Racing enthusiast and team principal of M&N Racing Jose Pottamkulam says that his team is all set to blaze the track at the support races for the Indian Grand Prix this weekend
As the country gears up for the Formula One Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Noida this weekend, city-based racing enthusiast Jose Pottamkulam, popularly known as Ootta, is in full throttle. After all, he’s got a race to win. For the second time running, Jose, who is the team principal of M&N Racing, perhaps the only Malayali-owned racing team in the country, is fielding four cars at one of the Formula One support races. Held during each Formula One weekend, support races are an opportunity to showcase motorsport talent of the host country to an international audience. This year, Jose’s car quartet will be competing in the MRF Championship 2012, which kicks off on Friday (October 26) at the circuit. It’s a 10-leg race, the first round of which (comprising two races) will be held as support races for the grand prix (GP). Like last year, this year too there will be 18 cars on the grid from nine teams from across India.
“I’m more excited about this year’s race than I was about last year’s one. Last year it was the inaugural edition of the GP in India and everyone, including myself, was learning the ropes. This year, we are more or less seasoned hands. Moreover, everything from the cars and the drivers to the competition has been amped up by several gears,” says Jose, who’s been in Noida since Wednesday. “Each brand new MRF Formula 2000 car, which replaces the Formula 1600 car of the earlier seasons, is a stunner powered by a 2000 cc, 16-valve, four cylinder type F4R 832 Renault engine built on a top-of-the-range aerodynamic chassis from Dellara and with tyres by MRF. It can hit top speed of 240 kph with its 210 BHP engine running full throttle…” gushes Jose. What…? “(Laughs) The cars are very very powerful – nowhere close to the power of a Formula One car, but close enough,” he explains.
If last time M&N (which stands for Mika and Nikki, Jose’s kids) was able to pull off a ‘driver coup’ at the support races, with National Rally Champion Gaurav Gill and rally star Arjun Balu racing for the team, they’ve done it again this year by signing on young British racer Akshay Luciano Bacheta. The 22-year-old of Italian and Indian descent is currently hot property on the international racing circuit and is the reigning FIA Formula Two champion. Luciano (as he is popularly known) also recently got the rare opportunity to test drive a Williams Formula One car – a test of skill, in itself. “I got to know Luciano through my contacts in the racing circuit and we bonded through Facebook,” says Jose.
His other three drivers are no less impressive. He’s got promising young British racers Tom Gladdis and Matt Mason, who’ve been making a name for themselves in Formula Two and Formula Renault, respectively, and also young Parth Ghorpadhe from Kolhapur, Maharastra, who’s presently having a great run in the Formula Pilota series. “I’m thrilled by M&N’s driver line-up for this season and I’m hoping for a podium finish this time around,” says Jose, referring to Gaurav Gill sixth place finish in the Formula One support races last year.
So, now that he’s an ‘old hand’ at motorsport, was it less challenging to get sponsors? “It was very tough, actually. Motorsport is getting more and more popular but unfortunately there are still very few sponsors willing to shell out the tens of lakhs it takes to put a car on the grid. It helps when drivers like Luciano have individual sponsors who contribute a fair deal to the expenses,” says Jose.
Then the U.S.$ 1,20,000 prize money up for grabs for the championship may perhaps sweeten the deal… “It’s not about the money at all, at least for me. Yes, it is extremely expensive to field race cars and a nightmare to find sponsors. I’m in it for the adrenalin rush that you get when you see a car zipping by at 200-plus km per hour or when you ears reverberate with the boom of the engine…That’s what drives me to win,” says Jose, who recently started www.raceping.com, a social networking site solely for racing enthusiasts. Those who sign up to the website will get live updates of the events in the pit. Today afternoon, along with his drivers and pit crew, Jose will be ‘walking the track’, an F1 tradition where each team member walks the length of the circuit (Buddh circuit is 5.125 km-long) to get a “feel” of it. Well then, get set, go!