INTERVIEW-Motor racing-Indian GP success boosts IPL-style league

MUMBAI Thu Nov 10, 2011 1:27pm IST

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MUMBAI Nov 10 (Reuters) - Organisers of India's new motorsport league hope a dash of celebrity glitz and glamour will help attract a core following and deliver the same kind of success as the lucrative Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Riding the momentum of India's inaugural Formula One race last month, the i1 Super Series will roll out in January and feature nine teams competing in 12 races to be held in India, UAE, Malaysia, Bahrain and Qatar.

Styled on the IPL's popular city-based model, franchises have to pay $20 million for a period of 15 years for owning a team. The league's promoters, Machdar Motorsports, said most of the teams had already been paid for.

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan has become a co-owner of the Mumbai franchise, and promoters have also pulled off a coup by roping in Sachin Tendulkar as its brand ambassador.

Cricket great Tendulkar's love for fast cars is well known and his association will only help the league to become more popular, Chief Executive Darshan M told Reuters.

"Sachin is a very large and popular icon who believes in popularising motorsport," Darshan said in an email interview.

"We believe he will take the sport to the masses and cut across all barriers of region, language, age, gender etc."

CELEBRITY OWNERS

The IPL dazzled fans with the exciting Twenty20 format, player auctions, post-game parties and heavy advertising. Celebrity owners are part of the show and include Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, as well as spirits and airline magnate Vijay Mallya.

"We have chosen the IPL model because we learnt a lot from the city-based loyalty and spirit that IPL showcased," Darshan said, adding that the winning team would take home $2 million in prize money.

"After all India is a large country with so many cultures and nothing showcased the diversity and passion better than sport.

"IPL also demonstrated that world class sport when combined with entertainment was an unbeatable combination and we have tried to learn from the same."

Darshan also said the inaugural Indian Formula One Grand Prix in October at the Buddh International Circuit could not have come at a better time.

"Formula One was very useful in popularising and educating a large section of India with the nuances of motorsport," he added. "We are keen to build a world class sports entertainment property and we believe motorsport is at the right stage to develop (in India).

"We believe there is huge scope to improve infrastructure and talent."

About 95,000 spectators attended the glamorous F1 race on the outskirts of the Indian capital, which also attracted unprecedented viewership and earned rich praise from the country's media.

While agreeing that there was a dearth of talented drivers in the country, Darshan said at least one of each team's two drivers must be Indian.

"We acknowledge there is a shortage of talent in India. It is one of the reasons we have created this concept as it will help develop more motorsport talent in the country," he said.

"i1 will be the pinnacle of motor sports in India and offers talented drivers in the country a huge opportunity and career path."

The teams will race the Radical Sportscars' SR3 roadster in the sports car racing series. (Editing by Peter Rutherford; to query or comment on this story, email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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