MUMBAI: Even as some of the country’s best drivers were lauded during the FMSCI awards in Mumbai on Monday, Narain Karthikeyan painted a rather grim picture for motor racing in the country. The man who put India on the F1 map believes the sport is still only accessible and affordable for a select few and hasn’t quite been able to improve its popularity ratings.
“The sport has gone through a huge dip after we lost the F1 race (in New Delhi),” said Karthikeyan on the sidelines of the awards ceremony in Mumbai.
The 42-year-old had created history in 2005 when he signed for Jordan to become the first Indian to race in Formula One. Karun Chandhok followed in his footsteps in 2010 and New Delhi hosted an F1 race for three years (2011-2013). Force India Formula One team, which was first established by Vijay Mallya in 2007, has changed hands a couple of times and will be renamed for the 2019 F1 season.
“Now, there is no (Indian) team, no drivers (in F1). It’s in a bit of a lull. The sport itself, the traction has been poor. Even though motor racing is exciting, we have never seen a rise in popularity. The graph has always been flat. Of course, there were some peaks, when F1 came to India and so on and we thought it would do a lot at the grass-root level in India. It’s still the same, it hasn’t improved much,” he said.
Karthikeyan believes the focus needs to shift to “affordable karting” for India to make an impact on the sport.
“We need to create a product like a local product, say karting to start off with. To import these karts and to run them throughout the year, it needs Rs 25-30 lakhs to be competitive.
“Karting has come a long way. We didn’t have any kart circuits when I started off. There is a little bit of infrastructure for the youngsters. But having said that it is still very expensive in India. Have sponsors come in and done their bit? I don’t see much happening on that front. The focus needs to be affordable karting. That’s what will push more drivers up the ladder. If not, you will see one or two (Jehan) Daruvalas coming up but not an entire bunch pushing through together.”
Karthikeyan himself has ridden the highs and lows of his career, moving from F1 to Le Mans to NASCAR, and is now racing in the Japanese Super GT 500 Championships, along with the likes of 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button.
“I have been racing there for the past four years and my contract got extended for this year. I am really lucky to be driving in Japan, it’s not an easy place to drive. Racing is something I am still good at and I’ll keep doing it as long as there are opportunities,” he added.
Honour for Raghul
India’s top performers in motorsports were felicitated during the 2018 FMSCI Annual Awards function, with Chennai’s Raghul Rangasamy winning the ‘Upcoming Motorsports Person Of The Year’ award.
The 25-year-old had a spectacular year, completing a fine double by claiming the LGB Formula 4 title in the JK Tyre FMSCI National Racing Championship and the FF 1600 category in the MRF MMSC FMSCI Indian National Racing Championship.