Experience may look good on paper, but it’s exposure that truly counts on the race track. One might gain experience by racing the same car around the same tracks for years on end, but by moving out of the comfort zone and exposing yourself to different disciplines is what truly makes champions. When it comes to exposure, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more seasoned than Pasindu Peiris. Having raced on both two wheels as well as four, Pasindu made a name for himself by sometimes competing in over 10 different races in one race weekend.
“My love for machines started when I was 7 or 8,” recalls Pasindu. “My father was a big fan of motor racing, and he’d take me for all the races around the country. He was also a fan of cars himself, so I suppose the love for them is in my blood!” When Pasindu turned 13 he was able to take to the track himself. His first race was to be at the Colombo Supercross, held at what is now Waters Edge. “I started out on the Yamaha PW50 kid’s bike. I was quite nervous, despite having spent a year practicing and training. Gayan Sandaruwan also raced with me at the time – it was his first time too! I remember the track was so muddy that neither of us was able to finish; we both got stuck! From there I continued to ride motorbikes up until 2009.”
Although Pasindu achieved great success on two wheels he urged to get behind the wheel of a car. “My father had also started racing, so during the prize giving’s I used to take his car around the track whilst no one was looking. I got scolded a lot for that!” says Pasindu with a smile. “In 2005 I finally got a Ford Laser. It was a hatchback, which wasn’t very popular in the racing circle. Back then people were only interested in racing the 4-door saloon Lasers. I decided not to enter the one make series, and instead opted to take part in the same event as my father who raced a Honda Civic. I was often pole in these events, before I dropped down the order during the course of a race. I didn’t have much experience back then, but it was good practice for me.”
Was racing in the same category as his father ever daunting for young Pasindu? “Yes! Actually one incident that happened I remember very clearly,” relates Pasindu. “It was the Gunners Supercross in Minneriya. During the first lap I was, as usual, battling out with the other competitors. Suddenly I was knocked from behind and my car spun on the exit of a blind corner. With all the dust the cars behind us obviously couldn’t see me stranded in the middle of the track. Suddenly I see a car coming straight at me, and I had to brace for impact. After the dust settled I was left staring back at the shocked eyes of my father! After checking if I was OK he continued on in the race, leaving me a little bewildered to say the least!”
Was that the worse accident he’s had on track? Not by a long shot. Perhaps his scariest incident came at the unforgiving Foxhill circuit in 2014. With a rebuilt car and a new sponsor, the pressure on Pasindu to get back to the top of the podium was immense. “If I hadn’t been so impatient I could have done something,” says Pasindu. “I had a new engine in my Evo, completely rebuilt and putting out a lot of power. As anyone will tell you though, there’s no point in having power if you can’t control it – even those who made the engine told me it’s pointless without the proper LSD (Limited Slip Differential) or ACD (Active Centre Differential). I had ordered these, but sadly they didn’t arrive in time for Foxhill.” Despite this handicap Pasindu managed to qualify in third position for the race. “I lost a few places in the opening lap, so I was eager to make them up.” say Pasindu. “The lack of LSD and ACD was completely forgotten. Basically without these two the car is more eager to slide, with most of the traction going to the rear – the front wheels cannot pull you out.” Pasindu slid into the embankment on the second corner and was catapulted into the air, rolling several times before coming to a halt. “A lot of things went through my mind at that moment, but that was undoubtedly the scariest crash I’ve had. Thankfully after seeing some of the crashes at 2013’s Foxhill I made sure to put special attention on my car’s roll cage – if not for the cage I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Accidents aside, Pasindu has had a remarkable career on track, especially when he graduated to the SL-H 1600cc category behind the wheel of a Honda Civic. After managing to win the SL-H championship a remarkable four times on the trot, it was time for Pasindu to step up to even more powerful machinery. “When I bought the (Mitsubishi) Evolution, it was a big step up in my racing career. The car was brand new, with only 13,000kms on the clock. In my first race in the Evo I qualified fourth and managed to finish second – although when I crossed the line it was without any bumpers and with damaged fenders. I guess I didn’t realise how tough it was going to be in the SL-GT category, and it required me to learn a whole new style of driving…”
This new style of driving was not only alien to Pasindu, but it was also relatively new to the local racing scene too. “I realised that the best way to tackle gravel circuits was to slide, or ‘drift’ the car through corners, thereby keeping up the momentum. At first many people would discourage me, saying that ‘although you look nice drifting like that, you must be slower’. Others argued that this technique was dangerous due to the excess amount of dirt that would inevitably get kicked up. But just look at any WRC or Rally Cross driver. They’ve been sliding their cars throughout. And then, slowly but surely even my rivals would also follow suit – some even seeking foreign help to perfect their driving styles!” Pasindu went on to become the youngest driver to win the SL-GT championship, whilst he became runner up the following two years – missing out on the win by just one point!
It can be said that Pasindu’s relative youth, coupled with his passionate spirit has also courted controversy as well. Everything from his driving to his car’s legality has been questioned over the years. But these days Pasindu tries his best to take it on the chin and move on. “There was a time when I was in a very bad place mentally speaking,” laments Pasindu. “When I came home from a bad day at the track I would get fed up. Even after the race the pressures don’t stop, whether it is letters, phone calls or Facebook posts, it was difficult for me to bear. One such incident occurred at the Carlton Super Cross in Tissamaharama. I qualified on pole in the SL-H event and even went on to win the event. The remarkable thing was that it was extremely muddy, and yet I was able to lap every car up until second place! And of course these were experienced drivers who had just been beaten by a 17 year old. Immediately after the race about 5 competitors filed a protest against me, saying that there was no way my car could have been that fast within the regulations. Eventually the protest was withdrawn, but my father insisted that the club take the car and strip it to prove that we had made the car within the regulations. Of course, when they did so they found nothing wrong with it.”
The disharmonies amongst drivers, coupled with the great costs incurred when racing have meant it has always been a challenge for any driver to race, including Pasindu. “To complete a season without sponsors is very difficult. You may be able to run one or two races competitively, but without the money you won’t be able to do so consistently. I’m very lucky to have been able to find sponsors in the past, and I’m grateful to my current sponsor: CEAT Tyres. But I know that even with this it’s difficult, not just for me, but for everyone who loves to race. If you discount the trophies, we don’t get anything in return from racing. There’s very rarely any prize money, but even leaving that aside, what about the facilities we drivers have? Take some of the biggest races in the country. We don’t even get the dignity of having a proper bathroom as drivers, leave aside anything else.” Pasindu makes a strong point, and his views are echoed by many amongst the paddock. “The problem is sadly our driver will very rarely rally together to find a solution to these issues. Also, the race organisers think that it is because of them that races happen, and that we, the drivers, should be thankful. If you go abroad, you’ll find it’s the other way around – the organisers know that if it wasn’t for the drivers and riders then there wouldn’t be any races. And so they treat the competitors well. When I went for the Asian Motorcross events we were treated to air conditioned waiting areas, buffet lunches and subsidised food and drink. Whenever a race, a circuit race especially, is held abroad the first thing they do is ensure that the proper facilities are available for drivers, riders and spectators – with covered canopies and decent bathrooms made for people. If those things were prioritised here then the sport would move forward much faster. Let’s be honest, it’s not like the organisers/hosts aren’t making enough money from the larger events on the calendar.”
After speaking with Pasindu, it’s evident that here is a driver that the community needs for the betterment of the sport. Not only is he adored by his fans, he represents a new generation of racers taking to tracks – younger, and yet still full of passion to succeed. For 2015 Pasindu will be championing a new beast pictured here, and we wish him all the best from Torque & Throttle!
Pasindu Would like to thank: His Parents, Wife (Tatum) Sabry and all his Fans and Supporters
Words: Sam Smith
Images: Rajith Rajapaksa
Special Thanks to: Pasindu Peries