The 2015 motorsport season is underway, and there will be a fair bit of action in India to compliment the global calendar.
More often than not when someone who follows motorsport closely or covers it in the media talks about it to your average Indian sports fan for whom cricket is the be-all and end-all of national sports, there is an uncomfortable silence of sorts.
As far as we are concerned, however, something or the other has been going on for around three decades. Those who have been around longer can argue whether the development or level of motorsport is where it needs to be but a look at the national motorsport calendar for 2015 published by the Federation of Motor Sport Clubs of India (FMSCI) shows a fair amount of activity. Here are some of the highlights of the national motorsport scene.
The Indian Rally Championship has had its fair share of trouble with a lack of title sponsor, rounds cancelled and a sense of frustration in some corners about a lack of manufacturer participation. However, some regulation changes will at least lead to some variety in terms of the vehicles on show. Things will be made hard for defending champions Gaurav Gill and Mahindra as more drivers are expected to bring in imported four-wheel-drive rally cars. Not to mention Volkswagen Motorsport India plans to run its R2-spec Polo rally car in a lot more rounds this year.
This is still probably the most uniquely Indian motorsport discipline that features participants covering relatively vast distances while racing the clock. The Raid de Himalya and Desert Storm have a cache that is hard to match and also feature stars like Gill and C S Santosh.
Both MRF and JK Tyre have fairly well established racing championships that feature everything from saloon cup racing, touring cars, single seaters and even superbike racing. The National Racing Championship for motorcycles features both single make series as well as categories based on a bike’s cylinder capacity.
The starting point of budding racing drivers. The National Karting Championship is taken very seriously by those willing to hone their skills for higher motorsport disciplines.
MOTOCROSS AND SUPERCROSS
One is held on a dirt track made on naturally occuring terrain while the other (supercross) is held on a completely man-made venue. Both feature young and fearless riders who then graduate to cross-country rallying. Much like a certain Indian Dakar hero.
The 25-year-old is expected to keep racing in the Blancpain Sprint Series Cup as he did last year. Ebrahim scored three podiums in the Pro-Am class of the FIA GT Series in 2013 and a point last year after the two merged to form the Blancpain Sprint Series.
The first Indian to participate in a MotoGP weekend (in the Moto3 class) is looking to get as much racing as possible astride 600cc racing bikes in an effort to compete in Moto2 championships in 2016. The former Mahindra supported rider has narrowed down four options: The Asia Dream Cup, Malaysian Super Series, the Junior Cup in Europe and the 600 series Asia. That aside he plans to continue racing in national championships in India.
The Audi supported driver will be competing in the Audi R8 LMS Cup that features two sprint races where a mix of professional and ‘gentleman’ drivers compete against each other in their own cars. As it is a cup series, minimal modifications are allowed to the cars. Former single seat racers like Alex Yoong and Ho-Pin Tung feature on the grid of a series that is expected to be a part of Patel’s grooming within the Audi motorsport program.
India’s first Formula 1 driver will continue to race in the Japanese Super Formula championship while also competing in the Super GT season behind the wheel of a McLaren 650S GT3 in an effort to stay sharp between rounds, something that hurt him over the course of last year. Karthikeyan will switch from Team Impul to the Honda-powered Dandelion squad.
The first Indian driver to complete the 24 Hours of Le Mans looks set to have a long term spot in the Mahindra Racing team in the FIA Formula E Championship. Chandhok will be looking to overcome some misfortune to finally score a podium or two against a field of pretty fleet drivers in all but equal machinery. Off-track simulator work is vital for the inaugural season.
India’s premier rally driver will continue to compete in the Indian Rally Championship (IRC) with Mahindra while also competing in the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship where he won the title in 2013. Skoda is expected to start using a lighter and more powerful space-frame ‘maxi’ car in the APRC this year. Particularly relevant to Indian fans will be APRC cars running at the IRC Coffee Day Rally in Chikmaglur as it is part of the Asia Cup leg of the APRC.
Fresh off his Dakar heroics, the Bangalorean plans to continue his preparations for the 2016 edition of the epic event. He would have already competed in the Desert Storm in India by the time you read this after which he has planned to compete in three rounds of the FIM Cross Country Rallies Worlc Cup. That will be in addition to competing in Chile’s Atacama Rally, which should serve as ideal preparation for the Dakar Rally. Santosh’s relentless pursuit of Dakar glory will hopefully be a catalyst for other Indian riders to follow suit.