Mean­while in In­dia

There are no spon­sors, the grid is shrik­ing, events are be­ing can­celled and no new stars are on the hori­zon


RAL­LY­ING IS IN DIRE STRAITS. WHAT WAS once the blue riband of In­dian mo­tor­sport is now on life sup­port. I give you just one ex­am­ple: the na­tional cham­pion – and I don’t mean a class win­ner or any­thing, I mean the guy who pipped Gau­rav Gill to the 2016 na­tional rally cham­pi­onship – is with­out a spon­sor this sea­son. How bad can things be, how lit­tle mar­ket­ing ben­e­fit is there to be had from the se­ries, when the team spon­sor­ing the na­tional cham­pion has qui­etly walked away leav­ing Karna Kadurto run as a pri­va­teer-sans-spon­sor.

It’s a re­peat of the same old story. Red Rooster came, made a mighty splash, and dis­ap­peared. Our very own Slide­ways rally team came, won the team cham­pi­onship, and dis­ap­peared. Yoko­hama added its name to the cham­pi­ons ros­ter and went. Heck, VW Mo­tor­sport came in mak­ing all sorts of noises even get­ting for­mer PWRC cham­pion Karamjit Singh to drive its R2 Polo but the promised fac­tory ef­fort never ma­te­ri­alised. To­day the Polo is the most pop­u­lar car in the se­ries but it is all in the hands of pri­va­teers and save for Ar­jun Rao Aroor’s R2 Polo (that stub­bornly re­fuses to com­plete a rally, for­get chal­lenge for the cham­pi­onship) there are no signs of any fac­tory in­volve­ment or in­ter­est. If youeave aside the two fac­tory Mahin­dras, trimmed down in any case from 3 cars last year, you’re faced with the stark re­al­ity – that the INRC is a pri­va­teer cham­pi­onship filled with am­a­teurs who’re in it purely out of pas­sion; a pas­sion that (and I speak out of per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence) sus­tains it­self for five – six years and no more.

So who will save In­dian ral­ly­ing? The pro­mot­ers? With Jaipur and Arunachal Pradesh planned for 2017 the cham­pi­onship was all set to be­come truly ‘na­tional’. But de­spite the best in­ten­tions of the or­gan­is­ers the Jaipur round was a mess and then Arunachal Pradesh fol­lowed in the foot­steps of the Chen­nai rally in call­ing it off due to heavy rains de­stroy­ing the tracks. In such a sit­u­a­tion what can the pro­moter do? And with only man­u­fac­turer in­volved they’re re­ally fight­ing with their hands tied be­hind their backs.

The FMSCI? Ask your­self, is it Fed­er­a­tion to run the se­ries?

The rally or­gan­is­ers? Re­ally?

I think the only peo­ple who can save In­dian ral­ly­ing are the very same guys whose in­tense and ex­tremely un­healthy ri­valry brought ral­ly­ing to the state it is in to­day. Ral­ly­ing needs MRF to be back with a proper




the team, rather than just spon­sor­ing the cham­pi­onship and sup­ply­ing tyres to most of the grid. And to take them on, In­dian ral­ly­ing needs JK to re­turn with.

The good news? JK Tyre is plan­ning a full-fledged as­sault on the INRC. It was to hap­pen in 2017 but has been post­poned to next year so that the Baleno can be prop­erly built (to R2 specs) and, more im­por­tantly (and im­pos­si­bly), a driver to take on Gau­rav Gill can be roped it. The Baleno also means that – in a big or small way, doesn’t mat­ter – the coun­try’s largest man­u­fac­turer is going to get in­volved in the INRC.

It’ll mean Maruti Suzuki will bring in its own PR and ad­ver­tis­ing mus­cle to pro­mote the se­ries. It’ll mean Mahin­dra will need to up their game – some­thing I think they’re des­per­ate for, to jus­tify the money be­ing spent on the rally pro­gram. It’ll mean VW might fi­nally get the im­pe­tus to launch a full fac­tory ef­fort at the INRC. It’ll mean a se­ri­ous hunt for the next gen­er­a­tion of rally drivers be­cause after Gill, the gulf to the next best is so, so vast it’s shock­ing. It’ll mean some proper so­cial me­dia con­tent com­ing out of ral­ly­ing (does any­body re­ally care about TV any­more?). And it’ll mean spec­ta­tors will re­turn to the sport. Just the ru­mours of the Baleno be­ing prepped in Coim­bat­ore have prompted Toy­ota to have a close look at the INRC (re­mem­ber they have a fleet of Etios Cup cars ly­ing with them, so the pos­si­bil­i­ties are huge) and I have it on good author­ity that we will see a TRD car in ac­tion at Chik­ma­galur as Toy­ota test the wa­ters again after their failed rac­ing ex­per­i­ment.

Ul­ti­mately though, who­ever is going to save ral­ly­ing bet­ter step up to the task dou­ble quick oth­er­wise, very soon, there won’t be any­thing left to save. ⌧

Op­po­site clock­wise from top: Gau­rav Gill in the Su­perXUV; old Balenos should soon be re­placed with the new hatch­back; Karna Kadur in his pri­va­teer Polo; Gypsy’s still come for the North In­dia rounds; Rahul Kan­thraj in his Mit­subishi Ce­dia. Be­low: Gill is head and shoul­ders above the rest of the grid

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