Gaining acceptance has been an uphill climb for motorsport in India but the overarching initiatives by the newly formed X1 Racing League may just bear fruit.
Motorsport has long struggled to pique the interest of the masses in India. It is seen as a rich man’s sport, something that is the exclusive domain of society’s elite.
This perception seems to be shared by the government too, with barely any provisions for nurturing motorsport talent in the country. Even the short-lived Indian Grand Prix got entangled in a political spiderweb after just four events and is now relegated to the history books.
Out of reach
Part of the reason behind this is also the accessibility, or lack thereof, when it comes to motorsport as compared to cricket and football, which can be played in any empty gully or field.
Hoping to change that is the newly formed X1 Racing League, a motorsport championship founded by Aditya Patel and Armaan Ebrahim, both men racers themselves.
— X1 Racing League (@x1rofficial) June 30, 2019
Embracing a franchise model — something that has proven quite successful in everything from cricket to table tennis — the series aims to create a motorsport ecosystem in the country. This means that apart from the main motorsport series, there’s an eSports extension, as well as a ‘Speed Summit’ where media and fans can get a taste of the motorsport lifestyle.
An overall approach
“It’s not just about racing, but about the audience as well,” Patel told Overdrive during the inaugural Speed Summit, where music gigs and food trucks dotted the scene as much as motorsport gear.
The eSports leg kicked off earlier this month, on 10th October, in Mumbai’s Palladium Mall and it will aim to source talent in the same way Sony Playstation’s GT Academy provided an alternate route to motorsport for drivers with hidden talent that would’ve otherwise never gotten a shot at a real racing career.
California’s Bryan Heitkotter for example, found himself driving for the official Nissan GT-R team after winning the GT Academy in 2011, and X1 eSports aims to achieve the same in India, with an opportunity to train with X1 Racing drivers and compete in the following season, as well as a prize pot of 1.5 crore to look forward to.
The real deal
Two weeks after the eSport leg comes to an end on 17th November, the headline series will commence its opening round between 30th November – 1st December.
There will be three 30-minute races per day and six teams will field two cars each on the grid, and four drivers, including one international male, one female, one Indian international racer, and one Indian domestic racer. This is to encourage women to step up and participate in what is still perceived largely as a man’s domain, as well as promote domestic Indian talent to gain a foothold in a series that hopes to gain international interest eventually.
— X1 Racing League (@x1rofficial) October 24, 2019
Chariots of the competition
The cars will be two-seater sports cars that, we must say, bear a striking resemblance to the UK-based Radical track day machines. Assembled by the Coimbatore-based JA Motorsports, who also build cars for the MRF Challenge, the 1,400-cc engines powering the cars will put out 170 horsepower and attain top speeds of around 240 kmph.
Just for comparison, a fully trimmed-out F1 car is capable of over 370 kmph.
Names of fame
Some of the drivers include ex-F1 drivers Vitantonio Luizzi, Alex Yoong, along with Mathias Lauda and Freddie Hunt — sons of famed F1 rivals Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
X1 Racing have also roped in equally prominent team owners, with Narain Karthikeyan, the first Indian to race in F1, and Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Saeed Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the Crown prince of Abu Dhabi, heading the Chennai and Delhi teams respectively. Entrepreneurs and businessmen make up the rest, with Pen Studios promoter Dhaval Gada owning the Ahmedabad team, Ameet Ghadoke, of the Ghadoke Group in charge of the Mumbai, and industrialist Akhilesh Reddy in charge of the Hyderabad squad.
With the schedule still yet to be fully mapped out and television and OTT broadcasting partners yet to be finalised, we can’t tell you where you’ll get to watch the new series yet. But with sponsors like JK Tyres Motorsport, OnePlus, and Sony Playstation behind them, we’re not putting ourselves out on too long of a limb by hazarding that Indian motorsport’s first real attempt at floating into the mainstream might just make it through the choppy waters.
Written by: Sandeep Banerjee