This was one of the best moments in my life! Being with the F1 car atop the Khardung La – the highest motorable road in the world!
Thanks RedBull for the opportunity!
This was one of the best moments in my life! Being with the F1 car atop the Khardung La – the highest motorable road in the world!
Thanks RedBull for the opportunity!
(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!
(Indian F1 fan)
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.
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.
After a nice sumptuous lunch at the Grand Dragon, the only hotel in Leh which boasts of centralized heating, I got introduced to Neel Jani, the driver who will in all probability will hold the record of being the first driver to have driven an F1 car at an altitude of over 18300 feet above MSL.
The most striking part of him is his ever smiling countenance and short and stately appearance. He doesn’t look Indian but the manners bare it all, he is Indian from his Dad’s (Mukesh Jani) roots in Gujarat, India.
He would say I am more of my Mom in my looks. The family history dates early days even before independence of India. His family has been across the world in Africa and in Europe more specifically. Now he is also in America for the races and that means he is a World citizen by his own words.
So that evening we went around the Leh Market to begin with. It is a small place but you would come to know that its pretty costly too in terms of heritage and also some of the things you could buy.
But yeah Indian shopping isn’t all complete without our street shopping and Neel was only willing to go that extra mile and enjoy his trip this day at the markets.
So he went around shopping trying a bit of apparels and some caps and et all. He took to conversing with the shop keepers in the Hindi he could try and plain English and got to know the things and the history of some of the heritage items for sale.
There was so much to shop and so little time, you know what I mean, it is possible that you would want to take a part of history with you. But then we can’t take all that is on display.
Neel took time off to stop and make pictures with onlookers once they found that he is a racer and an F1 driver. Notice him being casual and ofcourse he was wearing only his Red Bull T shirt, he was down to earth personified.
Neel spent some time purchasing some shawls and caps and even tried some of them on him when ever he felt the urge to try it out. He would seek help of the shopkeeper and try it out and would ask us if it fit him or how good looking he was with that dress or cap on. He also took some postcards for memory sake.
The most interesting part was when he went shopping for some apples and well he was on the other side meant he was like sitting among them selling the apples. He had a great time and it probably is that the climate is cold but people out there are warm. And with a global citizen by your side you would feel better irrespective of the temperature close to some 5 or 10 degree C.
Walking down the street, Neel when he came across a prayer wheel, you are bound to find them like we have Ganesh temples across in the city, decided to go around three times for a prayer.
Down to the welcome arch and shooting some pictures of his walking the street and a photo frame in air were some of the memorable moments during the afternoon.
Some nice shots taken I thoroughly enjoyed this shopping and clicking and we return to hotel to wait what we were told the F1 car is some 20 kms away from the venue. So it is getting close to what we have been here for in literal terms as the car arrives, we are into the game for sure.
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.
So what better way to begin a day with yesterdays’s memories? My initiation into the Red Bull family started the night we landed here. Very affable and helping team, and more so focused on job at hand and fire fighting some minor unforeseen issues, the team was all pepped up to make the most of the project at hand, driving an F1 car at Khardung La, some 18300 odd ft above MSL.
This is not a project done in haste yesterday but one which has been planned over a period of over six months and getting approvals and clearance et al, and now we were closer to reality some few days away from history being made.
The morning was warm and the sun was hot, you should expect sun to be closer to you and he could easily tan you to the darkest of the color. And well if you wanna read about the term acclimatization and more importantly about medical advice please read here.
The teams on the production side were divided into two. Before I go further allow me introduce the crew – Case Productions under Selim.
This team has the rare distinction of shooting for over 30 days at Antartica and that too was for Red Bull. A very energetic and an enthusiastic team was already at work. They take their fun at work too seriously I bet.
Getting back I was going to travel with the Helicam team for generic visuals across some of the finest tourist destinations in Leh. The team had a lovely couple in Tomas and Renata hailing from Poland and Berk from Case Production to help them out.
Accompanying us was the ever smiling Mr. Sonam Dorje, the Asst Director of Tourism in J&K.
Our first stop of the day was the Holy Fish Pond Lake adjoining the Shey Palace. After few minutes of walking around the pond and the road to the palace, the first shot was setup on the helicopter-camera.
The helicam went soaring up in air Red Bull had literally given it the wings. Tomaz took a nice trajectory hovering the monastery almost setting up a shot when accidentally the pigeons flew all at once.
I was training myself with a camera my brother Sashi sent me. Some nice shots of the Palace and the heli-cam in air.
Next we proceeded to the Thiksey Monastery, further on the same road, it was visible from a distance and we took a little road to go to the place. Up on a hillock, the monastery had an imposing structure and a grand design. The F1 car would start from here, and the monks here would bless with their venerable presence.
It was a challenging shot for the team and they took almost two hours in finalizing three shots from three different directions.
It held the young monks in awe when they saw the helicam on air. It was nice capturing them on the camera for me. On the way back sun on top helped to record some of the finest stupas on heli-cam.
It was lunch time at Hotel Grand Dragon.
The Red Bull Racing team – (F1 show car Team) was awaiting the arrival of the car in the mean time and they were the ones truly acclimatizing to put it in perspective.
Well you know you can’t exert yourself more and thus we had the first day of shoot! A truly successful trip at that and happy awaiting what’s in store for tomorrow. The car would have arrived so too was the driver Neel Jani!
A secret location and a secret mission was all so cinematic and the travel part added to it. The plane just about flying low if you know the land is the almost 12000 ft above MSL. As we descend to the highest altitude Airport of Leh, both sides out of the window looked like out of the world. Mountains covered in the snow and rocks in formation and clouds all below us. The flight looked tantalizingly navigating a route amidst the snow clad mountains and lakes. We were very near to the ground in real. Looking out of the window we could see them crystal clear.
The plane did one roundabout of a hillock and touched very neatly on the ground and what a small run way it was. This airport is also the base for the Indian Air Force. A nice landing done and a chill weather welcoming us, the view was breathtaking as we got down the plane. I am sure the view from the cockpit should be breathtaking. And for someone who had just finished the two parts of Amish ‘s novels – Immortals of Meluha and the Secret of Nagas, it was like looking at the Kailash and other from above and I could imagine them snow clad and people living in such places.
The temperature was 13 degree C. We were led to a smallest airport possibly, with a smallest luggage belt. The oxygen levels were also about 20% to 30% less. This would make you pant literally. So you should even watch your steps to keep yourself from exerting too much!
After the luggage being cleared, we headed to the Hotel Grand Dragon where the RBR Team was put up. Post an initial briefing on the climate and how to keep ourselves fit in the high altitude and how to react to certain possibilities, then we went further to our place Hotel Ladakh Resort.
It was a scenic view from the hotel and my window opened to the Shanthi Stupa and the mountains on the other side.
The most important part on this trip is getting acclimatized. This is important for the visit for anyone simply because it helps you to enjoy the days you had planned without any further medical problems.
So the message was clear, get set to acclimatize for a day or two, keep yourself to your hotel, travel less and let the plan begin to take shape on day 2 or day 3 preferably.
This being a first of a kind visit for me personally, I decided not to take any risk for there was something which I felt I did not want to miss for a lifetime and I decided to take it one step at a time. And the journey has just begun.