A little hope for Indian single-seat racing

It’s always tempting to think of a development in Indian motorsport to be the catalyst for sweeping and immediate changes that will put the country’s racing drivers on the international map. Many thought that would be the case with the construction of the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida and the arrival of Formula One.

The fact of the matter is that due to the weakly developed racing infrastructure there aren’t many Indian racing drivers out there to take advantage of the attention of the international racing fraternity that lasts for the Indian Grand Prix weekend.

Mind you, infrastructure for racing doesn’t begin or end with the construction of just one F1 grade circuit. Both in F1 and the hardcore racing series that fall just below F1 in the motorsport pecking order, driving on a variety of racetracks is inevitable and a must for the development of a racing driver. Those hardcore series would be British Formula 3, Formula 3 Euroseries, GP3, GP2 and Renault 3.5 World Series.

Aside from the BIC and the Irungattukottai circuit at Sriperumbudur near Chennai, India can’t really boast of tracks that can host racing series that can give Indian drivers the sort of preparation they need to tackle one of these series so that their performance catches the attention of F1 talent scouts as well as teams in other top championships.

However, India can at least boast of a racing car that can has quite a bit in common with those racing series. The MRF Formula 2000 car has been built by Coimbatore-based Jayem Automotives Ltd in collaboration with Italian racing car chassis manufacturer Dallara.

The MRF Formula 2000 car is the most advanced single-seat racing car built in India to date.

Dallara not only manufactures and supplies the chassis for every team in each of the five aforementioned series, but they also manufacture and supply the chassis for every team in the American-based Indycar series (F1’s US counterpart). Start to get the picture? An Indian-based racing series that has at its disposal, a world renowned authority on building single-seat racing cars.

Even more impressive is that the majority of the car has been built and put together by Jayem in India. This has been confirmed by Dallara’s head of Engineering and Project Management, Jos Claes himself. Aside from a few structural compnents like the driver’s safety cell and nose section (made from carbon-fibre, no less) the rest of the car is Indian-made thanks to the technical drawings provided by Dallara.

And while that may lead to skepticism about the car’s quality, Claes and engineers from Dallara were at the BIC, first hand to see the car in action as Narain Karthikeyan and a driver from British Formula 3 tested it. No repair work was required and the test team could focus purely on the car’s setup which will then be used throughout the 18 to 20 car grid that is expected for the series when it makes its debut as the support race for this year’s Indian Grand Prix. Claes even remarked that he couldn’t tell the difference between the car made in India and the one made in Italy.

Which is definitely nothing to sneeze at, but before young Indian aspirants start to clamour for a race seat, they should be mindful of the fact that the series is not meant for everyone and anyone with a heavy right foot.

The Formula 2000 car, due to its high performance potential – 210 horsepower in a car that weighs a little over 500 kilos and an estimated 260 kmh top speed – is meant for those with a solid background in Rotax Karting and experience in at least one more single-seat series like the JK Racing Asia Series or MRF’s own Formula 1600 series (140 and 130 horsepower, respectively).

The off-track pre-requisite, however, is more tricky to come by. I.e. corporate backing. And with the season budget for the series currently pegged at Rs. 45 lakh for 10 races, they will certainly need it. While companies in India clamour to get advertising space on F1 cars that come down for the Indian GP, they have not as yet been particularly generous towards Indian racers and home-based series. And they should be, not just for the benefit of the young drivers, but for themselves too. As a driver rises through the various levels to get to a point where he is on the map, the company’s brand goes with him.

It has been the case with Karthikeyan and Tata, who committed to him in his British Formula 3 days and have stuck with him during his F1 career too. Karthikeyan, however, did not have the advantage of a series featuring a car like the Formula 2000 car. There was pretty much nothing there. Imagine more corporates threw their hat in the ring with a young driver today who has the benefit of the JK Tyre National Rotax Karting Championship, the MRF Formula 1600 series, the JK Racing Asia Series and the MRF Formula 2000 series.

That and a greater variety of tracks; now that’s the stuff Indian motorsport dreams are made of.

By: Vinayak Pande

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