that jovial face is hidden a life of grind. It started as a leisure drive when he went karting in Powai, in the north-east suburbs of Mumbai, at the age of 11. That ballooned into a serious passion before long. "When I was a kid I enjoyed going on drives," the 19-year-old reminisces. "Sitting on my dad's lap and looking over the steering wheel. Then I discovered something that I could actually drive - a go-kart. I drove it and just fell in love. Life kind of got sorted after that."
He makes it sound easy but it's been far from it. Riding around in fun parks is one thing but competing as a professional in the world of motor racing is another. "It got really tough for me in terms of fitness, learning the lines, better competition everywhere," Nayan highlights the dedication and time the sport needs, as a result of which he has to take home-schooling. "You can't eat or drink anything you want because you have to watch your weight. You have to be disciplined, stay fit, do a lot of prep like study onboard videos and so on."
Anybody can drive in a straight line but…
Fitness can make an immense difference in motorsport. It's physical on the arms, feet and neck. Nayan relies on his cardio to make sure his lungs can get access to reserves of oxygen to ensure that he doesn't run out of breath or get tired towards the end of his races and keeps on pushing. He is minimal on weights in the gym, relying more on running, cycling and basic pull-ups & push-ups among other things to keep him going.
"Basically, your core has to be really strong to handle the weight of the car into the corners," he explains. "Anyone can drive fast in a straight line but what matters is what happens into the corner. You are carrying speeds of 130-140kph which is really, really fast. That's where you need to work on fitness. Depending on how the corner is, you can face up to 2.5 to 3G in the car."
It's this fitness that has put him on the radar in the Indian motorsport scene. He led the Euro JK 16 series last year, before collisions and mechanical trouble gave an edge to his rivals, with Anindith Reddy eventually taking the honours. He finally finished 3rd in what is labelled as the national racing championship run in rechristened Formula BMW cars. The leading trio of the championship then went on to lay down the marker in the opening round of the MRF 1600 series in January, with Nayan edging Reddy this time after a scintillating wheel-to-wheel battle in Race 2.
Battle for the leadPosted by Nayan Chatterjee on Monday, 30 January 2017
Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death: Hunter S Thompson
Nayan's reach isn't limited to India. He recently tested a Formula 4 SEA car at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Last year, he raced in the Rotax Max Asia Challenge in the very fast DD2 category, finishing second in his rookie season against one of the best karters from Asia. He was also the only Indian in the senior category to race in the ROK Cup International Final in Italy last year. The event also saw participation from the sons of former Formula 1 drivers Rubens Barrichello, JarnoTrulli, Juan Pablo Montoya and two-time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi in other categories.
Nayan's pursuit for excellence has been relentless, filling his cabinet with trophies from different disciplines over the years. But it's a risky foray, one that threatens life and limb. One such incident happened in the Rotax Max Asia Challenge finale last year, where a competitor's kart leapt over him and nearly took his head off. Nayan was calm and composed but his parents were anything but.
"I was shocked," exclaims Satyajit Chatterjee, Nayan's father who doubles up as an efficient manager for his son despite no prior experience in the field. "But I soon accepted it. It's a part of motorsport. Obviously, I was very concerned about him but the moment I saw him moving I knew he would be largely alright."
It's something his dad has to cope with and it's admittedly and understandably not easy to watch. But to see Nayan on top of the podium, his arms raised with a trophy makes it all worth his while.