JK Tyre National Racing Championship is one of the most prestigious and popular motorsport events in India. It has gained the status of being a stepping stone for aspiring racers in India. This achievement becomes even more pronounced and amplified when one takes into consideration the popularity and reach of motorsport when compared to other sports such as Cricket. 2018 is witnessing the 21st edition of the championship the idea of which was conceived around 30 years ago.

Text: Karan Singh Bansatta

Photos: Sunil Gupta & JK Tyre

In the early 90s, rallying was the rage and JK Tyre was right there at the top of the scene winning the national rally championship seven years in a row. But times changed and the interest of the youth shifted to single seater racing i.e. Formula 1. JK Tyre saw an opportunity there and in 1997 the concept of circuit racing was taken up by JK Tyre. It was christened as the JK Tyre National Racing Championship and the rest as they say is history. JKNRC has produced some of the biggest Indian names in the world of motosport. Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandhok, Armaan Ebrahim just a few of the many names that have left their mark in motorsports on an international level.

The event was bound to be a hit for a few reasons, the most prominent being it provided a platform for youngsters to showcase and hone their skills and a spectacular racing event for the spectators. The hard work and commitment of JK Tyre proved to be the backbone of the prestige that the event has garnered.

Being familiar with the history of the JKNRC, I knew that the event was going to be a blast but even my pre-prepared mind could not handle the sheer scale of the event. Right from the first race of the 21st JK Tyre FMSCI National Racing Championship on Saturday, I was assured by my mind that this is Disneyland for us motorsport enthusiasts. The picturesque Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore, the screaming engines of those ‘stripped to the bare essentials’ race cars leaving nothing but a blur as they sped along the main straight and the screeching noise of the tyres created a world where someone like me who loves motorsport, just could not contain my excitement and had a grin plastered on my face. And this was just the Round 1.

The round 1 of the 21st edition of JKNRC was a landmark event as well. For the first time in the history of single-seater car racing in India, has an event seen the participation of an all women racing team—Ahura Racing. This is a very proud moment for all of us seeing the women taking charge in a sport that has long been considered a male-only domain. All the races over the weekend were thunderous and provided ample entertainment for the huge crowd that turned up on the weekend. The insane stunt show consisting of both cars and bikes and performance by the percussionists added even more to the already exciting event.

Amidst all the pomp and show of the 21st edition of JK Tyre FMSCI National Racing Championship, we got to talk to the Mr. Vikram Malhotra, Marketing Director, JK Tyre.

How have you seen motorsports progressing over the last two decades?

In the 90’s, racing was essentially rallying. Racing aficionados were more interested in rallying. However, we quickly noticed that the younger generation was more into single-seater racing or Formula 1 to be more precise. So we changed our format. That’s how JK INRC came in and we started racing with the single seater format. And as the years progressed, we started reaching out to the two tier towns in order to bring in more interest. We also got into go-karting to get budding racers and to encourage the two tier cities to get involved with racing. This has produced people like Narayan Kartikeyan, Karun Chandok and Aditya Patel to name a few. The most important thing we learnt during this period was safety. It is an extremely important aspect in racing. Highest possible safety standards are being maintained by JK.

We have also seen an evolution with time and have started two wheeler races as well with the Suzuki Gixxer Cup. It has two races. One is for 12-16 year old riders and the second is 16 and above. So, we are catering to the changing traits in the racing sector.

What are your strategies to make motorsports reach the masses and make it a hit amongst the crowds?

The base of the strategy is to get to the smaller cities and towns. JKNRC has been scouting for potential racers in small towns as well. A lot of work is being done in the north-east like in Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The key idea was to figure out how to reach the masses. In today’s age, social media is one of the best tools for that purpose. That is why we are using Facebook and other social mediums to bring out this message and to take the enthusiasms to smaller towns as well. So we are doing a lot of work to ensure maximum participation from all parts of India.

The number of riders in the Gixxer Cup, especially from northeast speaks volumes about your efforts. Talking about that, I’ve seen around 7-8 female drivers participating in different categories of races. So, what is your take on the women participating in Indian Motorsports? And what are your strategies to draw more women towards motorsports?

As they say that the times are changing. So is JK. And so is racing. This year we saw the participation of an all women team, Ahura Racing, in the race for the first time. Also, now we have women participating in the two wheeler category as well. In addition to popularizing the sport among them, we are already looking for female racers in both 4 wheeler and two wheeler categories.

Unfortunately, Motosports does not get the support that it deserves from the Indian public so what makes JK continue its already two decade long effort to support motorsports?

From the 90’s, the chairman, Dr. Singhania has been very passionate about racing. But apart from the social context or the passion, racing clearly shows the technology of the tyre. So it helps JK Tyre portray its technological prowess as well because the vehicles used in the races are equipped with our tyres.

Being a marketing professional yourself what is the biggest takeaway for you from events like these?

For me it’s about portraying our brand differently. There are not many companies involved with racing. So we can communicate differently and clearly with the motoring enthusiast, with the car driver. This is the best way for us to actually show our brand to the public and also to communicate with the customer. And also, we get feedbacks which in turn are a big help in the development of our products.

Any message for the motorsports enthusiast who are JK tyres’ customers already?

My message to them is to continue to support us in this endeavour of ours. The product that we make and sell, is the product we use on these race cars. So I would like to thank them for their support in all these races that we have.

But being a motorcyclist, without undermining the crazy phenomenal car races, I was waiting eagerly for the subtraction of two wheels from the racing machines i.e. The JK Tyre Suzuki Gixxer Cup. There’s just something about motorcycles that just… let’s leave that for some other day.

I lost my mind as soon as I laid my eyes on the race-spec Suzuki Gixxer stripped off of anything that isn’t conducive to racing and being fast. Even when the ignition was off, those lowered handlebars, rearset footpegs, racing exhausts were shouting RAAACCEEE! And as soon as the engines were fired up on the countless Gixxers, I shifted to another dimension. I just wanted to ask for the keys of one and let myself go nuts on the track. Not that it would have ended well, but I was just too overwhelmed.

But more than everything, what was truly a sight to behold was the sheer number of riders who were selected and were getting ready for the race. So many riders from almost every part of the country were there to live their dreams of racing on the track. And let’s not forget that in the Gixxer Cup as well, we had a female racer who held her own even against the seasoned boys in the race. The race itself was a spectacle as the riders competed for the coveted trophy. Some very interesting moments were also witnessed and the riders battled for gaining positions and shaving seconds off of their lap times.

The only female rider in the JK Tyre Suzuki Gixxer Cup and a pretty good one at that—Haritha Muralikrishnan is a 23 year old racer from Chennai. Her flawless performance in the race is the result of the poise and confidence that she exudes on and off the track. She has a knack for defying convention and has the grit and determination to back it up as well. She has struggled a lot to reach where she is today and it has took a lot of hard work. Racing is expensive and that also counts as a factor but for her improving herself as a racer is what matters the most. And it’s hard work that got her selected in the Gixxer Cup where she is the only female racer. Her dream bike is a Ninja H2R and the kind of perseverance she has, we are sure that she’ll fulfil that dream of hers as well.

What do you do apart from racing?

I studied Civil Engineering and have finished my graduation. I am still looking for a job but motorcycle racing is what I want to do. At first my parents were against it but they have accepted it now.

Civil engineering and motorcycle racing are poles apart. So how did motorcycle racing happen to you?

I do not differentiate between boys and girls and I like to compete with them. Not a lot of girls chose Civil Engineering and that is why I chose it. And now it’s the same about racing. I was riding a geared bike once and I got a call from Anand (Andy) and he asked me if I wanted to race and I said yes. That got me into TVS one make championship in 2016. I didn’t win obviously due to the lack of experience but I have been learning and improving since then. And after a few falls and getting back up, I am here.

When it comes to racing, who is your inspiration?

Jagan from TVS Racing because he has taught me a lot, Akash and Apex team because they helped me improve a lot. In MotoGP, I like Marc Marquez because he is insanely talented. Although he does a few things that one does not do on the track, but I still like him.

Anything you would like to say about the manufacturers like JK Tyre and Suzuki for creating events like the Gixxer Cup?

JK Tyre and Suzuki are doing a great job. More than the money involved and everything, they want India on the world motorsport map. They are always on the lookout for talented racers and sponsor them as well. Even I was sponsored by JK Tyre after my parents denied it. They provide us with the suits, bikes etc. And the lunch is great as well. I am really thankful to both for helping me get closer to my dream of going to MotoGP.

Joseph Mathew, Chennai’s 23 year old racer won both the races over the weekend. His way of maneuvering a motorcycle around a track makes one feel like he knows both the track and the motorcycle like the back of his hand. And the fact that he is aware of his talent on two wheels makes him a cool customer and a force to reckon with. It has always been his dream to race motorcycles which made him start early. He’s been riding (more or less) since he was 10. He has raced in many a series’ carries with him quite a lot of experience. His family was against him racing motorcycles but he’s been able to convince them that this is what he wants to do. In love with a Yamaha R6 and a BMW S1000 RR, we are sure that he’ll be ripping the shreds out of those motorcycles very soon.

What do you do apart from motorcycling?

I work in a tyre factory in the R&D department. We test the tyres and provide feedback for them.

How would you describe the journey into motorcycling and then to motorcycle racing?

I have been riding since I was 10. My legs didn’t even reach the ground while sitting on a motorcycle so my brother used to hold the bike for me, start it and then I rode it. That’s how I started riding. In 2012 I decided that I should start with the national championship. I got into a team called Sparks Racing where I started my career. And my first race was at Kari where I rode the Honda Stunner. In the first season, I was second on the podium. That gave me a lot of confidence and I have participated in various races since then.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I just want to work hard and reach as far as I can in motorsports. Like WSBK.

Who is your Inspiration?

Marc Marquez. The way he rides and the way he handles the bike. From him I started learning.

Anything you would like to suggest which would improve the stature of motorsports in India?

Regarding racing in India, I would say that more organizations should come forward to sponsor the riders who are talented. Then only motorsports will grow. Cricket or football to some extent, are not the only sports. We work really hard putting ourselves on line riding so I think our efforts should be recognized as well.

Would you like to say anything to JK tyre and Suzuki for holding this competition?

Both JK Tyre and Suzuki have put in a lot of effort and money into this. It is amazing to see so many riders on the track. The primary reason for that is that they not only understand us racers, but they respect us too.

Malsawmdawngliana or Lalmama as he’s fondly called, is a soon going to be 20 years old rider from Aizawl, who has got more podiums than his age multiplied by 2. A man of very few words and immense talent, his prowess on the track is a sight to behold. A Rossi fan, Lalmama shone around the track on the Gixxer as he scored two podium finishes in the two races that took place over the weekend. He says that he used to practice racing on an airstrip as they do not have a track and he says that the airstrip might be smaller than even a go-cart track, but his confidence is big enough to tackle any track in India. Or in the world. A fan of the Yamaha R15 V3 because of its handling and upgradability, he’d prefer a Honda CBR 600RR or a Suzuki GSX-R 1000R when it comes to bigger bikes. But with the talent he has, we are pretty sure that he’ll run circles around the most technical of tracks even on those big & scary bikes.

What else do you do apart from racing?

I customize motorcycles. Paintjobs, performance enhancement etc. Apart from that I like I riding, off-roading and video games.

How did racing happen to you?

I started racing in 2014. In that year, I participated in a One-make championship at the Buddh International Circuit. I have been racing in different competitions since then. I have participated in the previous Gixxer Cup as well.

Anything that can be done to improve the motorsport scene in India?

We need more tracks. More and better tracks. That is of utmost importance because you cannot play if you do not have the field. Tracks are important so that more races can be held and racers can put in more time to practice. We need more bikes in various categories as well. Also, the perception of the people must change because racing is also a sport like any other. It needs to be accepted more widely.

Who is your inspiration?

Valentino Rossi. He’s been one of the most decorated motorcycle racers on all time for a reason. I like his riding style. He does not necessarily use aggression to out-maneuver the competition but his experience and sheer talent help him in that regard.

Would you like to say anything to JK tyre and Suzuki for holding creating events like this?

They are providing us the opportunities even though the sport still needs more popularity and reach. They are doing a lot for the budding racers and that I think is amazing.

18-year old Sachin Chaudhary from Ahmedabad is a consistent performer. He posted some seriously impressive timings in both the races that took place over the weekend. He is the living example of simple and functional as he tamed every corner of the Kari Motor Speedway aboard the Race-Spec Gixxer. A student of 11th class, he is a stunning rider considering that he never planned to race in the initial phase of his riding days. He is just about two years old on the racing scene and already has quite a lot to show for it. It must be a lot of hard work for the promising young man as juggling between studies, practice and racing takes some doing. But the man has never backed down and that is why we are sure he’ll achieve his dream of racing in the WSBK. A fan of MV Agusta F4 and the Kawasaki ZX-10 R is more inclined towards the supersport scene where he’d like to ride a CBR 600RR. It seems like Sachin has got a very high-displacement future ahead.

What do you do apart from racing?

I love travelling, cycling and playing football. Apart from racing, I travel a lot.

Being a student, how did you diverge from traveling to racing or from the road to the track?

I never planned to be a racer in the beginning when I started to ride motorcycles. But then I started riding more and my passion towards motorcycling grew. That’s when I decided that I want to ride motorcycles on a different level. I got into racing in 2016 and it changed my lifestyle completely. I cannot sit at home now because I am always itching to go to a race or a long ride.

Where do you see yourself say 2-3 years down the line professionally, as a racer?

I want to compete in the 600cc class of WSBK at the moment. In fact, I am working really hard and trying to get in WSBK 2019 to compete in the supersport segment.

Who is your inspiration?

Marc Marquez. 93 for the win. He is simply phenomenal.

Any changes you think must take place to improve the motorsport scenario in India?

The first thing that needs to change is the mind-set of people towards motorsport. Parents are afraid to send their kids into motorsport because they consider it dangerous. According to me every sport is dangerous to some extent and motorcycle racing is just like any other sport.

Would you like to say anything to JK tyre and Suzuki for hosting this competition?

They are amazing for supporting Indian Motorsport. I think more manufacturers must step forward to support motorsports in India. But JK tyre and Suzuki are doing a lot already. I would love nothing more to see an Indian slaying it on the international level.

Sanjeev Mhatre is a 25 year old resident of Mumbai who is very passionate about motorcycle racing. He also believes in his potential which saw him recover from a crash and still post a commendable time in the race. Extremely deft with a motorcycle and clinical around the track, he has scored his fair share of podiums in the past. He is a determined individual and proves his grit on and off the track. Juggling between his professional life and his passion sees him travelling long hours on a train to practice and race over a weekend which says a lot about a man. Being a true Rossi fan, Sanjeev adores Yamaha and his favourite bikes belong to the coveted R-series i.e. the R1, the R6 and the R15 which he considers to be the best learner bike. With such strong will we are sure he’ll succeed in getting his hands on the above bikes and the Malaysian Superbike Championship winner’s trophy as well.

What do you do apart from racing?

I work with the KTM showroom in Mumbai. Also, I am looking forward to some good opportunities and also to some sponsorships that will help me in crafting my career in motorcycle racing.

How did you get into racing?

I started racing in 2014 riding in the 150cc class. Based on my performance there I got to race a CBR 250 as well. Now I am part of the Gixxer cup. Moving forward I am looking to compete on the 250—300cc class as well. That requires a lot of work which I am willing to do.

Where do you see yourself as a racer in the future?

I know I have potential but it is a bit difficult to come for track days being a working professional. I am only able to come to the track during the season which sometimes is not enough. If I could come to the track regularly for practice, I can certainly prove my worth.

What is the one thing that you would change about motorcycling and racing in India?

We lack the infrastructure needed to go full throttle in motorsports here in India. The number of tracks in India are very less which is an issue because racing needs constant practice and it cannot be done without the tracks.

When it comes to racing, who is your inspiration?

Valentino Rossi. His style is impeccable and he is truly ‘The Doctor’ on the track. He is a star off the track as well.

Would you like to say anything to JK tyre and Suzuki for holding this competition?

My sincere thanks to JK tyre and Suzuki for providing us riders with such a platform. They are the true stalwarts of racing here in India. In future, I would love it if they include a higher capacity class such as the 250—300cc class.

Syed Muzammil Ali is a 24 year old racer from Bangalore who works as a Financial Analyst. There’s no doubt that this man is good with numbers both at his work and on the track. He was phenomenal around the track, posted some amazing numbers and scored a podium on both the races over the weekend. He is fiercely competitive and yet wears a deceptively calm demeanor. This is just the 2nd year of his racing career and the man has seemingly figured out the intricacies of track racing. He has learned not to panic in a race at any point which has seen him improve from a boy who thought others were fast to a racer who is giving a stiff competition to those guys. He learned riding on a Yamaha RX 100 so his inclination towards the brand is quite natural. His dreams are made up of an R1 and an R6 which he’ll surely race around on in the future considering the sheer talent that he possesses.

What do you do apart from racing?

I work at Thomson Reuters as a financial analyst. Apart from racing, I am into football, cycling and working out in the gym. I also ride dirtbikes on my friend’s farm house on weekends.

How did motorcycle racing happen to you?

I have been fast on two wheels since childhood. Initially, I started off as a motocross rider but due to an injury my dad told me to not race anymore. But that has changed and he is my biggest support now. So during a KTM Orange Day, a friend of mine suggested me to join Apex Racing Academy. I went there, completed all the levels and here I am. Navneeth Muralidharan, a friend of mine and an instructor at RACR has helped me a lot in correcting my mistakes. Also, Sameer Venugopalan, who was the chief instructor at Apex Racing Academy, was a big help as well as whatever he taught me was so clear that I was able to implement that on the track right away.

Who is your inspiration?

It has to be Valentino Rossi. He is going to be 40 next year and still competes with (and beats) riders lot younger than him. That guy is amazing around a track and has been a huge inspiration for me.

What can we do to promote racing and motorsports here in India?

Government and sponsors should join hands and form a selection committee like there is for other sports. I mean if social media is utilized properly, a whole lot of people will come out and support the riders who cannot afford being on a track. If this happens I am sure loads of talent will emerge that will change the picture of motorsports in India. We need more sponsors if we need to put India on the racing map. If motorsports is promoted in the same way as cricket, I am sure Indian motorsports will scale new heights.

Would you like to say anything to JK tyre and Suzuki for hosting this competition?

Hats off to JK Tyre and Suzuki. What they are doing is amazing and they really respect us racers. We are provided with everything, the bikes, the gear, you name it we get it. I am really thankful to JK Tyre and Suzuki for this.