A new, young force to be reckoned with
A couple of years ago, three karting hopefuls arrived in Britain as part of the Force India Driver Development Programme. Earlier this year, another much younger Indian star had his first competitive outing during a round of the Little Green Man series. Eight-year-old Ruhaan Alva is by far the youngest driver from that vast nation to race in such a competitive environment. Unlike his older counterparts he is also privately financed. Dave Bewley takes a look at his prospects.
It was a cold wet October’s morning in 2013 when Ruhaan first ventured out onto a British kart circuit. Arrangements had been made with Dan Hazlewood’s Fusion outfit and the chosen venue was Glan-Y-Gors in North Wales. “The weather wasn’t at all what Ruhaan had been used to in India and he struggled quite a bit at first,” his father, Umakanth admits. “I’d recognised that he had a talent after taking him to a local track near our home in Bangalore which is considered to be India’s Silicon Valley. Ruhaan had just turned 7 back then but he handled the karts very well, although it has to be said that they were quite slow. For someone of Ruhaan’s age there are very few opportunities in India and we realised that the only way he could realise his full potential would be through racing abroad.”
After consulting with his cousin, Prasanna, Umakanth drew up a shortlist of three teams which were considered suitable. Of these, Fusion appeared to be the most successful. He contacted Dan Hazlewood and also sent a video of Ruhaan in action at Bangalore. The test session at Glan-Y-Gors was subsequently arranged. “The tracks back in India are more like ovals and it took Ruhaan quite a long time getting used to all of the blind corners he encountered,” Umakanth points out. “I realised then that Fusion was the right team to be with. They showed lots of patience and adopted a very professional approach, thus creating a positive environment. This has been apparent at all of our outings since then and I’ve found them a fantastic team to be with”
Dan Hazlewood admits that his young protégé was a long way from being the finished article that day at Glan-Y-Gors. “Ruhaan was more than 20 seconds off the pace and, in the interests of safety, we had to ask the organisers to arrange separate sessions for him,” says Dan. “We followed up the GYG visit with a further 10 days of testing. Ruhaan also came with us earlier this year when we spent a week out in Lanzarote. He improved tremendously over this period and is now just one or two seconds behind the quickest drivers. There’s still a bit to go, but I’m confident that we’ll have him running up at the front before much longer.”
If parental support was sufficient to win races, then Ruhaan would already be a champion. Recognising that travelling backwards and forwards from India isn’t ideal for their son’s karting career, Umakanth and Neeta Alva are already making arrangements for a move to Britain. “It’s causing a lot of heart searching back home but we are determined to give Ruhaan the best possible chance of developing his talent,” says Umakanth. “Before reaching racing age he completed 23 days of testing, including the week at Lanzarote in January. However, it’s all been very patchy and consequently Ruhaan isn’t getting the same opportunities that would be available if we were based in Britain.”
Ruhaan’s first competitive event was a Super One support race at GYG in May and he followed this up with the Little Green Man round at Rowrah. His third outing came the week after during Round 5 of the Little Green Man series at Buckmore Park. At all of these events he won trophies as the highest placed novice. These successes were certainly well received back home in India. “Our friends had arranged for a surprise party in his honour and it was attended by 150 people from the local community,” Umakanth recalls. “I think it demonstrated the degree of interest that exists in our country but, as yet, we haven’t attempted to convert this into sponsorship opportunities. Hopefully, as Ruhaan broadens his experience and starts to get good results then sponsorship will follow.”
Obviously Ruhaan isn’t the first Indian driver to arrive here in search of karting glory. Two years earlier Arjun Maini, Tarun Reddy and Jehan Daruvala had blazed that particular trail as part of Force India’s Driver Development programme. Whereas these three were all aged 14 and already possessed a fair amount of karting experience, Ruhaan arrived here as a seven-year-old complete novice. “We were aware of the Force India project and all three drivers have been an inspiration to us,” says Umakanth. “One of Ruhaan’s objectives is to become part of a similar programme, though not necessarily run by Force India.”
Ruhaan’s racing programme in 2014 consisted of two Super One support races together with four Little Green Man rounds. In 2015, he expects to do the entire LGM Series plus some Super One rounds. There will be plenty of twists and turns along the road to championship glory but his determination is beyond question. No doubt there are a good few people over in Bangalore who will be following the 2015 season with considerable interest.