The Sidvin Festival of Speed saw all the premier Indian racing series unfold at the Formula 1-grade Buddh International Circuit. This happened despite corporate rivalries and personal pettiness that have for far too long dominated our motorsport scene. It didn't unfold with clockwork precision. There were teething glitches and the federation, in sync with the sponsors, has a lot of work to put in before such a festival runs error-free.
However, putting the scepticism on hold, what this weekend reflected was the tremendous potential that exists for tapping a niche audience. There were easily over 5,000 people who had come to see a racing spectacle that's got nothing going for it as far as glamour goes.
People go to F1 for the 'I was there' factor. Watching Indian racing hardly enhances one's bragging rights. But still they came. Most drove for over an hour to make it. This allows one to fantasise that corporates will realise that such events provide a tailor-made platform to reach out to a select bunch of speed nuts.
Racing may well begin to occupy top shelf on the marketing plans of brands that want to be associated with reasonably well-off Indians with cars who don't mind spending their fuel and time for a weekend outing that involves catching up with speed. And fan following will increase in time once people figure out that actually the racing itself is far more exciting as the cars are largely similar, allowing for the better driver to nudge ahead instead of the superior machine.
JK Tyre has been the pioneer as far as racing in India goes. Credit is due to its wheeling-dealing motorsport boss Sanjay Sharma who came up with a low-cost formula that tied in with his company's budget while being accessible to drivers with limited spending power. While JK's single-seater Indian cars are no longer seen as a sensible option for those aspiring for the arc lights, MRF has upped the game to an altogether new level with its latest machines that have an imported carbon-fibre chassis and GP3-spec Renault engines. Without a shadow of doubt, these are the fastest and safest cars comprising an Indian series. The same was amply proved when Yuudai Jinkawa walked off unscathed from a horrific, though spectacular, crash on Saturday. While JK does a great job with karting, it will have to up its game if it is to stay at the forefront of single-seater racing.
MRF's Formula 2000 and JK's Racing Asia Series were meant to be support races for the FIA World Touring Car Championship round that was slated to be held this weekend but later got cancelled. As such, both had planned and budgeted for the logistics that involved having their vehicles present here at this time.
The cost factor
It cost in the vicinity of a crore to rent the track from the Jaypee Group — another factor which allowed for collusion instead of conflict. Then, federation president Vicky Chandhok has been working on this idea for a very long time — so the official push was very much there. However, these factors won't fall together so neatly every time. For the Festival of Speed to flourish and become a regular fixture, all stakeholders will have to realise that a big event like this draws crowds, media attention and creates the kind of buzz that Indian racing badly needs. One can only hope that instead of skulking back to individual race weekends, the federation will insist on more racing carnivals that lure far more eyeballs on account of the variety in the spectacle.