By Debayan Mukherjee
Buriram (Thailand), June 2 (IANS) Despite a dearth of racing tracks in India, Japanese auto giant Honda does not have plans of investing in the construction of a new one in India just yet, as it first wants to groom a “local hero” and in turn generate more awareness about motorsport in the cricket-mad country, a top official said.
The Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) in Chennai and the the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida are the only two racing tracks recognised by motorcycle racing’s parent body, Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM).
However, Jaypee Sports faces the threat of losing the BIC land after the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) asked it to clear dues of Rs 220 crore by the end of June to avoid the cancellation of its lease on a 1,000 hectare land along the Yamuna Expressway.
Among the other tracks, the one in Coimbatore is mainly used for domestic competitions while the others around the country are only good for carting, according to officials.
“Honda doesn’t have any plan to establish a new facility or infrastructure in India at the moment,” Minoru Kato, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the Asia Road Race Championship (ARRC) here.
“But in the near future, depending on the acceleration of motorsport culture in India, and interest from other parties…they may join and step by step, we could take it forward,” Kato said.
Prabhu Nagaraj, Vice President (brand and communications), Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, said: “Once we have a racing culture and the interest levels grow in the country, there is a possibility that a third party might come up to develop the infrastructure.”
It was on Kato’s watch that Honda made its foray into Indian motorsport as a team last year with IDEMITSU Honda Racing India with riders Rajiv Sethu and Senthil Kumar representing the country at the ARRC.
Among the upcoming riders, Honda is banking on 15-year-old Mohammad Mikail and 19-year-old Kritik Habib — also competing in the Thailand Talent Cup (Honda’s development programme for Asian riders’ run on NSF250R) — to come good in the years to come as part of its India talent hunt initiative.
“So far we have been successfully conducting talent hunt activities in many Indian cities,” Kato said.
“In the last 2-3 years, we have been trying to find out a young rider who has the potential. Then, of course, we have some big intentions to develop Indian riders to join not only ARRC, but also the next level in the near future. That’s our target,” said Kato, who has been at the helm of Honda India since April 1, 2017.
Kato, who was with Honda Vietnam before, further said that he expects premium bike sales to go up in India in the next few years, therefore predicting a rise in the interest levels when it comes to motorsport.
“Indonesia did not have a motorsport culture 20 years back. Five years back, Vietnam had nothing. But thanks to Honda’s activities, racing culture has been developing. We feel the potential in India also. In the near future, more young customers will have the intention to watch Moto GP and ARRC.
“We are looking at a big motorcycle market. Currently, I think it is increasing. For example, there was no such big market in Thailand 20 years back. Same goes for Indonesia. In India, more premium bike segments will grow within 10 years. There’s big potential,” Kato said.
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