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