Mufaddal Choonia: Indian Chief
CEO, Mahindra Racing SRL, brings us up-to-date with the evolution of India’s first MotoGP team
How would you sum up team Mahindra’s progress in premiere class motorcycle racing?
Well, it’s a challenge that’s turned out to be very exciting. We have had our ups and downs as far as performance and results are concerned. But we are more consistent now. It has been a huge learning experience, both, personally and professionally. When we started off we had no background, and no experience to bank on. It’s been a huge challenge for – getting into something that is so competitive, at the highest level in the world. It has been a huge rollercoaster ride of sorts.
…and currently, as far as Moto3 is concerned?
2012 was a challenging year for us because it was the first year we competed in the Moto3 category. It was a challenging year for us because it was the first time we actually made a complete Moto3 motorcycle – engines, engineering, and everything. There were certain technical issues on the bike and we were not competitive compared to the rest. But we are constantly making progress.
Has the Mahindra teams presence changed in the paddock over the last couple of years? If yes, how so?
Yes. Definitely. Previously, whenever I used to walk down the paddock, everybody would look at our team and say, “look, they are the guys from India, they have no idea about what they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s a recipe for disaster.” This made our resolve that much stronger, we grew hungrier for success. Consciously, at that time, the team did not react to the lot of negativity in the international media. We figured, the best way to silence the critics is to get out on track and perform. And that’s just what we went on to do. We get a lot more respect now.
How has the changing of your technical partner to Suter helped the team?
In 2013, after changing our technical partner to Suter, we decided that we were not going to try and improve the bike, rather, make a completely new bike altogether. That, in hindsight, was a game-changing move for us as we didn’t get clouded with any of the mistakes we had made in the past, with our old bike.
2013 was a landmark year in that sense. We got our first podium, we got a pole position in Moto3 class which was actually our true pole position in that sense because previously, in 2011, when we bagged pole, the last pole of the 125cc class, that was because conditions were very tricky and we were able to master them. But in 2013, when we got our pole in Moto3, I think that was a genuine pole because the conditions were fantastic for racing at that time. In 10 out of the 17 races last year, we managed finish in the top five. Because of these feats, we now supply bikes to other teams and have become the constructor with the second highest number of bikes, currently on the grid.
I think the racing environment in India today is not conducive to produce riders of that (Moto3) caliber
How did Mahindra go about supplying engines, and entire motorcycles to teams in the Italian National CIV and FIM CEV Repsol International Championships respectively?
One of the strengths of our bike is handling. The Moto3 class is a one which attracts relatively young riders because it’s the entry-level class to the MotoGP. These guys have lot of experience of riding smaller bikes than the ones in the 250cc class, but it is easier for them to adapt to racing at this level. If a bike has got better handling, it is better for these young chaps because they lack the professional experience of handling larger capacity motorcycles (than the ones they’re accustomed to). It helps if you have a bike that is sweeter in handling, because the regulations in the Moto3 class are fairly tight unlike the MotoGP class where you have lots of electronics that help the rider. So it depends a lot on the rider’s input and skills also. Teams in various championship series have seen that the Mahindra motorcycles are more responsive to the rider’s inputs and are easier to ride.
Can we expect to see Indian riders compete on Team Mahindra Racing motorcycles anytime soon?
We are looking. If we find somebody who can compete at that level, we will be more than happy to give him the opportunity. But, unfortunately, at the moment I don’t see any Indian rider who is capable of taking on the best of the world at the moment.
Do you find the reason for this to be the infrastructure of motorsports in India?
I think the racing environment in India today is not conducive to produce riders of that caliber. Every rider that competes in the Moto3 class comes from the national series. So they are respective champions of their own countries who them move up to participate in the World Championship. In India, we don’t even have a national series in the Moto3 class. There is no 250cc custom-built Moto3 racing championship or category. So it’s unfair to expect a rider who is probably used to a bike of a certain class to go to that level because these bikes are very different. You need to have a lot of experience in a competitive environment to be able to then go and race at this level. In India, unfortunately there is no series. It of course also boils down to the availability of circuits.
Is Team Mahindra Racing planning on stepping-up to a higher category in the MotoGP soon?
Absolutely no plans at the moment simply because we don’t want to distract ourselves from the current objectives in Moto3.