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Royal Enfield Continental GT Cup 2023 Media Race Report

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Vikrant Singh

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Introduction

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Right Side View

I think it is a sign. How else does one explain getting the only championship-winning motorcycle on the grid via a lucky draw when you are the last to pick? Sadly, my dreams of landing the best, most-sorted motorcycle on the grid are dashed within seconds of me putting on my smuggest smile. And the man to burst my bubble is Aspi Bhatena. 

Now, Aspi is a fellow journalist who is also an ex-racer. But, more importantly, he is responsible for building, prepping and keeping this entire fleet of Royal Enfield Continental GT Cup race bikes in excellent nick. And according to him - no matter the competition number or who raced the motorcycle - all bikes are identical. 

So any advantage I imagined is suddenly non-existent. Then, to deflate me further, I have Soorya, the young and talented racer who won this year’s GT Cup championship on this very bike, walk up to me. He says, “Mind the grip from the rear tyres because there isn’t any.” What! 

The Media Outing

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View

Okay, let’s rewind a little. 

We are at Kari Speedway in Coimbatore to witness the JK Tyres National Racing Championship the Continental GT Cup is a part of. And since we are there, Royal Enfield has been thoughtful enough to add a Media Race to the weekend’s calendar. 

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Right Side View

Things for 13 of us journalists, however, began a day earlier. After the day’s races were wrapped up, we were given 10 minutes of practice to get acquainted with the motorcycle and the race track. This session was divided into three batches since there were only five spare GT Cup bikes between the 13 of us. The rest of the race bikes were out of bounds for us since the racers had one more championship-deciding race to go. With practice done, we were given another 10 minutes to set our fastest qualifying time. 

I qualified second on the grid, but only just. The two riders behind me clocked near identical times as mine.  

Race Day

It is Sunday. Race day. The professional racers have wrapped up their final race of the season. And with that, their bikes are now free for us to use and enjoy. However, we will be running the bikes as is, which has us slightly concerned, particularly about the tyres.

The tyres we will race on have already been subjected to a weekend’s worth of abuse, including two races, qualifying and free practice sessions. And that too at the hands of riders who only have one arrow in their riding quiver - ride flat out. No wonder Soorya seemed concerned about the absolute lack of grip at the rear, especially with me holding the reins. The motorcycles we rode yesterday, however, had tyres in the pink of their health.

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View

But there’s no time to worry about that now, not with me sitting on the grid, butterflies in my tummy, waiting for the red lights to go off. Within seconds, they do. And I don’t have the best of starts. So much so that by the time I make the first corner I have dropped from second to seventh. The rest of the lap is spent moving up till I am in fourth. 

Now the three riders in front and I are running nearly the same pace, give or take 0.5 seconds. So, to get past them, one by one would require planning, skill and bravery. Not to mention more than the eight laps allotted to us for the race. As is obvious, it’s quite an ambitious goal. So, I drop the idea. 

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View

Instead, I decide to enjoy my time with the GT Cup race bike and hold my position while at it. Now, I have experienced this bike before, even if it was for a handful of laps at dusk, at speeds that even I would recognise as a pedestrian. But, I did have a good time then. This time around, I am enjoying myself even more. 

I am riding at a more spirited pace now; to hold my race position than anything else. And, the GT seems happier about it. It likes to be wrestled, and once you set it in a direction, it tracks straight and true. Plus, the brakes have been upgraded. The footpegs are grippier now. The riding position is more committed. And, it seems to be more feedback-rich. The latter is doing wonders for my confidence. 

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View

Yes, I have a few jumpy moments, especially with the front skipping while taking on the only fast right-hander on the track. Or, when the rear squirms and threatens to go from under me as I exit slow corners with a fistful of gas. But, here’s the beauty of the GT: it is heavy and it sits on a long wheelbase. So unlike most other race bikes, which are twitchy, hairy and unforgiving, the GT never feels like it will spit you out like spent gum, even while it moves around under you. And that is always reassuring. Reassuring enough to help me hold my position till the chequered flag. 

And in case you are wondering, no, the spent tyres I was warned about earlier weren’t an issue. I guess it is for someone running a one-minute seventeen-second lap, but not for someone clocking Kari seven seconds slower.  

Gallery

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Front View
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Right Side View
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Right Side View

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