Even though motorsports haven’t really flourished in India, the country has produced some very talented racers over the years. Be it the veteran Narain Karthikeyan behind the wheels or be it the young Mira Erda, racers have always brought laurels to India.
Motorsports is an umbrella term used for all kinds of racing involving motorised vehicles. It involves everything from Formula1 to Motorcycle racing and even off-road racing like Motocross. Motor Rallying is one such subcategory of Motorsports.
What is Rallying?
It is a form of motorsport which takes place not on a racing circuit but on public or private roads. Rallying doesn’t use normal sports cars but it requires the racer to have specially built road-legal cars. Rallying is mainly conducted in two forms – Stage rallies and Road Rallies.
Stage Rallies are usually used in professional races. It is a form of straightforward race on roads which are closed to traffic. These kinds of races can happen anywhere from roads covered with asphalt to forest tracks and from ice to desert sand. The emphasis here is on the speed of the racer.
Road Rallies are the original form of Motor rallies and are held on highways open to normal traffic. Road rallies are more primarily for amateur drivers. The focus here is not on the speed of the racer but rather on accurate timekeeping, navigation and vehicle reliability.
Indian Motor Rally Racing
The first ever Motor rally race in India was held in the 1970, when Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) conducted a 7000km All Highway Motor Rally after being inspired by the Monte Carlo Rally. This proved to be a big boost to the Indian motorsport industry as more and more people started taking up the sport. The Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) was first held in the year 1988 and thus began the journey of motor rallying in India.
Over the years, INRC has more or less been dominated by three very illustrious drivers. If the early 1990s was dominated by N. Leelakrishnan who won the championship six times; the early 2000s belonged to V.R. Naren Kumar who went one better to be crowned champion seven times; thereafter Gaurav Gill took on the baton and has already won the championship six times.
Fondly known as Leela, he was the first big thing in the world of Indian rallying. Hailing from the city of Coimbatore, he is also a one-time Formula3 champion to go with his six INRC titles. Other than being a racer himself, Leela also doubles up as a race car tuner. Apart from tuning his own cars, he has also played tuner to the likes of V.R. Naren, Vikram Mathias, Karna Kadur and Gaurav Gill. The 19 National Championships he has won as a car tuner is an excellent testament to his abilities as a race car tuner.
Leela started his career as a tuner for the All India Grand prix races and other motor sports events in Coimbatore while he was still in college. He also worked as a tuner for S. Karivardhan’s Super Speed in the late 1980s. His racing abilities first came to light when he substituted a sick Upendra Narayan and won the Coffee 500 event in Chikmanglur and won in the year in 1987. He later also went on to win the Charminar Challenge Rally in the same year. In 1989, Leela quit Super Speeds and set up his own racing team with MRF Racing. This turned to be a blessing in disguise as he went on to win the INRC for four consecutive years starting from 1990.
Velappan Rajendran Naren Kumar, India’s most successful Rally car driver, started his career as a privateer in 1993 and was soon picked by MRF Racing which was then operated by fellow city-mate and racer, Leelakrishnan. Naren was the first driver from India to participate in the World Rally Championship.
Naren won his first INRC championship for MRF Racing in the year 1999 and was the champion for five consecutive years till 2003. He also won an Asia Zone Championhip, before moving to JK Rally team. He then won two INRC championships with JK in the years 2005 and 2006. In between he also represented Sidvin India, before yet again joining forces with N. Leelakrishnan to win his seventh title in 2010 for Red Rooster Racing in the INRC. He retired from Rallying in 2011, after Red Rooster withdrew from motorsports citing lack of funds.
Based in Delhi, Gill began his motorsport career as a motorbike racer before making a switch to four wheelers. He is the first Indian driver to win the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship and has won it three times. Gill was the runner-up at National Road Racing Championship in 2003 and won it the following year.
He joined forces with MRF soon after and won his first INRC championship in the year 2007 and won them two more INRC in the year 2009 and 2011. He later joined the Mahindra Adventure team joining with forces with Leelakrishnan and won the 2014, 2017 and 2018 INRC.