Even a trace of a breeze would have provided some respite from the dry, sweltering heat in the Aravalis. A lone bird circled at a considerable height. It must be parched too, I thought to myself. “Car number two for you Madam,” I was told by the attendant. “It’s still on the tracks. Two laps to go.” I waited, facing the grandstands that wore an abandoned look, the plastic seats painted in colours of the Indian flag, covered against the glare and heat. At 46 degrees, they would have discoloured, if not melted. What a sight it must have been when the F1 races for the Indian Grand Prix took place here in October last year with more than 95,000 people screaming their guts out as they witnessed Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel lift the trophy. I walked towards the pit stops. The nameplates of Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher amongst others were reminiscent of the fact that they had been here not too long ago. The peculiar silence of the venue was broken by the occasional roar of the engines. Even with a deserted look, in scorching temperatures, Buddh International Circuit in Noida was definately a majestic sight.
“Your car is ready,” the attendant called out. I had never steered in a left hand drive so I admit that I was apprehensive. The version that will hit Indian roads later in the year is an automatic transmission but this one was manual and that made me more anxious. Will I be able to control the vehicle at high speed whilst shifting gears? From a distance, the compact Sports Tourer with its noticeably long wheelbase looked like a spacious hatchback. The large grille on the low bonnet and a high roofline added to its distinctiveness. The Mercedes-Benz, B-Class came to a screeching halt near where I stood. The trainer, a racer himself, welcomed me with a smile as he revved the engine. I got in.
The plush interior space with its fine leathered upholstery, sporty aircraft-like afterburner AC vents, a large glove box and plenty of well-appointed storage spaces were luxurious. There was ample room for heads and knees, even in the rear. The trainer drove the first three laps to get me acclimatised to this mean machine and the sharp curves of the racetrack. Till the third gear, things were fine but when he shifted to the fourth, fifth and finally sixth, I was blown away, literally. After all, under the bonnet, lay a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, direct-injection turbo-petrol engine that was making 156bhp and 25.5kgm of torque. The adrenaline rush was apparent.
Three laps later, it was my turn to take the wheel and I was enthused. The driving position was easy enough to get comfortable but nothing, really nothing prepares you for the sharp, unexpected curves and interesting corners. At turn two, as I came downhill and went up looking into the sky, it took me a few seconds to notice the hairpin. Taking a cue from all the Bond movies I had watched, my reflexes told me I should take a full turn. With power steering, it was an obvious miscalculation and that’s when my car turned a few extra inches. But the B-Class displayed good body control, a reasonably direct steering and fantastic grip levels. I was back on track. It was electrifying.
I am not quite sure how long I took to complete the 5.14 km long circuit but driving it at 160 kmph was breathtaking indeed. In hindsight, I am glad it wasn’t an automatic car. After all, nothing beats the thrill of driving when you put your foot on the accelerator and shift the gear manually into top speed. Everything else can wait!