The Rs12,000-crore Buddh International Circuit in Uttar Pradesh last saw a grand prix in 2013—the third season of the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix. The following year, F1 left India because of government apathy, which became apparent when the sports minister of the time declared that racing cars was not sports. The world-class circuit lay unused for a decade after that, until the MotoGP Grand Prix of India came along.
At the heart of the F1 issue was a thorny tax problem. Whenever cars are brought into the country, a 200 per cent excise duty is levied. So it makes little sense to bring cars into the country for the sole purpose of racing them for a few days.
Manoj Kumar Singh, chairperson of the state government’s promotional agency Invest UP, said a legal bypass was created specially for MotoGP. All bikes were held in two custom-bound areas—one at the airport, where the bikes landed, and another at the racing circuit. En route to the airport and the circuit, the police kept a strict watch on the vehicles.
“When the organisers (FairStreet Sports and Dorna Sports) first approached the government, the chief minister was very excited, especially as this was the first time such an event was being held in India,” said Singh.
The government looked upon it as an opportunity to pitch UP as a friendly state. On the sidelines of the event, an informal investor summit-like meeting was held with the top bosses of companies like Ducati. India is the world’s number one motorcycle manufacturer, and what better than a MotoGP thumbs-up to garner investment in the sector.
The government helped iron out issues and chipped in with Rs18 crore to support the event. The Yamuna Expressway Authority chipped in another Rs8 crore, which was spent on constructing approach roads and beautifying existing roads. It was ensured that no part of the expressway was choked during the three-day event.
The investment by the government made sense, given that MotoGP requires a Rs140-crore fee for hosting the event. The fee remains valid for seven years. “We were looking at creating an annual event, complete with food and entertainment, which people would look forward to,” said Singh. (Sunburn was to be an entertainment partner, but pulled out for reasons unknown.)
Built for F1 cars, the circuit had to undergo tweaks to make it usable for bikes. Top MotoGP bikers gave the track glowing reviews and some tips. The track, which has one of the longest straights (around 1km) in the MotoGP calendar, could well set world records in the future.
Pushkar Nath Srivastava, chief operating officer at FairStreet Sports, said preparations for the event had started during the pandemic with extensive discussions with MotoGP. “[MotoGP] were keen to take it forward, but were also sceptical because of the past motorsports experiences in India,” he said. “They were struggling to gain complete confidence. We initiated discussions and drafted agreements and MoUs with MotoGP. We stressed the mutual benefits of MotoGP in India and India in MotoGP.”
The willingness of FairStreet Sports to shoulder the tax burden and financial matters while allowing MotoGP to concentrate solely on event management was a key factor that swung MotoGP’s decision in India’s favour. “We obtained various rights, including title sponsorship and broadcasting rights, and managed the sale of broadcasting rights and ticketing. These were the necessary adaptations we made to bring the race to India,” said Srivastava.
Post the race, Pramac Racing CEO Paolo Campinoti said: “It was a fantastic experience. I did not expect so much enthusiasm about the race. MotoGP in India could well turn out to be the most important race of the future.”
The fulsome praise does not obscure the fact that many issues need to be sorted out for MotoGP to have a viable future in India. For instance, riders faced visa issues; quick maintenance could not hide the flaws of the unused circuit; and it became evident that scorching September was not the best month to host the race.
FairStreet Sports has plans for the future. “This is more than just a race; it’s a catalyst for progress and prosperity in our region,” said Srivastava. “Our longterm vision [is] to make MotoGP a year-round hub of activity by engaging in research and development projects with leading automobile companies. Our goal is to transform the space into a bike show where manufacturers can launch new models, attracting enthusiasts from far and wide. Additionally, the tracks themselves can serve as test zones.”