Indian Motorsport is Moving in Fits and Starts

Even as the likes of Karun Chandhok, Narain Karthikeyan, Armaan Ebrahim and, to a lesser extent Dilip Rogger met with some success abroad in their racing championships, at home motor sport went into reverse gear during 2007.

Chandhok, the 23-year-old from Chennai, became only the second Indian after Karthikeyan to test drive a Formula One car following his stint with Red Bull Racing during the winter testing in Jerez, Spain, in November.

Chandhok appears certain to bag a race seat in 2009 after spending another season in the GP2 championship that is a feeder series for Formula One. His GP2 debut in 2007 was a mixed bag. He spent the first half of the series learning the tracks and the Durango machine before scoring a notable win at Spa.

Meanwhile, Karthikeyan, 31, exited from Formula One after two seasons at Williams as their reserve test driver who spent more time travelling back and forth from his hometown Coimbatore to various Grand Prix venues than on the track.

Having shifted to the fledgling A1 Series for Team India in 2006, Karthikeyan scored his maiden win in the championship at Zhuhai, China, in December.

Elsewhere, Armaan, who turned 18 in May this year, underlined his immense potential by finishing second in the Formula Renault Asia V6 championship. He missed the title by a whisker as his non-finish in the opening round in Malaysia hurt him in the end.

The Chennai-based Armaan is set to drive in the newly introduced GP2 Asia series for 2008. As in the case of Chandhok, his chances hinge on sponsorship.

Beer baron Vijay Mallya created the biggest buzz by taking over the back-of-the-grid Spyker Formula One team as a co-owner and renaming it as Force India, but without an Indian driver. Mallya's professed long-term goal is a podium finish in the Indian Grand Prix that the country has been allotted for 2010.

In the two-wheeler category, Rogger, also from Chennai, had moderate success on the Asian GP circuit and finished 12th overall in the championship on a Honda CBR600 and competing against factory-supported riders. His consolation was the "Best Privateer" award and the 23-year-old is contemplating participation in the US.

Likewise, Preetham Dev Moses, also from Chennai, fared well in the Malaysian Super Bike series (Open class) by finishing overall second riding a Yamaha R6.

On the rally front, MRF introduced the promising 26-year old from Delhi, Gaurav Gill, as the third member of their team in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), along side Katsu Taguchi (Japan) and Jussi Valimakki (Finland). Gill, however, had a disastrous start, crashing his brand new Mitsubishi Evo9 on debut in New Caledonia.

Gill sat out the next three rounds before returning to Malaysia and then on to Indonesia and China, but driving an underpowered Evo7. As a team, MRF were not on pace with Subaru's Cody Crocker, the Aussie winning his second consecutive APRC title.

The second Indian in APRC, national champion V.R. Naren Kumar from Coimbatore, managed two podium finishes. But running on a shoestring budget as a private entry, he was not always on pace in a patched up Evo9. Later, he had a successful test drive with Subaru in Wales and budget permitting, he could become the first Indian to take part in the World Rally Championship (production class) in 2008.

At home, the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) virtually collapsed with only four of the original seven rounds run. The introduction of N+ class demanded huge investment in terms of new car besides electrical and mechanical components and there were few takers.

It left MRF as the sole major competitor with arch-rivals JK Tyre, after a brief return to INRC the previous year, pulling out saying the huge budgets to prepare Group N+ cars could not be justified.

Further, the authorities overlooked the point that the Special Stages in India could barely handle the speed and power of 200bhp cars. The final round in Pune saw top two MRF drivers, Gill and Arjun Balu, both in Mitsubishi Cedia, pulling out citing safety concerns. Gill, though was crowned National champion, having won the three previous rounds.

On the track, the JK Tyre championship threw up fresh talent in 18-year-old Aditya Patel, the national champion in the Formula Rolon class, who is likely to drive in the Formula BMW Asia in 2008. Another teenager, Ashwin Sundar, won the championship in the Formula Swift and Hyundai categories.

The series had its share of controversies, notably over the absence of spec-sheet and scrutineering, the basics of Formula racing.

As to where motor sport in India is headed is anybody's guess. 


More by :  Anand Philar

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