Chennai: The Madras Motor Sports Club made history on Wednesday, as it took first baby steps towards full-fledged night racing in the future at the MMRT by conducting a four-hour floodlit test session, the first of its kind in India, that attracted over 100 participants, a clutch of “super cars”, including a Rolls Royce Phantom, first-timers and battle-hardened professional racing drivers in the fully-prepared racing cars, all of whom gave the initiative a thumbs-up.
The first-timers were all excited at the rare opportunity to drive on the track at pace in the night. The professionals, like former Formula 1 racer Karun Chandhok, Aditya Patel, Chetan Korada, Arfath Mohammed, Karthik Tharani, Ishaan Dodhiwala and ex-rally driver Ranjit Ballal suggested improvements in the lighting while hailing MMSC’s efforts to provide another dimension to motor racing in India.
Karun Chandhok, who has raced at night at Le Mans and F1 testing in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, said: “I think what they (the MMSC) have done is very good. We should do more of these events as they will whet the appetite of the people for the sport. I did a few laps here tonight.
“The visibility was much better than what I expected. Everyone at the club knows the areas to improve. I think, night racing is entirely doable with saloon cars, but with single-seaters, I think there is still a lot of work to do. A huge amount of investment is required to get the level of lighting up to what you need for single-seaters. Aditya (Patel) and I raced each other in saloon cars and were doing 1:55.4, 1:55.0. That is the pace what people do during daytime. So, it shows the level of lighting is good to race at night with a little improvement.”
The night session was conducted in a full-fledged racing environment with temporary floodlight towers in place at select locations, besides Marshals manning the posts around the circuit and other safety precautions.
All the participants attended a mandatory pre-session briefing by MMSC Vice-President and former racer Vicky Chandhok on racing regulations and safety. The first-timers were taken around the in a convoy behind the Safety Car to learn the racing lines before being allowed to drive at pace. Helmet for the drivers was compulsory. Volkswagen Motorsport provided race-spec Polo, Vento and Ameo cars on hire while some participants opted to drive their own vehicles.
MMSC president Ajit Thomas said: “It is a very exciting evening for us. Globally track days are a great way to get people interested in the sport and we realised that with the hot weather in Chennai we needed to do something different. It is the first time that we opened the track up for people to drive at night which makes sense in Chennai. The weather is great and the atmosphere is fantastic. We have some temporary lighting in place as a test, but if we are going to do this on a long-term basis, we will be getting a higher grade lighting on the track. The response has been great with a cross-section of drivers – beginners and professionals.
“Based on this response and interest, we are hopeful of running a few events. Initially, may be more track days, some short events and then endurance races. As far as the costs are concerned, the MMSC has always been constantly ploughing back funds, both from the club and the Trust (the Madras Motor Race Trust) for the overall development of the sport. We have already invested heavily (about Rs 20 Crores) in upgrading the track, the paddock and various facilities and racing equipment. So, going forward, I think we can manage night racing in the future.”
An elated Vicky Chandhok said: “I go strictly by the reactions of the participants. The fact that they are smiling ear-to-ear is really important for me. Going by the lap times of the pro drivers, they have matched those done during the day. We will have to make the lighting a bit more brighter. Overall, it is nice to see people having a great time here. We are trying to make motorsport fun and develop more fans to come here and enjoy themselves as against serious, hardcore racing.”
Former racer and rally champion Harish Samtani applauded MMSC’s latest initiative. “No question that this is a brilliant idea. Globally, night racing, F1 for instance, is catching up. It brings a different paradigm in motorsport. Of course, this is just the beginning. I have spoken with the drivers, both the pros and the newbies. They like the format. It is now up to MMSC to set up a proper, safe lighting environment where one can do serious racing. Definitely, it (night racing) is here to stay.”