Tag Archives: khardung la chronicles

Welcome 2012! Will it be Red Bull’s run this time too?

(Thats Me with Daniel Ricciardio at RBR Speed Street in Delhi!)

I am keeping a promise that I made to myself and this is a beginning of writing about the F1 Teams and the drivers regularly. This year the F1 circus is going to be really huge and we can start imagining that there will be a real contest on the cards. Unless of course that the guys at McLaren and Ferrari don’t take themselves seriously.

The way the seats got filled so early is a good pointer, there are at least a couple of seats undecided as I write this, nevertheless its a heave of sigh for quite a young set of people and of course quite an old set of people – read Pedro La Rosa it is now a settled affair.

The most important point here would be that its is becoming a sort of champions round akin to what we have in our National Racing Championship. All the champions are there when you have Kimi also joining in, it will be fun to watch. I am only sad that Adrian has not been confirmed yet and would be forced to comment if they came together at a corner or if any of them were to be racing together at some point in a race. I wish Webber and Massa also had a chance to be champions so almost half of the grid would be champions.

Now lets see how they stack up, Red Bull  remains the same team, and we should only be looking at their style and they can be a great team in the making, I am talking long term. If one team which has the potential to be a threat to Ferrari fan base in the long run without being in the motorsports business, trust me it could be only Red Bull. Not because I was the official blogger, but you should know the branding that Red Bull is capable of and how they were on top in both the forms of racing today – the circuit and the forests, I mean the racing and the rallying they have been there. They are building a loyal fan base, if you have doubt check out their Facebook page with 25 million likes and almost a million people talking about it.

Just check out this article which underlined how Red Bull has now really become the content and media in a way that they are doing a great job of most importantly selling the energy drink. I have been associated with the brand up close, and some of the branding association and the branding on ground is pretty close to the energy drink literally. Take the case of the Red Bull Racing Cans, the students get to make cars out of Red Bull cans and get to do a race like event with trials, qualifying and the race. For the first time when I watched, I didnt know they had a final with all the cars on the grid! In a way as one participant pointed out you had to control the remote very well and aerodynamics can wait, still it was fun to see the cars going all over and you know how they get stuck in a corner and et all. And there are appeals to the Marshals and Chief stewards after the results are announced.

Then the best one happened when I was with Team Red Bull Racing at Khardung La, running an F1 car at 18,380 feet above MSL to be precise is not everyone’s idea of owning an F1 team. Here’s how they make themselves heard and they are loud about that when they do it.

To top it all they had their Kart Fight this season in India. Its a nice way to be there, and I know for sure what they are capable of, setting the trend as they did a few weeks before the Inaugural GP blazing the road at the India Gate.

Once Yohann Setna in a conversation long ago had said, ‘You wont be surprised if you can see Red Bull on anything that moves, motorsports in particular, and most important they have only one product!’

If you can add up all these, they are slowly building up the momentum to be the franchise that everyone would want to associate with. And you can easily do it with so much of action on the ground and off the ground, at the races, rallies and even in the Himalayas!

On the other hand they have a formidable Young Drivers Program, and that’s getting really into the mode. Daniel Ricciardio who will drive for STR is a Red Bull prodigy in their terminology. You get to be the best under Red Bull.

Now back to the teams, Mc Laren and Ferrari  have so much at stake atleast start pretneding to be guys, and make a match, while 2011 was boring except a couple of races, we need to see some down to the last race happening this year in 2012. Would be interesting to see someone fail me in that aspect.

Button will continue in his form and Lewis will try a resurrection from the bad times he has had on track and his personal life. Fernando and Massa will be watched eagerly by all the F1 fans and that eventually means Ferrari fans at large.

Then there is Mercedes, with Schumi and Nico they are trying hard and probably they were the ones who tried hard last year. Lotus Renault, we can call them with full honours with the other Renault becoming Caterham, will love to see them challenge the guys on top. Will wait to see  how Kimi a part owner too, will play his part and make it happen, we are for sure in for some real fast entertainment. The Iceman is back as an owner/driver at Lotus Renault.

Down the order we have, Force India – Sahara Force India to be honest, only wondering if the Kingfisher’s problem should not rub off on to the team, its been an excellent progress to date for the team. Though I would have loved this team to have an Indian driver in Narain or Karun, I am sceptical of Mallya approving my idea. On that front, I think the erstwhile Lotus Renault did make us look bad when they didnt put Karun in for Indian race giving Mallya a big boost for his idea of Indian drivers not being upto the mark.

Then there is Williams, where are the glorious days Mr. SFW? But I have the highest regards for such an independent team on the grid, lets hope they get some pace and make themselves heard.

Sauber, our Amul’s Brand car if I may call it and then HRT, STR and Marussia to complete the list.

Personally sad to see Sir Richard Branson leave, he is my entrepreneurial hero away from the tech world.

Will write about the teams and the drivers in details in the posts to come.

Till then signing off!

R Senthilkumar

(Indian F1 fan)

Khardung La Chronicles – Day 6

This is an early day today and food packed we would be on the way to the most enviable expedition ever undertaken! F1 car enroute the highest motorable road in the world, build and maintained by the Border Roads Organisation. If you were worried about the muddy roads and potholes across the city imagine after a shower of snow the roads becoming slush and treacherous in literal terms. So we drive the car making a clear road ahead for Neel Jani, there are people looking out for pits and stones and luckily we don’t find any on the road, it was going to be a clean drive.

The team had got used to having pit stops at will and some places where we could really get respite from the grueling session we were on.

Let me start at the start of the hillock, we had to cross three stretches crossing mountains every time. The road would be winding around a range and then we would be on the next one to cross.

The total distance was 34 kms from the town. The distance can be divided into two, one a 20 km road till the South Pullu where there is an army check post and then to the Khardung-La. The first part is easily motorable in the sense that there are roads infact nice roads you would want to drive faster but it’s a hill so you got to take control. It will be a smooth drive though.

From South Pullu to our wanton destination is the most treacherous road, the army truck wear chains over their tyres for more grip to avoid sliding over the slush of muddy roads caused after a snow fall.

That’s where our challenges lie, apart from that the car would need to be stopped whenever we have a problem with the terrain posing ground clearance and suspension issues.

We also had to be careful about the fact that we don’t cause hardship to fellow travelers along the road. Every curve lent itself a platform to view the vastness of the country with its multi colored hues spread over and the autumn just setting in it was a perfect landscape for the canvas.

Once the car was ready to run the crew also had to shoot alongside, and that was really fun for Neel.

I remember he was just following a truck with camera, and he had to really slow himself to the speed of the camera.

Once he got out of the car after the drive, he said, ‘Was very tough to follow the truck, I had no view except the truck in front and it is becoming fun’

Another time when he came to a stop he had some problems with the clutch. He said ‘It was taking a couple of seconds to respond.  We need to just fix that!’

Half way through our drive we were greeted by the officials of Border Roads Organisation. They have been of immense help! Getting us clearance and sending us an escort van to help us with.

As much as pit stops happening on the roads and valleys and plains, the lunch was also happening the same way ofcourse it’s sometime chilly and windy out in the open!

Every drive on the road was getting us clearly up some over 100s of feet up the ground. Sometimes it would be more than 500 feet up in a single go. A long and winding drive for Neel up and I really doubt if anyone would get to do such drive anytime in the future!

We did have a long day with multiple pit stops and driving up the terrain literally scaling up a feet or two with every turn or a corner or going an elevation up hill! Sometimes it felt like a fast track and with no arm cores and tyre barriers.

And by the way we have crossed almost 20 kilometers and the most challenging 14 kms are yet to be made!

In the sidelines, something I watched from here is the fact that lot of people in our armed forces have made these their home so that we live in peace time all year through.

R Senthilkumar

Khardung La Chronicles – Day 5

Early birds gets the worm, sorry gets cold here in Leh, jokes apart, can you imagine the team ready at 5 all set to go in for a drive and shoot!

All members of RBR team and Team Red Bull India were all ready at the appointed time early in the morning and the production team had already left for the day.

The challenge is not much as we could see through the day in driving the car but in getting them on camera, its not a track where we are used to driving in perfect conditions, right from track temperature to the tyre warmers and all those things are taken care of.

Here we are in a remote location to be frank in the sense that we are in a place so high in altitude and we are trying something very different and when it’s the first time we have our hearts pumping fast.

Murphys law is mostly on work when we plan it almost to perfection.

The car will be driven today with the blessings of the monks, making it the monks who blessed the Red Bull literally.

The first drive of 2.4 litre RS 27 powered RB 7 car in Leh would mark a history in the annals of motorsports in this country of ours where the real action is just weeks away  at the grand inaugural at Noida near New Delhi.

The fact that this has been possible is a testimony to the big inspiration of Red Bull as a brand to be doing things which are extra ordinary and more so to the team in India which put itself to scale the highest motorable road on an F1 car at Khardung-La.

A perfect picture doesn’t mean it was easy all the way, but then when the team works really hard and smart to get its way it’s really the best experience you get and the results are satisfying.

For the first time in my life I could see make shift pit garage across the road and gullys to make the car ready. In hindsight I thought these pit stops were better off than those which were to come.

The car was atop the hill at the Thiksey Monastery a famous place in Leh, a monastery which is a visitor’s delight and there are monks and the wannabe monks in Buddhist red shawls who greet you in a sweet cute smile.

Thiksey monastery was founded by Spon Paldan Sherab, nephew of Sherab Zangpo in 1430 AD. It was earlier built by Sherab Zangpo at Stakmo and later on rebuilt by Spon Paldan Sherab on a hill top, towards north of mighty Indus river. Highlights of Thiksey Monastery is the ramparts of holy shrines inside the monastery. Thiskey Gompa houses an ancient temple, popularly known as Lakhang Nyerma.  (courtesy Wikipedia)

The master and the disciples had come down while the time had been spent fruitfully in setting up the car ready to go. They were bewitched to see a sensous car and they surrounded the car to know and Neel Jani gave them a go on how it works. All very curious onlookers and tried their best to understand even the car setup looking at the computers nearby.

When everything was set, they blessed them the very best to come for the most treacherous road ahead for the team to come. The Monks who blessed the Red Bull moment had come and the car fired up in all its glory set its first drive at the heavenly Leh and the monks they were surprised at the speed the car could go.

Neel Jani was a happy man, this was relatively a short run for him but a mark of history is waiting to be written while in some other part of the world his team mate Sebastian Vettel is planning on a bigger celebration for his life and also for the team.

Serefee (that’s Cheers in Polish!) everyone the first drive has been a success! And it was just the first drive in a journey so long, and its Zen when you say a journey of thousand miles start with a small step or a small drive for this occasion.

Continuing after the first successful run at the Thiksey monastery the car would now test the real gully leading to the road. Brought down the truck to avoid the mud road and to the gully road if I may call it, it was readied and then Neel had the most bumpy ride of his life in an F1 car! He managed to touch 110 kmph and tried getting into the 3rd gear but no the car was bumpy and he was happy at the second gear!

‘Oh man I must be the only guy who has driven an F1 car in such conditions’ Neel  later said of this short straight road trip.

I should tell you that Leh is full of stupas the sacred buildups around the country and this has been happening for centuries and we had the opportunity to see some stupas which are almost some 400 years old.

Along the roadside the team had decided to run the car at this special place where we had done our shooting of the stupas two days earlier.

In Buddhist culture, a stupa is a symbol of enlightened mind and the path to its realisation. The best definition for stupa can be “spiritual monument”. The stupa represents the Buddha’s body, his speech and his mind but most especially his mind, and every part shows the path to Enlightenment.

The faith is that the visual impact of the stupa on the observer brings direct experience of inherent wakefulness and dignity. They continue to be built because of their ability to liberate one simply upon seeing the structure.

Text Courtesy  (http://www.flickr.com/photos/naadodi/2854433253/)

So once again the car was transported and a pit stop in the middle of the road, alongside an army ambassador car passing by and another TATA truck getting along the road, who could forget the army truck too.

Before I continue let me tell you Neel had to steer the car for over a kilometer after his bumpy ride to reach this place before the car could be transported to the present destination.

‘This is fun, imagine being pushed on a road with traffic flowing on the opposite side!’ Neel was having some of his best moments in an F1 car for sure and we were enjoying every bit.

My photography in the meanwhile did not go as planned, I remember the Speed Street experience and so had now three running shots to be precise and when the car was not running made merry of clicking enough of Neel and the car and the crew!

The road chosen was winding and could give you the best of the view of the stupas and also an elevation to ride for with an S bend. Classic chicane stuff!

One of my shots worth remembering happened during this drive and then it was time for lunch and well there were lucky spectators who stopped for a camera moment with Neel and the car!

This is the third drive of the day and the longest drive of the day was yet to come! Magnetic Hills it was and what was in store was still thrilling to imagine.

Red Wine, is cherished as it becomes old, my experiences with team Red Bull on this special occasion was like that every passing moment had something better for me and memories to cherish for as always.

To continue with Magnetic Hills in the next read!

Till then check out some amazing photographs and some amazing video webisodes of our expedition to Khardung-La!


At the Magnetic Hills range, the road was a long straight of over 3 kilometers and what a magnificent breathtaking view it was. Now the Team RBR had become adept at making pit stops along the road sides and it was no different either here. We crossed the river it had the ruins of the last years cloud burst and how much the Border Roads Organization of the Armed forces have made it is believed to be seen here in reality.

It was lovely to see the very fancy colored trucks trudging along the pit stop! The cameras were ready to roll and I reckon this must be the last of straights Neel will enjoy because this was our last stop in the plains literally.

I was at the other end to see the car do its trial run and the full throttle run. It was a grand spectacle to watch the car emerge behind from a scenic background of the brown hills and the violet blue machine emerging from a mirage laden road was a sight to behold.

Neel meanwhile was making the nest use of the road rather the straight to his full advantage and sped up over 150 kilometers. There was good use of the aero along the straights. The car would vanish in a split of a second and get back the same way it came.

It was a great moment for all those holding a camera, you missed it in a split of a second. The car if had to be captured, you need to be having special extra sensory reflex as to at what speed it will enter your frame and leave your frame and in that moment do the clicking so fast to make a photograph. Well this is for amateurs and those with lesser abled cameras!

The run was pretty great and what a day it had been with three different locales and runs. All distinctly different from each other and challenging the limits in terms tracks one was a blessing in literal sense then there was a gully you could drive a normal car on so bumpy it was it it was like so many thuds, then there was an S bend, it was perfect to maneuver the car around the stupas, and fly it down the elevation, and the last was a straight you could always be on gas but these are not tracks of ay nature, and the suspension of the car was heightened to accommodate this terrain.

A great and long day at office for Neel and Team RBR, and the production team was already having a look at the footage they had painstakingly recorded under trying circumstances of the monastery to the motorable roads and to the Magnetic Hills.

Something I should mention here is that everyone seamlessly fit into roles whatever it meant. Stopping traffic, regulating the traffic and getting people to cooperate, it was getting more and more pleasant with more challenges along the way and every time it was being successful met with the challenges were more inviting along the way!

That was about the long day in the plains, and as we look up it was the hills inviting us with a smile, was that a sign of the greater things to come, keep reading this page to know how the hilly terrain and snow-clad mountains welcomed us to their fold.

R Senthilkumar

Khardung-La Chronicles – Day 3 Part 1

Two days of acclimatization should be enough for us and the D-day is fast approaching with the car having arrived a little close to the venue and the Driver for the event in town. Neel Jani has arrived and well it is going to be real great with him at the venue.

We also have the acclimatizing happening for Neel so he can make the best of the Project without any problems healthwise. F1 drivers are the most fittest in terms of physical fitness and that would be great to see how he takes it to himself at this weather. Though the conditions are a bit European, in terms of weather the altitude here is altogether a different ball game.

As a part of the helicam again this time we went to the Famous Leh Palace. A winding road from the market place and a nicely laden tarmac led us to reach the Leh Palace.

Leh Palace is nine storeys high; the upper floors accommodated the royal family, the stables and store rooms were in the lower floors. The palace, a ruin, is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. The palace is open to the public and the roof provides panoramic views of Leh and the surrounding areas. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

We had ample shot being taken to accommodate the aerial view and also the a fact that some construction work was going on. ASI has taken it upon itself to restore the glory of this monument. It amazes me to see how they had built it in the first place and how it did have an overall view of the whole country side from the windows.

With lot of onlookers at our side we had tough time to shoot without being disturbed by young and pretty faces. Well I should admit the people here are beautiful like what Baksh of Red Bull said they are happy and that makes them beautiful

I am happy with the fact that apart form technicalities I am learning a bit of life lessons, on how to look at life, meditation, and more so be content and happy, some traits of Buddhism.

As we would up the shoot which were ofcourse the handiwork of Tomas and Renata, we went next to the road to the Tsemo where again it was an awesome view of the countryside. It meant the planning has been meticulous and it also meant that it was easy to control. All the management theories were plain visible in terms of a kingdom being run. Not a fiary tale but in reality these were some of the take-aways.

We did shoot till Lord Vayu decided to stop us with his windy breeze and sun also got the better of us. The afternoon was a different one and I have decided to dedicate a separate blog for that. My time of my life with Neel and what an evening it was, mind blowing simple because you had someone so wonderful and down to earth and always smiling talking to you about the other side of racing the normal human being that Neel Jani is.

Over to the next blog.

R Senthilkumar