The Madras Motor Race Track will vroom with life from July 12 to 14 when the Petronas Asia championship will be held. Though top Indian racers are to participate, one wonders how well-equipped they are to compete with their international counterpart

When India’s Rajini Krishnan was crowned the overall 600cc champion in the Losail Asian road racing series held in Qatar last month, few noticed his admirable feat; there was hardly any space devoted by the media to the 32-year-old’s achievement. Not that Rajini was dejected. He had long known that two-wheelers have always been given short shrift by many stakeholders in the sport.

Now, when the third round of the Petronas Asia road racing championship makes its fourth visit to the country (Chennai) at the Madras Motor Race Track from July 12 to 14 after a two-year gap, you’d imagine Rajini to be one of the favourites at the Asian event in the 600cc category, but that’s not so. “In Qatar, in the 600cc category, all the participants were given the same Yamaha 2005 bike model, whereas here the 2008 Yamaha is the model that Indians will ride, while top international riders will be astride the latest 2013 models. That makes a huge difference,” explains Rajini.

Old models

Some of the top Indian riders have been facing this problem for quite a while. Though it would be unfair to blame manufacturers in the country for not supporting the Indians with the latest of bikes (600cc) during International events because they believe it’s not commercially feasible, drivers are right when they say that riding old models while their foreign counterparts race on the latest ones proves to be a great disadvantage for them.

Vicky Chandhok, president, Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, feels that with Bajaj, Mahindra and Hero (of Hero Honda) entering the two-wheeler market, the sport will see exciting times. The 54-year-old is of the view that the day is not far off when a rider riding for a particular manufacturer will be treated as an employee. “As far as two-wheeler markets go, India is second only to China. There is a market here that’s waiting to be explored. I wish with events such as the Petronas Asia championship riders can survive by taking part in championships alone,” he says. “There are several drivers who can ride the 600cc SuperSports category, but we need manufacturers to provide them with machines,” he adds.

Started in 1996, the Petronas Asia road racing championship has been in the forefront of bringing Asian motorcycle champions together on the same stage. As the event grew bigger, the 600cc SuperSports category (similar to its class in the World SuperBike championship) has become the showpiece race with the best Asian racers taking part in it.

The top GP riders, Chris Vermeulen, Ratthapak Wilairoj and Doni Tata Pradita, have at one stage or the other taken part in the Petronas Asia championship. Can the Indian drivers ever reach the level where they can match their Asian counterparts? “Yes”, says Rajini, “provided we are trained regularly abroad and take part in more events around the globe.”

R. Deepak, who finished second to Rajini in the Losail series in Qatar, echoes the same view. “I am riding a 2007 model bike for this championship, whereas the top bikers from Malaysia and Indonesia are riding the latest model. They are improving day by day. They train almost everyday. In a year, the top riders take part in 25-30 races, while we participate in only 4-5 races. We lag behind in all aspects. We need to train and compete abroad.”

Deepak rues the lack of support from Indian manufacturers. Concurs Rajini: “Racers from Malaysia and Indonesia ride the best bikes with support from manufacturers such as Yamaha and Honda. If we get the same support from Indian manufacturers — Yamaha and Honda — it would be great.”

If the Indian manufacturers could somehow find the finances to support the 600cc (and other categories) riders in major competitions in India and abroad, the day would be not far off when India would have a homegrown champion we could brag about.