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Formula 1 coming to India is likely to set off a motorsport boom as more Indians look to go where their parents never did, writes Deepti Patwardhan.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2010 00:05 IST
Deepti Patwardhan

The helmet seems too big for his small frame. The kid has just about made the cut to drive on what is called the 'seniors' track. He pulls on the elbow guards, sinks into the dinky kart. The marshal fires the engine and off he goes, hurtling down the track. It's the only thing in four wheels he's allowed to drive, and he does so with aplomb.

Down the track, a group of friends, race wheel-to-wheel, screeching the brakes and hitting on the accelerator with equal urgency.

While teenagers and young adults dominate the track, their parents are either completely absent or prefer to watch the action by the wall that looks on to the track.

The 'Go-Karting' facility at the Hiranandani Complex in suburban Mumbai is very basic, the lap far too small. But it is still something. And the youngsters flock to it everyday - you could count it a lucky day if the waiting time is less than an hour.

It's just another example of the shifting dynamics. Greater accessibility, spending power and an empowered youth are fuelling India's motorsport dream.

And the effect is cascading top down. Most dreams that start with karting want to end with doing a Michael Schumacher. We still equate motor sport with Formula 1, and while the options are branching out immensely, it's India's own place at the pinnacle of the sport that's escalating the interest.

In 2005, Narain Karthikeyan stepped into an F1 car. In 2010, it was Karun Chandhok. An Indian team had found its way to the paddock in between and has shown a steady rise in fortunes. But the motorsport community is hoping for a bigger spurt when F1 comes to the country, in form of the Indian GP in October 2011.

"A Formula One Grand Prix will get India onto the world map and prove our capabilities of hosting technology-perfect sport. This is like the Olympics of motorsport," says Karthikeyan.

"Twelve years ago, when I started racing, the elders in the family used to say this is not a career, it's a hobby, an expensive hobby," says Parthiva Sureshwaren, who competed in a few races in Formula 2, F1's feeder series, this season. "We no longer think that way. As a country, we have become more open-minded and that has played a big part. These days the kids have so many options. There are go-karting tracks in every major city. A child can start karting from eight, compete in the national championships, and move on to bigger things," he says.

Be it on four wheels or two, the opportunities are immense and participation has grown laterally.

In fact, India is the world's second-largest two-wheeler market but the potential has hardly been tapped. As of now there are hardly any factory teams and manufacturers have not looked to use motorsport as a testing ground for their products.

As to whether the speed game is going to go up to another level is going to depend on the Indian federation getting it's act together. Even as F1 will change the image of the nation in the eyes of motorsports followers, cancellation of Bangalore's permit for being a candidate event for the Asia Pacific Rally Championship reflects poorly on our organisational standards.

It's not just the rush of the throttle which is attracting more Indians. The dare-devilry is also evident in the exponential rise in India's adventure sports industry.

Adventure tourism reportedly is now worth more than Rs 9000 crore, and Indians contribute about 35% to it. Tourism companies are now selling, and unearthing, 'adventure' destinations, ranging from ice-climbing, deep-sea diving to the ever-popular bungee jumping and white-water rafting.

While earlier most trekkers in the High Himalaya would be foreigners, now there is an increasing number of Indians.

The mentality of playing it safe has changed. India's youth is no longer bound by convention or satisfied with the ordinary. They are ready to take greater risks and seek newer avenues. This generation is not afraid of living life at full throttle.