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Kari's vision

`We can rub shoulders with the best in the world ... ,' the late S. Karivardhan once said about circuit car racing. RAHUL CHANDAWARKAR on how his words are proving prophetic.


WITH India's first ever Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan managing to draw crowds away from cricket on Formula One racing Sundays, the words of the late S. Karivardhan, arguably India's foremost exponent of circuit car racing are proving prophetic.

In an interview with this writer on June 19, 1994, during the 33rd All India Motor Race meet at the Sriperumbudur race track near Chennai, Kari (as Karivardhan was popularly known as), then 34 years old, had predicted, "We, Indians can rub shoulders with the best in the world provided there is adequate corporate sponsorship and increased global opportunities."

And sure enough, much of Karthikeyan's success today is primarily because of sustained support from his corporate sponsors, Bharat Petroleum and Tata Motors, which has enabled him to race internationally.

S.Karivardhan - a pioneer in his short lifetime.

In fact, when the Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) was trying to link up with the Asia-Pacific Formula Three circuit in 1994, Kari had observed, "We are on step two on a scale of 10 in circuit motor car racing today. The Sriperumbudur race track is the beginning. We will need to import Formula Three cars into India and corporate sponsors can make that happen."

He had vision

A man with vision, Kari, even in 1994, was looking far into the future. He was very keen that younger Indians (Karthikeyan must have been a teenager then) took to the sport. He knew this was not an easy task. "Today, we have only two types of drivers at Sriperumbudur. The top drivers and the absolute newcomers. Motor sports is an expensive sport. Consider just tyres for instance. On an average, one needs four tyres for every 15-lap race. Tell me, how many youngsters can afford this expense?" he had said.

Kari wanted corporates to adopt the Novice class. "We necessarily have to promote the Novice class and make it affordable. For this, we need substantial sponsorship, where cars, tyres and mechanical support come easily for newcomers. Only then will track racing take off," Kari had said.

Kari became a legend in his short lifetime, which ended tragically in an air crash in Coimbatore in 1995. By then, he had set high standards for the likes of Karthikeyan to follow. By a coincidence, Kari is distantly related to Karthikeyan.

Kari won his very first circuit car race, driving a modified Fiat in 1974 on the Sholavaram race track in Chennai. There were few who could hold a candle to the man in Indian circuit car racing. He drove imported Saloons, a Formula Atlantic and even a Formula Monoposto, which he designed in his workshop in Coimbatore.

Kari, a mechanical engineer with a specialisation in machine design, was the managing director of the Coimbatore based textile major, Lakshmi Mills. Kari was not only an ace driver, but also a car constructor par excellence.

When the speedy Suzuki 800s (Marutis) hit the Indian market, Kari was the first to modify them into formula racing cars and dubbed them as Formula Marutis. No wonder then, as many as 26 Formula Marutis designed by him, raced in the 1994 national championships in Sriperumbudur.

That year, Kari, driving a Formula Monoposto 1,600 cc car, finished second to Belgian Flory Roothaert who drove a superior car fitted with a Renault Godinho engine. Analysing his defeat to Flory, Kari had observed, "Flory has a very powerful engine this year. The difference between our engines is about 30 horsepower. It is difficult to beat him with a handicap like that." But the competitor in him said, "I will be coming back next year with a new chassis and a new engine."

Kari's Chennai based buddy, Vicky Chandok, whose son, Karun, is following in Karthikeyan's footsteps says, "Kari was an enigma. He was a visionary in Indian formula car racing. He just wanted to build cars and race them. The 1989, 1,000 cc car, that he built in Coimbatore still forms the backbone of Indian motor car racing."

However, life was not just motor sports for Kari. Ever the family man, he had spoken to this writer on the Sriperumbudur race track, with his son Arjun seated on his lap, watching his wife Vijayshree race a Formula Maruti car built by him.

Former national motor racing champion, Chennai based Akbar Ebrahim, a Karivardhan protégé says, "I owe my success to Kari. He worked very hard with me. He taught me discipline and commitment. Basically, the importance of being consistent from the first lap to the last. Ever the perfectionist, Kari permitted just 1/100th of a second difference between any two laps. He would make me repeat all the laps otherwise."

Akbar agrees that if Kari were alive, his relationship with Karthikeyan, could have been identical to the one shared by Gavaskar and Tendulkar today.

* * *

On R&D ...

"THE companies whose cars are being raced monitor performance in a very scientific manner. The respective `pit' areas (the area where the engineers and mechanics are stationed) have the electronic infrastructure to measure elements like speed of the car, the driver's reactions to particular speeds, tyre pressure, engine performance etc. This information is fed to the pits as the car goes by. The engineers monitor and analyse this critical information and relay it to the research and development (R & D) headquarters of car companies like BMW, Nissan and Toyota immediately." - R.C.

* * *

... and sponsorship

"TYRE manufacturers are obviously very active because their products are being used extensively. In fact, there exists an intense rivalry between them. Then there are the lubricant companies which sponsor motor sports internationally. In India, they have spent a lot of money on national rallies and track racing at the Sriperumbudur race track.

The intense advertising wars that exist between motor sport sponsors will only increase with the arrival of more international companies in India." - R.C.

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