In conversation with Sanjay ‘Hardy’ Sharma, head of motorsport at JK Tyre
Sirish Chandran: Any plans to upgrade the Formula 4 cars? Sanjay Sharma: “Unlike any other series in the world, our drivers get the Formula 4 seat gratis. Either you are a winner of my karting programme or my LGB’s or one of our training series and you win your seat here. This kind of setup is nowhere. To put this kind of setup, you have to be cost conscious also. So even if we want to upgrade this to the next level, it is not going to solve any purpose for us. Because the whole scenario is quite stagnant as of now in this country. Unfortunately in the last five years we only got one Jehan and one Arjun, and the rest of them perished. In that situation there is no point in upgrading the technology. The only thing is that whatever programme is in place, make it more accessible to more and more deserving people, so that they test their basics here in their own backyard here and then probably think about the future elsewhere.”
Sirish Chandran: What do you think of the current racing talent in India?
Sanjay Sharma: “I don’t have very high expectations or regards as of now. There is hardly much motivation at the top. A couple of years back we had Narain, Karun, Armaan making news here and there very often. And there was very high level of motivation, which now has taken a backseat. So till another Jehan and Arjun make it to the top, I think we will have to live with the situation. But that doesn’t give us anything to shut operations. We have to continue, keep churning out talent, keep hoping that things will improve and we will have some stars coming.”
SC: Will Jehan Daruvala and Arjun Maini make it to Formula 1?
SS: You will see them making it to the F1 grid. They have learnt from their predecessors. They are not going to be the back markers. They will be where they belong and that’s the best part of their progress. And the results of the recent past and whatever they have been doing are good enough proof of what I am stating.
Sirish Chandran: Any other forms of motorsport JK will get into?
Sanjay Sharma: “50 per cent of our resources are in racing. Now comes the other part of motorsport that is equally important because, not that we use this sort for our business benefits or testing, there is a branding side of getting involved with this property. That is where our involvement with the smaller events like the women rallies that we sponsor all across or a rally for road safety with the parliamentarians or other off-roading events which are pretty big now, whether it happens in Dambuk in Arunachal or Kikar lodge in Ropad. Next, we are finding a venue for this off-roading down South also. So all these initiatives are pretty satisfying, because the kind of results we are getting from the media or from the general public who are getting involved by participating or watching the events are pretty encouraging. We are going to invest a lot more because we have recently got into two wheelers. We were not in this business for a while. But since two years we are a part of this business and we will actively start encouraging a lot more in two-wheeler sport in whatever capacity we can, which will add a lot more events to our portfolio.”
Sirish Chandran: What about rallying?
Sanjay Sharma: “The only thing left now is rallying. Last year we did show our intent to get back to rallying because we were told that there were a lot of regulations getting changed and you can get an FIA R2 car, there is a promoter who is pretty solid because he is been around for some time and is willing to stick around for some time. We could sense a little bit of stability and at the same time we were given assurances that lot of regulations will change. But when we actually tried getting into it, it wasn’t all that encouraging. It still is a little distance away from putting things in place. The calendar itself needs some stability. It is very fluid. There are events that get cancelled, there are events which get postponed without much notice. The number of newer technology cars and the number of cars at the top level which are in sync with international standards are not as many and are not growing. So that’s another big concern for us. And last is the sport needs traction because the events still run very much in secluded places and are not very viewer or media friendly. Within our heart I don’t think that we need to tell anybody how much we appreciate the sport and our existence started from that side. If we are not there we do feel the pinch, but then if we have to get back it has to make business sense.
Sirish Chandran: What more can the FMSCI do for the sport in India?
Sanjay Sharma: “The problem we have is how to popularise the sport. How do we break up this sport to the common man and tell them that is no more a sport for the rich. How do we communicate and reach out? This is a big grey area within our system and all though I have been part of the [FMSCI] think tank I must honestly confess that this is where we lag and we need attention for sure because. Unless you communicate the benefits how do you expect more and more audiences to join your bandwagon? We [FMSCI] are not just a licensing authority. We are custodians of the sport and we have to look at all the aspects, whether marketing or otherwise.”
Sirish Chandran: How do you get more manufacturers involved in the sport in India?
Sanjay Sharma: “The trend that has started in this country for the past two years is a worry. All the bikes and cars on the grid are in one-make, so whoever wins or loses is not getting any excitement out of it. From the ‘make’ winning, it has become the ‘guy’ winning. That is not helping the cause. So unless we have manufacturers fighting with each other, we are not going to get what we want. But there is no programme in this country which encourages that to a good level. The gist is we have to reach out to them and make proposals which make marketing sense. Every country has its own business models and we have to tailor-make to their needs. Let’s take the example of Maruti Suzuki. You may turn around and say that they are not playing the game at the highest level but what about the at least 100 events that they do in this country? They do their own autocross, women’s rally and many other events that you can’t take that away from them! Same thing is with Mahindra. They may be doing just four rallies but don’t forget the amount of money they spend on the Great Escapes, which is adventure. Maybe you can’t call it competition or even motorsport but it is at least helping our cause, exposing such activities the normal people. And the same amount of money is spent so we need to recognise all these things and then start building from there rather than crib that manufacturers are not there.”