While many are preoccupied with bringing international races to India, Rachit Thukral envisages a homegrown championship that can go someway in popularising motorsport in the country.
India’s two national-level single-seater championships provide a decent stepping stone to budding racing drivers.
However, the same cannot be said about its touring car equivalent. Private individuals, many well past their prime years, put their hard-earned money in modifying and running cars that are as much as two decades old and no longer in production.
Manufacturer involvement is absolutely nil and the series is generally overlooked by MRF F1600 and the Volkswagen Ameo Cup, which are held concurrently to it.
The state of Indian Touring Car Championship is made to look even more dismal when we compare it, admittedly unfairly, to some of the other touring car championships across the world.
Germany’s DTM, for instance, enjoys widespread popularity across Europe, with the 2017 calendar comprising of nine rounds across five countries. Germany’s three luxury car manufacturers, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, field six cars each and every single driver on the grid is paid handsomely.
Similar models are replicated across the globe in NASCAR (US), Supercars (Australia) and Super GT (Japan).
While single-seater champions merely serve as a pathway to Formula 1, touring car championships are ends in themselves. National-level touring car championships are so big in some countries that drivers do not need to race abroad.
Moreover, the cost of competing is cheaper and manufacturers can easily modify their road-going cars.
Taking cues from international series
Now, how do we implement such a model in India? An organising body needs to come up with a set of regulations that would be good enough to lure some of the biggest car makers in the country.
Volkswagen already has a contemporary race car in Ameo, which is as quick as the current breed of ITC cars. Since the Ameo Cup caters to all kinds of drivers, including rookies, the Ameo Cup car is not designed up to its potential. With some basic tweaks, it could go much faster than it currently is.
Toyota, too, has a race-spec version of Etios which was last raced in 2015. Again, with a few changes here and there, it could be brought back to speed.
Other manufacturers also have some high-selling hatchbacks and sedans. For instance, Tata Motors, which has reportedly pulled the plug on the T1 Prima truck racing series, can come up with a race version of its top-seller, Tiago.
With a Balance of Performance (BoP) system, the pace of all cars could be equalised, which would lead to exciting racing.
Marketing the key
Manufacturers would be ready to put in the money - which they could otherwise spend on traditional ads or on Bollywood and cricket stars - only if they can derive tangible marketing benefits from it.
Only a centralised marketing effort by organisers and manufacturers would ensure the series reaches out to the masses.
We’ve already seen Tata Motors and JK Tyre amass huge numbers for their respective racing series at the Buddh International Circuit. Through a combined effort, there’s scope for more.
Moreover, the focus should be on providing a complete package of weekend entertainment for the spectators in form of music concerts and dance shows. This formula has worked wonders for JK and Tata over the years and there’s no reason why it couldn't be replicated.
Equally important would be an F1-style ‘fan zone’ where manufacturers can showcase their latest road cars and organise contests for spectators.
TV broadcast and web streams
While Indian series promoters have realised the importance of providing Live web streams, albeit through scarcely-promoted YouTube channels, there is almost zero presence on TV.
If the revamped national touring car series has a solid foundation, then there would be a possibility of selling it to prime sports channels.
Live TV broadcast, in turn, would only entice manufacturers to throw more money into the series.
Drivers the big beneficiaries
If somehow such a plan could be executed, Indian drivers will be the biggest gainers.
We’ve often seen talented Indian racers unable to procure necessary funds to move abroad. Some end up taking a different role within the motorsport world, while others quit the field altogether.
However, with the involvement of manufacturers, suddenly Indian drivers can make enough money in their own country.
Moreover, drivers like Karun Chandhok, Narain Karthikeyan Aditya Patel and Armaan Ebrahim can duel their international campaigns with a full-season drive in India.
Privateers, too, won’t be excluded as they would have the option of buying contemporary cars straight from manufacturers and running their own teams.
Over a medium-to-long term, if the series turns out to be successful, the drivers would end up being the stars - as they are in any sport.
But the onus will be on manufacturers and organisers to take the first steps.