Whither India?

The Asia Dream Cup, which made its debut in India.-Pics. M. VEDHAN

If the Indian manufacturers are not keen to support their own riders in terms of supplying the latest bikes and sponsoring the best riders for events in India and around the globe, Indian bike racing will continue to languish, writes K. Keerthivasan.

“It was certainly disappointing,” said an exasperated R. Deepak, at not being able to take part in the third round of the Petronas Asia road racing championship in Chennai, due to certain issues with the sponsor at the last minute.

The 25-year-old, given a wild card (along with Rajini Krishnan) for the Asian event, was hopeful of participating even a few days before the championship. But a call from the sponsor dashed his hopes. This, at a time when other Asian bikers — from Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan — have been improving rapidly taking part in several championship rounds in the region. The lone Indian rider in the SuperSports (600cc) category, Moto-Rev’s Rajini, with an outdated bike model (2008) did his best and finished 17th in both the races at the Madras Motor Race Track in Irungattukottai.

The Asia championship, which saw a galaxy of experienced racers such as Katsuaki Fujiwara (Japan, Yamaha), Makoto Tamada (Japan, Honda) and relatively younger ones like Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman (Malaysia, Honda) and Mohammad Zamri Baba (Malaysia, Yamaha) participating, also showed in broad daylight the class of the these riders and the yawning gap that exists between them and the hapless Indians.

Each category in the championship — be it the Underbone class (115cc) or the Asia Dream Cup (Honda bikes) or the 600cc category — had nail-biting finishes which were a treat to watch to the few who cared to come all the way.

The premium section, the 600cc, took the cake for the sheer presence of the experienced riders and the way they rode their machines. The competition in Races 1 and 2 was intense between the three riders, Tamada, Kamaruzaman and Baba.

And former Moto GP rider Tamada hogged the limelight, going on to win both the races. Returning to the circuit after nearly nine years, Tamada wasn’t the favourite to bag the honours. Even in the qualifying, it was Baba who took the pole position. “Where was Tamada?” one wondered. The 36-year-old earned a call-up to Moto GP in 2003 for Honda for four years. After only moderate success there, Tamada turned his interest to the World Superbikes championship in 2008 before flirting with Moto GP and endurance races with little success till 2012. Last year, he became the trainer for the Asia Dream Cup, and seems to be enjoying it. “I wanted to give it a try,” said Tamada on his comeback.

The Honda rider was awesome in both the races at the MMRT. In the first race, he started off shakily. But towards the middle, Tamada made his intentions clear and was in the top three till the 14th lap. Towards the finish in the 16th and last lap, the Japanese pipped Kamaruzaman and took the top position.

The second race ended abruptly! Leading the field, Tamada skidded and fell at Corner 5 of the 10th lap (with six laps to go) resulting in the race being red-flagged. Before the race could resume, the riders informed the stewards of an oil leak from Tamada’s bike. Immediately, the race was called off.

The top three in both the races of the supersports (600cc) category of the Petronas Asia Road Racing Championship at the MMRT. From life: Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman (second), Makoto Tamada (first) and Md. Zamri Baba.-

As Tamada was leading, with Kamaruzaman and Baba behind after the completion of nine laps, the three were given the top three places. According to FIM rules, if two-thirds of a lap is not finished, only half the points should be awarded to the racers.

Tamada, for his part, sounded happy with the result at the press conference. “Race 2 felt a bit off, from the start I felt the grip was not strong enough. Nevertheless, I could still ride comfortably. But somehow, I lost control of the bike and crashed coming out of a turn. My back and leg still hurts from the impact, but I consider myself lucky to escape without any major injuries,” he said.

Tamada then spoke about his first outing at the MMRT, “Overall, it was a good weekend. Although it ended on the wrong note, I still finished first in both races and Azlan is now back on top of the championship standings. The team is very happy and we will continue to work hard for the remaining rounds left this season.”

Azlan now leads the SuperSports 600cc standings with 120 points followed by Tamada second on 88.5 points. Zamri is in third place with 85 points. The remaining three rounds will be held in Suzuka (Japan), Autopolis (Japan) and Losail (Qatar) with no Indian in the 600 cc category.

The Malaysian Super Series, the eight-hour endurance race in Japan and the SuperSports (600cc) section in both the countries showcase the quality and the interest these nations have for two-wheeler racing. Here, in India, there is the National championship and a round of the Asia championship.

If corporate houses in India are not keen to support their own riders in terms of supplying the latest bikes and sponsoring the best riders for events in India and around the globe, Indian bike racing will continue to languish. The Deepak incident is an apt example.