"If things go as per our plans, Team Champions will feature two cars in the WRC-2 class," says Vamcy Merla
In the good old days, the series featured the giants of Indian Motorsport, team MRF and team JK Tyre Motorsport who fought for the big national title for decades with some nail-biting finishes and thrilling finales.
The Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) was one of the most celebrated and followed motorsport series in the national calendar.
After the exit of the big names like MRF, JK and Red Rooster Racing from the INRC, the sport has lost its charm and the fan following has gradually declined over the years.
The only big name in the sport currently is the Mahindra Adventure rally team which has dominated the INRC since their debut with a strong driver line up consisting of triple APRC (Asia Pacific Rally Championship) champion Gaurav Gill and two-time national champion Amitrajjit Ghosh.
The rest of the field consists of smaller private teams and privateer's who are self-funded or with the help of small sponsors at times.
A sport like rallying is extremely expensive as it roughly costs about 15-20 lakhs for a competitor to compete in the national championship with minimal damages.
A new team, Team Champions has been an angel in disguise for many talented privateers. The team made its appearance in the opening round of the Championship at Chennai earlier this year and the number of drivers in the team doubled by the second round at Coimbatore.
We had an opportunity to speak with the Managing Director of the Champions Group and the owner of Team Champions Mr. Vamcy Merla who revealed his vision for the team, the reason for investing lakhs of rupees into rallying, their International programme and much more.
SK: What inspired you to sport a team in the INRC?
Vamcy Merla: I've been a competitive off-roader since 2011, I also did offroading way back in 2005, I loved doing the fast off-roading events than the technical ones.
I have seen a lot of talented drivers from Coorg and Kerala in off-roading, the neck to neck competition is what I loved about the sport, the drivers were separated by milliseconds or a few seconds, which made it really exciting.
In 2016 when I entered an off-road competition in Somvarpet, I won it by a margin of 18secs but I wasn't happy because the best of the drivers I've competed against were missing. On further investigation, I found that most drivers had quit the sport due to financial restrictions.
I wanted to compete against the best, so I started sponsoring a few drivers and also helped them in technical assistance which is the most expensive part in Motor racing.
In 2017 when I visited a few rallying friends in Mysore, I came to know that most drivers in Indian Rallying face a similar fate. That's when I decided to sponsor the upcoming talent and hence Team Champions was formed.
SK: How much does it approximately cost to run a team like yours in the INRC?
Vamcy Merla: I do not have an exact figure, as we all know Motorsport is expensive and the costs haven't been a concern.
I want the team to get the best of the cars, equipment, and training. We don't even compromise on the hospitality, the entire team stays in the same star hotel as I do. If the need arises, I'm also ready to cut down on my personal luxuries for the betterment of the Champions.
SK: How has the journey of Team Champions been so far?
Vamcy Merla: We've had a very successful campaign in such a short period of time. Our driver Druva Chandrashekar won the overall title clocking the fastest time of the day and Dean Mascarenhas clocked the fastest time in the 1600cc without much seat time in a new car at the recently concluded Mysore Gravel Fest and the team bagged 10 out of 15 major classes in the same event.
We will also have five crews participating in the upcoming Rally of Arunachal Pradesh.
SK: Is the team open for sponsorship to the drivers in need?
Vamcy Merla: Yes! We have also planned for a talent hunt for next year's driver line-up. The event will be held in Bangalore under the guidance of the FMSCI and the top four drivers will be taken into the team and they will be completely sponsored for the 2019 INRC season.
A driver named Arun Mohan had contacted me through social media and wanted to compete in Dakshin Dare rally, I barely took a moment on deciding to back this young college goer and he proved his worth by finishing second in his category.
SK: A few words on the Team Champions driver training program
Vamcy Merla: Gaurav Gill is our official driver coach, I witnessed his flawless performance in the Dakshin Dare this year and his skills are no match to the rest of the drivers.
Gill's training is sure to bring about great results to the team in the near future and I absolutely have no doubt's about it.
Shahid Salman: The team currently competes in the INRC-2, INRC-3, FMSCI, and Gypsy cup, do you have any plans of competing for the overall INRC title?
Vamcy Merla: Of course Yes! Lokesh Gowda will be competing in a VW Polo from Arunachal onwards.
For 2019 season, Dean Mascarenhas will be driving a Ford Fiesta R-2 to compete for the overall honors and we are expecting to test the car in Coffee Day rally later this year.
Shahid Salman: Future plans? International rallies on the cards?
Vamcy Merla: We looking at a 10 car team for the 2019 season which will include the existing six drivers along with the four drivers selected through the talent hunt.
By God's grace, if things go as per our plans, Team Champions will feature two cars at the World Rally Championship in the WRC-2 class.
The choice of drivers for our WRC-2 programme would be Dean Mascarenhas, Vaibhav Marathe, Suhem Kabeer, and Michu Ganapathy, of which two will be shortlisted based on the performance.
The CEO of the champions group Mr. Subhakar Rao Surapaneni has been very supportive in running of the rally team and the future looks bright for these upcoming rally stars.
Vamcy also believes that the lack of support from the Automobile manufacturers, the recognition from the Indian government, and absence of corporate sponsors have led Indian Indian Rallying to its current state.
He is here bring back the sport to its former glory through Team Champions and their relentless support to the Indian drivers.