I am open to any role when it comes to motorsports but racing has my heart, says Jose Pottamkulam

Athira M R


Jose Pottamkulam at the MRF series in Qatar | Photo: Special arrangement

Jose Pottamkulam is an ardent lover of motorsports, a valued presence in India’s racing arena, a passionate driver and dedicated team owner. He managed a go-kart team racing in Rye House Raceway in Hertfordshire, England all the way from his home in Kanjirampara in Thiruvananthapuram with the help of nothing but technology and determination. His team also came in fourth in the competition. Excerpts from the interview with Mathrubhumi.com.

The manager’s role during Kart Racing is undeniably huge. But it is something else to give directions and take control from thousands of kilometres away, relying entirely upon technology to get your commands across. Your recollection of the one-of-a-kind experience?

I couldn’t attend the race, a fundraiser to help refugees from Ukraine, in person as my visa for travel did not come through. I have about 11 years of experience in running a race team, so managing the race from a distance wasn’t really that big of a challenge. It was an endurance race with drivers having varying potentials. I organised two teams and roped in 17 drivers, including Freddie Hunt. I had met only a very few racers among them in person. For me, June 28 was just another day. But when it was pointed out to me how I sat and controlled the race, from some 7000 miles away from my home, with just lines showing where the cars are, without any other visuals, I felt the grandness of it. Many including a former Ukrainian member of parliament, Yulia Klymenko, reached out to me, appreciating my efforts in managing the event from here in Kerala. That was quite an experience for me.

Jose Pottamkulam

Were there any challenges along the way?

Not much. The organizers were in touch with me throughout. There were six drivers, out of which only two were quick. So I had to juggle between them and make a few hard choices. I registered the team, so I could change the drivers in ways it seemed fit.

The only problem was that I didn't have visuals of who was driving. Only the team name was given. So, I actually had to call somebody else who was there watching the race and ask ‘Who's driving now?’ and have the drivers changed. That was quite a task, knowing who the driver was and making changes accordingly.

Your entry into the racing arena?

The year is 1984. I was in college when ‘The Popular Rally’, a motorsports event conducted regionally in Kerala, passed through Trivandrum. I went in my friend's car, an old Maruti 800 model. All noisy cars, mostly Fiats and Ambassadors, came in one after another during the rally. I followed them and realized that even I could easily drive at that pace.

As I followed the cars out of town, I decided that I would enter the rally next year. I asked my father for his Ambassador, which he gave but refused to provide me with any money. I had to find the means for that myself. So, I went to my friend's father who gave me Rs 10,000. He was the only sponsor. A car tyre cost around Rs 900 back then but I got it for Rs 750. I bought four brand new car tyres and an exhaust system, modified the car a bit and entered the rally in 1985. I came in fourth and was also the fastest in one of the three sectors. I was just 21 and had tasted victory for the first time. There was no stopping me after that.

You have handled multiple roles when it comes to motorsports. Which role do you enjoy best?

As anybody who loves motorsport, the first preference is to be a racer. Having said that, I love anything related to motorsport. I am associated with a company called JA Motor Sport in Coimbatore, which develops single-seater racing cars at international standards. I go as service backup to some of the drivers. I look forward to any role when it comes to motorsports. Of course, racing will always be my favourite. There's no doubt about it.

How was your experience meeting Lauda and Hunt?

Freddie Hunt contacted me through Messenger. I told him I will run a team provided he got me Mathias Lauda. The film 'Rush' had released around that time and had created quite an uproar. Freddie managed to reel Mathias in. When I met Freddie for the first time in Qatar, he came across as just like the character portrayed in the movie. I then met Mathias Lauda, who is very focused, just like Niki Lauda. When I saw them at the track, I was reminded of how much they resembled their fathers. We grew quite close in a matter of a few days and got a chance to travel around a bit. Hunt even spent a week vacationing at my place here. I showed him around Kerala and introduced him to our culinary masterpieces.

Jose Pottamkulam with Freddie Hunt and Mathias Lauda | Photo: Special arrangement

Your movie 'Hunt vs Lauda: The Next Generation' is slated for release this year. Your thoughts on that?

What is to be kept in mind is that I have no previous relationship with cinema. When I signed Hunt and Lauda for the race, I got featured in the Sunday supplement. A friend of mine, Shalini Ushadevi, who won the National Award for Best Screenplay for the Tamil film ‘Soorarai Pottru’, told me that I have done something very out of the box and that I must document it. So, I decided to go all in a make a movie. I was in dire need of a director. I approached a prominent Malayalam movie director who told me that it was not his line of interest. He also warned me it’s a very risky thing to go after. I then approached Beena Paul who talked me up to a few filmmakers at the International Film Festival of Kerala. Believe it or not, a vast majority of them mocked me. Someone in Trivandrum talking of doing a film with legends like Lauda and Hunt seemed too much for them to comprehend. It was at this juncture that Navneet Prakash entered the scene. I met him casually, told him what I am looking for and he agreed just like that. He is the Unit B director of the movie. Charlotte Fantelli, Director, Producer at a UK-based film production and distribution company 'Branded Studios', is the director of the movie. Joe Mathews, son of Indian businessman Mathunny Mathews and I co-produced and Kaleidoscope Film Distribution (KFD) has the distribution rights of the movie.

Once I got into the film arena, I realized that it is a big game. The movie was shot in Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Chennai, Ibiza, and the UK. Mathias arranged a meeting with Niki Lauda in Abu Dhabi. Freddie Hunt also happened to be there. We got a 32-minute long interview of Niki Lauda with Freddie Hunt and the value of the film shot up instantly.

The film went into the box for a bit due to a financial hiccup. We resumed the shooting in 2021. Mathias lives in Ibiza and Freddie in Scotland. So, we had to shoot the family backgrounds and such shuttling between these places. The last race was shot in Donington Park in England. It was a real race. Due to what can only be viewed as our unbelievable luck, what happened with their fathers some 43 years back repeated itself on the track that day. They hit each other in the first lap of the second race just like their fathers had in a race around four decades back.

Jose with Freddie Hunt and Mathias Lauda | Photo: Special arrangement

All post-production works have been completed and we are now waiting for the release. The movie is slated for premiere on October 25 in Soho, London and is charted for theatre as well as OTT release on a global scale.

How well do you think India has explored the motor racing arena?

India is slowly picking up the pace but we still have a long way to go. To think that there are nearly 138 crore people here and we have only four proper racetracks. We have produced only two Formula 1 drivers so far, Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan. We don't have the right infrastructure or technology yet. Buddh International Circuit which was opened in 2011 is laying waste now without being put to proper use.

Jose with Niki Lauda | Photo: Special arrangement

Racing is considered an elite sport and also a very expensive sport to get into. But that shouldn’t stop those who are passionate about it from pursuing it. Raw talent must be found and encouraged. Young people must be able to pursue racing without any class differences acting as barriers.

Youth these days tend to go behind racing for the adrenaline rush. It is important to educate them about the importance of mindful driving. The government must take up necessary measures to penalise people speeding away in their vehicles and also enforce lane discipline. Basic infrastructure like racetracks must be made available in all districts for racers to take out their racing skills so that they don’t do it on the roads.

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