By David Bodapati
Bangalore, 12 Dec 2017: It is almost a week since the FIA Annual General Assembly was held in Paris and a few days since the good news of Gautham Singhania, the drag master, and racer, adorned the highest post in his racing life. The glittering FIA grand gala Prize-Giving at the Palace of Versailles, also saw Gaurav Gill, the only Indian in the award winners list invited by the FIA, receive the honours for retaining his APRC title, on Dec. 9.
Singhania, 52, climbed to the helm of motorsports administration being nominated by Federation of Motor Sports Clubs in India (FMSCI) and then getting elected in the FIA General Assembly. An election to the World Motorsports Council, in the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is the highest form of governing body one can get into in this sport. He will be replacing, Vijay Mallya, the King of Good Times, is down in the dumps dubbed as the `willful defaulter’ and is facing an extradition case which looks very unlikely to stand in the London Court, with the lady lawyer grilling the prosecution and making arguments that the case is politically motivated. Whether Mallya will be indicted or not is a moot point. He lost his position as the member of the World Council and FMSCI was forced to nominate a person, and the bigwigs preferred to name Singhania, ahead of Vicky Chandhok, who was the Deputy Titular earlier and who did enormous work in bringing F1 to India, even if it stayed here only for three years. Keeping such a stalwart out may be due to the bad times, but Singhania, the MD of Raymond Group, is no stranger to Motorsports either.
Singhania is reported to be `very passionate about fast cars, fast boats, and fast planes’. He has driven a Formula One single-seater, said to be in France and we received many a release regarding his exploits in racing cars. He took part in the 2014 Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli – Coppa Shell, held at Silverstone in Sept 2014 as an official Indian entry endorsed by the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI). The Coppa Shell is a series for “amateur gentleman drivers” in the one-make racing series organised by Ferrari, and Singhania competed in a Ferrari 458. He also won on debut, the amateur category in the All Stars European Drifting Championship in Malta earlier in September 2012 and the next year he unveiled India’s first purpose-built drifting car. There are many similarities between him and Mallya…
But how he would become an adept administrator from being a racer, needs to be noticed. All the best to him.
Then the current president of FMSCI, Akbar Ebrahim, who brought in a series of changes to cleanse the Federation and the clubs running various national championships, will be Singhania’s deputy titular. Akku, as he is popularly known in the circuit, is a no-nonsense man. He calls a spade a spade. But he too is facing a gigantic challenge in dealing with the veterans in the sport, the grapevine alleges. That is enough material for a separate story.
Akku will also be a member of the Electric and New Energy Championships Commission. Apart from the top two, we have stalwarts Chandhoks, who can just walk into any commission. But Vicky Chandhok continues to be in the Truck Racing Commission while Karun Chandhok, one of the only two Formula One drivers from India, who thrills millions of motorsports fans with his amazing knowledge of F1 and motorsports during his commentary stints on TV, will continue to be on the Drivers’ Commission. The other two important Commissions saw J Anand and Farhan Vohra get elected. Anand, a former speed master and current chief of JA Motorsport which builds the single seater cars in India will be in the Single Seater Commission. I always believed that J Anand and Arjun Balu, both based in Coimbatore, are two of the greatest drivers India ever produced who also ended up as greatest underachievers, never realising the potential their raw speed and immense talent deserved. Unsung heroes, who I still respect for their deeds behind the wheel! Anand went on to become a great entrepreneur and is coming up with a big venture for Tatas. Arjun Balu too is nominated by the Federation but unfortunately, he could not make it this time and he has to wait. The way he won the Asia Zone Cup in China in 2002 defeating his much-acclaimed teammate Naren Kumar, is still fresh in my mind. In MRF team, he was always a second fiddle, for reasons unknown, even if one is made to believe that there were no team orders.
Vohra was in control during the three years, India hosted the Formula One world championship at Buddh International Circuit. As the Indian Race Director and Assistant CoC and he will be on the Circuits Commission.
Then we have the multi-faceted, 7-time National champion and amazing rallyist, racer, tuner, N Leelakrishnan. He will be the member of the Touring Car Commission. Farooq Ahmed, the brain behind the Motorsports Club of Chikmagalur and the one who brought the Asia Pacific Rally Championship to India will adorn the FIA Rally Commission and rightly so. What with the enormous success of the APRC in the Coffee Estates of Coffee Day Global for the last two years, where the King of Indian Motorsports Gaurav Gill ruled the roost winning not only the Chikmagalur leg but also the APRC titles. Gill is also the lone winner at the Gala FIA prize-giving, a day after 17 Indians walked into the FIA panels.
Farooq was a former National Champion himself and was the co-driver for Leelakrishnan among other drivers. Under his stewardship, the Coffee Day Rally, and the club itself raised standards to a higher notch, not only to become a permanent fixture in the INRC, the Indian National Rally Championship but also to set the game to a professional level that only a few can achieve.
When MSCC shines, can KMSC, the Karnataka governing body, be far behind. Balakrishna Jayasimha, the biker turned rallyist, is the current secretary of Karnataka Motorsports Club for the last seven years. With Bharat, leaving all of us, after his untimely death, BK, as he is fondly known in the circles, and Shivu Shivappa, the President are pulling on the reigns. But it is BK, who makes his debut in the FIA commissions. He will be part of the Off-road stuff. The RallyCross and AutoCross. He has a story to tell about the sport taking off in India in one division. It has made a quick start with a GP published in the other, but that I will keep for another story.
And then we have Zayn Khan, the former FMSCI president. The Hyderabadi will be replacing Prabha Shankar of Chennai in the Volunteers and Officials Commission. Nawaz Sandhu, nee Batheena will again sit in the `Women In Sport’ Commision. As CoC, she was impeccable driving the deserts in her vehicle to run the Jaipur rally when PSP and IMG ran it. A former rallyist and married to `madman driver’ Sandhu, who with his mad speed, used to scare the daylights out of his navigator, another former champion, and our very own Bengalurean, Jaidas Menon. I still remember the joke about the day when a train passed through the unmanned gates of those many tricky crossings K-1000 had. Jai stopped making the calls and started shouting…..STOP, STOP, STOP. But the cool-as-as-a-cucumber Sandhu was not mad enough to heed the caution. He crossed the track in a jiffy, seconds before `the Train’ crossed the same spot. And then it was his turn to shout… “RELAX, RELAX, RELAX. It’s all over”. The narration is an exaggeration, I agree, but the incident was a real-life experience. Ask Jaidas or even the `silent’ Sandhu. Now they will laugh about it.
Coming back to Navaz, she will continue to be the Indian representative of the `Women in Sport’ Commission. We also have Balamurugan in the Drag Commission for another term and another Coimbatore-based official Sajeev Mathew entering the Karting Commission this year. Automobile journalist and expert voice, Hormazd Sorabjee continues in the Land Speed Records Commission. That will leave us with Satish Kumar in Homologation Commission, Manjeev Balla, famous for the Raid de Himalaya gets one more term in the Hill Climb Commission, and Shyam Kumar enters Safety Commission, which is turning out to be one of the most important Commissions.
- Akbar Ebrahim, Electric and New Energy Championships Commission;
- Vicky Chandhok, Truck Racing Commission;
- Karun Chandhok, Drivers’ Commission;
- J Anand (Single Seater Commission;
- Farhan Vohra, Circuits;
- Zayn Khan, Volunteers, and Officials;
- Manjeev Balla, Hill Climb Commission;
- Sajeev Mathew, Karting Commission;
- J Balamurugan, Drag Racing Commission;
- N. Leelakrishnan, Touring Cars Commission;
- Jayesh Desai, Cross Country Commission;
- Balakrishna Jayasimha, Off-Road commission for Auto-cross and Rally cross;
- Shyam Kumar, Safety Commission;
- Navaz Batheena Sandhu, Women in Motorsports;
- Farooq Ahmed, Rally Commission;
- Satish Kumar, Homologation Commission;
- Hormazd Sorabjee, Land Speed Records Commission;
eom/david/inputs from FMSCI nomination list
edited kind of motorsports to…king of motorsports on 12 Dec 2017 at 8pm.