METRO PLUS

A real team man

Anthony Rodricks talks about the MRF India Rally, to be held in Pune in December, and the company's involvement in motor sport

TWENTY-FIVE years of involvement in the business of Indian motor sport has provided Anthony Rodricks with a deep understanding of its operation.

It is 23 years now since he joined MRF, the Indian tyre giant, which has always supported the sport in a big way.

At present general manager (Advertising) and manager of the Team MRF Tyres, which has been competing successfully in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) for cars the last two seasons, Rodricks' eyes light up at the mention of the MRF India Rally, scheduled to be held in Pune from December 5 to 7.

It is the concluding leg of the APRC 2003 and the first of its stature to be held in the country. MRF sponsored an Asia Zone leg in Coimbatore a couple of years ago and an APRC Candidate event in Bangalore last year.

Rodricks believes that the Pune round will increase the popularity of the sport in the country. "All the top drivers from the two regions, including Malaysia's Karamjit Singh and Japan's Fumio Nutahara, will be participating. It also means that the top street cars manufactured in the two regions, like the Mitsubishi Evos, Subaru, Proton Pert and the Suzuki, will be seen in action.

"The Himalayan Rally of the old was a true awakening before politics in the Federation put an end to that classic event. The Motorsports Association of India (MAI) President, Nazir Hoosein, is working towards bringing a round of the World Rally Championship to India in a few years' time," says the Goan.

While rallying can never compete with circuit racing in terms of popularity, it, nevertheless, has a selective audience — the macho, aggressive kind — and the sport is, no doubt, catching up in India. "The charm of rallying is in its unpredictability. You don't know what is round the corner. The driver relies on the navigator's pace notes," he says. Rodricks feels that one of the main reasons why rallying is slow to take wing in India is because the focus of car manufacturers here is on fuel efficiency and not speed. "This is probably why the Indian drivers, V.R. Naren Kumar and Arjun Balu, found it difficult to adjust to the turbo-charged Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7 during the last season's APRC. But then, I'm confident that car manufacturers traditionally involved in rallying (world-wide) will eventually support the sport in India."

About MRF's involvement in motor sport, he says, "as a company policy we are only into areas in which we develop tyres at a competitive level — rallying, go-karting and motocross. We have also developed tyres for F-3, but at present there is no serious championship in India."

While Team MRF participates in the MAI-Indian National Rally Championship, the company sponsors the Formule Mondiale Karting Championship and the National Motocross Championship.

He says while motor sport is a platform to launch the company's street tyres in the global market, each APRC round leads to improvement of the rally tyres as new moulds are made and different compounds introduced. "All this is possible only because of the interest displayed by the company's top management. It does feel good to be the first Indian tyre company to test its product in the international sporting arena."

SANJAY RAJAN

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