MotoGP may make India debut in 2023; but is the country ready to host the pinnacle of two-wheel racing?
MotoGP's India debut may be held at the Buddh International Circuit in the winter of 2023, once home of the Formula I Indian Grand Prix, which was discontinued due to financial, tax and bureaucratic hurdles.
In what may provide a massive boost to the stagnant motorsport scene in India, the pinnacle of two-wheel racing, MotoGP, could come to the country in the winter of 2023 if all goes ahead as planned.
The MotoGP commercial rights owner Dorna and the Noida-based event organisers Fairstreet Sports might sign the master deal as soon as next week.
Dr. Dorna Carmelo and Carlos Ezpeleta, the company's CEO, will be in the capital on Wednesday. They are anticipated to make a formal declaration on the "Grand Prix of Bharat."
Most likely, the race will take place at the Buddh International Circuit, the former site of the Formula I Indian Grand Prix, which was cancelled due to administrative, tax, and financial difficulties.
Only after a contract has been finalised between the owner of the MotoGP rights and the race organisers will the track receive FIM homologation.
Fairstreet Sports COO Pushkar Nath said in a statement to PTI that they had done their research for the high-profile race's organisation, taking into account what went wrong with Formula 1 nine years ago.
"India is the largest two-wheeler market in the world. Everyone has a connect with bikes. It has aspirational value. MotoGP is one of the most watched sporting events," Nath told PTI.
"We have taken all the precautionary steps for the India round. We ave taken all the steps to ensure we can race in India for a long period. We are looking at a winter round for India next year."
Akbar Ebrahim, president of the Indian motorsports federation FMSCI, welcomed the development.
"I had mentioned in our AGM recently that talks were on between both the parties and we have been kept in the loop. I have also had a meeting with the race promoters. They know what they are doing and what is needed to pull off an event of this scale. I hope the master agreement between Dorna and Fairstreet is signed soon and then we can move on to track homologation and the organisation of the race. The support of the government will be key here," said Ebrahim.
A MotoGP weekend employs about 5000 people and also features competitions in the Moto 2 and Moto 3 junior classes. In addition to promoting Uttar Pradesh internationally, the event is anticipated to increase travel.
Nath said the race is not possible without the support of the government and he is thankful to both the state and centre for their help in getting the event to India.
"It is like hosting the Commonwealth Games with 5000 people working on the race itself leaving aside the fans and everyone else. The BJP government both at state and centre have been really helpful. They also want to boost tourism in India. People will be coming from Europe and other parts of the world and it would be shown live in 200 countries," said Nath.
Every year, Dorna will receive millions of dollars from Fairstreet Sports in exchange for the race. According to Nath, when the Jaypee Group hosted Formula 1, it wasn't financially viable, but his business considered the high costs.
"Not just readying the race track, the biggest challenge will be to create the infrastructure for the race," he said.
Besides taxation, custom clearance emerged as a big issue during Formula 1 days, and the concerned stakeholders can't afford to go wrong on this front again.
Former FMSCI president Vicky Chandhok, who was at the helm when Formula 1 came to India, said the seamless entry of the equipment is a must for the event's success.
"The arrival of the equipment has to be seamless. If that happens, the word will spread that India has changed and it has become feasible to organise races here, then it could also lead to return of Formula 1. It is a massive market at the end of the day. NASCAR too may come in. We have already hosted the Asian Road Racing Championship in the past. So MotoGP has to be the next step," he added.
The all-electric Formula E race is also coming to Hyderabad next February and if MotoGP can go ahead as planned, Indian motorsport will finally get what it's desperately waiting for.
(With inputs from PTI)