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Thread: #inConverstion with Vicky Chandhok, Vice-President, Madras Motor Sports Club

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    Dec 2015
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    Default #inConverstion with Vicky Chandhok, Vice-President, Madras Motor Sports Club

    A veteran in rallying and racing, Mr Vicky Chandhok is one of the most experienced people we have in Indian motorsports today. Besides still being active in competitive rallying, he has held the top posts of many national and international sports bodies to help them run the sport more efficiently. That includes being the current President of FIA APRC Working Group and also being the former president of FMSCI.

    xBhp: Sir, can you please tell us something about your association with MMRT as a racer and now as an administrator?

    Vicky Chandhok: MMRT is owned by the Madras Motor Sports Club. The Madras Motor Sports Club conducted its first racing activity in 1950, and the club was formed in 1952, and my father (Mr Indu Chandhok) was one of the founding members of the club. The club used to conduct its racing around the Sholavaram airstrip, which is on the outskirts of Madras and is a Second World War airstrip. Every year, we had to spend thousands of rupees seeking permission from the army to use the track. And after the races, they (army) would run the tanks on it for testing and that used to damage the concrete. So whatever we spent, used to get wasted. Every year it became a bigger challenge just trying to get the venue itself. Then finally my father along with Mr V. Chidambaram, Mr S. Muthukrishnan and the club committee decided to make a decision, to go ahead and buy a property, which is reasonably available. And in those days, there was a big land sealing. Then they approached the CM of Tamil Nadu, Dr MGR, who used to be a frequent visitor to the Sholavaram race track. He used to be very actively involved with the sport. He was very fond of my father. He said, “Chandhok, what do you want?" To which my father said, “Look, we need this land (for Madras Motor Sports Club)!” Then Dr MGR said, “Oh, okay! Tell me where you want it. I’ll be happy to support it and the government will support it” So we then requested him that we want permission to hold 300 acres of land because my father was very clear that we did not want to get anything for free from the government because then you will have constant government interference.

    So, Dr MGR gave us special permission to buy 300 acres of land, which we bought. Then we sold 85 acres, later on, to pay for the track. Then we borrowed money from Indian Bank to build the track as well. Dr M.A. Chidambaram, on whose name we have the famous MAC Stadium in Chepauk, was one of our founders as well and he was the chairman of our race committee. So he used his influence with Indian Bank to get the money from them and the loan, and we built the track. After that, they sat down and asked how do we design it? My father, being a racing driver himself, took the shape of the land, took a paper napkin, took a pencil, and drew a sketch of the track that he thought would be ideal. Our consulting company was Gherzi Eastern from Bombay, and Larsen & Toubro were the contractors. They refined the drawing into an engineering drawing and then built the track. It was originally built only as a thing for our own club activities. It was never intended to be used for renting out and for other activities. We had no ambition to have international approval and all that kind of stuff. That came later when the international body discovered that we have a track that is an absolute delight for both 2-wheeler riders and 4-wheeler drivers. The difference is that it has been designed by a driver and has been designed for racing, so it has got a lot of soul and a lot of passion because all of us as racers and drivers have been involved with it.

    I am now of course involved on a day-to-day basis because what we then did was create what was called the Madras Motor Sports Trust to look after the day-to-day maintenance of the property while the club owns the property.

    xBhp: Can you please tell us about your experience of racing at Sholavaram?

    Vicky Chandhok: I first raced an Ambassador, and then I raced a Formula India which was a 2-seater space frame chassis car. This Formula India chassis was made in 1975 by Mr Adi Malgham in Bombay. He built two cars – one was called ‘The Hanuman’ for Suresh Naik and the other one was called the Carex Special which was mine. He built the chassis and then in my own workshop, we built the body, the engine, the gearbox and then we put everything together. It was inaugurated by the governor of Tamil Nadu Mr K.K. Shah. In fact, it was a big unveiling ceremony of the Formula India in 1975 at the Raj Bhawan because it was an in-house car that I built myself in my own workshop. After the Formula India, in 1982, I raced the Formula Ford 1600 and then from 1983, I raced the Formula 2 which was the Chevron B42 F2 car sponsored by MRF, and then subsequently the Formula Atlantic.

    xBhp: What is the difference that you find between racing then during Sholavaram and now?

    Vicky Chandhok: Sholavaram was once a year. We used to have an audience of around 70,000 people on 2 weekends. It used to be jam-packed. Tickets were sold in the black market. People from all over India used to descend in Madras to take part in that one race. They used to come with their crowd, their followers, their social crowd, everyone. It was a pilgrimage to Sholavaram. People wanted to be seen at Sholavaram. And we used to have like 300 odd bike entries and around 200 car entries, which used to be massive. It was less professional but very competitive and it was more fun. Today, the difference is that we have got a more regulated form of racing. In the Sholavaram days, we had much bigger bikes and cars, which were like open-class that used to attract the crowds because you used to see something on the race track that you would never see in normal life. My F2 car used to do over 320 km/h in those days. Today you don’t see those kinds of speeds; you don’t see those kinds of thoroughbred vehicles to make it exciting. Vijay Mallya used to race a Formula 1. I raced a Formula 2. Maharaj Kumar of Gondal used to race a Formula 5000. Today, you are seeing Formula Maruti, Formula LGB, which is much more professional. The racing has gotten better. It has become more affordable now, but then the charm of the old will never come back. You don’t even have spectators nowadays because everyone is either now following it live on live streaming or they are following it on TV or Twitter or Facebook. For all our races at MMRT, all our events are streamed live. We miss having people here, but what can you do?

    xBhp: Being a racer and a rallyist, what do you suggest are some of the main qualities that a racer or a rallyist must possess?

    Vicky Chandhok: Belief in themselves and a deep pocket with plenty of money to spend. It is an expensive sport. You can’t run away from the fact. Today I don’t blame people for not taking to it because it is expensive. A season in racing costs you about 7-8 lakh of rupees for cars. For bikes today, TVS and Honda have really come forward and they have made it affordable for bikers. So bikers have it really good today. They are able to pay 500-1000 rupees today and come to the one-make series. One Make Series have transformed motorcycle racing. In the 4 wheelers, the manufacturers have not yet subsidized racing as the 2-wheeler manufacturers have. Two-wheeler guys are using it as a platform for marketing as well. The four-wheeler manufacturers need to use it and start subsidizing to make it affordable. And they need to encourage people to take part as the two-wheeler fellows have done by making it affordable.

    xBhp: What is the biggest challenge that you as the promoter of MMRT face in managing the race track?

    Vicky Chandhok: We have had our ups and downs. Our biggest down was when for many years we could not repay the bank and the property was sealed because we could not pay the loan back. But once we managed that, now the challenge is to get the people to use the facility more and more. Luckily for the MMRT, more than 300 days of the year the track is being used for some activity or the other. The reason it is so active is because of the total commitment by the MMSC in making it more affordable and making it usable by everyone. We are now putting up an off-road track to have supercross and rallycross events. A go-cart track is being planned. We already have a drag strip in place. We are now building a permanent rally sprint track.

    xBhp: What are your predictions for the next 5 years for Indian motorsports? Do you see any Indian racer winning at the world stage any time soon, be it any form of racing?

    Vicky Chandhok: In Formula 3, Jehan Daruvala has won his first FIA Formula 3 event in Barcelona, which was a support race for F1. He is a possible candidate who could be consistent in winning Formula 3 international championships. He is just starting off. Gaurav Gill needs more financial backing to get into a works team. Age is not on his side. So he needs some backing very very quickly, and I think he could be fighting for the podium in the WRC 2. Santosh and Aravind need luck on their side. They need more hardware and more training. I think Santosh has now been spending a lot of time in Spain on his training. So hopefully in the days to come, we could find him really fighting for podium places in Dakar or in events of similar stature to Dakar. In terms of circuit racing, for bikes, I would reckon that in the lower category of racing like the Asia cup, our boys who are already doing well, we will have them winning on a regular basis. That is working. Whether they can make it to Moto2 and Moto3, I have my reservations because they don’t have the hardware here. The guys who train abroad run slick tyres and they have the hardware. Our boys have to go out and get exposed to that kind of hardware and machinery, and therefore they need a lot more time, so I can’t see it happening in a hurry. In F1, I said this many years back; I do not see another Indian making a break for the next, at least, 5 years.

    xBhp: How can we bring more youngsters to come to the race track and not race on the streets?

    Vicky Chandhok: We’ve done it a few times when we’ve seen people racing on the streets, we’ve caught hold of them, made them come to the race track and then the word of mouth started spreading. The one-make series of the bikes has really helped in trying to curb racing on the streets. Now the awareness is growing. All the one-make series, training schools, and all the academies are fully booked now because it is affordable at 1000 rupees a person. So that culture is growing. We don’t have a similar thing for cars.

    With little government support like if they allow us to do street racing on the weekends in a controlled environment, it will encourage motorsports and will take it to the people. It will also give spectators and city dwellers a real spectacle to watch.

    xBhp: Infrastructure wise, how far are we from countries where they have a more developed motorsport culture?

    Vicky Chandhok: Our race tracks are internationally acclaimed and internationally approved, so we have the infrastructure. We need more hardware to race on the track. In cars, single-seaters, we are probably at the peak. In touring cars, VW Ameo is good, but we need to have faster cars. In terms of bikes, we need to have bikes that meet the specs of Moto 3 at least to start honing the boys’ skills, which will then encourage the boys and will make them better and prepared for entering the world of motorsports on the world platform.
    Last edited by xBhp; 06-12-2019 at 07:46 PM.

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