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When Manoj Lulla takes his car out for a spin on the roads of Chennai, he feels like Rajinikanth. People often stop in their tracks, and whip out their mobile phones and cameras to click Lulla in his Lamborghini Gallardo LP560.
"It's a great feeling, " says Lulla. "Many people are thrilled to see an Indian drive a supercar. " Last Sunday, when Lulla and other members of the newly launched Madras Exotic Car Club (MECC) held their first event at the Irungattukottai race track, more than 3, 000 spectators turned up to watch them whiz past in their sleek machines. "When I got my first super car, a Mercedes SL 600 in 2006, there were not too many exotic cars on Chennai roads, " says Balsingh George, managing director of Golden Homes. "Today, the city is home to about 100 super cars, including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and sports models of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. "
That's why he and Lulla got together and launched the MECC on March 31. "While there are super car clubs up North, this is the first one in south India, " he says. For car enthusiasts like him, the thrill of a super car lies in the speed. "We consider a machine a super car only if it is 400 bhp or more, " says George, who has been fascinated by cars since childhood. One of his favourite photographs is of him as a five-year-old sitting proudly in a rickety metal toy jeep. "My first car was a second- hand Fiat. I always wanted to own a Ferrari but never thought I'd be successful enough to own one, " says George, who bought a Ferrari 458 Italia in 2011. George also owns a Rolls Royce Ghost, the first one to be delivered in the Asia Pacific region.
A few women, whose husbands have a passion for super cars, too have ventured onto the track. "My wife Madhurima loves driving the Mercedes SL 600, " says George. Vimmi Deepak developed a love for fast cars after getting married to neurosurgeon Deepak Arjundas. "He is crazy about cars so I got hooked to them, " says Vimmi. "Though we have a Bentley Continental Spur, I love the red Porsche Targa, " says Vimmi, who was one of the few women to participate in the MECC's drag race on April 1.
Driving on Chennai roads is no easy task so most owners head to the East Coast Road (ECR) or the bypass near Tambaram on Sundays. "My husband, son Akshay and I go for a drive down the ECR before 6 am and have breakfast at a resort before heading back, " says Vimmi.
George takes his Ferrari out at least once a week. "I use a chauffeur-driven Fortuner for my daily commute but no one is allowed to touch my Ferrari, " he says. He is often mobbed on the road. "Bikers try to overtake us to take photos and I am scared they'll get hurt, " he says. "People often come and knock on the window. They think I am from Mumbai or Delhi and are happy to hear me speak Tamil. "
Maintaining the vehicles is also a challenge. While some companies have set up service centres in Chennai, most are up north. "Bentley has no showroom here so we fly people down from Delhi to service the car twice a year, " says Vimmi.
George is worried about the first service for his Ferrari, which is due in November 2012. "I'll have to put it in a truck and send it to Delhi and I am worried the car will get damaged, " he says.
That's also one of the reasons why he and Lulla decided to launch the MECC. "Super car owners can get together, exchange information and help each other out, " says Lulla, chairman of the club.
The MECC will also organise track events, get special drivers from Europe to train owners of super cars here on optimal use of their vehicles, and offer technical expertise. While membership is by invitation only, there are plans to have events for the general public. "We are very encouraged by the response to our first event in which 40 cars took part, " says George, who is also the sponsor of the club. "So we are planning to have another drag race on December 23. "
This time, they plan to create a website for spectators to enroll in a lucky draw. "Winners will get interesting prizes - from a ride in a super car during a drag race to a chance to go to Delhi and watch the F1 race, " says George. "We want everyone to experience the thrill of watching super cars in action. "
Lulla is confident that the club will expand in the future. "With new generation entrepreneurs or industrialists wanting an exciting lifestyle, the market for high-end luxury cars is bound to go up, " he says.
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