Sidvin Festival of Speed 2012By Abhay Verma
India’s biggest motorsport spectacle, the Sidvin Festival of Speed (SFOS), saw four of the nation’s biggest racing championships come together for a grand weekend at the world-class Buddh International Circuit. With several firsts to its credit, the highlight of the weekend was two of the country’s biggest motorsport brands, JK Tyre and MRF Tyres coming together for the first time. Another highlight was a round of the JK Tyre National Racing Championship and the Volkswagen Polo R Cup being held at the famed BIC for the first time. This was also the final round of the 15th season of the JK NRC and the third edition of the Polo R Cup. Part of the SFOS was also the final round of the second season of the only Indian-international racing series, the JK Tyre Racing Asia Series and a round of the MRF Challenge 2012, both of which had a round held at the BIC last month as a support series to the Indian F1 GP.
This was the second outing for the new MRF Formula 2000 cars in the MRF Challenge 2012, which had four races over the weekend to reach its midpoint. Indian rallying ace Gaurav Gill, also an accomplished circuit racer, made a comeback to single-seater racing over the weekend in the MRF Challenge. He had driven in the MRF Formula 1600 last year at the BIC, but had given the first round of the MRF Challenge a miss. Other Indian drivers apart from Gill were Parthiva Sureshwaran, who has done two seasons in Formula 2, Parth Ghorpade, who has been racing in the Formula Pilota Championship this year and Ashwin Sundar, who won the MRF Formula 1600 championship.
With four races each in the MRF Challenge and JK RAS, apart from two races each for the Polo R Cup, the Formula LGB 4 and ITC/IJTC classes, the weekend was a learning experience for the authorities and marshals at the BIC, who have so far only witnessed two F1 weekends that include the F1 practice/qualifying sessions and race, and the practice/qualifying sessions and two races each for the support series. The JK RAS had upcoming Indian racers Aditya Patel and Akhil Khushlani vying for attention just like the previous round, apart from four Indian drivers in cars fielded by veteran racer Akbar Ebrahim’s team, Meco Motorsport. While Aditya and Akhil scored podium finishes on both days, the proud moment for everyone was the final JK RAS race, which also was the final race of the weekend, where Aditya Patel became the first Indian to win a JK RAS race.
The turn out to watch the races was surprisingly good – while a thousand-odd people were seen in the main grand stand on Saturday, Sunday saw the number swell to 5000 plus. The stunt show in the Volkswagen Polos by five-time rallying champion Hari Singh along with former rally drivers Rohitaaz Kumar and Sunny Sidhu held the attention of the crowds on Sunday afternoon, who were ever enthusiastic, cheering the racers at the start of each race. While there were no serious accidents over the weekend, the only major shunt was that of Japanese driver Yudai Jinkawa late on Saturday afternoon, when his car was nudged by another car and flipped thrice, before landing turtle at the slow right handed turn 3. He escaped unhurt though, and came back on Sunday to score a win!
Sunday also saw the 2012 champions get crowned in the various JK Tyre backed championships – Ameya Walavalkar won the 2012 JK Tyre Polo R Cup championship with a huge lead (he was the only driver in the Master’s category). Second finisher in the points tally, Sandeep Kumar was declared winner in the Pro category and was selected by Volkswagen India to drive in the 2013 Scirocco-R Cup in Germany. Ashwin Sundar had already won the Formula LGB 4 class in the penultimate round in Chennai, just like former rally driver Arjun Balu, who made a comeback to track racing this year and won the Indian Touring Cars championship in the fifth round in Chennai, on debut. In fact, Arjun gave the final two races at the Buddh a miss, but was present to watch the races in the paddock along with his team Tiger Sport. Feroze Khan won the 2012 IJTC championship. Aston Hare was crowned the 2012 JK RAS champion, after he finished second behind Aditya in an exciting final race that saw the other championship contender, Malaysian Afiq Ikhwan crash out on the penultimate lap along with fellow Malaysian Nabeel Jeffri.
The weekend was one of the busiest, most hectic race weekends for everyone present, but was one that will leave a lasting impression for being one of the grandest race weekends as far as national motorsport is concerned. Especially for the racers in the JK NRC and the Polo R Cup, for whom racing at the Buddh was a dream come true, as the championships have always been run at either the Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore or the MMRT in Chennai. The wider, faster circuit gave the Polo R Cup drivers a chance to explore the full potential of their new TSI powered cars, while the ITC/IJTC and Formula LGB 4 drivers got a lot more overtaking opportunities than ever before. This is certainly the way forward for Indian motorsport as it gives racers a chance to experience a world-class circuit and portray their skills to a wider audience. And if the 5000 plus spectators are any indication to go by, it is just a matter of time before motorsport becomes as popular as any other sport in the country. Sidvin has expressed its desire to make its Festival of Speed an annual event, and we can only hope other potential supporters of the sport come forth and help groom more talent in the country.