"It was a matter of necessity as far as I was concerned." This is how former racing driver Akbar Ebrahim describes his 'eureka' moment where he realised that there could actually be a future for motorsports in India as a business rather than a hobby for hardcore enthusiasts and well-heeled thrill junkies.
Ebrahim, whose Meco Motorsports team is involved in karting and circuit racing, had the option of getting into either a sure-fire sports venture in cricket or motorsports once he was done trailblazing in international racing. "I chose motorsports because it was something I was interested in and passionate about, but when I started, I never realised that I could have a successful business," he said.
Slowly though, and thanks in large part to the support offered by JK Tyre in organising the National Racing Championship, things began to fall in place. As more Indian kids discovered the need for speed through their exposure to international motorsports on television, a demand began to be created for an outlet.
"Through our involvement in proprietary racing like the National Karting Championship, and non-proprietary racing like corporate events, we have been able to fulfil the demand for racing in India," said Ebrahim. "And with the coming of F1 and the construction of an F1 circuit, things will only get better."
JK Tyre motorsports head, Sanjay Sharma, was aware of this but as far as a sustainable business was concerned, was also aware of the key differences between motor racing and other sports. "Motorsports allows companies to showcase their association with something that is on the cutting edge of technology and also an exciting lifestyle as far as the competitors are concerned," said Sharma.
The challenge remained
A well-organised series, however, was a challenge to pull off initially. Sure there were cars with Maruti 800 engines, and later even a series with Chevrolet engines, but two key ingredients were missing --- a firm commitment from an automobile manufacturer and a truly level-playing field.
Indian motorsports fans had thought this had been realised in 2006 with the addition of the Formula Rolon series to the National Racing Championship, but the sporadic successes of graduates like Aditya Patel and Ashwin Sundar in entry-level single-seat series abroad made it clear that this was not a viable solution. As was proved by the series becoming defunct despite an attempt at an upgrade in 2010.
Things changed that year, though, when Volkswagen Motorsport started the Polo Cup and offered aspiring drivers a way to get their foot in the door with the staggering entry fee of R 2.5 lakh for an entire season.
"Someone needed to give a spark even though there weren't any Grade 1 facilities in India," said Volkswagen Motorsport's India head, Prithviraj Siddappa. With an F1 circuit in India, however, things should start to look up even though the very clear lack of a credible single-seat racing series in the country remains a big hurdle for F1-obsessed youngsters.