Khardung La Chronicles – Day 7

Excellence & winning is never an accident! I saw this in a different vein and this would encapsulate the whole experience for me! I have always seen F1 from a team perspective and it would get into everyone right from the driver to the mechanic to contribute to the team’s success.

This day would be the day of reckoning for the team and forget not this has been a hardwork and a culmination of smart work over the last six months. And as we inch closer to the pinnacle, its becoming more challenging.

The South Pullu experience has taught the team that we need to check the engine as we get closer to the summit. So at every capable distance they stopped the car and check the engine and lo it went to life without any murmur of dissent.

As we were on our way we had a pleasant surprise in Honourable Mr. Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. He was kind enough to do a symbolic flag off on the way and later would meet us at the Summit – The Khardung La Pass!

A note about the Chief Minister, a very attractive personality and a very enthusiastic individual he was mesmerized by the machine he saw and took all out effort to familiarize about it from Neel Jani.

So As I stood watching Neel explain his all important Steering wheel, Mr. Abdullah was all eyes and ears to what Neel was saying.

‘It’s a kind of your PSP steering wheel, you have controls and shift paddles here, ( he was showing all the knobs and paddles) but the only thing is if you make a mistake in your PSP there wont be any problem but here in you do a mistake it will be costly!’ said Neel.

That made Mr. Abdullah laugh and he was pleasantly surprised with the fact that Red Bull chose his state for its record feat and went on to say it was sort of unbelievable and incredible to see an F1 car on hilly road in the Kashmir valley!

This is what the Honourable chief Minister  had to say ‘Its great fun! it was an incredible experience. I never thought I would get to see an F1 car attempting to make its way through Khardung La! Hats off to Red Bull Racing for doing this.  All the best!’

The Tourism Minister, and the Director of Tourism were also accompanying him, and not miss his young nephews who were also enjoying the car.

You would also want to remember Neel’s friend and the No.1 driver at Red Bull will seal the Title Championship at Japan today. Just one point separated him from being the youngest 2 time World Champion.

Its always nice to be a part of history when being made, you have years on to keep going back and reminiscence those moments.

Yes I forgot to mention something important, it had snowed all night and the way now was all snow and it was looking pretty white everywhere. Akshar even tried playing snow ball, and Tomaz was shelling his snow ball on all the windscreens whenever we had to stop to a convoy or an upcoming traffic.

Our trucks were well on their way to Khardungla after Neel had done some 15000 plus feet on the car and the roads were getting slippery and the tyres were changed for better.

Just as we were getting near the summit there was a huge traffic jam, no it was not Delhi but this happens when there is a truck or a vehicle trapped on the road and you had to travel all the way down to get spares or even repair the puncture.

Somehow after almost an hour we reached the place, it was so colorful with the stupa in there. There were prayer flags fluttering around thought the temperature was really below zero degrees, we could sense that but in the heat of the moment literally we forgot that we were in minus 12 degree out there.

To tell you more before I conclude this marathon blog, there are several places of interest you should visit once you are on this Khardung La. There is this cafeteria nice one dishing out Maggi and tea to everyone. It is awesome feeling to taste their Maggi at such altitude. The tea would also taste sweet and turn cold if you thought about something for a moment.

There was a souvenir shop and you should buy something for the simple reason you were there. It would have the Khardung La name on it. A super special memorable gift to oneself if you want it.

The camera crew was now buzzing around so too were the Team RBR. They had just checked the car just some 2 kms away to start and they had been positive about it and so the were only looking to clear the logistics around the truck and were waiting to clear the traffic which had gathered as a result of us being there.

It took some time to clear the traffic and make some clean road for the F1 car to be driven by Neel. Meanwhile Neel was also enjoying this time chit chatting with engineers and the crew. He would give in to any request for a picture and be on his wonderful smile.

So the traffic cleared but the winds weren’t happy though, it started snowing, and it was getting cold  all the more. We were there and we didn’t want to be outdone by external factors, so we kept working and the whole team waited with bated breath when the car was started up. It got into full drive mode and Neel went on to drive one of the most memorable drives which will lead him to history as the one who drove the first F1 car atop the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 ft to be precise.

It was a moment to cherish for everyone from Team RBR, the Case productions and ofcourse the Team Red Bull India.

As the car came to a halt, it was celebrations galore with team cheering up Neel on this mission and making it successful, there were hugs around and for me it was one of the high points in life, literally and more so emotionally, its been a great run with F1 in indirect terms with watching races and writing blogs and reaching out, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I shall report one of the most challenging F1 project ever undertaken from a team as respected as Red Bull and I shall be so close to the making of history.

Now was the time for photo ops, the cameras were on roll and the shutters didn’t stop. The team was estatic, they had made the best of engineering possible to fire the engine at such altitude and also had a formula for the fuel to make it happen.

The ride height being raised was one of the factor I had already talked about, but on the other hand the fuel was 97 octane petrol and a new engine management software took care to manage the fuel mixture the ratio of fuel to air in order to compensate for less oxygen.

Anthony Ward, Head of Brand for Red Bull Racing said, “It is a testament to the engineering crew of Red Bull Racing that we have been able to get a Formula One car running from 11,000 feet, all the way up to the 18,380 feet mark. Logistically too, this project demonstrates Red Bull Racing’s commitment to continually pushing boundaries.”

For Tony Burrows, The Team Head, they had done exceedingly well in a sense they got the car to start without a hitch at that altitude and it was a great day at office for the whole team.

For 27 year old Neel Jani, veteran of drives like Red Bull Racing’s journey to Table Mountain in South Africa, this was an experience he’s unlikely to forget in a hurry. “Of all the places I’ve driven around the world, Khardung La has got to be the most humbling. The Himalayas are as imposing as anything in the world and to become a part of history here will be a cherished memory,” said Jani.

The Red Bull Speed Street Leh project marks another milestone for Red Bull Racing; it joins the team’s other impressive runs, including the Formula Santo Domingo Beach Run and the Canadian Red Bull Frozen One on ice.

As for me it was a culmination of what was a dream come true, not so often do you get your chances of being at the summit, with an F1 car and a team which literally gives you Wings. The Team Red Bull.

Signing off

R Senthilkumar