India has always been famous for its national obsession with, and prowess in cricket, but now the Indian National cricket team captain - the much celebrated and feted Mahendra Singh Dhoni - has begun to open doors into the world of Motorcycle racing. And what better ambassador than national cricket hero Dhoni, to usher a new era of motorsport into India.
Dhoni, while gaining a reputation for being the 'Captain Cool' of cricket, has always had a soft spot for motorcycles. His personal motorcycle collection currently stands at about fourteen, including a Yamaha 650, a Kawasaki Ninja, a Harley Davidson and an X132 Hellcat.
Building on his love for and enjoyment of motorcycles, once he had gained celebrity status as a cricketer and had the resources, Dhoni decided to start up his own Indian Motorcycle race team for the FIM Supersport World Championship. Putting his ideas into practice, in July this year he launched his MSD R-N Racing Team India.
“I had this passion for bikes from the very start and this racing team is like a dream come true for me. I’ve never wanted to do anything like this, but the opportunity came up and I thought of bringing motorsport to India."
Dhoni's team currently has four members, including two world champions: Kenan Sofouglu from Turkey, Fabien Foret and Florian Marino from France and UK Dan Linfoot who achieved a fantastic podium in the final race in Magny Cours in France this October. Although the squad started from a base in Yeovil in the UK the aim is to build up championship success first and then grow the sport in India, eventually with Indian riders.
Since its birth in the summer Dhoni has changed his team's name to Mahi Racing Team India. The Kawasaki factory team will have full technical support from Kawasaki and new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R bikes for the upcoming season.
Dhoni appeared looking as cool and calm as usual at a promotional event in Mumbai just before competing in the first cricket Test against England this month (November). He was obviously not worried as he had out-psyched England before the Test match and India won, Dhoni saying that it was important to create in the minds of English batsmen "a false sense of panic". He is probably hoping to create the same feelings in the other motorcycle race teams when his team is racing!
Dhoni is sure that racing in will catch on in India with the Superbike championship adding a race at the Buddh international Circuit in the capital in March. The general popularity of motorcycles in India is currently morphing from simply the practicality of scootering to work, to the increasing popularity of
leisure motorcycling on bigger bikes at the weekend and for motorcycle touring holidays.
“India is among the biggest two wheeler selling markets in the world. Also, in the last 10 years, the capacity of the engines of bikes in India has gone up remarkably. From 100cc bikes, big players in the Indian market are now venturing into 220cc, 250cc markets.”
Small steps on big wheels
Dhoni is also on a mission to bring fun and race motorcycling to India by starting his own Motorcycle Riding Academy to help source and train the Indian racers of the future.
“We want to open a riding school in India and in the coming years I would like to see one of the Indian riders doing really well on our bikes. But of course, we want to take small steps and open a riding school. It gives youngsters an opportunity to show their skills,” he said.
With the motivation and celebrity status of Mahendra Dhoni, and the increasing interest in motorcycling in India, this nascent well backed and set up Indian race team is surely one to watch.