An Indian team is garnering racing glory and it isn’t Force India or MRF. This article in the latest issue of the Sportstar woke me up to the achievements of Mahindra Racing- a team that has been quietly making impressive strides in motorcycle racing. To sum up its achievements: it made its debut last year in the 125cc category of the MotoGP, finishing third in the Constructors’ Championship; this year, participating in the Italian National Motorcycle Racing Championship (CIV), the team took the constructors’ trophy.
So where is the publicity it deserves? For a reason that defies logic, Indian racing in the media is almost synonymous with the England-based Sahara Force India F1 team. Vijay Mallya, the controversial, party-loving owner of the team (who has also named the cars after himself), has managed to keep all eyes riveted towards it. Though deep in debt and struggling to pay the employees of Kingfisher Airlines their salaries, Mallya made sure to put in an appearance at the Indian GP: the conscience works in strange ways in F1.
Motorsport gets relatively little mileage in a country where sport can be divided into cricket and the rest. India has had only two F1 drivers this far, and is yet to produce one of the calibre to race against the best and be picked on his own merit, rather than earning a seat in return for sponsorship money. A custom-built circuit has brought F1 into the limelight, but constructed far from the traditional heartland of motorsport in India, so to speak, it will be interesting to see whether it makes any actual headway and spawns a new generation of drivers in those parts of the country which haven’t had as much exposure to racing yet.
While Force India has managed to produce steady performances in a sport heavily dependent on monetary clout and power relations, Mahindra Racing has acquitted itself very well in motorcycle racing. Not only has it used India-manufactured bikes, which should provide a major boost to racing aspirants in the country, it also employed Indian rider Sarath Kumar for part of the season before he left reportedly for personal reasons. while it is important for teams to choose the best possible riders or drivers to stay in the reckoning for the championship, they should also see to the development of the sport in their respective countries and give local riders opportunities. Participation in motorsport through individual funding is only possible upto a certain level; receiving the right kind of backing from a front-running team greatly boosts a driver’s chances of making it to the highest echelons of the sport.
Motorcycle racing hasn’t captured the imagination of the Indian public as much as F1. Clearly, having a flamboyant, shrewd character like Bernie Ecclestone at the helm of affairs has helped F1 make headway into untapped markets. A considerable portion of the F1 calendar takes place in Asia, while four races on the MotoGP calendar take place in Spain alone. Now that India has a proper racetrack, it shouldn’t be too difficult to bring MotoGP to India. However, earning the support of authorities in India might be a bigger challenge than finding a slot on the calendar. Now that Mahindra Racing is beginning to break into a scene dominated traditionally by Japanese and Italian teams, a crown at the highest level may not be a pipe-dream any longer.