Driver, organiser & administrator look at Indian racing scene amid pandemic
How has the pandemic affected the Indian racing scene and the future course.
With COVID-19 pandemic bringing life to a standstill in general, the sport and entertainment business has its own share of suffering, as it based on having mass gathering. With fans and people, the meaning changes and that extra motivation is sometimes lost.
The trouble was worldwide and the Indian scene was no less hurt. Although, the fag end of 2020 saw some events take place, in a rather hurried manner, but many were missed too. For a country where motor racing is still niche, any miss is a large one, in a broader context.
The 2021 season has so far been a standstill due to the second wave. There is some hope of revival, but it more seems like the 2020 way of quick movements. Once again, it is only the limited number of championships, which can happen - as financial situation is quite low.
Here we have four different personalities from India, speaking on how they have lived through 2020 and are living through 2021 amid lack of opportunities on sporting side - the list contains viewpoint of driver, organiser and administrator:
Satyan Kochhar (SK) - Rally driver/Organiser:
FMSCI - Steward ; FIA - Certified Karting Race Director- Asia Training ; TATA T1 Truck Racing - Research Development & Coach ; Organiser - INRC & Autocross - Sport Route Trust
Sujith Kumar BS (Su K) -
Vice President, FIM Asia; Chairman, 2W Racing Commission, FMS CI
Mira Erda (ME) - Race car driver & coach
Phillippos Matthai (PM) - Rally Driver/Manger
MRF Tyres - 2004 to 2009 ; Mahindra Adventure Team Manager - 2012 to 2019 ; Mahindra Adventure test and standby driver - 2011 to 2019; 2019 Indian National Autocross Champion (open/unrestricted class).
Here's the four key questions:
Q1) How difficult has been this COVID-19 period, especially professionally, with lack of races?
SK: "Covid has been a very big scary truth in every human being's life and still is a question mark, with no events, no races. It's been a stop sign professionally, mentally and physically."
Su K: "This crisis has been incredibly difficult for everyone, and motorcycle racing has suffered in many ways. Within the FMSCI, we have ensured that we are right up to date with best practices for racing when Covid-19 is still around and taken time to update and sharpen the skills of our officials with online training courses coordinated by the FIM.
"For racers and teams, it’s been a period of immense frustration. Racers, of course, just want to race, so it’s been an especially frustrating time for them. We’ve been having frequent and open communications with teams and riders, to ensure that they always know the latest situation and to listen to their ideas."
ME: "Its been quite difficult. In normal times we have races, testings and events almost throughout the year. While in the COVID-19 period, everything has become very uncertain as almost all racing events have been either canceled or postponed.
"With the whole country into a state of lockdown and restricted traveling, we don't get to test the cars or get some on track practice as well. But luckily thanks to sim racing we have been able to keep up with it. And working out at home and preparing ourselves mentally is all we can do."
PM: "Its been a tough year and the second wave didn't help. I am just thankful that my near and dear ones are safe. The INRC and INAC championships haven't still resumed for 2021, so fingers crossed to when we can safely get back to racing."
Q2) What have you been doing to keep yourself prepared for unlock for races to compete and or organise them?
SK: "To keep my passion and hobby alive as a driver, the focus on exercising and training has not been compromised at all and as an organiser looking forward for a green signal from the concerned authorities, the ASN to kick start."
Su K: "Because of the training we’ve been undertaking, we ready to go. We’ve been encouraging track owners and promoters to make sure that safety requirements and facilities are in good order. The teams have been largely idle and we know that they’ve been using the time to make sure the bikes are well prepared for racing."
ME: "I have been working on my mental fitness and giving myself some alone time to mentally prepare and get into the mindset of staying motivated throughout this period and to keep pushing myself. Working out is also something that is keeping me going.
"Reading up books and driving on the sim helps too. In terms of organising races at my track locally we have been preparing everything that needs to be done and planning out everything under following all safety guidelines."
PM: "Staying calm, being mentally positive and keeping up with the fitness and diet regime is the best one can do during this time."
Q3) How difficult it is at this juncture to be ready financially? The pandemic has affected a lot of people around the world, how difficult it makes from sponsor point of view?
SK: "Surely this pandemic has shaken and hit everybody financially very hard. In the present scenario it's difficult to say, but I am positive that all the automobile manufactures and other product companies will be back out of the bubble as sponsors very soon."
Su K: "Our major sponsors are in good spirits. Although their businesses have been suffering, they can see that there’ll be a surge of pent up demand as soon as racing gets underway again."
ME: "As a racer it is on the bad side that there's a chance many brands and potential sponsors might back out during this time due to financial difficulties. Thus it also affects our plans of participating in the upcoming championship. We are trying our best to figure out ways to approach different sponsors to collect the total number for championships."
PM: "Well, motorsport is bread and butter for me. We've all taken a hit but I am sure this is a stop gap and life will get back to where we left off before the pandemic hit us."
Q4) Much like 2020, the 2021 season seems to be largely affected too, what changes do you see in Indian scene going forward?
SK: "Totally agree that even half of the year 2021 has also flown by with the fear effect of the pandemic, but it's slowly opening up. Our ASN, the national sporting authority, is already working on resumption by introducing new formats at grassroot level. New promoters and competitors friendly events with safety measures to keep the adrenaline going."
Su K: "This year has been terrible for India and we can’t be sure exactly when we can start racing again. The government’s vaccination programme is now rolling out well, which is key to us getting back on track. Before the pandemic, several projects were underway to prepare the best of the latest generation of Indian motorcycle racers for international competition. Those plans will be picked up as soon as competition restarts."
ME: "In terms of championships, for now most of them have been postponed by a few months. But it is likely that the racing season might begin in August - September. At least teams are prepared with everything and ready to race as soon as possible. Although similar to last year this time as well it's going to be a limited number of people on track and no viewers under the safety guidelines."
PM: "With safety protocols, it will defiantly change, a mask on everyone face seems inevitable. Having said that the promoters of the INRC and INAC are still gauging the situation and are yet to announce a final championship calendar."
[Image courtesy: MRF Racing, INRC India]