The Indian Racing League Is Launched, Welcome The i1 Super Series

Last night I was invited to the official launch of the Indian Racing League (IRL) in Mumbai, India. I must say that the organizers of the IRL had done well to keep the media interest low before the launch and actually go LIVE within days of their first press release (which stated that Sachin Tendulkar is a potential investor in the series).

The launch function was a good one and I got to meet a few good ol’ colleagues and friends from the motorsport and sports management fraternity, talking about the much anticipated Indian Grand Prix and of course Force India.

Also present at the function was the FMSCI President Vicky Chandhok who was very supportive of this new initiative that aims to become the pinnacle of racing in the country. It is good to see that with the arrival of the Airtel Indian Grand Prix, the levels of investment in Indian motorsport have gone up manifold and many Indian brands are using this platform to promote themselves. The JK Tyre Asia Racing series (formerly the Formula BMW-Asia Series that I drove in), MRF F1600 and the Volkswagen Polo Cup all making their debut in the past few years. The Force India Formula One Team launched their Force India Formula One Team Academy this year with an aim to increase participation and reach in Indian motorsport.

I am sure that there are questions that each one of you have regarding the Indian Racing League and here is my attempt to enlist and answer a few:

What is the Indian Racing League?

The Indian Racing League is city-based racing league, much like the IPL and there are more similarities between the two. There are 9 cities that will participate, each consisting of 2 racing car drivers. One driver has to be local (Indian) and the second, non-Indian; the IPL concept of having local as well as international players. A good attempt to marry Indian and international motorsport I would say. The racing series will be called the ‘i1 Super Series’ and is pending approvals from the FIA and FMSCI.

Where will the Indian Racing League races be organized?

There are 9 races in the 2011-12 season that will be held across the Middle East (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar), India (Greater Noida and Chennai) and South-east Asia (Malaysia and Bangkok) are the venues that have been short-listed.

Who are the drivers for the Indian Racing League?

Currently, there are no drivers who have been shortlisted for the IRL. However, there is a panel that will select international as well as Indian drivers for the IRL. Unlike the IPL, the drivers will not be selected via an auction.

What racing car is being used by the Indian Racing League?

The Radical SR3 is being used in this series and the IRL will be a single-make championship. The car weighs around 570kgs and has a V8 power plant that is expected to deliver around 230-240 bhp. The car looks like the Le Mans racing car and will be yet another first in Indian motorsport. (Most other Indian racing championships are either single seater or saloon car championships)

Which Indian drivers are racing in the Indian Racing League?

Still unconfirmed, but I would assume that Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok would be the most obvious bets. I would also expect VW Scirocco Cup racer Aditya Patel to race in these championship and maybe Armaan Ebrahim as well. If all four get a chance, it will be interesting to see how the four Indian racers match against each other in standard equipment. (This too would be a first time!) I would also like to see Indian National Rally Championship rally driver Gaurav Gill participate in this championship.

I assume I have covered most of the competition and operational questions that one would have. However, do leave any more questions for me to answer in the comments section. (As always, I shall try my best to answer)

Those interested in the business and commercial angle of the i1 Super Series, read further:

What is the cost of a franchise in the Indian Racing League?

The cost of purchasing a franchise in the IRL is $5 million (USD) for 15 years. However, this cost only gives you the franchise rights, which allow you to sell sponsorships, licenses and merchandise, etc. towards your team. Since the race tracks are not local, I would assume that ticket sales are not included for the franchise owner.

What is the cost of running a team in the Indian Racing League?

I have always focused on the cost of running a Formula1 team and hence I was one of the few guys who inquired the same for IRL. The cost of running a full-fledged IRL team would be in the range of $6-8 million USD. As a team owner, this would mean owning two race cars and a team of engineers and mechanics to operate with. This would also include the cost of transportation from one venue to another.

What is Sachin Tendulkar’s role in the Indian Racing League? Are any other cricketers involved?

The IRL speculation started a few days ago with a report that Sachin Tendulkar had himself invested in the series. However, it was revealed yesterday that Tendulkar is the ‘brand ambassador’ and an ‘advisor’ to the i1 Super Series. There are media reports that MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh are keen to buy a team too. At the event yesterday, Raymond-boy Gautam Singhania was present too. Will we see a Team Raymond Racing?

Who are the sponsors involved with the Indian Racing League?

Based on my discussions yesterday at the function, currently there are no sponsors tied with the IRL. However, there are on-going discussions and Machdar (pronounced as ‘Mack’-‘dar’) Motorsport is keen on signing a few deals in the next month or so. The show car at the event sported ‘Dunlop’ racing tyres, but the tyres used as a prop were ‘Yokohoma’, so I don’t know which tyre company is associated afterall. Machdar is also keen on signing up a logistics partner for the championship, which should considerably reduce operational costs of an IRL team.

Will the Indian Racing League be telecast on Indian television?

The IRL currently doesn’t have a TV deal in place. However, the organizers are certain that they will sign one in the near future. A TV deal is important for the series as it will directly impact team and series sponsorships.

What is the format of the Indian Racing League? Future plans?

Weekend racing, the IRL will follow a sprint format, with 2 races on each weekend. The i1 Super Series also plans ‘Festival of Speed’ to promote motorsport to an average Indian. Ambitious and much needed! The IRL also plans academies in India to groom young talent.

Enough of the questions, here are my thoughts:

–          Great attempt and like the FMSCI, Indian motorsport fans should fully support the i1 Super Series. Much about the series is not known and doesn’t seem to be in place, but being patient would help. The official launch has created buzz in the correct circles and I am hopeful to see some traction on the commercial side of the series.

–          Sachin Tendulkar’s signing as brand ambassador is a commercial deal and hopefully the series organizers can make the most of it and sign big ticket sponsorships.

–          TV is extremely critical and it has to be LIVE on Indian TV (at suitable times) on Sunday to attract more followers. TV deal is also important for the racing teams because of their share in TV revenues. However, this part of the commercial is still not clear to me, i.e. if it exists or it doesn’t.

–          For a single make series, the costs of running a team seem to be on the higher side compared to other international championships. If you consider $7 million as an average to run a team, $63 million would be needed annually to keep the series afloat. The first two years will be most critical towards IRL’s long-term success.

–          Going by their format, 9 Indian racing drivers would be needed in the IRL. Great opportunity for young Indian talent. But how many Indian drivers can handle a 240bhp racing car in their first ever international racing season?

–          The launch event was more glamour than motorsport. For now, India needs motorsport more than its glamour!

Last question: Am I racing in this series?

Wait and watch…!

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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