My friend Shivu Shivappa suggested that I should take part in the selection trials for AAGC (Asia Auto Gymkhana Competition) for 2018. At first, I was not sure if I should try but looking back it was an awesome experience. I am sharing my tryst with Auto Gymkhana and experience of driving with some of the best in the business like Achintya Mehrotra, Bikku Babu, Chetan Shivram, Dhruva Chandrashekar and others. I am sharing my experience so that more people know about Auto Gymkhana and participate in Gymkhana events which are relatively safer and cheaper than other forms of motorsport. You can even start with your stock street car.
And meet Team India for AAGC 2018 –
SO WHAT IS AUTO GYMKHANA?
Auto Gymkhana or Gymkhana or Motorkhana is a type of motorsport where you have to memorize the course around the cones/tires and drive in the shortest possible time. It is not just the driving skills but also the memory skills which is important to perform better. You get 15 minutes to walk the course and memorize the track. The driver drives through a pre-determined course after memorizing it and performs many driving technuiques. The driver has to perform slalom, 180º spins, 360º spins, figure 8, parking boxes, and sometimes drive even in reverse. See some examples of Gymkhana courses below:
RULES OF THE GAME
The rules are very simple – You get 2 to 3 seconds penalty for displacing the cone. You will get a DNF (Did Not Finish) for missing the route and for all the tires of the vehicles going outside of the race course. Check more details about the rules in the image titled – “Main rules of Auto Gymkhana”.
ASIA AUTO GYMKHANA COMPETITION (AAGC) SHOOTOUT
AAGC is Asia level Auto Gymkhana Competition where different countries send their best teams to compete in multiple rounds held in different Asian countries. The trials were conducted to choose the top 8. The top 8 will represent India in India round and top 4 will represent India in other Asia rounds in 2018.
COURSE AND THE CARS
The AAGC trials took place at Meco Kartopedia, Bangalore on 18-19 June 2018. Everyone was excited to see the Volkswagen Polo cars. The 56 aspirants enjoyed driving the 1.2 track spec Polo car. Thanks to Sirish (head of Volkswagen Motorsports India) for giving awesome Volkswagen Polo cars for the trials and making it an equal affair for all the participants. The 32 participants were chosen based on cumulative time from the 3 heats. Finally, top 8 were selected after 2 knockout rounds.
STAGE IS SET
Drivers arrived from all over the country. The favorites were Achintya Mehrotra, Bikku Babu (both represented India last year in AAGC), Chetan Shivram, Dhruva Chandrashekar, Ashad Pasha. The winner of Desert Storm 2018 Abhishek Mishra was also contending for a top spot in the trials.
It seemed so simple at first when I looked at the course with 13 cones spread across (see cones in the picture in right). I imagined driving in a typical autocross not knowing it is a completely different format. I have experience of driving in dirt but driving in such a narrow tarmac course is a first time. To add to the problems all the heats were running in 3 different courses. Basically, all the cones remain at the same place, the order of driving keeps changing – see the image – “The Course”.
When I saw the first course map I was completely lost and did not know where to begin. In Rallying, you have a navigator to guide you. In Autocross you just follow the route which goes only one way. But Auto Gymkhana can take any route. It is a combination of good driving and memory skills. The guys who had done it before like Achintya, Bikku, Dhruva, Chetan, and others seem to have some sort of formula to learn the track. I personally finished 20th because I got a bogie and hit a couple of cones in my first ever Auto Gymkhana event.
The course was changed for Heat 1B and we had 15 minutes to walk the track and learn it again. It is almost like preparing for an exam. There is excitement as well as pressure dealing with this unique situation. Guess what.. after heat 2 there were only 7 drivers out of 56 who got zero penalties. Even Achintya got a bogie (missed a cone) in the heat 2 which pushed him to 8th position by end of day otherwise he was fastest in both the heats of the day.
In the 2nd heat, I again missed one cone (120 seconds penalty). Basically, there is no excuse for missing the cone in this format. I did nail the rest of the course and it only helped me gain one position by the end of day 1. For me, the first goal was to learn this new form of motorsport and if possible qualify in the top 32 by end of all heats. It was not the driving, I was struggling with remembering the course.
Day 2 started with the final heat (Heat 2A) which shortlisted the top 32 drivers from the 56. The shortlisted 32 drivers drove in the knockout rounds. Some good drivers were out of the event by a narrow margin. The final 8 were chosen by their times from the round of 16. The format was tough and rules in this event were implemented keeping international standards in mind. This format also took a toll on some of the good drivers as they were eliminated in the round of 32. Chetan Shivram took one wrong turn which cost him a bogie, Bikku Babu lost his focus when he made a wrong figure 8. Dhruva drove perfectly but lost by less than a half-second from Amey who has come all the way from Goa.
Achintya made only 1 error on day 1. He drove with precision on day 2 nailing the 1st position with a time of 1:00.974 in the AAGC selection rounds. His driving is a good example of aggression on straight lines and slaloms. Keeping calm when taking the 180º and 360º spins with perfect acceleration and optimum hand braking. You can see one of his drives in the video below.
Abhishek Mishra known for cross-country rally drove aggressively and nailed down the 2nd position with 1:01:955. Prateek Dalal was not far behind with a time of 1:02.211 as he took the 3rd position with the awesome handling of Polo through the day. Vidit Jain clocked a time of 1:04.109 to finish with an impressive 4th position. Surprised Amey S Desai driving for the first time in such a format took the 5th position with a time of 1:06.957. Karan Malik took the 6th position with a time of 1:13.023. Arjun Rao showed some impressive handling and settled with the 7th position with a time of 1:16.435 as he displaced a few cones. Ashad Mukhtar Pasha who was the most consistent driver in the heats and claimed the top position after 3 heats, was lucky enough to squeeze into top 8 with a time of 3:18.393 in spite of displacing a few cones and getting a bogey.
I would also like to mention Ms.Priyamvada Saradhi. The only lady driver who finished 18th overall after the end of all the heats. She showed intent and promise in this format. I am hoping to see more of her and more lady participants in this format. It will be good to see the development of talent from such initiatives.
As far as I am concerned I did improve my position to 14th at the end of all heats. Sadly, I lost the knockout round as I went from the right side of the cone instead of the left side of the cone which led me to miss the next one. But I am happy that I clocked the knockout round in a flat 1:00.967 which is supposedly a very good time. I may have taken another 2 to 4 seconds if I made those cones from the side designated which means a possible time of 1 minute 4 seconds. The top 8 recorded times between 1:03.039 and 1:07.057 in the same round.
So, I am really happy with my driving performance but need to find a way of remembering the course. There is a lot to learn and a long way to go with the gymkhana format. I am looking forward to more such events and learnings.
I am sharing my experience so that I can encourage the new-comers. There are so many who like to drive fast or do some form of racing. Either it is inaccessible or expensive. Most times people don’t know about such events. Auto Gymkhana can be a good stepping stone to your racing dreams. And it does not require a huge place and money. It is fun as well as challenging as it involves a combination of both driving and memory skills. Do give it a try, if you want to know more do drop me a note or leave a message below.
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I congratulate all the drivers and wish them the very best for Asia Auto Gymkhana Competition 2018.
Words of praise for the organizing team of Balakrishna, Harshit Merchant, R Thiagarajan, Ramesh and FMSCI for a safe, professional and a well-organized event. Thanks to FMSCI for such a great initiative and platform to nurture talent in this sport. I would also like to appreciate Volkswagen for providing such lovely cars and Meco Kartopedia for hosting the event.
Please do not race on public roads. There are many avenues and formats where you can race, we can help and guide you.
Happy and Safe Driving!