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  • Atharva Desai

IRL Racing Series - Motorsport’s Growth in India

On 27 Nov. 2022, I went to Chennai to connect with people at Madras International Circuit. A race was hosted on that day under the Indian Racing League (IRL). These races would serve as the first introduction of mainstream racing in India. I like the idea of bringing racing into India. Although there was a lot of success in the races, I don’t think it fulfilled its mission of promoting racing in India. I’ll explain this in more detail. I want to take this moment to clarify one thing: I am not writing this fault to anyone’s management. Instead, this should be taken as constructive criticism to further grow the sport in India.

Formula Cars used to Race in the Indian Racing League

The cars that were used in this series were the Formula Wolf cars. The vehicles are manufactured in Italy and were shipped to India. Unlike the Formula Regional or the Formula 4 India championship, this race was not an official FIA race. It was a private championship created by the IRL.

The racing itself was great. I loved the competitiveness of the series and the overall organization. The tension was palpable in every garage; that is what true racing is about. I had lots of fun interacting with the drivers, the celebrities, and the teams. However, I noticed the need for more people to attend the Chennai Race. There were more people in the VIP lounge than there were spectators. There were a ton of people in the VIP lounge. I couldn’t fathom the ratio of people in the VIPs to the Grand Stands.

Nonetheless, the overall turnout was still low. The Madras Circuit is in an empty spot like most other international circuits. Still, it was challenging to get to the spectator stands. I think that might be one of the reasons why the stands weren’t filled to the brim. I think the first and most important reason was that there wasn’t enough marketing to the locals. I only saw people who knew about this from word of mouth and didn’t initiate marketing to local Indians. That should’ve been the most significant change and would 100% spark the interest - especially with the younger generation.

Madras Circuit is understandable. The track is in an obscure area, so only some people would want to be present. Additionally, the language spoken in Chennai is Tamil, and very few people speak Hindi - although this is slowly but surely changing little by little. The language barrier already serves as another problem in advertising to the locals.

In Hyderabad, however, I was expecting many people in the stands. The language is spoken there is Hindi, and the track is located inside the city. Both of the limitations in Chennai were automatically solved at the street circuit. Additionally, the FIA announced that Formula E will come to Hyderabad for the 2023 Formula E season in February. The IRL is using the same street circuit for the Wolf championship. I like the street circuit a lot. Many technical corners are present, but it is simple enough to keep it exciting. Unfortunately, I faced a lot of problems going into the track.

India is a hectic country with a vast population. Even when a single lane is closed, it is detrimental to everyone commuting. Now, if the single most popular roundabout in Hyderabad is closed for a weekend, it is an even bigger problem. Now, I am not saying it’s a bad idea to make a street circuit in India, but I think it is a problem if the majority of people in Hyderabad do not like the establishment of the street circuit in the densest part of the city. When I arrived to the general area of the street circuit, there was no clear entrance for people. I was walking around the streets, asking for the way to the entrance, with absolutely no luck. I ended up taking a rickshaw around the area to search for the entrance until we found a police barricade in front of the entrance. I found the general entrance, but cars are not allowed towards that police barricade. As I tried to convince the rickshaw man to cross, he said it isn’t possible, but he raised a valid point. He said that motor racing is a rich person’s sport. While the wealthy can indulge in motor racing, people struggling to make wages suffer the most because of commute. It was a big eye-opener because India is the fastest-growing country in the world, but poverty is still present. The only way to keep the people around happy is if they had some sort of access to the stands or a viewing spot. Keep this in mind as I will make a solution towards the end of this story. I had to cross a street with oncoming traffic on foot. Since cars weren’t allowed through the entrance, I walked perpendicular to oncoming traffic. Now for myself, I am pretty used to it. I’ve learned how to cross the street with dense oncoming traffic, but I cannot say the same for foreigners who want to watch the race. From a western perspective, we always cross when traffic stops and the crosswalk is green. Jaywalking is heavily discouraged and sometimes illegal in some places, but in India, there is no such thing as crosswalks; you cross whenever you want, and there is no such thing as right of way. I can understand how people might get scared and even families with children. I hope the FIA does well to acknowledge this when Formula E comes to the street circuit.

Now, to give a few possible solutions for the problems I have listed above. I recommend taking some notes on these because I think this is an excellent step to further popularize motorsport in India. Starting with the fundamentals:

1. Address on the Ticket/Website: I was in Delhi when I got the call to come to Hyderabad for the race. As I was organizing my schedule, I couldn’t find a single address of the track on the website, social media, or tickets. If there was an address somewhere, then it wasn’t shown clearly. I had to call a few people from the inside to figure out the address. Since it is a street circuit, there is no general location, unlike a race track. Especially for a brand-new circuit like Hyderabad, not many people could figure out the location. Even some people who bought the tickets were confused on where to go. This brings me to my next point.

2. Drop-offs and Parking: A good addition will be a drop-off and a parking area. Parking can be paid for because of its scarcity of spaces. Public transportation, however should have an area to drop people off since most people commute by rickshaws or cabs. That would be a great addition that can clear both confusion and some congestion.

3. Open up viewing for locals: Racing is still a business, but I firmly believe that the IRL Wolf Series didn’t start up for profits; instead, it makes racing popular in India. The seating and the lounges can be paid for, but I believe there should be other viewing areas, such as the parks and internal streets, for locals who can come and watch around for free. I think, for the time being, that will spark interest through word of mouth. Instead of keeping this perception of a rich person’s sport, we bring the reality that anyone can enjoy motor racing. Slowly until popularity increases, racing series can start monetizing more.

Lets stick to these for now. Racing in India is still budding, so an in-depth critique on one of the first racing events in years would be immature. Overall, I was impressed by the overall structure of the championship and I appreciated the well thought-out hospitality. This is definitely the correct direction to go.

If you wan’t to hear a more in-depth perspective on growing motorsports in India, I took an interview where I talk about my racing habits, my history, and ways to bring motorsports to India: (Click here to watch)

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