Quietly leaving the rally scene

Quietly leaving the rally scene

Arjun BaluThen again, even if Team MRF’s Arjun Balu did bawl — which is absolutely against everything the man is — not many would come by and back him.

The 36-year-old Coimbatore-born, who retired from rallying on the Special Stage of the Indian National Rally Championships’ Coffee Day Rally of Chikmagalur last week, was easily the most under-rated driver in the field, and that argument — more often than not — is and always will be based around the fact that he did not win many rallies nor a championship.

There really is not much that can be said of Balu on the statistical front even though he has done well considering the conditions, and ironically he was not a stickler for records. Balu was, however, about driving without a worry in the world.

Driving like there was not a soul in the universe that mattered except for friend, confidant, critic and co-driver Sujith Kumar and his robust voice calling the pace notes. 

Driving for the sake of driving and nothing more or less. As a result, he was remarkably comfortable on any given terrain, and the quintessential spectator pleaser without having to do anything out-of-the-ordinary. In short, if anyone was to describe his driving style and his approach in one word, it would be ‘smooth!’.

“I started off racing, not rallying, and I figured early on that you do not set fast times by going sideways. I enjoy balance on a car.

“ I needed it all to be well balanced to get to work. I also figured that driving clean and straight, no drifts, can help you go quick, and that has helped it look aesthetic in the bargain. For me it was simple... if the car was good, I was going to win because I was fast,” said Balu over the phone from Coimbatore, where he handles a family textile business with his brother.

With Balu, however, there was the problem of plenty. Apart from the fact that he never got the backing that many other lesser skilled drivers got, he was too much of a gentleman to survive in a cut-throat world.

“It has been a very, very long 18 years. It has been a lot longer than most people. This year’s issues with the car certainly had a bearing on the decision. I had spent too many years saying ifs and buts but it was my love of driving that kept me at it. There were a lot of things that were happening in my life as a driver that I didn't like, and that's the thing,
“I'm no rookie. You can't pull a fast one on me and expect me not to figure it out. I'm really happy with what I have done with what I have been handed. This decision should have been made a year earlier but I kept thinking it will change,” said the racing driver turned rallyist.

By being the good guy in every possible situation, Balu became the scapegoat to many a problem, and eventually the lesser preferred.

“Extremely frustrating! The truth is some people get more opportunities than the others but unfortunately the world can only see a level playing field. The problem with this sport is that you need 200 per cent backing, even if it is at the cost of someone.

“Thats the shameful truth but that is what makes champions. Skill is barely a topic here. You need to be at the right place at the right time,” Balu said when asked if it bothered him to be the one left behind.

“People keep telling me that I had a lot of bad luck... I disagree. How is it my bad luck if the car does not live through the stages? How is it that when I'm racing, on a close circuit, where people can see everything for themselves, I win time in and time out without having any problems with the car? It was all mere convenience and not as much bad luck,” Balu added.

It is hard to say if luck had anything to do with it, but it seems like the good guys do get left behind, atleast on the track.