The motorcycle diaries: India set for grand journey
Indian fans — die-hards and casuals — will get their first taste of premier two-wheeler race up close during MotoGP Bharat in Greater Noida this weekend.
CHENNAI: Riders blending together with their motorcycles to attain hair-raising speed, making precise turns and pulling off big saves, preventing falls! These are some of the things that are common at a MotoGP race. These daredevils have captured the imaginations of many viewers, keeping them hooked from start to finish.
The fact that the premier competition has been on since 1949 is a testament to that.
Indian fans — die-hards and casuals — will get their first taste of the race up close. It's not that India is completely devoid of racing culture.
The country does conduct races throughout the year but MotoGP is considered the Holy Grail of two-wheeler racing. The storied competition is where legends are made. Valentino Rossi, Mick Doohan, Marc Marquez, Giacomo Agostini are just some of the riders who are part of the sporting folklore.
Given its rich tradition, the excitement is palpable ahead of the Grand Prix of India which is set to be held this weekend at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida. This was confirmed just last year but this ambitious project had taken years of planning.
"We didn't have anything to do during COVID. Us promoters, we were wondering, 'hey what do we do?' and we said, 'let's try this' and everything came together and early last year, we started the final planning towards MotoGP in India. That's what it is. It's taken at least three years of thought and one year of actual planning towards this event," Amit Sandill, founder and director of racing at FairStreet Sports, promoters of MotoGP Bharat, told this daily.
Given that it is an elite competition, the stakes are high for everyone involved. Amit and the rest of the organisers have been leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the event is a smooth one. Given that the track was originally meant for Formula One, the organisers, with the guidance of world governing bodies of both MotoGP and F1, have had to make certain modifications on the track.
"The track is 99 per cent ready. The final painting and cleaning is going on. It's a continuous process to clean the track. It's almost like a big construction site, where we had to change the verges, put in more concrete where we had to, reduce the asphalt and put in more gravel. It's almost done, it's been real hard work," Amit said. Amit spoke to this daily last Friday.
"We can't do anything without concurrence from FIM and FIA. We're fully in agreement and under their homologation specifications that we modify the track." Homologation is the process of meeting a certain standard, approved by the governing body, to conduct a race.
The safety of the riders is the primary objective for all the parties involved in organising the Grand Prix. "The norms are really tight. They look a lot at riders' safety. The track is now going to be both F1 homologated as well as MotoGP homologated. It is mainly about riders' safety and that's the focus of everybody."
The organizers certainly do have a ginormous challenge in store. More than the actual race, how they handle the logistics of this event is going to be extremely crucial. As of late Tuesday, some of the participants, including eight-time world champ Marquez, were facing some visa concerns.
"Flight delayed due to lack of visa for #IndiaGP," Marquez posted on social media on Tuesday. A few international journalists were also facing a similar issue. Although the bikes and equipment have already arrived, this is a big concern. Later, the organizers issued a statement on the matter.
"We regret the unforeseen delays in the visa issuance process. Please understand that this is not a reflection on our dedication and hard work. It's an unforeseen technical glitch that's part and parcel of the challenges faced during inaugural events like this. We're happy to announce that most of the visas have already been processed, with many more on the horizon. Our teams are tirelessly working around the clock to ensure that every participant, from riders to technical officials, receives their visa promptly."
The long-term dream of the organisers from the country is to give a push to racing culture and eventually have an Indian rider in the future.
"If you look at it, India is the largest manufacturer of two-wheelers in the world (in terms of volume). To us and most of the people around us, I think it is a natural fit. The difference is 'today if I'm riding a Honda on the street, it may be a 150cc or 250cc bike. But If a Honda wins on the track, I feel great about it because I'm riding the same bike'."
Formula One created a huge buzz when it was hosted in the same venue. But it was eventually scrapped due to tax disputes between the FIA and the UP government. Amit felt MotoGP has an advantage over F1.
"It's (MotoGP) different from F1, you have to be driving an Aston Martin or Mercedes for you to identify with the brand. That's the advantage here. Our vision is to keep motorsport in the country at a high level and to develop and make opportunities for Indian children. In any sport, you start as a child. It's very difficult to start when you're a teenager. You have to probably start when you're seven, eight years old. One of our visions is also to finally have an Indian rider in MotoGP in different categories."
The race might not just lift the sport but also boost the economy, as many firms will be joining hands with the organisers. With many fans, local and overseas, coming for the race, tourism is also bound to get a massive kick. "It actually generates jobs during the event itself. Directly or indirectly, around 5000 to 10,000 jobs are generated. It helps the economy," Amit noted.
Exciting battle at the top
The Bharat GP will be the 13th race of the season. With five victories and a points tally of 283, Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati Lenovo Team will arrive in India as the championship leader. But his position is under threat as Jorge Martin of Prima Pramac Racing is the man in form having dominated the last Grand Prix in Italy. Carlos Ezpeleta, Chief Sporting Officer of Dorna Sports, recently said that the track in India has the potential to rewrite speed records. The battle between the two and the rest of the field promises to be a fascinating one.
Though the riders are yet to test out the track, the likes of Bagnaia and Martin would have already gotten a fair idea of the track. Former champion rider Loris Capirossi gave a thumbs-up after riding on the track. "The riders and the teams along with the organization itself have been in touch with us for certain scat diagrams for the simulation that they do. They look at drone videos for help. But there's nothing like actually coming and riding at the track because these are only guidance. He (Capirossi) had ridden yesterday (Thursday) and he said the track is good and it does a lot for the riders' confidence and that's important," Amit said.
The other notable talking point will be the future of Marquez, a legend who has found the going hard in recent times. His future with Repsol Honda Team is in doubt and he's likely to announce his decision either this weekend or the next race in Japan.
With so many narratives connected with it, this MotoGP Bharat is more than just a race. It is bound to highlight India's aptitude in conducting high-level events and find out how serious the country is in hosting a motorsport event, a sport that is down the pecking order in the country.
Records could be broken, emotions are bound to be high. The race could also potentially give Indians the license to dream and be part of it in the future.