By Debayan Mukherjee
Buriram (Thailand), May 31 (IANS) Buoyed by a maiden top-10 finish at the Asia Road Racing Championship in Round 2, Honda rider Rajiv Sethu is aiming to be among the top five racers at the end of the remaining four rounds of the Asia Production 250 class event, round 3 of which got underway on Friday.
Compared to his 27th position last year, Rajiv is already in the top 12 with 18 points so far after two races in Malaysia and Australia.
The motorcycle road racing meet has a total of seven rounds spread across five countries this season (Malaysia (twice), Australia, Thailand (twice), Japan and South Korea).
Rajiv, 21, who represents Idemitsu Honda Racing India, feels under the tutelage of former Moto GP rider Tomoyoshi Koyama and with improved bikes, he can achieve his goal “step by step”.
“The bike has also improved a lot comparing to last year. Honda has supported me a lot and gave me confidence. In terms of training also, they have supported me well so that I can enhance my performance,” Rajiv told IANS after practice at the Chang International Circuit.
Rajiv set a personal best lap time of 1:55.146 at practice on Friday before an electrical glitch in Practice 2 cut his race short as the team made changes to the bike’s setup to suit the track conditions better.
“I am improving step by step. I could see that. As all riders, I also have a dream to go to World Championship. But it all depends on how fast I grasp. Now it (motorsport) is coming up in India and this year I aim to be among the top five racers by the end of the season,” he said.
Japanese Koyama was roped in on a full time basis from this year to help riders Rajiv and 18-year old Senthil Kumar get better.
“I was not much confident about the setup of the bike. I tried to push myself. But this year, when he came in as a coach, he taught us how to set up the bike,” said Chennai-based Rajiv of Koyama who currently races in the MFJ All-Japan Road Race ST600 Championship and the Asia Road Race SS600 Championship, riding a Honda CBR600RR.
“He also helped us know how as a rider you should act professionally. It has played a major role in my career this year,” added the soft-spoken Rajiv who braved a career-threatening wrist injury last year in Australia to come back stronger.
“I had a critical wrist injury. I had numbness and swelling. It was quite difficult for me. Then in Chennai, I could manage to ride and take part in the race. It was all about the will power,” said the Marc Márquez fan.
This round will also see Honda’s teenager rider duo of Mohammad Mikail (ranked 15th) and Kritik Habib (ranked 16th) who made their international debut with the Thailand Talent Cup (Honda’s development programme for Asian riders) get a chance to learn race-craft from Asia’s best.
Talking about the budding talent in the sport, Rajiv said it is going in the right direction with the platform already there for the racers to exploit.
“We are getting in more and more support from Honda. They are doing a lot for the improvement of motorsport in India. We are going in the right direction. If we continue at this pace, we are going to see much more riders coming up.”
Coming from a humble background, Rajiv also shed light on how he braved several injuries from the start of his four-year career to come this far.
In his first-ever race, Rajiv broke his hand in 2014. At 17, the first race of 14 laps around Malaysia’s famed Sepang International Circuit was a steep learning curve as he let his nerves get to him.
He crashed out of the race in the opening weekend and had to miss the rest of the competition as he recovered from his injuries.
But having come through wiser after that challenge, he has added a few feathers to his racing cap.
In 2017, he became the national champion in the Pro Stock 165cc category of the Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship and followed it up with a first runner-up finish in the Honda CBR 250 Cup.
“Initially it was difficult for my parents to accept me choosing racing as a career. I used to do part time jobs when I was in high school. When I started winning, they got to know more about it and knew that I was quite serious about this,” Rajiv signed off.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at [email protected])