We were among a handful of fotunate spectators at the (first ever) Colombo Night Races held on Saturday, 17th December 2011. Whether we would actually get tickets and where we sit was part of the excitement and the build up of great expectation! It happened that I was in good company (Hats off to Amal!) and we did get tickets, free dinner, lovely music by Crossroads before the expetant crowds took up their seats to watch the races.
The streets of Colombo were spruced up for the event and as part of a long-term goal of beautifying the capital city. This is wonderful actually and will definitely attract more visitors. Preceding the big event on 16th December was a trial race that marked the timing of the participants, making it possible to line up for the race we were to watch. Among the participants were local sporting enthusiasts as well as foreign competitors from India, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Prior to the races we sneeked into the secured enclosure of the Inter Continental car park where a dozen white Volkswagon cars and the more prestigous super sports cars were lined up. I had to make to with the camera on my phone and take pictures in the poor light as mechanics were making their final checking on the lovely pieces. Up close for the first time in detail, I learnt that they were very nearly one seater. Every item that is redundant in the interior had been removed and the floorboards painted in bright colours to match the exteriors. Cylinders and tubes that had been fixed in the vacant places must be to boost the engines… I didn’t find out if they were actually running on some other fuel. As you can guess the mechanics looked very seriously engrossed and I was worried my chatting would cause him to A) blunder B) Delay or worst C) Irritate and there by result in producing all three reactions tht was highly unwanted. Pottering around for half an hour I savoured every detailed and wished my sons were with me to hear them go WOW!
The races took off with the Volkswagons spinning into our view, veering the bends on newly laid roads, tires screeching, smelling of burnt waste crowds cheering with delight. I’ve never been to a race apart from watching my own kids Go-Carting against each other. So this was cool! and I shared a particular affinity with other spectators both seasonsed race car enthusiasts and those who were experiencing for the first time. WOW! we are at the Colombo Night races.
The race circuit sets off opposite Galadari Hotel on Lotus Road and run towards Fort and will take a left turn towards Chatham Street. The drivers take a right turn to Duke Street which runs towards Main Street opposite Gaffoor Building.
Then they turn left on Sir Baron Jayathilaka Mawatha and run past the Cargills Building on York Street. The route then takes a right turn to Bank of Ceylon Mawatha and towards Ceylon Continental Hotel and turn left towards the roundabout opposite Galadari Hotel where the lap will be completed, while still within our view. The highlight of the races was the 2nd event… lined up, ready and warmed up were the Lotus, Lambogini, Nissan and Porche to run the 2.2 kilometer circuit. The crowds were squeeling, cheering loudly, clapping and waving (flags!) hands. We joined in knowing little who was who… a young lad next to me was giving a super commentry on the race cars and amazing how knowledgable someone who’s just above your waist height could be! In quick session I was educated on the horsepower, engine capacity, who was driving which car and I tell you it was way too much… and very excitedly I was missing valuable info I could have blogged on. However ever the boy let me know who was leading (by now the the last was closing on to the first two of the race and this was gettingreal complex for me) and the crowds were ecstatic! And with eight such rounds the winners (Lambogini and Porche) made it across the line, triumphant drivers waving to the crowds (their body and hand out of the opened door that was only slowing down. I suppose the shutters are permanantly locked for safety)
To the delight of the little onlooker the winner was well known Dilantha Malagamuwa (GT3/GT4) Sri Lankan racer in his Lambogini. In the second place was Brent Odgers followed by Angus Kirkwood. The crowds specially lining the streets were a bit wild and I thought was courting death by precariously approaching the fast machines to get a good look or to photograph, and sometimes for no apparant reason. Our youngesters do sometimes act the Idiots by doing wierd things that seems to only scare the people witnessing them. The traffic police tried their best to control the masses, quite literally pushing them behind the corded areas. I think some tickets have been sold without much consideration of the safety of the spectators. The more pricey tickets had a better view and was safely away from harm. A run-away racing car could jam into the barricades placed in fornt of the hotels and burst into flames. Watching from a safe distance suddenly felt not so safe, after all. We were perched on scafolding, our seats were on the 5th tier and held the best views (except the 6th tier with the best view). Yet in the unfortunate case of an accident I wonder how we would have evacuvated just one temporary stairway at the edge of the platform for close upon one hundred (speculatively) spectators. Many would have jumped in fear of burns. Although we did not witness any mishaps a few accidents were reported in the news. I hope the next year the races woud be better organized.
It seems many races were lined up into the wee hours of the night… we witnessed a few more including the Motor Bike race before we trotted off. The next was the race for Nissan March (1000 cc says the boy next to me), I do love these adoreable dinkies, actually a must have car for a lady. I have something different because I can’t afford one, apparantly the love for the older 1992 Nissan March has set an all time high price. A dozen of them were on the tarmac and I thought I enjoyed it even more than the G3/G4. The Nissans were racing at terrific speed from the looks of it (the boy next to me says the cars were going at 100-120 Kmph) and I was genuinely excited because I know these cars and I could relate to their power and also the danger in riding such light weight machines. Tires (fatter than the usual ones) were squeeling as the cars rounded the bend between the BOC and Inter Continental – was the road slightly tilted towards the seaside, I wondered… the poor devils look almost out of control, veering off the curb. For the first time things looked pretty dangerous… two cars that were struggling to keep up speeds collided at the bend, the crowds held their breathe… hoping nothing would go wrong and amazingly the black Nissan swerved, spun and managed to slow enough to regain control. He (or she… can’t say) got the loudest applause for this brave act and you could also hear the relief.. sigh… It’s not the power, the speed or the competitive edge but how you recover from nearly losing it all that marks true sportsmanship, endurance and bravery. Like they say it’s not how fast you run or the distance you cover but how fast you recover (your breath) from the effort.
Following this were even more old and revered cars the Ford Lazers and Mazda all looking square and elegant. If you can rememeber the characters of the animated movie Cars, then these would be voiced by 40-50 male actor showing maturity and rugged character. The race just completed would have been characterised by a 25-35 lady actor, depicting confidence and feminism. To get back to the races these cars were much more sturdy as they raced through the night, some leaving trails of flint (how I don’t know) the winners can be found on the official website probably sponsored by Carlton Sports Network, the media sponsor and the live-wire behind these races.
The last we witnessed were the Mini (1000 cc says the boy next to me, who was by now standing on his seat) and unlike the Nissans they took the tarmac steadily, the right height for the width and thick tire all contributing I presume (though the Nissan March is a copycat version of this long standing Mini Cooper model) You know I very nearly bought an old wreck of a 1 Sri Mini that was in a ghastly state. I am glad I didn’t.. ‘cos it would have taken too much effort and cost me an arm and a leg (or perhaps all of my limbs) even though I would love to be the proud owner of one. Something about these cars brought in fond memories of Mr Bean, in those early TV serials (not the Movies) he wouldn’t have been able to look so dumb (very annoying at times) if not for his yellow Mini Cooper into which he was able to stuff his mighty frame and perform his many antics … uh..mmm… like drive off in his boxers! In the races the Minis fared well all three winners were locals ofcourse.
The races were conducted by Sri Lanka Automobile Sports (SLAS) and Federation of Motorcycle Sports in Sri Lanka (FMSSL). Carlton Sports and Tharunyata Hetak were the chief organizers of the entire event and the Red Cherry Entertainment provided the festivities. Apparantly the races were followed by the Electric Peacock Festival 2011, a musical extravaganza featuring both foreign and local artists. At every Five Star hotel there were bands and DJs adding to the festivities, the atmosphere was electric, ignite with suspence and excitement. Among the spectators were the elite Colombo crowd in the best seats but that’s how all things work, Tamashas are organized by them for them and ordinary people like us could also find a spot to squeeze. Plenty of spectators were heard saying how happy they were that the streets were safe from bombs and carnage. We were sitting very close to the Central Bank which was bombed in 1996 and this area would have witness half a dozen other suicide attacks during the long drawn terrorist war. We were seated years later as spectators of a truely amazing night of fast cars and entertainment. Let us put the past behind us and strive for an engaging society, a better economy and productivity.