Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar & Anirudh Raheja.

In a highly exciting race, under an over cast sky and a track that was part wet and part dry, Stuart Oliver of Team Castrol Vecton retained the Prima T1 racing championship title.

The day started with an overcast sky and a drizzle. The western disturbances finding their way into India over the Hindu Kush Mountains and the whole of Afghanistan and Pakistan made sure that it was going to be an exciting day. It was windy and chilly. Undaunted, the tempo began building up for the eight lap race preceding the final 16 lap race on March 15, 2015, at the Budh International Circuit near Delhi. A day prior, when the action actually began, the qualifying race was held under bright blue skies with no trace of dark clouds. The weather was typical of the time; not very warm, neither very cold. This race would mark the second season of Tata Prima T1 racing in India. The first race (nay, season) was held around the same time last year, presenting Tata Motors the credit of kick-starting a truck racing championship in this country. For Tata Motors to begin a truck racing initiative when the Commercial Vehicle (CV) sector was not in the best of health was indeed a brave attempt. It was successful.

The season-two championship has come at a time when the heavy commercial vehicle market is showing improvement. Sales of HCVs have been positive from November last year, while other categories are expected to come out of red soon. What better time then, to pitch 12 race derivatives of the Prima 4038.S 4×2 prime mover against each other. Tata Motors chose to treat the 12 racing trucks to a new look. A face lift to be precise. Seeing them outpace each other on the same track where a Formula 1 race was last held in 2013 would be exciting, especially since some of the best F1 drivers and their teams praised the circuit for its design.

The T1 nomenclature of the Prima racing trucks sounded similar to the F1 nomenclature associated with racing cars. The 12 (Season 2) Prima race trucks were prepared to British Racing Standards. Much like the 12 Primas that raced in 2014. Like the race last year, this race too took place under the aegis of the FIA and FMSCI. The trucks raced to glory, fructifying the efforts of the manufacturer, FMSCI, suppliers, dealers and other stake holders.

Over the 2014 event, the 2015 event will be remembered for the response it received; the excitement it ensued. Like the 2014 season, the 2015 season was also supported by suppliers and dealers among others. Cummins, Wabco, JK Tyre, Castrol and Tata Technologies were main sponsors, and Setco Automotive and Tata Motors Finance were the sponsors of Team Allied Partners.

Addressing the media a few hours before the qualifying race, on March 14, Ravi Pisharody, Executive Director – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, described the activity as a visual spectacle, more interesting than car racing. Even though it is a Prima against a Prima. Pisharody averred that these (racing) trucks are on par with trucks in other parts of the world. Mentioning the origin of the Prima as a world truck, he said, “The racing Prima will get more powerful engines in the future. The technology for racing will find its way into civilian applications.” Describing the Season 2 as faster, bigger, and in a larger format, R Ramakrishnan, Senior Vice President – Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, touched upon the origin of truck racing in 1979, “Fleet operators are demanding more such events be held in other parts of the country.” Explaining the motive behind truck racing as an effort to make trucking appear as an aspirational profession, Ramakrishnan remarked that truck drivers do not get the respect they deserve. “It is therefore an event like this, which amounts to a romantic thing for him, in seeing excitement build among drivers and their families about his or her profession. They (drivers and their families) want to see the truck race,” he added.

Building on an advertising campaign, which went on air during the Cricket World Cup in early 2015, the qualifying race of the Season 2 on March 14 saw the twelve Prima T1 racing trucks (read February 2015 CV magazine for more info on the truck) stand out from each other. A total of seventeen race Primas were brought to the circuit. Of these twelve were divided among six teams comprising Team Castrol Vecton, Team Cummins, Team Tata Technologies Motorsports, Team Allied Partners, Team Dealer Warriors and Team Dealer Daredevils. The 2014 championship was won by Team Castrol Vecton, followed by Team Cummins. The winning drivers were Stuart Oliver, David Jenkins and Mathew (Mat) Summerfield. All three came to the 2015 race to reclaim their moment of glory. This year’s driver line up comprised of Stuart Oliver and Oly Janes for Team Castrol Vecton, Mat Summerfield and Simon Red for Team Cummins, David Jenkins and Steven Powell for Team Tata Technologies Motorsports, Steve Thomas and Chris Levett for Team Allied Partners, Richard Collet and Graham Powell for Team Dealer Warriors, and Ben Horne and Paul Alan McCumisky for Team Dealer Daredevils.

The practice race began at 1.15 pm. The qualifying race began at 4.15 pm. The practice race involved two sessions and the qualifying race was of 20 minutes. As the twelve Prima T1s, painted in attractive colours, with decals and the names of their teams and sponsors arrived at the grid, excitement began to build. Starting with the frentic activity in the pit lane as the teams got their trucks ready, girls dressed in team attire could be seen filling water in the cooling tanks while their male colleagues went about checking the temperature of the tyres. The qualifying race began with the Primas, incorporating three 10s, (10 per cent increase in speed to 135 kmph, 10 per cent more power, and 10 per cent weight reduction). Amidst the roar of the 370 hp, 8.9-litre ISLe Cummins engines, it was clear that the trucks piloted by drivers sourced through Steve Horne, like in the last season race, would leave no stone unturned, to claim their pole position. At the end of 20 minutes, Steve Thomas of Team Allied Partners rolled past the finish line, winning the qualifying round of the Season 2. Stuart Oliver of Team Castrol Vecton came second, followed by Oly Janes, also from Team Castrol Vecton. Describing it as a good day to have finished first in the qualifying round, Steve mentioned that the T1 Prima Race truck is very reliable. “All the race trucks competing today were evenly matched, making for a very competitive final race. I am delighted to be here and hope to finish on the podium in tomorrow’s main race,” he said. Richard’s 1:50.840 second lap time was the quickest lap (faster than last year) on the 2.5 km T1 loop of the 5.14 km circuit.

Not quite succeeding in dampening the spirits of the teams or the spectators, the drizzle threatened to turn into a shower on the final race day. After the grand stand was fully occupied, the adjoining stand was made available to the spectators. If the weather gods made sure that the European drivers felt at ease, race teams and Tata Motors officials did not look bothered either. By the time the trucks took their position on the grid for the super qualifier eight-lap round, the drizzle had turned into rain. Pisharody flagged off the race at a little past 3.30 pm. Steve Thomas in the Allied Partners’ grey coloured truck took off with others in quick succession, water spraying out from underneath the tyres, indicating clearly that this would be an exciting race day for those who took the trouble of coming here.

As the rain grew in intensity, questions were raised about the suitability of the tyres – if the trucks were running on slicks. Sanjay Sharma, Head-Motorsport, JK Tyre & Industries, was quick to reply that the wider grip patch and the weight of these machines would ensure that no issue arose. These were not slicks, he said, adding that the weather condition would help the tyres to stay cool.

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Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar & Anirudh Raheja.

Steve Thomas won the super qualifier by keeping Stuart Oliver at bay, by a small margin of 1.840 seconds. Simon Reid followed with a gap of 3.182 seconds. Steve’s best lap time was 1:59.734 seconds. His last lap time was 2:03.237 seconds. Expressing that it felt like he was racing in Europe, Steve said that it is exciting as well as challenging. That, the Prima trucks are good and reliable. The two races – qualifying and super qualifying, aptly made it clear that the Prima T1s were indeed reliable. They were also visibly quicker. Before the qualifying race on March 14, Vicky Chandhok, veteran rallyist and former president of FMSCI said that the 2015 season trucks were four seconds quicker with a lap time of 1:54.8 seconds over the last year’s lap time of 1:58.9 seconds.

By the time the final race began it was 5.30 pm. The rains had stopped, but the track was still wet. Anant Geete, union minister for heavy industries and public enterprises, along with Ravi Pisharody and R Ramakrishnan went to the grid to wish the drivers. Thomas started the race on pole, having finished the rainy 8-lap super qualifier almost two seconds ahead of Stuart.

Stuart grabbed the lead from Thomas at the first corner leaving him to keep the hard-charging Simon Reid of Team Cummins at bay. Reid started on the second row of the grid in third. Tailing Reid was Steven Powell, Collett, Mat Summerfield, David Jenkins and Paul McCumisky for Dealer Daredevils. McCumisky was spun into the barrier on the curve by Oly Janes and the race was prematurely red-flagged. McCumisky was able to turn around and get going again. The race restarted after a delay of 10 minutes with the original grid.

McCumisky drove into the pit for a check up and started from the pit lane. With water rolling across the track, the fearless drivers took off once again. Stuart Oliver mounted pressure on Steve Thomas from the very beginning. Serious action followed. Stuart took the lead into Turn 3 at the end of the 1.3 km back straight. It was to be a cat and mouse game from then on as the ten-time British Truck Racing Champion (Stuart) fought off a constantly prodding Steve Thomas of Team Allied Partners. While managing to keep Stuart at bay in the qualifying race and even the super qualifying race, Steve and Stuart took the fight to the finish with almost all the action centered on them. The duo went flat out, overtaking each other almost at a regular pace during the latter half of the race. The first half of the race was spent in exerting pressure on each other. Deriving much from slip streaming each
other too!

The 2011 BTRA Division 1 champion David Jenkins retired after ramming into the inside wall while exiting Turn 1 earlier (on the second lap) into the race. Mat by then had made up three places and was now in third. Reid had dropped to sixth, behind Graham Powell and Steven Powell, who had dropped a spot. A little later, Steven Powell was overtaken by Janes, who promptly received up a drive-through penalty for making his move in a yellow flag phase. Streams of water were seen emanating from the wheels, the track, not dry yet, provided a challenging environment. The trucks were holding on well, nary any signs of slowing down. Even under such challenging conditions they would run the straight at speeds well above 130 kmph. There was a time when Steve was seen almost speeding into Stuart from behind. Stuart was seen trying to ensure that Steve does not get ahead. He did, but not enough to stay there; away from the prying eyes of Oliver.

At the wheel of the Dealer Daredevils race truck, Paul Alan McCumisky retired on the sixth lap. Paul’s was the last retirement of the race. The fight continued between Steve and Stuart. It was so intense that to expect either of them to win this race would not be far from truth. The 10th and 12th laps proved to be decisive as well as the most exciting. By lap 10, Steve and Stuart were a razor-thin 0.25 seconds apart. Steven Powell was in third position with Summerfield following with a time difference of 4.67 seconds. Four laps later the gap between the leading trio and the rest was a good 11 seconds. Summerfield fell back further and was overtaken by Reid and Levett. Towards the end of the 15th lap Powell was right up behind Thomas. He had narrowed the gap to just 1.5 seconds, and attempted a overtaking manoeuvre that was skillfully tackled by Steve. A little behind, Chris had barrelled past the Cummins pair ahead of him, rising to fourth. At the end of the 16th lap, Stuart Oliver was the first to cross the finish line. The last year’s winner managed to retain the title, recording a last lap time of 2:01.258 seconds. With a gap of 0.698 seconds, Steve came second (2:01.810 seconds last lap timing).

The best lap timing for Stuart was 1:55.230 seconds in the first lap. For Steve it was 1:55.511 seconds in the same lap. Steven Powell came third with a difference of 0.607 seconds, and a last lap time of 2:100.919 seconds. His best lap time was 1:57.108 seconds in lap 1. Speaking after the race, Stuart said, “It was an amazing experience. I want to say is a big thank you to all the fans coming out all this way, all the flags, all the caps, everything, it made such a difference this weekend. I really, really do appreciate it. Steve Thomas and Steven Powell were phenomenal competitors. They did an amazing job today of keeping me on my toes, pushing me all the way up to the podium. It means even more than the first one (last year’s race). I feel so blessed.” An elated Oliver explained after the race: “When one truck is behind the other, always the second one will be quicker as there is less air resistance. Steve was quicker behind me and was catching up with me on the main straight. But when he got past me, I did the same to him, the only question was whether I could stay there because he also had the same opportunity.” Despite windy and overcast conditions that made for a challenging track, Stuart clocked 142 kmph on the straight and 132 kmph in the curve. A good 7 kmph more than what was expected from the machine in ideal conditions by Tata Motors. Stuart Oliver also helped Team Castrol Vecton win this year as well. Reason for Castrol to rejoice. It used the opportunity to introduce the RX Vecton fuel saver engine oil developed in association with Tata Motors.

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