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Grooming talent

But, new series could provide hope

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Even the most ardent motorsports fan will attest this. India doesn't have a single series, national or international, that can prepare and groom young and developing talent for the rigours of international racing. Most Indian drivers have the drive and passion when they leave for foreign shores but stagger back after seeing the level of competition. 

All home grown talent, including Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, honed their skills and took some sharp blows on the circuits of Europe in machines that were faster and smoother.

In recent years, there has been an attempt to bridge that gap a bit. The JK Asia Racing Series, the Volkswagen Polo R Cup India and the MRF 1600, have in recent upped the ante a bit. But the series with the strongest intent is the new MRF 2012 Challenge. Replacing the single-seater F1600, the MRF Formula 2000 cars are proper, powerful racing cars, similar to a Formula 3 car.

The pedigree of the car is far from doubt. The chassis is from Italian chassis manufacturer Dallara - the same that provides chassis for the likes of the Formula 3 championship, IndyCar, Indy Lights and GP2. Powering the cars are 2. 0-litre Renault engines that are mated to 6-speed sequential gearboxes from Hewland. Built by Coimbatore-based Jayem Automotive, run by legendary tuner J Anand, the series will be run by sister concern JA Motorsports. MRF has supplied specifically designed ZLO slick tyres.

Rightly so then, the buzz around this new addition to the Indian motorsport landscape has been building since day one. "The impression internationally as well as the response has been fantastic, " says Yohann Setna, motorsports director at JA Motorsports. "We have an excellent line-up of highly accomplished drivers from across the globe, including UK, Spain, Italy, USA, Brazil, Australia and of course, India, " he adds.

Among the drivers that have signed on the dotted line are Formula Renault UK 2. 0 series driver Jordan King, who also happens to be the son of Sainsbury CEO Justin King, reigning F2 champion Luciano Bacheta, the first female to win a Formula Renault championship Alice Powell - she also raced at the BIC last year in the MRF 1600 and finished on the podium - and the son of Scot racing legend Tom Walkinshaw, Sean Walkinshaw. The series will use the 25 points scoring system, similar to F1, and an additional point will be awarded for the fastest lap in the race and qualifying. The top three drivers will receive prize money, with the top finisher looking at earning more than $50, 000.

Apart from the technical and commercial lure of the series, the fact that it's a winter series ties in nicely with driver schedules, who would be otherwise hesitant to leave the more lucrative climes of Europe. "Apart from the fact that we are a winter series, which gives us a wonderful niche in the motorsport calendar, we are alone in Asia racing a state-of-the-art single-seater car, which is dynamically excellent, powerful, quick, affordable and very, very safe, " he expounds.

The series will consist of four rounds with a total of ten races - the first two will be held at the Buddh International Circuit and the final two at MMRT, Chennai. Round One will be held on October 27 and 28 as the support race for the Indian Grand Prix while round two, which will consist of four races, will take place on December 1 and 2. The final two rounds of two races races each will be held between February 1-3 and 8-10, 2013.

"The new MRF Formula 2000 cars are the absolute cutting edge in international racing technology. The platform it will provide to young racing drivers from all over the world will make it a unique series internationally, " said Karthikeyan at the time of the launch.

Vicky Chankdhok, president of the Federation of Motorsports Council of India, believes that the awareness created post the Indian Grand Prix has paved the way for series like MRF Challenge 2012.

"Look at how far we've come today. We have manufacturers like Volkswagen, Toyota kickstarting series and we have MRF and JK Tyres such an intrinsic part of our racing programme. Companies are willing to invest Rs 15-20 crores. This would not have happened without the F1 race, " he says.

Setna, who was the seatholder for Team India in the now defunct A1GP hopes that the series will be the perfect starting point for drivers serious about making a career out of racing. "Today's young drivers need to be the complete package, with skills both in and out of the car. In the car, they need to be focused, mentally and physically fit, analytical, and also aggressive. Out of the car, they need to be articulate, composed, amiable, hard-working and think with a businessman"s mind. This series is just what the doctor ordered. "

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