Night racing takes first baby steps in India
The Madras Motor Sports Club made took the first step towards full-fledged night racing in the future at the MMRT by conducting a four-hour floodlit test session, the first of its kind in India, that attracted over 100 participants. A clutch of super cars, a Rolls Royce Phantom, and a number of fully-prepared racing cars, participated in the session.
The professionals, like former Formula 1 racer Karun Chandhok, Aditya Patel, Chetan Korada, Arfath Mohammed, Karthik Tharani, Ishaan Dodhiwala and ex-rally driver Ranjit Ballal suggested improvements in the lighting while hailing MMSC’s efforts to add another dimension to motor racing in India.
Karun Chandhok, who has raced at night at Le Mans and during F1 testing in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, said: “I think what they (the MMSC) have done is very good. We should do more of these events as they will whet the appetite of the people for the sport. I did a few laps here tonight. The visibility was much better than what I expected. Everyone at the club knows the areas to improve. I think, night racing is entirely doable with saloon cars, but with single-seaters, I think there is still a lot of work to do. A huge amount of investment is required to get the level of lighting up to what you need for single-seaters. Aditya (Patel) and I raced each other in saloon cars and were doing 1:55.4, 1:55.0. That is the pace what people do during daytime. So, it shows the level of lighting is good to race at night with a little improvement.”
The night session was conducted in a full-fledged racing environment with temporary floodlight towers in place at select locations, besides marshals manning the posts around the circuit with other safety precautions put in place too.
All the participants attended a mandatory pre-session briefing by MMSC Vice-President and former racer Vicky Chandhok on racing regulations and safety. The first-timers were taken around the convoy behind the Safety Car to learn the racing lines before being allowed to drive at pace. Volkswagen Motorsport provided race-spec Polo, Vento and Ameo cars on hire while some participants opted to drive their own vehicles.
MMSC president Ajit Thomas said: “It is a very exciting evening for us. Globally track days are a great way to get people interested in the sport and we realised that with the hot weather in Chennai we needed to do something different. It is the first time that we opened the track up for people to drive at night which makes sense in Chennai. The weather is great and the atmosphere is fantastic. We have some temporary lighting in place as a test, but if we are going to do this on a long-term basis, we will be getting a higher grade lighting on the track. The response has been great with a cross-section of drivers – beginners and professionals.
“Based on this response and interest, we are hopeful of running a few events. Initially, may be more track days, some short events and then endurance races. As far as the costs are concerned, the MMSC has always been constantly ploughing back funds, both from the club and the Trust (the Madras Motor Race Trust) for the overall development of the sport. We have already invested heavily (about Rs 20 Crores) in upgrading the track, the paddock and various facilities and racing equipment. So, going forward, I think we can manage night racing in the future.”
An elated Vicky Chandhok said: “I go strictly by the reactions of the participants. The fact that they are smiling ear-to-ear is really important for me. Going by the lap times of the pro drivers, they have matched those done during the day. We will have to make the lighting a bit more brighter. Overall, it is nice to see people having a great time here. We are trying to make motorsport fun and develop more fans to come here and enjoy themselves as against serious, hardcore racing.”
Former racer and rally champion Harish Samtani applauded MMSC’s latest initiative. “No question that this is a brilliant idea. Globally, night racing, F1 for instance, is catching up. It brings a different paradigm in motorsport. Of course, this is just the beginning. I have spoken with the drivers, both the pros and the newbies. They like the format. It is now up to MMSC to set up a proper, safe lighting environment where one can do serious racing. Definitely, it (night racing) is here to stay.”
Since its humble beginnings in 1953, the Madras Motor Sports Club has grown in stature as the hub of motorsport activity in India. Having moved from Sholavaram to its present location in Sriperumbudur in 1979, MMSC has kept pace with changing times by upgrading facilities. At a cost of about Rs 20 Crore, the MMSC built a pit complex comprising 20 garages, VIP hospitality suites and a viewing gallery, on the eastern side, apart from a second Paddock on the western side with its own short circuit. The Control Room too was upgraded with state-of-the-art hardware while the track itself was improved to meet the exacting FIA standards for Grade-2 certification.