Motor Sport in India in forward gear

November 8th, 2008 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Nov 8 (IANS) The global economic meltdown will not impact motor sport in India, according to a cross-section of automobile honchos who, on the contrary, believe that the show will go on.With fears of a long recessionary period that has already seen pink slips, drastic cost cutting measures and slowdown in the automobile industry, motor sport in general could take a big hit and it could be even more so in India.

However, Sanjay Sharma, the boss of JK Tyre motor sport, believes that the events will continue regardless of the economic situation. “It is the above-the-line activities like advertising and promotions that have taken a hit, but I am certain that events that are basically below-the-line, would continue although cash flow could be a hurdle. All those who had pledged their involvement in the sport, will continue to support,” he told IANS Saturday.

Sharma’s counterpart in MRF Tyres, Anthony Rodricks, however, begged to differ. While admitting that the tyre industry is languishing in view of rise in rubber prices and cuts in automobile production, it was a tight-rope walk that could well lead to a cut in spends on motor sport.

“Advertising is always the first to feel the pinch of cost cutting measures. In MRF, motor sport is part of advertising. At the moment, I cannot say how much the market situation would impact our involvement in motor sport. It is too early to say whether we will take part in the 2009 APRC (Asia Pacific Rally Championship),” he said.

MRF pulled out of the fourth round of the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) at Coimbatore last month saying the event was not budgeted for and also it was put on the calendar rather late, providing just two weeks notice.

At this moment, there are two more INRC rounds on the anvil, in Kodagu, Karnataka, later this month and Nashik in December. Rodricks said it was doubtful whether MRF would participate. “What is the point of spending all that money at a time like this and when we have no interest in the championship?” he asked.

Echoing the views, Sharma said: “If I had the authority, I would not even run the remaining two rounds, for they have no value. Rather, my focus would be to put rallying in place rather than just the championship. As of now, it is highly unlikely that we will be taking part in the INRC this year. Like I said, the issue is not about Reds (MRF) vs Yellows (JK Tyre), but giving the sport a direction.”

Sharma asserted it was a question of retaining the confidence of sponsors. “By design or default, we have sponsors and it is important that we keep the confidence of our financial backers,” he said.

Among the major players, besides MRF and JK Tyre, who have invested heavily in Indian motor sport, are three Bangalore-based units, Sidvin CoreTech, Red Rooster Racing and India Mines Group.

While Sidvin sponsored a one-car team driven by V R Naren Kumar in the World Rally Championship (Production class), Red Rooster run teams in both four-wheeler and two-wheeler categories on the domestic circuit while IMG were the title sponsors for three of the four INRC rounds held so far and promised to back the remaining two rounds.

Dinesh Reddy of Red Rooster said that despite the market slowdown, his involvement in motor sport would continue. “In fact, our budget for next year is up by about Rs 7 million on the Rs 30 million for 2008. Our focus is on sport and next year, we plan to launch activities at the grass root level. As regards the downturn, I do admit that companies are into cost cutting, but marketing is an essential tool, although motor sport might not be high on the priority list,” he said.

With several international events on cards for next season, including a Super Bike race, the JK Tyre-Volkswagen touring car championship, it is anybody’s guess whether these programmes would take off as scheduled. “There might be some delays, but I am sure, the show will go on,” said Sharma

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