There are two teams backed by Indian corporate muscle at the highest echelons of the speed world. Force India has been on the F1 grid since 2008, but apart from noise about grooming the next Indian driver, the team has done little to convince sceptics that it has any place for India talent. After all, it has not found it prudent to even give two of India's F1 drivers a test in all its years of existence.
Things have not changed even with the Sahara Group, a corporate with a strong record of supporting Indian sport, coming on board.
The other big Indian corporate foray in motorsport is by Mahindra Racing that has a team taking on the fastest people on two wheels in MotoGP. In just its first season on the grid, Mahindra had a creditable 12 points scoring finishes out of 16 races in the now defunct 125cc class.
A need to connect
Despite the strong showing, the company realises that it will be tough to connect with its potential Indian customer base unless it has an Indian astride its machine. Since there is no Indian rider good enough yet to win on the big stage, Mahindra is doing the next best thing by putting Sarath Kumar in the extremely competitive Italian National Racing Championship.
“We don't expect Sarath to win outright in his very first year. But we would certainly be expecting more in the second year. Second-best is not good enough for us," says Mufaddal Choonia, Team Principal, Mahindra Racing. A former national racing champion, Sarath was set to join the ranks of the many talented riders from India who wither away for want of corporate backing. “It's a fully sponsored deal. I just have to perform on the bike without worrying about anything else," the 20-year-old told HT on the sidelines of the Auto Expo.
For Mahindra, the entry into MotoGP made eminent sense. “We are the youngest entrants in the two-wheeler segment. It's the best way for us to quickly grasp the technology as well as make a mark in the consumer's mind. We want people to understand that we are a serious two-wheeler manufacturer," says Choonia. The global exposure to the brand apart, Mahindra is also looking to groom Indian talent in a manner never attempted before. “There is still a bit of time before an Indian rider is ready to compete in the world championship. However, the amount of talent is encouraging."
The company has created a whole new team to aid the challenge of Sarath for the eight-round Italian championship in the 125cc category. “We feel that if groomed adequately, he has the potential to represent our country at the world championship eventually. We would not like to straight away throw him with the big boys, for if he does not do well, that will dent his confidence. We want him to go the correct way."
However, before the company backs him further, Sarath will have to show results. “The goal, clearly, is for him to win the championship. First year he needs to learn and mature as a rider but at some stage we want those wins."