Honda puts India in the fast lane

HMSI-backed Idemitsu Honda Racing India has fielded an all-Indian team in the Asian Road Racing Championships to take on the best in the continent.

(From left) Senthil Kumar; Kohei Ueda, managing director of Idemitsu Lube India; HMSI president and CEO Minoru Kato; and Rajiv Sethu.   -  Special Arrangement

The track is loud, even without the noise from the bikes, and the air is electric at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, a town about 400km north of Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

Buriram is hosting the third round of the FIM Asian Road Racing Championships, recognised as the Asian continental championship, the governing body for motorcycle racing.

Representing India are Rajiv Sethu and Senthil Kumar, racing for the Idemitsu Honda Racing India team in the Asia Production 250 category.

A dream

“It is my dream to see an iconic Indian compete in Grand Prix-level racing,” Minoru Kato, the president and chief executive officer of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India that backs Idemitsu Honda Racing India, had said in early 2018. “With a clear development path and structured approach to nurture drivers in place, we now want to take Indian motorsports to the next level.”

A few months after that statement, HMSI announced it will enter a team — in partnership with T Pro Ten10 — for the 2018 season of the ARRC.

A decade after entering the motorsports scene in India through the Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship, it was a big step for HMSI. Rajiv Sethu finished 27th in the riders’ championship while Anish Shetty ended at the bottom.

Going all-Indian

While the first season was a major learning experience for both the racers and the team, this season HMSI entered a team in ARRC on its own: an all-Indian team to take on the best in Asia. The team retained Rajiv, dropped Anish and added 18-year-old rookie Senthil Kumar.

Rajiv Sethu (No. 80), into his third ARRC season, has enjoyed a splendid campaign so far. By the end of round 3, he had picked up 22 points — more than thrice what he collected in the last two seasons combined.   -  Special Arrangement

 

While the bike was improved upon in the off-season, Tomoyoshi Koyama, a former Moto2 rider who raced in the ARRC until last year, was brought in to train the riders. And the effects of that are pretty evident. Rajiv, into his third ARRC season, has enjoyed a splendid campaign so far. By the end of round 3, he had picked up 22 points — more than thrice of what he had collected in the last two seasons combined, and the team had more than twice as many points from last season with four rounds to go. There have been a few landmarks along the way. Rajiv finished in the top 10 for the first time, in the second round in Australia and had his best finish in qualifying in Buriram. He has gone from the back row to scraping for positions at the front of the grid.

A close-knit team

As with any sport, a lot of factors go into deciding the fate of a team and its riders — with budget constraints being one of the biggest. One need not go through the teams’ accounts to get a sense of it. A walk through the pits makes the differences pretty evident.

Apart from a handful of technicians and mechanics, some teams also have rider coaches.

These are people present to take care of the riders and, in some cases, they also act as translators if the team and rider do not speak the same language. And there are some teams who have a designated social media team that sits in the media box churning out content — live race updates, swanky graphics and more.

But HMSI travels with a comparatively small team. Multitasking helps them bridge the gap with the bigger teams. Amid the hustle and bustle, one can spot the familiar face of Sarath Kumar. A national champion in the 125cc and 165cc classes, he acts as a mentor and helps in setting up the bike when he isn’t on the tracks himself.

Moto3 in India

In its next step, Honda has decided to bring its championship-winning Moto3 bike to Indian tracks for the first time. Eight riders will use the NSF250R bike in the newly established India Talent Cup to fast-track their development.

Honda has decided to bring the NSF250R, its championship-winning Moto3 bike, to Indian tracks for the first time.   -  Special Arrangement

 

The NSF250R is used by Honda teams in Moto3, a bike whose riders have won four world championships in the last five years. “I used proper racing bikes only when I went international, while those from other countries started out with those (racing) bikes,” says Sarath. “In international races, I had to get used to the bike, apart from getting used to the tracks and the competition. That’s a lot to ask. Kids will now benefit by using the NSF bike early.” It’s a sentiment echoed by 14-year-old Mohamed Mikail and 18-year-old Kritik Habib, two youngsters competing in Honda’s Thai Talent Cup using the same bike.

The writer was in Buriram at the invitation of Honda Racing India.