New Delhi: The upcoming X1 Racing League hopes to serve as a boost for Indian motorsport, to revive it in a cricket-mad nation especially after the move to bring Formula One to the country didn't quite take off after three editions.
And a major part in this revival would be giving the Indian rookie drivers a chance to race alongside some of the best from across the world, the experience of which plays a huge role in shaping future champions.
Young Indian Formula Two racer Arjun Maini has had the chance to test his skills overseas, both in the FIA discipline as well as in endurance events such as 24 Hours of Le Mans, and is one of the names in the total pool of 30 drivers in the six franchise-owned city-based teams in the league that flags off this weekend at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, before moving to the Madras Motor Sports Club in Chennai on 7 and 8 December for its second leg.
If Maini's opinions are to be taken into account, then it is not the established stars, but the Indian domestic racers who could punch above their weight and take everyone by surprise.
"I think they’re going to surprise everyone because they’ve been around these circuits a lot more than the others and I think they’re going to be the ones to beat this weekend. And they’re no slouches. They’re really good drivers, drivers coming out of the domestic championship."
"A lot of them are very talented, but unfortunately don’t have the support to take it further. So they’re going to surprise everyone. I think it’s not going to be easy for the international Indians or the international drivers," said Maini in an interaction with Firstpost at an event in New Delhi.
And it's not an easy task for the Bengaluru native to pick a winner either from the domestic drivers — two of whom are present in each team along with an international male, an international female and an Indian international driver. The domestic drivers' familiarity with the circuits is what gives them the edge over the international stars, many of whom are on their maiden visit to India.
"I don’t think there's any one or two, but a lot of them like Nayan (Chatterjee) in our team, we’ve got Vishnu Prasad in our team who’s been at it since a long time. We’ve got a lot of guys who have been in the domestic racing world in India. A lot of the international drivers have not been to Buddh, and we don’t have much practice time. So this will be interesting," added Maini.
Team-based racing leagues aren't too common as a format in the world of motorsports, and the X1 Racing League, which brands itself as the "world's first-ever motorsports league", hopes to make an impact in a country which has seen success with franchise-based sporting leagues, especially in cricket, football and kabaddi.
Maini, who comes from a family of racers and had signed with Haas F1 Racing in 2017 as a development driver, feels the unique offering of the league in its format is what will intrigue the racers and viewers alike. He also credits the organisers for keeping things simple in the maiden edition and not thinking too extravagantly.
"Well it’s never been done before. I think it’s going to be interesting for everyone. For drivers as well. Probably the first time for everyone where you’ve been put in a draft, been chosen by teams.
"So I think it’s a very good idea, and it’s a good way to start. The original plan was to do street circuits and stuff like that, but I think the simplified way in which the league has started is good for the league and for the drivers.
"Obviously the racing is going to be interesting because you’re going to have to do a driver change and then you’ve got the relay races and stuff like this. The cars are good for a wheel-to-wheel race. It’s got a top speed of 230 kmph, so it’s quite quick..." said Maini, who became the first Indian to secure a podium finish in the GP3 series as well as set the fastest lap.
Maini will be racing for the Bangalore Racing Stars, owned by EUME Backpacks, which includes the likes of Le Mans champion Oliver James Webb. Naina Parekh, Co-Founder of EUME Backpacks, is among those looking forward to the tournament that she described as a "one-of-a-kind league".
"We are thrilled to enter this one-of-a-kind league with some of the best drivers in and around the country. The Bangalore Racing Stars comprises of world renowned international racers and young Indian racers who give a sneak peek into the potential that India has to offer," said Parekh.
The event features not just former Formula One racers and those used to formula racing, but also racers from other formats and disciplines. Indian rally star Gaurav Gill, who is making a comeback into track racing with his participation in the league, is one such example. Maini, who himself had switched from Formula Two to the endurance-testing Le Mans before returning to the track, says it doesn't take long for drivers to adjust to a different set of conditions and parameters. He adds that if you're "good enough", you'll find a way to get yourself ahead of others.
"I think if you’re good enough, you’ll be on the limit quite soon, and I think that’s what you will find with a lot of the internationals and the Indian internationals here is that they would be on the pace soon."
"Obviously there will be some things that suit some drivers and some things that don’t. But as long as you’re in the ballpark… in the end we’re given a car, and we’re given a tarmac to completely push the car to its limits, and that’s what we all have to do," said Maini, who recalls his battle with Lanan Racing teammate George Russell in the 2014 edition of the BRDC British Formula 4 Championship as one of the highlights of his career.
Russell narrowly beat teammate Maini that year to be crowned champion, and currently races for Williams in the Formula One.
Will the league attract enough sponsors and investors to take things forward into the future though? Maini remains optimistic in that regard.
"Hopefully, with things like the X1 league, as the interest builds in motorsports, and investors can see more of a business in it, then hopefully that will grow as a process. But the start of all that is that we need to have a good base, and hopefully, X1 can provide that."
"As long as we can put on a good show and people enjoy the competition, that’s all that matters. Hopefully, this could be the boost that Indian motorsport needed. "
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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2019 16:30:43 IST