“You can fry an egg on the track. It’s around 60 degrees,” jokes one of the officials at the Madras Motor Race Track, Irungattukottai. We stand in the shadow of the control tower, beads of sweat rolling down our backs, faces and noses, while occasional gusts of hot air caress us. But the whirring of engines, screeching of tyres on the track and the smell of burnt rubber is like an antidote to the heat for the motor sports enthusiasts.
The race track, inaugurated in 1989, has seen races being conducted since 1990. “That was the All India Motor Race Meet,” says Vicky Chandhok, former racer and now vice president, Madras Motor Sports Club and trustee, Madras Motor Race Track. “The track is owned by 64-year-old Madras Motor Sports Club and was originally built as a circuit for the club members,” he adds. This track is used 310 days a year, not just for races but also motor-related events and test drives.
“Royal Enfield uses this space to test their bikes,” adds Chandhok. The 3.76-km track has played host to events such as Touring Car Championship, Formula Asia, Formula India and biking events such as Asian Road Racing Championship. It also gets its fair share of celebrities. Earlier this year, Sachin Tendulkar drove a two-seater formula car, when he was here for the MRF Challenge Formula 2000. Lewis Hamilton flew here in a helicopter seven years ago for a Vodafone event. And in the early 90s, Shah Rukh Khan spent quite some time here shooting for Baazigar .
The stands can accommodate 6,000 viewers. “We also build make-shift stands. But because there are so many events, the spectators are split,” adds Chandhok. On race days, entry is free for all. Schools and colleges bring students in groups and they enjoy watching the races, single-seater formula race cars and saloon cars. It’s a constant battle between the shutter speed of the cameras and the cars, as the latter whoosh past at lightning speed. No wonder a lot of the spectators video-record much of the proceedings.
The Madras Motor Sports Club is spread across 200 acres.
It’s currently getting a new pit and a few renovations are underway. “This year, we’ve spent ₹7.8 crore on the west side paddock, resurfacing and the new drag strip. We are spending on additional infrastructure development and another ₹13 crore on the main paddock, which should be ready by the end of July,” says Chandhok.
One of the foremost racing circuits in the country, this is where many racers such as Karun Chandhok, Narain Karthikeyan, Aditya Patel, Armaan Ebrahim and Alisha Abdullah began their career. Upcoming ones too practise here every day.
The need for speed is something that only a few are unmoved by. “Don’t race on roads; drive on tracks —that’s the message we want to give people and that’s why we have track days where persons interested can book for three hours and race along the tracks. It’s ₹1,200 for motor bikes and ₹3,600 for cars,” says Prabha Shankar, committee member, MMSC.
“We declare track days once or twice a month. There were 80 cars and 200 bikes the last time,” he says. The next one is scheduled to take place on April 22. Since these announcements are made via their social network pages, eager drivers keep an eye out for them and even drive down from Bengaluru, Mumbai, Coimbatore and Delhi to participate. While there are the Lamborghinis and Mustangs that zoom across the serpentine tracks, cars such as Maruti Esteems, Volkswagen Polos and Skoda Lauras do too, although they are rather unusual for this setting. It’s also a great place for spotting fancy bikes from Yamaha, Suzuki and Benelli among others. “Safety precautions are an important prerequisite. Bikers have to wear approved helmets, single piece riding leathers, boots and gloves. For car drivers we insist on helmets, seat belts and make sure their tyres have good tread,” says Shankar.
(For those keen on giving racing a try, visit the Facebook page of Madras Motor Sports Club)