As superbikes take over the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) on September 24 in a high-speed game of chase, fans will get a chance to witness pro riders risking their lives in a 45-minute battle in what has been titled “The Grand Prix of Bharat”.

The race will encompass riders riding at >300 kmph trying to overtake each other through the narrowest of spaces with hardly anything protecting them like in the case of Formula 1. Blink your eyes, and you’ll end up missing everything. Such will be the scenes here as the art of pro bike racing makes its debut in a country with over 200 million motorcycles plying the roads.

With this recent announcement, a wave of ecstasy has run through the hearts of auto enthusiasts, both old and young. In 2020, more than 200 countries had a live TV signal, 22,208 broadcast hours, and 432 million homes were reached via cable and satellite networks. The sport enjoys a 338 million cumulative audience, 92 million live audience, and 24.2 million average audience as per a Nielsen report, and yet it could not manage to grab eyeballs in the largest 2-wheeler vehicle producing country in the world. So, this could potentially be the watershed moment the sport has been looking for. Grand Prix motorcycle racing is the third-most-viewed event globally after the Olympics and FIFA World Cup.

India has, in the past, witnessed the Asia Road Racing Championship from 2016–18. Despite the status of the sport in India being far from adequate, there are developments going on to bring India to the forefront. There are five racetracks under development: Marque One Racetrack near Ananthapur, which will be the longest racetrack in the nation and is aiming for a grade B license from FIM; COASTT in Coimbatore; Nanoli Speedway near Mumbai; The Valley Speedway in Chitradurga; and Pista Motor Speedway on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

With a 7-year MoU between the commercial owner of MotoGP, Dorna Sports, and Noida-based race promoters Fairstreet Sports, it remains to be seen how much of an impact the sport can have in this diverse nation.

Boost for Tourism

Riders from over 19 countries are expected to participate in this event. MotoGP is expected to provide benefits like generating an estimated 50,000 jobs directly involved in the race and about 5,000 jobs for the race weekend. It will also give a good boost to tourism.

As more races are organized in the nation, it is sure to create ripples among the young riders as they try to pick up the sport, and support from the government is encouraging.

In spite of having a good number of indigenous manufacturers in both the 2- and 4-wheeler segments, they have not ventured into motorsport at the highest level as compared to their European counterparts like Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Ducati, Aprilia, and KTM. India has however witnessed Mahindra taking part in the 125cc as well as Moto3 classes of the sport. This event, which raised hopes of having our own constructor at the highest level as a factory outfit, fell apart as the auto manufacturer decided to stop fielding its own outfit and decided to just remain a constructor for other teams. But this event is going to encourage these Indian 2-wheeler manufacturers to enter the space to showcase their bikes on a global platform.

A combination of these two aspects—home races and local manufacturers in the sport—is what helped make the sport a success in the European market, along with the high levels of support extended by the local fans. Such fandom and loyalty will only create stronger roots for the sport.

Man vs machine

There will also be stiff competition the sport will face from other motorsports events going to be held in India, particularly the Formula 1 races, whose popularity still soars above that of 2-wheeler racing. Fans will have to be made aware of what makes MotoGP more enthralling. This sport involves only the manual efforts of the rider, unlike F1, where the electronics take over the throttle over 180 kmph. F1 cars also clock faster lap times as the extra 2 tyres help provide grip at the corners. This sport also does not involve any pit stops or tyre changes; shorter races leave no room for error; and the absence of team radio leaves things at the rider’s discretion in the middle of all the action. In case things go awry, it’s man vs. machine in a battle for survival.

Fan engagement and involvement will be key as MotoGP strives to inspire a new generation of young riders and create a sustainable market here.

VV Ravi Kumar is the Deputy Director, and Rajat Kumawat is an MBA student at the Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM), Pune. Views are personal