Southern superstar Ajith discloses his secret desire to rule the races
Tall and handsome, he is a rage down south, whether it's playing the lead role in kandukondain kandukondain or acting in Santosh Sivan's Asoka in which he made a significant impact despite Shah Rukh Khan's presence in the title role.
This tall actor with a pencil-thin moustach and a gentle smile - we are speaking of Ajith Kumar of course - has changed tracks. He has gone back to his first love - motor sports.
It was not long ago that Ajith took everyone by surprise when he won the Best Novice Award (4th position) at the Pro Am Karting followed by his decision to go for the Formula BMW Asia Championship, (the supporting race for F1 Grand Prix in Malaysia where legends like Michael Schumacher have raced).
Ajith's fans might be really surprised but there he is, all ready to go places by participating in some really challenging races.
When did this passion originate? Years ago, when still a child, he was fascinated by four-wheeled beauties at a time when Biddle Sawyer and Co's Managing Director Vimal Shah (with whom Ajith's father worked) used to race cars in Team Mc Donald sponsored by Vijay Mallya annually at Sholavaram.
These formula cars were parked in Ajith's house in Alwarpet which had a huge compound. Day in, day out, mechanics worked on the vehicles to ensure that they were in perfect shape. After getting home from school. Ajith spent his time doing odd jobs for them - right from cleaning the carbon from the engine heads to fixing nuts and screws.
The sight of vehicles resting within his compound ignited the desire for taking up motor racing sometime in life. Ajith, ever the modest and reticent guy, admits, "It never happened though since it is a rich man's sport and I belong to a middle class family"
To mollify his compulsive craving for the speed sport, Ajith took to motorbike power racing in accordance with international circuit norms in 1990. However, he gave racing a serious shot three years later in 1993. Given his fondness for speed it's not surprising that right through his NCC days in school, Ajith tried his hand at aero-modelling and even received a certificate as the best aero modeller. "My parents always encouraged me to pursue my likings. It has made me a better person today because it gave me little time to get distracted. I was busy learning photography, building small aircrafts and the like. That is one thing I learnt from my parents and intend to out it in practice with my children. Get them occupied and let them pursue what they want to, so that they stay away from bad company and trouble" opines Ajith.
Films haven't sidelined his passion for aero-modelling and rifle shooting though. In fact, Ajith acquired a pilot license only recently and took up professional motor racing in September 2002. And he has already bagged an award in less than two months of hitting the competitive racing scene. He finished fourth among 22 professioal racers in the tenth national level racing event of the year - Formula India Maruti Single Seater Engine (FIMSSE) championship.
Among the top three stars in the South Indian film industry, the 35 film old Ajith is the only actor who actually rides his sexy Kawasaki 2X12R Ninja and Yamaha F2R 400 to shoot. A school drop-out at 16, Ajith fructified his passion for nuts and bolts by obtaining a diploma in Automobile Engineering. However, because of his parent's insistence he joined a garment export comany called Westures India Pvt Ltd. He worked as a merchandiser for five years, simultaneously flirting with racing and modelling. Soon his television commercials and newspaper advertisements caught the eye of the film-makers and the rest is history. But deep down racing has always been Ajith's ultimate desire.
"When I was dating my wife Shalini, every time a racing event happened I'd tell her that if there was a concept of re-birth, then I'd definitely be born an F1 driver. I don't remember ever going to bed without talking of races or dreaming about cars " he recalls.
Ajith opines that the sport's popularity - India alone contributes 26 million viewers - is a plausible reason why the international body F1A is looking for a racing circuit in India. Their entry in Malaysia is an indication of the growing Asian viewership. As regards being a late starter, Ajith remains unfazed. "Michael Schumacher just equalled a 50 years old unbroken record set by Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentinian racer who was a five time world champion and started racing at the age of 38. And in our own film industry MG Ramachandran became a hero at the age of 45. Even Michel Andreti, though 42 is still very competitive. So there are people who started late yet have made it big in their chosen fields. Moreover, I am not looking at F1 as my ultimate goal because it is not the be all and end all of racing" says Ajith.
Inorder to be adequately to be adequately prepared for the big ebent, Ajith follows a strenuous workout schedule that includes swimming for fitness build up. He recently went to China to participate in the F4 2000 car testing drive in Zuhai with a 150 BHP car, where at the end of his very first session, he was only three and a half seconds away from the lap records touching 225 kmph. "It takes time to overcome the new circuit pace but given the trainig I am sure I can cut that gap and make it before 4/10th of a second" Ajith opines. He also went to Albaseti a high of 218 kmph driving at - 4 degree Celsius. Ajith has also designed his own helmet, which he picked up on a visit to USA. It bears the Indian tricolor and the logo of his latest film Maha.
The budding racer's only regret is the death of his idol Ayrton Senna on his birthday in 1994. "It was the worst thing to happen to any fan. I have collected the replica of his caps, 1/8 scale and miniature helmets, clothing, pictures and all the car replicas he drove from '84 to '94. My wife, who knows about my obsession, gifts to me on every birthday" informs Ajith. Wife Shalini is indeed worried about the risks involved in the sport but "Since she is aware of what it means to me, she lets me pursue my passion" replies Ajith. After all, for this emotional actor who doesn't mind calling himself a maverick, nothing can in the way ok his passion sport.