Motorsport

Racers Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel want to make motorsports accessible to all

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Blazing a new trail: With their X1 Racing League, racers Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel want to make motorsports accessible to a mass audience

Since the inception of Indian Premier League in 2008, when cricket let in bucket loads of entertainment to go with the on-field action, broadcasters and governing agencies of various sports have tested their luck with the league format to varying degrees of success. We have since seen a league for football, hockey, badminton and kabaddi dominate prime time space on television.

It is one of the reasons that pushed Chennai-based Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel to conceptualise a franchise ownership model-based league for motorsports, the first of its kind in India.

Racers Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel want to make motorsports accessible to all

 

And yes, you are perhaps not the only person to think — “why motorsports?” A niche sport with a more exclusive following and participation, at least as far as India is concerned, Armaan and Aditya, both racing professionals, admit that in the over 15 years spent racing the circuits, they have only come across the “same set of people” — the ones whose families have a history with motorsports.

Yet, the duo says, of the six franchisees who bought into their brainchild, X1 Racing League, which concluded its first season last Sunday at the Madras Motor Race Track in Irungattukottai, five had no background in motorsports. “Except for Narain Karthikeyan,” says Aditya, of the biggest name in Indian racing, who owns the league’s Chennai team, NK Racing.

Breaking new ground

It is this notion of motorsports being non-accessible for the masses that the co-founders of X1 Racing are trying to break.

A league format with city-specific franchisees makes it easier to attract followers because, as Aditya adds, “there is a city affinity” that is absent in manufacturer-based race events (similar to the leverage Formula One team Force India was able to extract out of the casual viewer though the team had little to do with the country).

Racers Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel want to make motorsports accessible to all

The teams in X1 Racing were a mix of Indian and international drivers, including female racers, and the league also had its own quirky rule interpretations — like driver changes, which is very uncommon in races involving open-wheel cars. “You had men against women, men teaming up with women, Indians versus international drivers,” says Armaan, while Aditya adds, “Change of drivers added an element of surprise, and for the audience to see this action happening in front of them, it was exciting.”

The league was not without its issues. From criticism over the use of older cars, to those automobiles breaking down on the track multiple times and causing racers to drop out, X1 Racing nearly imploded unto itself right off the mark.

Gaurav Gill, the rally champion, who raced for the Delhi team, describes it as a “chicken-and-egg situation.”

“It is where you need the money first to make a good league, but the sponsors need to see a good product first before investing. I think there was a fallout with a race car manufacturer at the last moment. So, they had to resort to other options they could find. It was bad luck… something they could not foresee,” says Gaurav.

While Armaan defers saying that it is not standard practice to build a new race car every year, Aditya adds that keeping costs down to a minimum was a big factor in opting for an older car. “Also, a lot of the youngsters were not able to handle the more advanced cars. They would have gotten completely overshadowed by the international drivers. We wanted to bring a level playing field where the young racers would have been able to showcase the talents,” he says.

When it returns next year, X1 Racing will, in all certainty, have a different set of cars. “You learn and you move forward, right? A change in car will eradicate most of the issues we faced this season,” says Armaan.

Since it looks like the duo is in it for the long run, what about expansion plans? India only has three FIA-grade race tracks (the Buddh International Circuit in Delhi, MMRT in Irungattukottai and Kari Speedway in Coimbatore).

Need for speed Spectators watch racers gear up for the race at MMRT, Irungattukottai (bottom) Aditya Patel and Armaan Ebrahim

Need for speed Spectators watch racers gear up for the race at MMRT, Irungattukottai (bottom) Aditya Patel and Armaan Ebrahim  

Last year, the Government of Andhra Pradesh announced that a new FIA-grade race track will come up in Ananthapuramu district. “There are ongoing talks for newer tracks in Maharashtra and Karnataka,” says Aditya.

In fact, Armaan adds, that there were discussions to open up a street circuit in Navi Mumbai area, but cost became the villain, again. “It is ridiculously expensive, and India is too young in motorsports. For now, X1 gives the owners a chance to dip their fingers in at a low cost. It is the cheapest league that someone can buy into (₹2.5 crore per year). They are only paying for operational costs. Once we start to expand, maybe, we can incorporate street circuits,” says Armaan.

For now, the duo hopes to build interest in the league by holding eSport events in several Indian cities, which will offer a simulated experience of real time racing. The duo believes that interest in eSport can translate into passion for motorsports, and, when it does, they are there to to lend a helping hand for ambitious talents to make the step up to domestic circuits from the virtual world.

And with people like Narain Karthikeyan and Gaurav Gill throwing their weight behind X1 racing, the possibilities are huge.

(With inputs from  Praveen Sudevan)

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 8:31:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/motorsport/chennai-racers-start-x1-racing-a-franchise-based-motorsport-league/article30285963.ece

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