x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pole Position: i1 Super Car Championship is a bold, new racing venture

An entrepreneur attempts to rival cricket with motorsport as the top dog in India.

There is no doubt that when Formula One turns up for the first time in a country, the colossal amount of publicity generated can be a catalyst for the growth of grassroots racing.

But recent history tells us that new F1 circuits inevitably get built under huge time constraints and all the good intent to build kart circuits and develop local racing takes a back seat in the drive to complete the facility in time. This was the case in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, where the seemingly impossible was achieved when two excellent circuits were completed on time. Mr E really should mandate a kart racing circuit in his new F1 contracts as this is the only way to generate future drivers.

The most recent grand prix circuit to be built was near New Delhi, in India, a country that is home to more than one billion people. Barely completed, the India GP attracted 94,000 spectators and the place was packed for Saturday qualifying as well. This in a country that has, until now, had little interest in motor racing.

But this didn't constrain the thinking of one Mr Darshan M, of Machdar Motorsports in Bangalore, who decided that India is ready for a major sport to rival cricket - and it is to be called the i1 Super Car Championship.

Last week the first real evidence of his ambitious plan and huge investment became evident as 18 of his 27 brand new race cars were delivered from the UK to the Yas Marina Circuit.

My team had just three days to prepare and shake down the cars for the 27 drivers who were presented to the media at a recent press conference.

Darshan modelled his new five-round race series on the successful Indian Premier League, so nine Indian cities will each have a two-car team competing for a US$1 million (Dh3.67m) prize - and the top driver will also win $1m. Each city will have an international professional driver and an Indian driver, and the event travels to places such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain.

Although this was just an introductory session for the drivers, the media and the team owners at Yas, it is clear that Darshan's plan is being well received.

The drivers raced around the 2.36km South Circuit in their identical cars, giving the invited young Indian racers a chance to compare their laps to the pro drivers, among them Jean Alesi, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mika Salo and Tonio Liuzzi.

It's not often that you see top drivers in identical cars. Of course, there is a limit to how fast any given car will go around a circuit, and the F1 drivers get there very quickly. In the second session, after 18 laps, six pro drivers had all lapped within two tenths of a second. But I can assure you, some of the young Indian drivers were not far behind. In fact, young F2 racer Armaam Ebrahim was faster than Liuzzi and other pros.

It should be fun, and who knows, maybe India will indeed embrace motor racing. The first event takes place at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia on January 22 and comes to Abu Dhabi on March 10.

Pole Position is written by Barry Hope, a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.