I first met Ashwin Sundar at the karting track in Chennai’s AVM Studios, in 2001. He was the fastest on that track but didn’t know of other places to race. My father told him about other tracks at Danny’s and Kart Attack. We saw each other a lot more after that but didn’t exactly become friends. In fact, we were huge rivals during the karting days and our races would see a lot of action — generally us fighting for space on the track. It was a very competitive relationship and we wouldn’t even smile at each other. Things mellowed down once we both quit karting. I remember finishing ahead of him in third place at a saloon category event in 2005, but there was no friction. Racing brought us a little closer. We stopped behaving like kids.
Soon he was racing bikes in FIM Asia Road racing championship and we would have long conversations on motorcycles. I would tell him about the risks but he was sure he was done with cars. He eventually returned to four-wheelers and proved his mettle.
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Everybody knew he was a talented driver, even before his first national championship win. On the track, he never gave up. You had to be prepared for a dogfight when you went up against Ashwin. We had our differences. After 2009 (the final race of the Formula Rolon championship saw Ashwin collide with Saran, putting both out. Saran registered a complaint, Ashwin won the appeal and the title), we both became a little hesitant and essentially talked to each other through the press.
But I would always ask a common friend of Ashwin’s whearabouts and what he was doing. I came to know he got married last year and I wondered, “Why the hell he didn’t invite me? I’ve known him for seventeen years. Does he think I’m an enemy?”
I got his number but couldn’t bring myself to reach out to him. Nobody knew something this unthinkable would happen and everything else has faded away now.
I was near Trichy, some 600km away from Chennai, when I heard of his passing. I received so many calls and every new detail made it tougher to digest. I’ve read people’s comments but we need to realise that this wasn’t a case rash driving.
The accident happened on an empty road in the wee hours, not in full traffic. I can’t believe that Ashwin just lost control. From what I know, he’s a teetotaller.
I know he wouldn’t drive fast or show off when he had a passenger. In fact, he used to advise people against putting a passenger at risk. Also, the cars that we race are much more unstable than the features-packed BMW he was driving.
We can’t let his legacy go to waste. Indian motorsport has lost a promising talent. He was a national champion.
As for myself, I can’t stop reliving our last meeting, at the JK Tyre National in Coimbatore last year. It wasn’t even a conversation. He just smiled at me and I smiled back.
Now I know, I should have walked up to him and said, “Hey, how are you? What’s happening.” Now, it’s too late.
Saran Vikram is a race driver from Chennai who competes in the LGB Formula 4 category. He finished third in last year’s national championship. He spoke to Gaurav Bhatt