Indian racers abroad and their plans for the 2015 season of motorsport
It's that time of the year again, when our racers, having had a fairly long break during motorsport's off season, find themselves having to shake off the rust of the holidays. Out come the racing shoes, on go the helmets, balaclavas and racing gloves. And it is with good cheer that the lot of them get on with going racing once again. The off season, though, isn't entirely easy. It involves a lot of meetings with various teams to see whether there is the possibility of getting a racing seat with them. Then begins the number crunching, the complicated math involved in determining whether or not they have the money for the championship they are looking at doing. Since the answer is no, more often than not, the drivers and riders then begin the rather arduous task of trying to find sponsorship that will help fund another season of racing.
Well, some of our racers have managed to firm up their plans for the 2015 season nicely, having already secured their race seats for 2015. Some others are still trying to confirm their race seats, hurried meetings and last minute deals being worked on in motorsport's silly season. Here's a quick look at who is racing where in 2015, then.
2014: Super Formula Japan
Best finish: 6th place at Fuji
Last year, India's first ever Formula 1 driver, Narain Karthikeyan headed East to compete in the Super Formula Japan Series, a championship that many regard as one of the fastest single-seater championships around the world. Essentially, Super Formula Japan is the former Formula Nippon series. And it is a series that boasts a rather competitive grid of drivers, with the likes of Loic Duval, Vitantonnio Liuzzi, Andre Lotterer and Kazuki Nakajima competing in the championship.
For Narain, though, the 2014 season, where he raced for Lenovo Team Impul, probably wasn't the easiest, though. Especially since he entered the championship soon after fighting for the title in the AutoGP series in 2013. There were high points though, with Narain qualifying on the front row of the grid at Suzuka, although his best finish all through the season was 6th place at Fuji. Overall 13th place in the championship isn't what Narain liked too much, and he's all set to put his learnings from last year to good use.
Having come to terms with the Dallara-chassised formula cars that come powered by 2.0-litre Honda or Toyota engines, the racer is all set to give the championship another go. For the 2015 season, Narain will compete with Team Dandelion Racing, where he will be partnered by Tomoki Nojiri, who won a race at Sportland SUJO last year. Having a young and fast driver as his team-mate is likely to help Narain. After all, your team-mate really is your biggest rival.
2014: FIA Formula E Championship, 24 Hours of Le Mans
Best finish: 5th place at Beijing
Since his last stint at Formula 1, Karun has steadily shifted his focus from single-seaters, and moved in the direction of sportscar racing. But 2014 was something of a mixed bag for the Indian driver. His third stint in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, his second with Team Murphy Racing Prototypes, didn't end well. The team didn't finish the race. And then Karun signed with Team Mahindra Racing to compete in the entire season of the FIA Formula E Championship. The series is new, has some novel ideas (it is the first all electric car racing championship in the world and promotes sustainable energy), and some confusing ones too (the Fanboost and the fact that drivers have to swap cars during the course of the race). Of course, Karun was happy to be back in the seat of a formula racing car, and also appeared to enjoy the challenge that this type of racing brings to the fore.
While in most formula cars, the power remains the same and the weight drops, in Formula E cars, the weight remains constant and the power drops. Well, it's early days though, with Karun and team-mate Bruno Senna competing in the fourth race of the championship in Miami as we go to press. But the driver is hoping to get better as the season continues on into 2015. Another outing at Le Mans is also something that Karun is aiming for, having already completed a test with Team Murphy Racing Prototypes. But as of now, there is no confirmation as to whether or not he will get a race seat for the event.
2014: International GT Open
Best finish: 2nd place at Jerez, winner in the Super GT class
2014 saw Aditya Patel do another season behind the wheel of an Audi R8, this time driving for Team Novadriver in the International GT Open. The season saw Patel have some highs, like overall pole at Silverstone, with second place overall (and first in the Super GT class) being the highlights for him and team-mate Cesar Campanico. The pair of them finished the championship joint sixth, which all in all wasn't too bad for Patel's first run in the championship.
For 2015, though, Aditya will compete in the Audi R8 LMS Cup, being backed for the entire season by Audi India, JK Tyre and Amante. The R8 LMS Cup is a single make series that is primarily held in China, while also travelling to Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan. Over the course of each race weekend, drivers get approximately two and a half hours of driving time, including practice, qualifying and the race itself.
For Aditya, the challenge will be the fact that he will have to get the hang of some unfamiliar tracks, having only driven at Sepang and Shanghai before, with the other four tracks being new to him. But he does seem to be well on the way to achieving his longterm goal, which is to find himself in the fortunate position of being an Audi pool driver, essentially a factory driver for Team Audi. Some strong performances from him could well see that happen.
2014: CIK FIA World Championship, DKM Championship
Best finish: Runner-up in CIK FIA World Championship,
Second overall in DKM Championship
Jehan Daruvala has had a pretty quick climb up the motorsport ladder. In 2010 he was selected as the winner of Sahara Force India's One From A Billion hunt, and in the years that have followed, he's steadily moved from one karting championship to the next, winning races and titles along the way. Jehan started the 2014 season on a high, with extra confidence thanks to the fact that he had won the title of British KF3 Champion in 2013.
The 2014 season saw him compete in both the CIK FIA World Championship as well as the DKM Championship, finishing runner up in both. While the young driver was initially set to do another season of karting before making the transition to single seaters, since his performance exceeded expectations, he's making the jump to car racing a year earlier.
For 2015, Jehan will compete in the Formula Renault 2.0 championship with Fortec Motorsport. He will also compete as a guest driver in the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS championship, as well as the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup. Will his switch to cars be as successful as his years in karting? Given how committed this young driver is to learning and honing his racecraft, we don't see why not.
2014: BRDC Formula 4 Championship
Best finish: Runner-up in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship
Arjun Maini only made the switch to car racing in 2013, after having had a fairly successful run racing go karts. In his first year in cars, the young driver competed in the JK Tyre Racing Championship, driving the 2.0-litre FB02 cars (formerly Formula BMW), and the Super 6 Series in Malaysia, also in Formula BMW machinery.
In 2014, he made the switch to racing in Europe, competing in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship. It proved to be a very successful season for Maini, with four race wins over the course of the year, at Snetterton, Oulton Park, Brands Hatch and Donington Park too. This put him overall second in the championship. 2015 got off to a good start for the racer, with Arjun winning races in the Toyota Racing Series.
And it looks set to get even better. Arjun has been signed by Van Amersfoort Racing for this year, and will compete in the entire season of European F3. Yes, that's the same team that saw Max Verstappen do so spectacularly well last year. Another season like last year will be excellent. But with 33 races spread over eleven rounds, and a 35 strong grid, it's going to be a tough year.
2014: MRF FF1600 series, MRF Challenge, Protyre Formula Renault
Best finish: MRF FF1600 champion, 1st place at Losail in the MRF Challenge, 2nd place at Snetterton in the Protyre Formula Renault championship
Tarun Reddy was another racer who impressed enough to earn a spot in the Sahara Force India Driver Academy after the One From A Billion Hunt in 2010. Since then he's moved from karting to racing single seaters, and has impressed in the MRF FF1600 class, winning the championship in 2014. This, of course, meant that he earned himself a place on the MRF Challenge grid that is run at tracks around Asia. Reddy impressed at this championship as well, taking one win at Losail.
In his first full season of racing single seaters in Europe in the Protyre Formula Renault Championship, Reddy performed strongly. He finished third at Donington Park and second at Snetterton, and ended tenth in the championship. In 2015, he moves to Formula 4 competing in the FIA MSA Formula Championship with Double R Racing. The plan is for Reddy to graduate to Formula 3 with the Double R Racing team in 2016, given that the team already sees him as a driver with tremendous potential. There is also a chance that Tarun will once again compete in the MRF Challenge in 2015.
2014: JK Racing Championship, Formula Masters China
Best finish: Two 1st places at the Buddh International Circuit, 4th at Inje in Formula Masters China
This is the big year for 18-year old Akhil Rabindra and he goes into the 2015 season of motorsport with the confidence of a racer who has had a good season in 2014. Akhil, having been part of the FIA Institute's 2014 Young Driver Academy, managed to finish second in the JK Racing Championship in the FB02 class, and also competed in a few rounds of the Formula Masters China series.
But now he makes the leap to racing in Europe for the first time. The driver will compete in the BRDC Formula 4 championship, driving for Douglas Motorsport. What will hold Akhil in good stead is that the team he will compete for has experience aplenty. Getting used to the car and the tracks will be the driver's big challenge this year. To get himself up to speed quickly, Akhil plans on doing some amount of testing too.
2014: MRF FF1600, Toyota EMR Cup (one round),
MRF Challenge (two rounds)
Best finish: Runner-up in the MRF FF1600 championship, 1st in the Toyota EMR race at the MMRT, and 10th at Bahrain in the MRF Challenge
Advait Deodhar (right)
Advait Deodhar is one of those drivers who has made tremendous amounts of progress in motorsport in a very short period of time. From racing and impressing in the LGBF4s as a part of the JK Tyre Racing Championship, to making the transition to a slicks and wings racer in the MRF FF1600 series, the driver has come a long way.
2014 was a good year for Advait, and, as of the penultimate round of the FF1600 championship, he was in the run for the title. However, given that he had to sit out the last round no thanks to an illness, he had to settle for second place in the championship. The driver also competed in one round of the Toyota EMR Cup, winning a race in his first attempt at saloon car racing. Advait also drove two rounds of the MRF Challenge, and found himself coming to terms with a proper and fast single seater.
In the 2015 season, the young driver has already managed to test with the Eurasia Team in the Formula Masters Championship in China, and impressed, although he isn't going to be competing in the championship. With plans to compete in the Porsche Carrera Cup not reaching fruition, the driver is set to compete in Raceto24, a shootout for the third seat in the LMP2 class with Team SARD-Morand for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship. The plan is also to aim towards the Mazda Road to Indy series later this year.
2014: MRF FF1600, Volkswagen Polo R Cup
Best finish: 2014 Volkswagen Polo R Cup Champion
Karthik Tharani had a very good 2014 season. While he did do two championships, one being a proper wings and slicks series and the other a tin-top series, he managed to get himself up to speed in both cars. On the one hand he had a couple of podium finishes in the MRF FF1600 series, and on the other hand he slowly showed his strength in the Volkswagen Polo R Cup. The final round of the championship at the Buddh International Circuit saw Karthik win two races that weekend, and move smartly to the head of the championship standings, winning the series.
For 2015, he will continue to compete in the MRF FF1600 series (where he's already managed race wins) and also compete in the FB02 class of the JK Tyre Racing Championship. Given that he is reigning Polo R Cup champion, the driver will do one round of the Castrol Cup in Poland this year. There are also plans to do some amount of endurance racing, with deals being worked out for the 24 Hours of Barcelona and the 12 Hours of Brno.
2014: 24 Hours of Dubai, 12 Hours of Zandvoort
Best finish: 5th in class at the 12 Hours of Zandvoort
Prashanth Tharani came close to winning the 2013 Volkswagen Polo R Cup championship, but had to settle for second place eventually. And while he didn't manage to do an entire season of motorsport last year, his determination to end up as a professional touring car racer saw him compete in two endurance races.
The 24 Hours of Dubai saw Prashanth behind the wheel of a BMW 130D for Cor Euser Racing, and the team looked set for a podium finish in class, until the engine gave up at the very last minute. Fifth in class (24th overall out of 51 competitors) at the 12 Hours of Zandvoort, where he piloted a Renault Clio for Speedlover Racing, was commendable.
In 2015, Tharani will compete in three rounds of the Creventic Endurance Championship in a Seat Supercopa. He will also compete in the 12 Hours of Zandvoort and the 24 Hours of Paul Ricard in the Seat Eurocup car. The long term goal? A tin top racing championship like the WTCC.
2014: MRF Challenge
Best finish: 1st place at Losail
Raj Bharath didn't end up competing in formula cars in the 2014 season of racing, even though early on in the season it looked like he was to have a full season racing at Formula 3 level. However, in the one championship that he did compete in, the MRF Challenge, he did very well. Bharath took one race win, first place at Losail, and followed it up with two second place finishes and one third place too.
Overall, the Indian driver stood third in the championship, and was by far the fastest of the Indian drivers to compete in the series. For the 2015 season, the goal is once again to get into Formula 3 level of racing. However, exact details on which series he will compete in, haven't yet been confirmed. However, given that he finished every race in the MRF Challenge in the points that too, is a good sign. Now to get him used to racing in Europe.
2014: Asia Pacific Rally Championship, Indian Rally Championship
Best finish: 1st place at New Caledonia and Johor Bahru in the APRC, 2014 Indian Rally Champion
That Gaurav Gill is one of the best motorsport talents to emerge from India in recent times cannot be disputed. Not only has he competed astride two wheelers, he's also won national titles in both circuit racing and rallying. And the 2013 season of motorsport was easily Gaurav's finest, with him winning the Asia Pacific Rally Championship, and also winning the IRC class in the then Indian National Rally Championship.
2014, however, was a mixed bag for Gill. On the one hand he decimated the opposition in the Indian Rally Championship, clinching his fourth national rally title in the Team Mahindra Adventure SuperXUV. On the other hand, the APRC proved to be something of a challenge. Gill won two rallies, with his Team MRF Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky winning the other four rallies and the championship title too.
For 2015, Gill will continue to pilot the Fabia in the APRC and the SuperXUV in the IRC. Winning both titles is his aim. But like he says, the challenge in the APRC is getting tougher in terms of weather conditions and unpredictability of the terrain, and just getting the cars to the finish line is a task in itself. We're still rooting for you, Gaurav.
2014: World Cross Country Rally Championship;
2015: Dakar Rally
Best performance: Eighth place at Qatar; 36th in the Dakar Rally
Well, CS Santosh appears to be the man of the moment when it comes to motorcycling in India. And with good reason. Santosh has clearly set his goals and worked towards them too. At the beginning of the 2014 season of motorsport, he told us that he was going to compete in select rounds of the World Cross Country Rally Championship, with the aim being that he would compete in the 2015 edition of the Dakar Rally. And he's done both. Santosh finished 10th at Abu Dhabi, eighth at Qatar and 22nd at Morocco. Then he made history by becoming the first ever Indian to compete in the Dakar, finishing a strong 36th overall astride a Kini Red Bull KTM 450 Rally.
But the success of the early part of 2015 is already behind him and Santosh is working hard for the rest of the year. The Abu Dhabi and Morocco rounds of the WCCRC are on his to do list, as is the Ruta 40 in Argentina in the second week of May and the Atacama Rally in November. He also plans on spending two months in South America during the course of the year just riding and honing his skills. The goal is to be competitive and fight for a strong finishing position in the 2016 edition of the Dakar. He's one determined lad, CS is.
2014: Honda Asia Dream Cup
Best performance: 1st place at Losail
Sarath Kumar's 2014 season was a tough one. But a season with a very steep learning curve indeed. When it comes to the National Motorcycle Racing Championship, where he competed in the CBR 250R class, Sarath engineered his own motorcycle for the Ten10 Racing team. He performed consistently, even scoring wins, although he wasn't able to win the title. The rider had great highs and lows in the Asia Dream Cup.
While there were mid-pack finishes in the first half of the season, he slowly got his form back over the course of the year, even winning at the last round of the championship at Qatar. Sarath also managed to qualify to test Honda's Moto3 motorcycles, and moved into the ranks of the top rated motorcycle racers from Honda's Asia pool.
With funding a problem for 2015 though, things look difficult. Of course, for one he will continue to compete in the National Motorcycle Racing Championship. Internationally, Sarath has three options in terms of upgrading to a 600cc motorcycle - the European SuperStock 600, Asian Road Racing Championship 600cc class and the Malaysian Super Sport 600cc class. While he will keep his eyes out for wild card rides, he's also waiting for that sponsorship to materialise.
2014: Qatar Superbike Championship
Best finish: 5th place at Losail
Rajini managed to get a fully sponsored ride with Team QMF in the 2014 season of the Qatar Superbike Championship. His best results were three fifth place finishes over the course of the season, which also means that he stands seventh overall in the championship as it heads to it's final round in April 2015 (the QSBK championship is a winter championship and hence runs from the end of the 2014 season into 2015). Of course, Rajini is being backed by QMF in the same championship for the 2015 season as well.
His other stints in 2014 were three rounds of the Malaysian Super Series, backed by Vidiem and MotoRev. And for 2015, Rajini plans on doing an entire season in the Malaysian Super Series in the 1000cc class. While he has managed to raise 50 per cent of the sponsorship, he's looking to raise the rest of the money soon. Are you listening?
Mario Dias who lives in the UAE, is one of the few Indian race drivers living in that part of world. He has trained with Dennis Macchio of Bertil Roos Racing, at the Lightning Raceway in New Jersey and also with Rob Wilson at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Leicestershire. Dias won the Total UAE Touring Car Class 3 Championship in 2010-2011, and is currently the only Indian to hold a championship title in the UAE national race series. Following his win there, he became a racing instructor at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
In 2015, Dias is keen on getting into the Formula Gulf 1000 Championship that starts in October. If he does manage to get into the championship, he will be the only Indian driver on the grid. The coach's feedback from the FG1000 driver training report says that Dias was one of the most consistent drivers during the two day test and will continue to improve and impress.
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