Despite this, there is a glaring lack of homegrown motorsports talent on the world stage. One of India’s only F1 ‘stars’ was Narain Karthikeyan, whose stint in F1 was both short-lived and largely unsuccessful despite the flashes of brilliance the driver showed.
Indian racing talent Karun Chandhok also had a short Formula One career, but he did not see much success either. The driver has done well at endurance racing, however, and is currently an F1 pundit.
But silently, and not often publicised, India’s motorsports talent has been nurtured, reaching the Formula BMW Championships without anyone noticing.
Chittesh Mandody of Kolhapur, Maharashtra, has been karting since he was 8 years old. He’s currently largely involved in karting within the country, but he has raced and won awards internationally.
Representing team Dark Don Racing, Mandody was placed 3rd in Formula BMW Championship in 2013, the final year the competition was held. The championships, instituted by BMW Motorsport in 2001, were targeted at young karters looking to make a foothold into Formula 1.
There are a staggering 5 winners of the BMW Championships on the current F1 grid. The standout? Four-time World Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel. The successful Nico Rosberg is one of them, as is Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Among the more recent winners, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr of Sauber have both won the championships in the past, while American Alexander Rossi has a part-time seat at Manor F1 racing concurrently to his GP2 career.
Mandody also finished 2nd in the Karting Rotax Championship in 2014.
But leave his idol alone, he knows what he’s doing! The driver is in awe of and idolises F1’s most enigmatic driver, the Iceman – Kimi Raikkonen. He admires the mercurial Finn’s flat-out racing and cool demeanour, and hopes to emulate his success.
Sportskeeda spoke to Mandody in an interview. Excerpts:
How did your interest in motorsport begin?
I have always fancied cars and my dad owned a garage hence my love for cars and driving increased all the more. Eventually one day I made up my mind to take a lap in the kart, this fuelled my interest and was the beginning of my motorsport career. I started karting when I was 8 years old and since then I have come a long way. The track in Kolhapur was where I used to regularly practise and that where I first heard about the JK Tyre Championships. Since then there has been no looking back.
How and when did you decide to begin honing and pursuing your skills?
I have always loved karting but the idea of taking this sport seriously dawned upon me when I was doing well in the championships. Around 2002-2003, I started to take up karting more seriously as by then I had done pretty well in the competitions I had participated in. This motivated me to go beyond my limits and I made up my mind to get the right guidance which would help me hone my skills.
What were some of the major issues you faced?
One of the most major problems every karter/driver faces when he is building his career in motorsport is money. For me too, finance was a big problem. It’s quite an expensive sport and we were always running short of money...however, I had immense support from my dad and from JKTyre, who supported me and helped me reach the level where I am now.
Yes, I have faced quite a lot of issues. There have been occasions when friends and family members have demotivated me, telling me motorsports was a futile pursuit, but I haven’t let that affect me.
No path to success is ever easy, and taking this as motivation I have always believed in myself and put in my best efforts to perform good while I am on track.
What support have you found, whether within your family or organisations in India?
My family, specifically my dad, has been my biggest support system. He has been there for me throughout and for this I will always be grateful to him. JK Tyre and Mohite’s Racing have also played a very crucial role and given me all the support that I have ever needed.
What is your aim for the near future in Motorsport?
To be a successful racer at an international level is where I hope to see myself in the coming few years. I am, and will continue to work hard towards this.
What do you think of India's motorsports facilities?
As mentioned earlier, sponsorship is probably one of the biggest problem any individual who is keen to get into motorsport faces hence sponsorship from companies would definitely help in raising the bar and encourage more such enthusiastic individuals to get into motorsports. When it comes to providing facilities I believe JK Tyre has contributed immensely to motorsports, in terms of motorsport infrastructure and providing sponsorship to budding racers.
Do you think India's doing enough for motorsports, and why do you think there are not many F1 drivers in India?
I believe India is on its way to reach the level of International standards in motorsports. With the recent move of government recognizing motorsports as officially a sport it definitely gives a boost. However there is still a long way to go but I am hopeful that things will definitely improve.
When it comes to not having many Indian F1 drivers I think it all comes down to sponsorship because currently there is good enough infrastructure and the country does have a lot of motorsport enthusiasts, but money is always the hindrance.
Who are your motorsport idols, and why?
Internationally, Kimi Raikkonen for the way he is. His amazing racing talent and his unflappable attitude are qualities I admire.
Domestically, Ameya Walwalkar is someone I have always looked up to because he is someone who always puts in his best efforts in every race. Hard work is the key to success and Ameya has reaffirmed my belief in that.
That ideal is something I hope to emulate as I work to further my racing career.