F1 expected to trigger auto racing frenzy in India

India`s usually overshadowed motor racing fraternity is banking on the arrival of Formula One to spark a surge in domestic interest in their sport.

New Delhi: With names like Sachin Tendulkar already being linked to a racing franchise concept, India`s usually overshadowed motor racing fraternity is banking on the arrival of Formula One to spark a surge in domestic interest in their sport.

As workers put in overtime to get the Buddh International Circuit into shape, officials are growing in confidence that the Oct. 30 Indian F1 Grand Prix will change the face of motor racing in this country of 1.2 billion where all sports take a backseat to cricket.

“It`s a dream come true,`` said Vicky Chandhok, president of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs in India. ``For the motorsport fraternity, it`s fantastic to get F1 on home soil.``

Chandhok dismissed concerns about any delay in completion of the $215 million track about 40 kilometers from New Delhi in the satellite town of Greater Noida.

”It will project India as a technologically driven country, since F1 is the most technology-driven sport in the world,`` he said. “We already have a few drivers in the international arena and you must note that F1 has huge television audiences. So you can expect a lot of youngsters to take to the sport.``

The 5.14-kilometer track is part of a sports city being developed by the Jaypee Group, which has vast interests in real estate. Jaypee Group has 10-year rights for the Indian F1 race. The venue has been designed by German architect Hermann Tilke, who has designed many of the new circuits that have been added to the sport`s calendar in recent years.

Seeking to capitalize on the predicted boom, a motorsports management company has announced the launch of a city-based franchise competition this December, albeit using star cricket icon Tendulkar as its brand ambassador.

Motor racing joins an increasing group of sports launching pro leagues in India following the stunning success of cricket`s lucrative Indian Premier League.

American football, field hockey, volleyball, badminton and tennis are among the sports to have either launched their leagues or made announcements already.

The i1 Super Series, which has sought clearance from motorsport`s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l`Automobile (FIA), will feature teams from nine Indian cities competing in seven Asian cities: New Delhi, Chennai in India; Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai in the Gulf; Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; and Pattaya, Thailand.

“Cricket and Bollywood stars as well as some top industrialists have shown a keen interest to own teams,`` Machdar Motorsports` chief executive M Darshan told reporters in Mumbai last week.

It is expected to further fuel interest in the sport initially evoked by Narain Karthikeyan, who in 2005 became the first Indian to race in the high-profile series for Jordan.

Karthikeyan, who drove for Hispania in the early part of this year`s F1 championship, expects the Indian Grand Prix to make motor racing a mainstream sport.

“I`m absolutely sure that its success will be the starting point for a big surge in Indian motorsport. We`ve been on the threshold for a few years now and this should give us a shot in the arm,`` Karthikeyan said.

Vicky Chandhok`s son Karun, who emulated Karthikeyan when he made his debut with Hispania last year and had since switched to Lotus, feels business support is vital.

Bureau Report

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