A mixed year for Indian motorsports

Bangalore: Two successful Formula One Indian Grands Prix might have put the country on the global motorsport map, but two deaths in the Mughal Rally brought into sharp focus the lop-sided development of the sport in the country.

While the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) sought to leverage the "popularity" wave in the wake of the F1 race at the Buddh International Circuit, the fact remained that a lot needed to be done to refurbish the profile of the sport on the domestic front that is otherwise struggling to attract eyeballs.

The FMSCI and promoters Jaypee Group understandably took pride in the Indian Grand Prix winning the "best organised Formula One race" award for the second successive year.

However, the year ended on a bitter note with JK Tyre losing the National Racing championship rights after a 15-year run after the Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) outbid the Delhi-based tyre major for the championship rights.

JK Tyre thus exited the scene in acrimonious circumstances ending their link to the property they had conceptualized and nurtured into a popular series that produced Formula One drivers Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, besides a host of racing talent in both single-seater and saloon car categories.

JK Tyre`s motorsport boss Sanjay Sharma recalled his company`s association with the NRC while hinting that they will no more be associated with the series.

On his part, FMSCI president Vicky Chandhok led a standing ovation as a "tribute" to JK Tyre`s involvement and contribution to the NRC. It was a handshake of sorts signalling parting of ways.

The SIDVIN Festival of Speed was born out of necessity rather than prior planning, but the event brought together bitter tyre rivals JK and Chennai-based MRF under one roof with their respective events besides Volkswagen and the NRC.

The two-day event, first of its kind in India, offered varied fare that comprised different vehicles ranging from Coimbatore-produced Formula LGB with Swift engines, the BMW-powered JK Asia series cars, MRF`s two-litre Formula 2000 with Renault power train and the tin tops that included Volkswagen Polo.

The event was an unqualified success though it took some hectic behind-the-scenes efforts to smoothen a few creases that threatened to spoil the show which came about because of cancellation of a round of the World Touring Car championship.

India`s Aditya Patel and Akhil Khushlani delivered podium finishes in the JK Asia series.

No doubt, there was an escalation in the number of motorsport events of various hues through the year, notably the National TSD Rally Championship and the National Autocross series, but the scenario was marred by the deaths of Jitender Shukla and co-driver Ashish Mahajan in the Mughal Rally that triggered heated debate over safety or the lack of it.

The organizers insisted that adequate safety arrangements were in place, but many were convinced that the two lives could have been saved with better planning.

Even as track racing, both four and two-wheelers, prospered with several Indians participating in international series, the Stage rallying suffered from want of promoters and sponsors.

A restructured Indian National Rally Championship turned out to be a damp squib with MRF pulling out of the series following the scrapping of Group N+ class in which the tyre giant had invested heavily.

After much dilly-dallying as FMSCI searched in vain for a promoter, a four-round INRC calendar was announced, but only two were run in Bangalore and Chikmagalur.

The round in Coorg was cancelled due to heavy rains while the Nashik Rally met a similar fate as the organizers could not put together dirt track Stages.

The 2013 racing season, however, promises a lot more action. The FMSCI has announced an eight-round INRC calendar while the new-look NRC will be headlined by the MRF Challenge rounds besides the touring cars and the Formula LGB.

Of interest will be the proposed one-make series by Tata Motorsports who are preparing a Nano in racing trim in Coimbatore in conjunction with their long-time partners Jayem Automotives who received two visits from no less a person than Ratan Tata recently to check on the progress.

Tata Motors also made a foray into rallying by fielding a six-car team called Full Throttle in the TSD championship besides entering major events such as the Desert Storm.

With Toyota also launching a one-make series of Etios brand, an increasing number of car manufacturers seem to be actively looking at motorsport as an avenue for research and development of their products and also promoting them.

The year ended with Karun Chandhok and Karthikeyan winning the Race of Champions (Asia) series in Thailand while young karters like Kush Maini and Jehan Daruvala delivered some strong results in various international events.

Indian two-wheeler racers too came up with noteworthy results with Jagan Kumar and Sridharan Shankar finishing second in the FIM Asia Cup of Road Racing in Japan while TVS became the third bike manufacturer to join Honda and Yamaha in the National championship.

Honda and Yamaha also sponsored Indian riders in various international events.

Overall, the year 2012 had its share of highs and lows as it laid the foundation for an exciting New Year that will see a round of World Superbike series in March at the BIC and perhaps an international event or two in Chennai where the 22-year-old MMRT track is being upgraded on a priority basis.

For all that, Indian motorsport will be at crossroads in 2013 and in need of careful guidance more than ever to progress to the next level.