The Indian GP is here, but where are the Indian riders?

Feb 6, 2024

Different league: Ahmed found it tough on the track as he had never driven the Honda NSF250R bike coming into the mega race.

Different league: Ahmed found it tough on the track as he had never driven the Honda NSF250R bike coming into the mega race.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Even as there was palpable excitement for the inaugural Indian GP, the only local connection when it came to the on-track action was through a wildcard entry for Chennai-based rider K.Y. Ahmed.

The national champion took part in the practice sessions for Petronas MIE Racing on Friday and Saturday but failed to enter qualifying as he did not set a time within 105% of the fastest time in any of the sessions.

It was not entirely surprising, considering the 26-year-old had never driven the Honda NSF250R bike coming into the weekend. Though he had driven a similar bike in 2016 at the Asia Talent Cup, Ahmed said there was a world of difference between the two.

S. Sarath Kumar remains the only Indian to have competed in a world championship weekend when he did the 2011 Portugal Grand Prix in the 125cc class, the precursor to the current Moto3. Despite being one of the biggest two-wheeler markets in the world, India has struggled to produce riders who can even reach the lower levels of the championship.

Before the weekend, even reigning MotoGP champion Francesco Bagnaia felt there needed to be a push to get Indian riders.

“Considering the number of bikes we have seen on the streets, it is incredible that we don’t have any Indian riders. So maybe it is time to push for an academy and get some Indian riders into the world championship”Francesco Bagnaia

Sustained investment

Rajini Krishnan, an 11-time national champion, knows a thing or two about the tough road for riders in the country. He has been running his academy, RACR, but says that academies are just one part of the equation. “For a rider to take the next step, there needs sustained investment, which is only possible from the big manufacturers,” said Rajini in a chat with The Hindu during the weekend.

“You have to start early and can learn the basics here before going to Asia, where you can compete in the MiniGP races for a few years. After that, you do two years at the Asian 250cc level, which costs Rs 75 to 80 lakhs per season, and then, you have to go to Europe,” the 43-year-old explained on a potential pathway to the world championship.

“So when a rider goes to Europe, he is already at a good level, say 80-90% and needs to learn only the last 10 to 20 % in there.”

The national champion added that it costs about Rs. 2 crore per year to train in Europe, and a rider needs at least three years there to compete in local races before getting to the Moto3 level. “In Europe, they train four to five days a week, even in go-kart tracks, using motocross bikes, which is not possible here.”

With many young kids starting early, Rajini says the mindset of parents who used to be apprehensive about the sport’s dangers is changing, and there is enough talent. “But to nurture this, we need the bike manufacturers to invest more in motorsports because this is their area. This weekend showed what kind of coverage a sponsor can get. So I hope this changes things for us,” said an optimistic Rajini.

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