Repsol Honda's Spanish rider Marc Marquez (R) and India's former cricket player Suresh Raina ride on a motorbike ahead of the Indian MotoGP Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi, on September 21, 2023.
Image: Money Sharma / AFP
Noida was abuzz with thrill and excitement a few weeks ago. It had former India cricketer Suresh Raina play cricket and ride a bike with six-time world champion Marc Marquez, current world champion Francesco "Pecco" Bagnaia talk Bollywood with Ranveer Singh, and fans chasing Yuvraj Singh and John Abraham around the paddock in their favourite MotoGP team jerseys. Even Sadhguru couldn’t stop himself from doing a lap at the Buddha International Circuit.
From September 21 to 24, India hosted its first ever MotoGP race in Noida. It had previously hosted F1 races from 2011 to 2013. MotoGP parked its massive entourage in Noida—the city of skyscrapers, neon lights and withering heat—making it a breakthrough moment for motorsports that has long struggled to crack the Indian market.
“For us, the motorcycling industry is extremely important in India and the motorcycle fans as well. We have been working hard since a year ago. The first time we visited India to organise MotoGP was almost a year ago… we stopped in Delhi and started to talk with the government of Uttar Pradesh to make this happen. The drivers were happy with the layout of the circuit. Lots of people turned up for the race and our aim is to stay in India for many years,” says Carlos Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, the commercial rights' holder for the motorcycling sport of Grand Prix racing.
FIM [the international federation for two-wheeler motorsport events] conveyed its specific set of requirements regarding the infrastructure and track modifications to the Buddha International Circuit. For instance, the banking curbs and gravel zones had to be re-laid and extended to ensure they comply with FIM prerequisites; the overlaying of bitumen and other chemical compounds to renew the track was done by the global race technicians authorised by FIM. The challenging part for all the teams was to start from scratch in the absence of any prior experience or data of the circuit layout.
Paolo Ciabatti, sporting director of Ducati Corse, was full of praise for India and the circuit: “It was challenging for all our riders, but India is a country we all were aiming to come to and all of us had a fantastic experience. We are super proud of this achievement of MotoGP, and enjoyed the circuit with a unique layout. The lap times were incredibly fast… we saw some great racing and it was a good show for the first Indian Grand Prix.”
Invest UP, the investment agency of the Uttar Pradesh government, and Indian Oil were the major sponsors of the MotoGP Grand Prix. “The support provided by Indian Oil and the government of Uttar Pradesh was extremely important. Everyone in India has realised the potential of MotoGP. Many people thought this [event] won’t happen, but we managed to pull it off,” adds Ezpeleta. Also read: With MotoGP Bharat, there is a direct stepping stone for Indian riders: Carlos Ezpeleta
“Having the Grand Prix in India was important to show everyone what MotoGP is… and this follows our step of working with the national authorities and using MotoGP as a tool to spread awareness about road safety as well. I think we are experts in how to protect riders,” he continues. “We also need to start working together with the Indian Motorcycle Federation and the government of Uttar Pradesh, and explain to people how it's important to be protected, to use many of the things we are using here, as they are also useful for a normal rider, and also the behaviour when on road. We can speak with schools to talk about road safety.”
“For the manufacturers, India is an important destination. Some of them already have their factories here. On one side, our aim is to consolidate the MotoGP—our show. The second is to consolidate the MotoGP as a tool for safety on the road. And the third is to see the local industries representing Ducati or KTM or other manufacturers expand in the biggest market in the world for a motorcycle,” he says.
Sports tourism is growing in India and a motorsport event of this magnitude generates plenty of employment opportunities in various industries—travel, tourism and hospitality, among others.
“An event like MotoGP India positively impacts the local economy. We already have a power generator factory in Kolkata and are thinking of expanding our footprint to other states. I expect that India will continue to improve year by year as it is the biggest market in the world for motorcycles. And Indian people are enthusiastic about motorsports in India. Also, I think it's a great way to promote India globally. From next year, MotoGP India will become the most important race in the world. It was a great finish for us as we finished second on the podium,” says Paolo Campinoti, CEO of Pramac.
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Ezpeleta thinks MotoGP Bharat has had a positive and lasting impression on the local community. “To me, to ensure the Grand Prix’s success in the upcoming years, the support of the government is crucial. We will work more on marketing and branding to ensure more and more people attend the MotoGP next year,” he says.
Bipul Chandra, managing director, Ducati India, adds: “This year’s Grand Prix is proof that India is ready for MotoGP. The organisers did an amazing job with the event, considering it was their first ever MotoGP race. I was at the race track for over five days and I saw world-class organisation, amenities and services for the people working in the paddock as well as the general public. We truly hope for a bright future for MotoGP in India and next year, we look forward to clinching the trophy again.”