In a year, a dusty nook next to the Taj Corridor will rise to become the 20th field in the Formula 1 circuit.
Auto racing, said Henry Ford famously, began five minutes after the second car was built. In about a year and nine days from now, the most frenetic format of car racing is slated to blast off in India, putting the country on the Formula 1 map.
Formula 1 Racing, considered the second most popular sport in the world after soccer, and certainly the fastest, makes its debut in the country on October 30 next year in Greater Noida, some 55 km from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. It will be the 20th field in the global F1 circuit.
As the track gets ready, enthusiasts like Gautam Singhania, chairman & managing director of Raymond Group, cannot contain their excitement. “This is really a good thing,” he says. “India will have its first Formula 1 track. It is quite interesting that India figures in the Grand Prix calendar for next year.”
Singhania has driven a Formula 1 car in France, a Ferrari 360 Modena in a road and track rally across Europe, and a Lamborghini Gallardo in Europe's CannonBall Run. He has also formed the first super car club in India.
When asked how he would be associated with the F1 track here, called the Jaypee International Race Track, Singhania said: “I will certainly love to drive on the F1 track in Noida.”
The 5.14-km track being built next to the Yamuna expressway, better known as the Taj Corridor, is three-fourths ready. A tour of the circuit reveals that soil treatment and laying of the special track – seven layers of soil treatments as ordained by the International Automobile Federation (FIA) – are almost done. Foundations of the grand stand and other infrastructure have been raised, the homologation with FIA standards have begun.
Mark Hughes, vice-president (operations) with Jaypee Sports International Ltd, which is building the project, says talks are on with a telecom company for a large sponsorship deal which will be sealed in seven months.
Being built at a cost of $350 million, the track is designed by Herman Tilke, an old hand who has designed circuits in Malaysia, Bahrain, China, Turkey, Indonesia, the UAE, South Africa, South Korea and the US.
“A large team of Tilke’s -- about 50 Germans — has been stationed in Noida since the beginning of this year to work on the track,” says Hughes. An FIA technical team and several F1 contestants will descend on this part of the world in December to check the progress. The construction is slated to end in May next year.
Hughes, who is from south of London, is a motorsport enthusiast himself — he rallies a 550cc Royal Enfield Bullet every Sunday. For the last 10 months, Noida has been home to him. “We got the full parcel of land in 2009 and had to move more than 4 million tonnes of earth to make this flat piece of land one of the fastest, most exciting circuits in the world,” he says. However, the F1 track closest to his heart is Brands Hatch, where he was once the operations manager.
Over 300 people, tractors, earth movers, concrete mixers and supervision jeeps at the construction site present a different picture of the 20th F1 field, but Hughes promises that it will be unrecognisable after May. “We will have a track which will have some of the most unique corners in the world at lanes 3, 10 and 11,” says Hughes, adding that steep undulations will be the real challenge for drivers on the Indian track.
Technology for the F1 circuit has posed a challenge to the information technology industry in India. The country may be providing IT solutions to the rest of the world, but, according to Hughes, some of the advanced technology solutions for F1 – like the signaling system and timers – have to be bought from companies like MyLaps, TSL or Tag Heuer. Otherwise, about 75 per cent infrastructure is being sourced from within India and 98 per cent of the workforce building the F1 track is Indian.
JK Tyre, which has regularly hosted motorsports in India since 1994, is excited. The company believes that the F1 track in India will open up opportunities not only for motorsports but also other related businesses. “The world of motorsports will now look at India as a cost centre. A season of rally (six rounds of 12 races each in a single-seater car at level four) that costs Rs 1.5 crore in Europe will cost just Rs 5 lakh in India. With F1 infrastructure now available here, business will start pouring in. JK Tyre already plans to host an auto-cross in the parking lot of the F1 circuit, a drag race and other races much before October 30, 2011,” says Sanjay Sharma, general manager & head, motor sport, JK Tyre.
According to Sharma,JK Tyre will look at buying hospitality space and permanent branding around the Jaypee race track. One can expect to see deals happening in the next six months or so. The company is also thinking of investing in the infrastructure. The Delhi-based company, which has been into sports sponsorships, already spends about Rs 8 crore on motorsports in India every year.
So fasten your seatbelts and count the days.