Vicky Chandhok is an old hand at motorsport. He’s competed in numerous races and rallies over the course of his motorsport career. But misty-eyed reminisces of “back in our days…” isn’t what Vicky is about.
A self-acknowledged rabble-rouser full of garrulous charm, Vicky Chandhok is on a mission; a mission to ostensibly kick-start Indian motorsport back into life.
Excerpts from a conversation:
AJ: Congratulations to you and the FMSCI for finally getting F1 to India. Now there's talk of the FIA GT series finale, MotoGP, and even DTM. Can you give us some indication of the racing championships and series that are likely to come to India in 2012 - 2013? Would there an FIA WEC race in India in the near future?
VC: Well, of course we’ve been talking to various promoters of different championships from around the world. In addition to Formula 1 this year, we’ll also be hosting the season finale of the FIA GT series. Stephane Ratel (FIA GT promoter) is keen for this to be a long term deal, and we’re working on that.
On the DTM, we’ve had talks with BMW and Mercedes. I’ve met with the Series promoters in Germany as well. It’s a matter of time before we see a DTM race in India…probably by 2014.
An important point I’d like to add is that we feel a maximum of 6 international events are possible…otherwise the circuit facilities will be bursting at the seams. Racing is an expensive business and somebody’s got to pick up the tab.
To clarify, I’d like to tell you that we’re likely to host a round of the World Superbikes, sometime in 2013, not MotoGP. MotoGP is still too expensive. That said, the MotoGP promoters have visited the track, and they’ve met with (Buddh Circuit promoter) Sameer Gaur as well. We’re still holding talks, but for MotoGP we have no tentative date set.
To answer the last part of your question, the FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship) will be a championship which would work in India. The WEC runs to different formats – 6 hours, 12 hours and 24 hours; I think a 6-hour race at the Buddh Circuit would definitely be possible.
Jean Todt (FIA President) was present at the first event of the year (at Sebring, Florida, USA) and we know the FIA has big hopes from this championship…
(without actually saying it, the import of what Chandhok’s saying is clear. The Sebring race was on the same weekend of the first round of the Formula 1 championship at Melbourne, Australia. That Todt chose to be at Sebring instead of Melbourne, despite his close ties with F1 and Ferrari in particular, is indicative of his interest in the FIA WEC).
AJ: The INRC has unfortunately waned. Although some measures have been announced, what in your opinion needs to be done to revive the championship?
VC: No, interest in the Indian National Rally Championship has not waned…I dispute that. There are lots of standalone iconic events; the Raid de Himalaya is one, the Desert Storm is another. We are looking at a new sponsor for the championship. The announcement will be made soon. It’s a little premature to tell you who it is, but it’s a big multi-national corporation. This sponsor could change the entire image of the INRC, in terms of PR and prize money.
We’ve also introduced new rules to encourage further participation by youngsters in the sport, while at the same time ensuring that those who are already participating are not left out. The new N4 and R4 classes (four-wheel drive, with rally kits) will ensure that the level of the competition only increases.
We’re also in talks with Skoda and Volkswagen among the manufacturers. They are keen to come in, but they need to have the confidence. By 2013 I think we could see their outlook towards the INRC as well.
AJ: On the topic of rallying, is there a road map in place to bring the WRC into our country? If yes, can you shed some light on this?
VC: India is certainly capable of hosting a round of the World Rally Championship. Believe me, the FIA and manufacturers are as keen to come to India as we are to host them here. The biggest road-block if I can call it that is the air space restriction. We need to have clearances for helicopters for filming and Med-Evac (medical evacuation) and these are minimum standards required by the WRC rules. Till we can get that government support and clearance, the WRC organisers will be hesitant. Still, we are working on it…I can’t put a date to it, but we should be able to try and get them here by 2015.
AJ: What are your plans to promote the recently-announced Autocross championship?
VC: Of course, we definitely feel the National Autocross championship has potential. It will encourage newcomers to the sport, and will be a cost-effective way of making people enjoy motorsport. A promoter for the series could come forth, and that of course will give it a boost, but the clubs (which together constitute the FMSCI, or Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India) have taken the ambit.
AJ: With one-make series proliferating, do you think there is enough talent to fill the grids? And are there deep enough pockets? Wouldn't it be better if a common ground and specs could be formalised for manufacturers to compete against one another?
VC: I wouldn’t necessarily agree. The Polo Cup was over-subscribed, the Toyota Etios series is over-subscribed and will begin evaluating the drivers so I definitely think there is enough talent in India. The ITCC (Indian Touring Car Championship), IJTC (Indian Junior Touring Cars) are seeing more competition than ever. What we are doing is creating a platform for more participation. The IJTC and ITCC are good platforms for manufacturers to exploit; they can switch to these championships.
See what Volkswagen has achieved with the Polo Cup; they brought a certain degree of professionalism to the sport.
Even Audi is keen to bring the A4 Cup to India, sometime in 2013. The graduates from the Polo Cup would definitely be in the picture to make a step up to this series.
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