The introduction of the Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in the Formula One calendar in 2011 was heralded as a turning point for motorsports in India. Sadly, though, it was discontinued after just three editions and what could have been a wonderful opportunity to engage new sets of fans turned into a major disappointment.
Since then, motorsport fans in India have been starved of world-class action and this genre, which is extremely popular in various parts of the world, continues to remain a niche one.
However, there is considerable reason to cheer with the arrival of the second edition of the India Baja, which is now a part of the prestigious global Dakar Challenge Series. It is designed on the rally-raid format, which is a form of off-road racing that takes place over several days. The 2017 edition of the race will take place in the dune country situated in the Thar Desert between Jaisalmer and Bikaner in Rajasthan over a period of three days from April 7-9.
It will consist of two legs and six stages, covering a distance of approximately 630 kilometres amid extremely high temperatures and large dune crossings. The winner in the bike category shall be awarded direct entries into the Merzouga Rally in Morocco and the 2018 Dakar Rally, while the winner from the four-wheeler category will get a direct entry into the Desert Storm Rally.
Along with the association with the Dakar Rally, the level of competition at the Indian Baja shall also be top notch. It will feature the likes of Joaquim Rodrigues from Portugal, who recorded an impressive 12th place finish at the recently concluded Dakar Rally, and Adrian Metge from France, who finished in 22nd place.
The brand ambassador of the competition will be Indian rider CS Santosh, who had won the India Baja crown last year. The 33-year-old is the only Indian to finish the Dakar Rally twice, which is considered to be the most challenging and toughest off-road motorsport event in the world. He has made the nation proud at competitions all around the globe and has shown that racers from India do have the potential to make a name for themselves.
The India Baja is the perfect platform for gaining exposure to top-quality competition for Indian riders. Raj Kapoor, the founder of Northern Motorsports, which is the body organising the rally, says that there is no paucity of talent in India.
“There is no dearth of talent, but the opportunities are what are needed the most at the moment. What our racers need is support in the form of sponsorships and scholarships and through such competitions, we try to get corporates involved and help create a path where they can contribute to the development of the sport,” he said.
While Formula One has seen a recent decline in viewership, cross-country and off-road racing are becoming increasingly popular around the world, with viewership numbers increasing every year for the Dakar Rally, which has seen over a billion viewers across 190 countries. Events such as the India Baja go a long way in increasing the popularity of the sport and generate public interest.
“Our goal, in the short term, is to create value for all types of viewers and engage more and more people. People show interest while the event is on but there are not many who become genuine followers. Thus, the right amount of information needs to be propagated at the right time,” said Mr. Kapoor.
He added, “Guys like CS Santosh have done a phenomenal job in helping promote the sport but one person cannot do everything. A proper ecosystem, that nurtures and develops young talent, is what is needed. We are trying to create the spike to generate momentum and hopefully, we will get the required results.”