In an interesting experiment to make the motorsport viewing experience richer, Coimbatore - the Mecca of the sport in South India - had twin offerings this weekend. There was the second leg of the Indian Rally Championship as well as the inaugural round of the 16th JK Tyre racing championship.
Both events centered on the Kari Motor Speedway - the 2.1 km track is only one of three racing facilities in the country - making for a convenient watch.
Usually, witnessing a rally involves a logistical exercise that takes the majority of the day and invariably hours of waiting yield just a glimpse of the cars as they zip by. On that parameter, racing scores over rallying as spectators are able to see more action as it hurtles around a track.
The folks in Coimbatore designed a sinuous rally stage close to the track after which the audience could drive down to the circuit for some racing action. That there was a special stage for the rally cars on the track after the day’s racing action, made it all the more interesting.
There are two major battles that motorsport faces. The first is to draw in the crowds and the second is to establish a clear connect between speed events and sales. Coimbatore did manage the former through its unique mix.
The home city of India’s first Formula 1 racer, Narain Karthikeyan, is anyway known for its large fan base. But still, families driving out from the city for close to an hour to witness motorsport stays rare in this country.
For the stake holders of Indian motorsport getting the crowds in is the first fight they have to win. If they come, they may well be tempted to buy the car that they see competing. They may even invest in the tyres that the winners are using.
That bit of logic has seen companies like Volkswagen, Mahindra, JK Tyres and MRF sink in a chunk of their marketing resources into motorsport. While VW’s Polo is not the hottest selling hatchback in India, it’s certainly made major strides in racing and now has encroached onto the traditional Maruti turf of rallying.
While Maruti was the pioneer in Indian motorsport, its presence and visibility is slowly diminishing. The Polo is supplied to rally drivers at a subsidised cost and VW sends a truck full of spares to venues as back up for those using their cars - this is all quite novel in this country.
Then, Mahindra has invested in the best drivers in the country to get its XUV 500 on the rally podium. You would be far off the mark if you presumed your XUV can also manage what Gaurav Gill can in his. The rally vehicles are specially ramped up machines with a minimum cost of five lakh plus over the showroom version.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by JK Tyres