03 February 2017 08:09:09 IST

Maruti’s mantra for motorsport enthusiasts

The idea is to get more people involved with racing

Beyond the competitive space of selling cars, where it is the market leader, Maruti Suzuki has been on overdrive in the motorsport arena too. What began with ‘Raid-de-Himalaya’ in the late 1990s has since grown to include events such as ‘Desert Storm’, ‘Dakshin Dare’ and ‘Autocross’.

Vinay Pant, Associate Vice President, Marketing, says it was Maruti’s ‘mission’ way back in the 1980s to build the culture of motorsport in India. “It is part of the Maruti Suzuki Brand,” he says. “As a leader, we feel motorsport completes our offerings to customers and have brought it within the reach of ordinary enthusiasts.”

Popularising motorsport

The company first sponsored Indian Army teams in the ‘Himalayan Rally’ while a handful of others followed. However, this was not enough to popularise motorsport among common enthusiasts. This was when Maruti decided to organise its own rallies and create bigger and tough formats with motoring professionals. The objective was to sponsor these events and set up motorsport platforms at par with international standards.

The rallies are a convergence point for individuals (professionals, amateurs and different age/gender) to participate and test their driving skills. They are free to use any model and not stay confined to Maruti Suzuki products. The flagship ‘Raid-de-Himalaya’ finds a place in the off-road rallies calendar of FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme), Geneva (Switzerland), which lists only 11 other international motoring events.

In India, the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) is a long-standing member of FIM and looks after all motorsport activities. According to Pant, all of Maruti Suzuki’s motorsport events are in line with rules and safety guidelines of both organisations.

“The safety effort is supplemented with ambulances en route,” says Pant. “The rally is monitored for its entire duration by radio-equipped/GPS enabled cars and more than a hundred volunteers ensure safe passage of the event.”

Maruti also partners various motorsports clubs to organise these rallies. Northern Motorsport and Himalayan Motorsport are some of them.

Rising figures

A team of rally experts is involved in various functions such as planning the route, identifying the stages, defining competition sections, logistics, getting the go-ahead from State authorities and putting in place emergency medical services.The number of participants in ‘Raid-De-Himalaya’ has gone up from 85 in 2010 to 250 five years later. ‘Desert Storm’ has also seen a rise from 140 participants in 2014 to 200 a couple of years thereafter.

Suresh Rana, also known as the ‘Manali Man’, one of these regular participants, says motorsports has finally found acceptance from people across the country. As his nickname suggests, he is from a relatively small town like Manali, where this pursuit was almost alien.

“After winning over 10 editions of Raid-De-Himalaya and participating in other format rallies over the years, I can confidently say the levels of competencies have increased tremendously,” says Rana. He believes that the trend will only grow in the coming years.

What is even more interesting is the increasing number of female participants like Bani Yadav. She is the only woman to win all major rally titles in a year. All this is a welcome change from the days when youth could hardly pursue such interests.

“Maruti has introduced new championships in basic formats like time-speed-distance rallies. This will allow youngsters to fire their motorsports dreams and prepare themselves for bigger format rallies in the long run,” says Yadav.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)