While still in fifth grade, Allwin Xavier had his first good look at a motorcycle when a cousin visited his house. His feet didn’t reach the pegs, nor did he have any idea how the machine worked. But there was this unspeakable joy of sitting on the gas tank, twisting the throttle and mimicking the whir of the engine, pretending he was one of the many motorcyclists he saw speeding past his home in Thrissur.
Anfal Akdhar was no different. When he was 14 years old, he was sure that riding a motorcycle was what he wanted to do one day. He soon discovered the world of racing and was immediately drawn to it. But his parents’ reluctance meant he had to wait until adulthood to finally get a chance to hit the track.
Today, 22-year-old Allwin and 20-year-old Anfal race for their respective teams in the Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship and dream of reaching the big leagues sometime in the future. Here, they share insights into their own journey and reveal how a bike enthusiast can break into the world of racing.
Start as young as possible
As with most other sports, getting into motorcycle racing at a young age is essential to having a bright future. The 22-year-old Allwin competed in the Novice category at the 2020 Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship against riders as young as 11 and 14.
“If a rider is under 18, he or she needs permission from a guardian to race. But at that age, the advantage is that multiple teams take care of the rider and manage all the expenses. For example, Honda has a separate category where they work with grassroots riders and nurture them through the years,” Allwin says.
He did a lot of his initial research through online videos to understand the nuts and bolts of racing before hitting the track.
“At 22 years old, my opportunities are almost over. Racing has a lot to do with age. If you look at the world stage, a lot of the guys my age are already established world champions in different leagues. And MotoGP is a competition to find the best among the proven champions. So if you start young, you can gain a lot of experience. Eight-time world champion Marc Marquez, for example, started riding a motorcycle at the age of three,” he adds.
Sign up for basic training and get your license for the competition
When Anfal had the opportunity to pursue his calling, he started looking for opportunities online. The Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) has around 16 accredited academies that guide beginners through the basics of racing. In April 2019, Anfal joined CRA Motorsports in Coimbatore, where he received certification to drive on the track.
“My initial concerns were about safety, but I quickly realized that the riding suit, boots, gloves and helmet make for a very safe ride. Once you get past that, it’s all about the adrenaline rush,” Anfal says.
Allwin first completed an open-track session to assess his skills. He then moved to California Super Bikes in Chennai, where he was put through three days of theory and track sessions. In the end, he procured a certificate that made him eligible for a racing license.
“It’s hands-on training where a trainer follows you around the track and irons out your mistakes. The three levels of training give you all the fundamentals you need to race on a track,” Allwin says.
Certification by one of the accredited academies is essential to apply for an FMSCI license. For those under 18, a guardian’s consent is also required to obtain a license.
Get regular professional training with a team
In August 2021, Anfal made his debut in the national championships with Rockstar Racing. With the Palakkad-based team, he found a mentor in Mohammed Shafin, who prepared him for his first race. With only three professional race tracks in India – in Chennai, Coimbatore and Noida – the duo visited Bengaluru and used a 1km karting track for their training sessions.
“It’s a small track, but it really helps improve driving skills. We spent about a week there every month,” Anfal says. In Bengaluru, Shafin would guide Anfal around the track, instructing him on driving lines, braking lanes and body position. “I think it’s crucial to have a personal trainer if you want to get into racing. If you’re just racing on your own, the focus is only on the times you sign up for. With an experienced driver in front of you, a lot of the learning happens simply through observation,” Anfal says.
Allwin also trains with his team as a group once a month. However, he also organizes his own training sessions at home in Thrissur.
“Besides training on the track, I also do a lot of off-road training around my home. Not only does it help you understand your bikes better, but it’s also a great way to improve fitness levels,” Allwin says.
Try to find a sponsor early in your career
Motorcycle racing is an expensive affair in India. The most basic investment is Rs 1 lakh per season, which a rider has to pay to get into a team. If you perform well on the track, there is a chance that a sponsor will support you in the years to come.
Allwin had a good debut season with Rockstar Racing in 2020, picking up a few podiums and other finishes in the top-5, and it was enough to earn him a ride with Chennai-based Sparks Racing, which offered him a one-year contract at a subsidized fee.
“A rider only gets paid if he is picked up by a factory team. Only Honda and TVS currently have a factory team, which means most have to pay for a ride. The first year my parents supported my passion. This year I am supported by some motorcycle enthusiasts from Kerala. I also have the support of an established motorcycle accessory dealer for my riding gear support. It is encouraging to know that they see my potential and I am grateful to them,” says Allwin.
Anfal emphasizes that landing sponsors is more challenging than racing bikes in India, unless you can get on a big-budget team.
“It’s still manageable if you’re in the stock category. Once you are in the Pro Stock category, you need about Rs 6-7 lakh in the first year to build the bike. So it gets really expensive when you get into that category. After that, it costs about Rs 1.5 lakh for every season to maintain the bike,” says Anfal.
Sign up for smaller races to get practice
As a precursor to the national championship, most riders compete in pre-season races hosted by private promoters. These are single rounds of two races that set the stage for the upcoming season.
“There are about 15 races that a rider can participate in each year. In addition to these races, there is also an endurance race where drivers work in teams of two to complete the most laps,” Allwin says.
Focus on physical fitness to become a better racer
In addition to the work that goes into improving skills on the bike, a lot of effort goes into preparing the body for the rigors of motorcycle racing. Anfal has adopted a daily badminton routine that helps sharpen his reflexes and agility. He has also built his endurance through running.
Allwin has worked with Anish Shetty both on and off the track. As a professional racer and CrossFit athlete, Anish has a planned routine for Allwin to follow in the off-season.