The revving of 1000cc engines and the whirring of state-of-the-art pneumatic tools were heard for the first time in over 10 years at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) as India hosted its first-ever MotoGP race, the Indian Grand Prix.
Things were a bit sour after Formula One pulled out from hosting Grand Prix races at the circuit and after a decade-long hiatus, MotoGP was seen as the knight in shining armour to resurrect the Grand Prix racing scene in the country.
The build-up to the event wasn’t the greatest, with scepticism from fans and media alike about the condition of the circuit. Hermann Tilke had designed the BIC for four-wheeler racing and quite a few changes had to be made to make it suitable for the premier class of motorcycle racing.
Another subject of concern was the delay in issuing visas to the riders, team mechanics and the media, which cast a shadow over the participation of a few high-profile riders on the grid. But the visas landed in the nick of time as did the riders. The Grand Prix weekend got off to a start with the festivities on media day.
The riders were thrown into the deep end to try their luck in two significant cultural facets of India —Cricket and Bollywood. The dancing required an extended period of coaxing, with RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’ eventually getting the riders into their groove.
The cricket was more enthusiastically approached although the skill level on display was quite amusing for the fans who had made their way to the BIC. A few of the cameramen who had entered the track had to bear the brunt of some wayward hitting. The brief session provided the adrenaline needed before the main business got underway.
More entertainment awaited the riders during the press conference as they were made to draw the BIC circuit layout blindfolded. The riders were in shock as the only recollection they had of the layout was trying the track out on PlayStation. The tightly contested event saw quite a bit of banter and disagreements, kick-starting the competitive side of the weekend for the riders.
Friday saw the commencement of on-track action as the stakeholders waited for the rider’s feedback on the circuit, the final push needed to satisfy the bosses of the sport. The first run of the Moto3 bikes on the circuit echoed across the 5.12km circuit, putting into perspective the level of noise these engines generate.
The paddock, situated in the middle of the layout, was pounded with sounds from all four sides after 30-odd riders hopped on to try the track out for the first time. With the riders giving the thumbs-up, the nerves calmed, with satisfaction that there would be no last-minute hiccup like the one the British Grand Prix experienced.
The aerial shot of the turn 1 gravel trap during practice was quite a sight as the riders spent more time in the gravel than on the tarmac itself. The extremely tight Turn 1 corner would be an area of struggle for riders throughout the weekend as they tried to find the optimal braking point and wriggle through the narrow turn.
The fan turnout during the first day was low but not wholly unexpected considering that motorcycle racing is still yet to fully blossom in the country. The paddock too was a little barren, with only team personnel, organisers and the media shuttling about.
A humorous anecdote from the post-practice media scrums was KTM rider Jack Miller’s attempts to make the assembled journalists understand the size of a monkey that had taken over the KTM garage. “When I say monkey, it was not a small monkey. It was a big monkey almost like a baboon,” he exclaimed.
The monkey was the main source of content for the KTM social media team over the next two days with the mammal also expertly positioning itself near the exit to bid adieu as the teams left after the weekend.
The speed on and off the track picked up on Saturday. The race distance was shortened based on the comments of the riders on the previous day, with many of them struggling to get accustomed to the humidity. But just as the riders were getting ready for the afternoon session, the heavens opened up, forcing a delay in schedule.
There was quite a bit of visible confusion on the faces of the Indian media as they tried to get their heads around the rules of the sport. The introduction of a last-minute wet session before the Sprint race and the notification of the use of medium-wet tyres didn’t help their case either.
The first lap incident in the MotoGP sprint race saw the whole paddock and media centre ringing with gasps and gulps as the two VR46 teammates crashed into each other. But Marco Bezzecchi’s stunning recovery brought the smiles back as they stood up and applauded the brilliance of the young Italian.
The crowds poured in on Race day, with the grandstand almost at full capacity and the picnic stand also seeing a fair number of fans, despite the high temperatures. The paddock was packed too, with social media influencers and business honchos trodding along. The who’s who of the state top brass and the entertainment industry also marked their attendance for India’s biggest motorsport event in the last 10 years.
The three-day attendance figures were marked at around 1,10,000 which is the actual capacity of the track, showing that there was still work to be done in getting Indian fans hooked to the sport.
There was no shortage of support from the grandstand crowd, the decibel levels competing with the noises from the powerful machines on display. Bezzecchi, the eventual race winner, remarked it was one of the best atmospheres he had raced in and left India a fan favourite with his performances on-track magnifying his vivacious personality off it. The track was a big hit among the riders, with most of them having to be on the top of their game to deal with the highly technical corners.
The banked turn eight was also highly rated by the riders, with Francesco Bagnaia using the curvature expertly to speed past Jorge Martin during the race.
Despite a few niggling issues, the weekend was largely seamless and the quality of racing action on display was on par with any other MotoGP event in the world.
India can improve the way it organises these events and with support from the government and stakeholders, it can secure its position on the MotoGP calendar.
India is the largest two-wheeler market in the world and an ocean of opportunity for MotoGP constructors. And it would serve well to take a cue from former F1 driver Karun Chandhok, who once said: “More than India needing MotoGP, it is MotoGP that needs India”.
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