We sat down with Vafi Khan, owner of the newest team in the FIM World Supersport Championship (WorldSSP) to get to know him and understand what it takes to start a team at the top level of racing.
BME: Hi Vafi, thanks for taking time to talk with us. Before we talk about the team tell us a bit about yourself.
Vafi: I’m from India, born and raised initially in Mumbai before moving to Dubai. My wife and 2 children are here with me and the rest of my family live in Mumbai in India. In Dubai I work with my family business and have my own garage, Motorcycle Nerds, where we provide services to the local motorcycle and racing community.
I’ve raced in Dubai and Qatar in Supersport categories riding 600 and 1000cc bikes, Yamaha and BMW. I think it is that racing experience that has drawn me towards WorldSSP.
BME: It’s good you mention that. Can you tell us what it is that really sparked the project and influenced your decision to establish Nerds Racing Team in WorldSSP?
Vafi: I had been thinking about it for some time. Locally my garage sponsored a few riders in the UAE Sportbike Championship under the Nerds Racing banner but I was always looking for more.
Anyone that has raced always looks up to the many world series and these are dominated by European riders and teams. I’ve always been very proud of my heritage and wanted to showcase India at that level and be the first team from India to compete in the a world level circuit racing championship.
It wasn’t an easy decision. The costs involved are not substantial but the motivation to do it was always there. After talking with close friends in Dubai the decision was made. We then secured the initial approval from Dorna and were on our way.
BME: How do you think your team’s effort will be received in India?
Vafi: India is sports mad. The people love all forms of sports. Obviously cricket is the crown at the top if their list but motorsports are also very popular now. We've seen people like Dakar Rally rider Santosh Chunchunguppe Shivashankar from Bangalore great an incredible amount of support back home. He was the first Indian rider in that race.
We want to show what we can do and will always link that back to our origins. Indians are very patriotic, they love to show off anything Indian and I have no doubt they’ll get behind the team during the season.
BME: There must be a lot involved in setting up a new team. What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Vafi: Yes there are a lot of challenges. It’s not just a case of showing up with a few bikes and riders. Racing at the top level comes with many conditions and restrictions. It’s understandable because entering the competition the organisers need to know that you are committed as a team, you have the resources, finances, personnel and above all that you’re not going to be a risk to anyone else out there. Racing is a business these days and letting people in too easily could have a really bad effect on the sport and the reputation of the organisers so they do need to be cautious.
I think my biggest challenge so far has been bringing in sponsors for the team. We have the financial commitment but every team needs sponsors for the longer term. Its an essential part of racing and at this level and has the potential to give the sponsors an incredible amount of exposure for their brands.
BME: You seem to have a very strong team behind you. How critical is that for the success of the team?
Vafi: The team are everything. Its not just about the bikes, you could have the best bikes in the world but you need good people to manage and ride them.
We are so lucky and so proud to have people like Gary Reynders as team manager; Jules Cluzel and Thomas Gradinger riding, and Andrea Ballerini, Jonny Gill, Steve Spiers, Thomas Kubiak, Frank Hoerholz, Vasco Markov, Charlie Waite, Andie Reynders and Ella making up our team. Every one of them come with years of experience in the sport. Their experience and team-work are what will make this season a success.
There are of course others behind the scenes and I can’t thank them all enough, especially my family, for supporting us on this venture.
BME: 2018 is almost with us now. Does it gets any easier thinking about the season ahead?
Vafi: There are days when I’m thinking ‘what on earth have I done” but the reality is that I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything. We’ve been blessed to get this far and we’re ready to take on the challenge.
The bikes are now being built, the team are ready and in January you’ll see the bikes in the colours of the Indian flag. The first test in January is going to be a very nervous time as the team gets together, works together and go through the bikes bit by bit on track.
We will be ready for the first round in Phillip Island, Australia at the end of February, no doubt there will be some sleepless nights thinking about it, but we will be there racing flying the flag for India.
BME: We wish you all the best in the coming season and hope to catch up with you and NRT again soon.