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I1 trying to prove history wrong

The franchise-based model of motor sports has not had any traction as yet. The failure of the A1 Grand Prix and the drastically decreased involvement of football clubs in the European-based Superleague Formula are a case in point.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2011 02:03 IST
Vinayak Pande

The franchise-based model of motor sports has not had any traction as yet. The failure of the A1 Grand Prix and the drastically decreased involvement of football clubs in the European-based Superleague Formula are a case in point.

Even as India plans to launch the i1 Racing Series, which would see city-based franchises racing predominantly on Asian racetracks outside India, the failure of AI GP and Superleage Formula is not an encouraging precedent.

The Racing Series CEO, Darshan M, however insists, he has hit upon a practical business model. "We are not trying to build the fastest racing car," says Darshan. "We are not trying to be a major Asian championship. We just want to have a series that allows Indian drivers to participate with and learn from top international stars."

Bad decisions

Darshan cites the $35 million that A1 GP paid to Ferrari in licensing fees from 2008 to use the V8 engine from one of its road-legal supercars as well as the chassis of its 2004 F1 car as examples of bad business decisions. In order to keep the series cost-effective, the Radical SR3 sportscar used for i1 will use the same engine based on Suzuki's GSX-R powerplant that is part and parcel of the SR3.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/09_08_11-metro22.jpg

Practicality also led to the decision to look for venues outside of India due to the paucity of purpose-built tracks in the country. "It would be a dream come true for me to have the series based entirely in India with Indian drivers," says Darshan. "But we will have to wait for the racing infrastructure in India to improve for that to happen."

A1 GP started out with franchises representing different countries, marketing itself as 'The World Cup of Motor Sport'. Superlague Formula also exploited the football link when it started in 2008 with 19 famous football clubs, including Liverpool and AC Milan, being represented. Fast-forward to 2011 — A1 GP is no more and the Superleague Formula field is down to 16 teams, out of which only six have any links with football clubs. Interestingly, Narain Karthikeyan, who was involved in both series, has now been approached to drive in i1.

Whether the novelty of a racing series with city-based franchises — and a cricketer as 'brand ambassador' — will last long enough, remains to be seen.