What next for Indian rallying?
A prominent Indian rally driver had this to say about the comparison between racing and rallying: “racing is a white collar job, rallying is a blue collar job.” The implication being that tearing through all manner of publicly used tarmac roads, dirt tracks, hills and forests is the form of motorsport much closer to ordinary people. Not to mention more demanding and labour intensive.
You could definitely say that he has a point but looking at it from the viewpoint of an ordinary citizen; would you rather work on a farm or in the air-conditioned confines of a multi-national company’s office?
It’s pretty much the same situation that seems to be playing out in motorsport in India too at the moment. Thanks to it’s relatively easier logistics, higher level of exposure, easy to grasp format and the fact that more people can physically come to a racetrack, circuit racing is genuinely going places while rallying appears to be in a state of limbo. And there seems to be no easy way to tell if there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Following the withdrawal of its title sponsor, the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) has had to severely cut short its calendar. The hopes are that a sponsor will appear on the horizon soon to restore normality.
In the meantime the Federation of Motorsport Clubs of India (FMSCI) has also taken the decision to try and bring rallying in India in-line with the norm that has been established all over the world, including African countries. However, it’s decision to do away with a category of rally cars that was unique to India has not rubbed some of the top drivers the right way.
The Group N category of cars that has been set as the top class of rally cars will require competitors in the INRC to field cars that are available for sale in the Indian market and that have not been modified too heavily in comparison to there road-going counterparts.
The hope is that this will reduce the cost of participation in rallying and allow for more people to throw their hat into the ring.
The change has, however, met with disapproval amongst drivers used to driving in the now defunct Group N+ category that would allow for fairly sophisticated upgrades to road-legal cars. Amongst the gripes are that Group N cars will not be as exciting to watch and drive as the outgoing cars. And that there are not enough cars in India that have been homologated — when a car manufacturer makes its cars available for rallying or racing based on requirements by the governing body — for competition use.
And that’s where we come back to the issue of whether the blue-collar job of rallying is getting enough assistance from the suits at car companies who seem content to make half-hearted forays into the white-collar sport of racing.
There is not a lot for Indian rally drivers to choose from when it comes to their weapon of choice other than the ageing Cedia and the all but extinct Esteem. And the reason for that is that car manufacturers in India seem content to advertise their products by hiring Bollywood personalities to prance around for them in advertisments instead of putting their products to the test against that of other companies.
Anyone who’s driven a fair distance in India will know that not all roads are created equal. And that cruising around on the flat roads in central Delhi’s stop-start traffic is not representative of the sort of punishment cars have to endure here.
Given that the new Group N opens the door for pretty much any car of a certain engine capacity to be used for rallying, the ideal situation would be to see the likes of Toyota, Hyundai, Maruti-Suzuki and Honda to make their everyday saloons and hatchbacks available for drivers with heavy right feet to put them to the test in the variety of terrain in the country.
But don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Not while there are men and women in white collars at these companies advising any colleagues of theirs who may be even slightly infected with the motorsport bug that it would be bad for the company’s image to have their cars beaten by that of another company.
While motorsport is not imperitive, it certainly offers an unbiased (to a certain extent) way of judging a car company’s product.
Competition improves the breed goes the saying. And the next step for Indian rallying would ideally be seeing competition between those EMI-hocking salesmen to point to something far concrete (and cooler) to summarize their cars’ worth than just its feature list.
But don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. The men in white collars will have to get their hands a little dirty first and at the moment that seems highly unlikely.
-By Vinayak Pande