Honda Racing has announced its outlook for the coming year of racing. To know more about racing and its impact on India, we sat down with Mr Prabhu Nagaraj, Vice President – Honda Motorcycles & Scooters India Pvt. Ltd. Below is an enlightening conversation that we had regarding the general facts and developments of motorsports in India.
MO: My first question for you does not pertain about Honda Racing, but about your broader look at motorsports in general in India. What are your thoughts?
PN: Comparing it to the time when we got into motorsports and now, there is a huge difference. Motorsports is now picking up attention very strongly in all categories – motocross, supercross, rally racing and even track racing. The scenario is definitely changing but at the same time, there are challenges that are there for the sport to take a fast track. But those are mostly to do with importing parts and getting it’s not been easy in India at the same speed and in the same timeframe as others. With that said, I’m very confident that the policy changes that have enabled us to hold events easily now will also help in making sure that we will be able to overcome the present issues too.
MO: When we think about the roadmap to MotoGP that is created by Honda and when we go to the grassroots level not everyone makes the cut! You lose some on the way. What is the success rate? For what kind of a racer is this roadmap the best?
PN: In last one year when we decided to take up the new direction of developing the ‘Iconic rider’, I have seen a true focus and passion available across the country with riders. What was missing, was availability and accessibility to those riders. First, when they start young, their focus towards the sport is very important. If that continues through their adult life, those riders will go a long way. Likely to lose are the riders that want to test waters. Because they second guess their passion, technique and thus lose focus. Thus we have a pool of riders now.
MO: Coming off the answer to the second question, start them young is what you said. How successful is that approach? Are young riders u for the job or you have to turn attention to more experienced and older riders to fill the gap? Are younger riders easier to work with?
PN: Both yes and no to be frank. Even getting the good riders to match international levels is a challenge. The older rider’s growth path gets stunted because of the age at which they start Form more experienced Indian riders to match international levels would also be a challenge because of the infrastructure available in India, So if we catch them young it is better and they have more time to develop and we have more time to help them. If you see ARRC today, most of the riders in the 250cc category are 13 to 15-year-olds. Whether it’s Thai or Indonesia, and they are on a fast track. So the younger you are the more likely are you to get ahead in your career.
MO: Talking about careers. What kind of a career does a rider expect to achieve? As a career graph goes what is a rider’s target? What do you tell riders who think they will go up to Moto2 or Moto3 at least?
PN: One, their passion. So if that’s there, they can achieve that by going through the structured programs Honda Racing has in place. And like any other sport, motorsports provides a lot of career opportunities. Riders get involved in stuff like the development of new products, brand representation and many other things. They are definitely going to make a career. Riders who did not find success in their own racing days are now helping in developing and working closely with teams for other riders. A case in point is our Sharad Kumar. He has been working with domestic and even ARRC and is still in the same field.
MO: So motorsports in India is a big deal now. But does that mean what Honda Racing is developing in India for the track that same technology transfer will be also seen in the products made in India? An Indian racer helping the manufacturer’s Indian arm develop something. Will that happen?
PN: See Viraat, right from when we started 7 years back, the racing technology has always made its way to our products here. It may not be the exact thing and will be a toned down version of the tech. Overall, our aim is to cultivate this racing culture that is part of our company’s DNA. So our R&D is helping the products on the road too.
MO: What about women in racing? Is that also a part of the teams focus?
PN: Definitely yes. The Federation is also putting a lot of pressure on this point. In fact when we started first to introduce this category. Earlier there was less enthusiasm. And when we talk about developing a rider, we don’t talk about a boy or a girl. If the girl is passionate, she is ready for the track, we are ready to start developing her. This structure does not differentiate.
MO: One last question, when do you think that the motorsports ecosystem in India will be fully developed and will be sustainable?
PN: For Honda Racing this is the beginning. And we will be developing and helping the ecosystem in India too. At least I’m happy that in the past 10 years, we have been able to make a lot of changes and progressively develop the 2 wheeler racing in India. We have had a huge hand in that. We have reached a peak where the attitude, the discipline etc. have come up to international levels. And as the fun riding culture is improving and India is pegged to become the next great destination for performance oriented companies and also other motorsports organisations.