FIA motorsports event to take place in India after 13 years

MUMBAI: This should come as a pleasant surprise for Indian motorsports fans.

After a gap of 13 years, India will see a major international motorsports event taking place in the country, this year. The last round of the FIA (FIA is the motorsports' world body) Asia Pacific Rally Championship 2003, the MRF India Rally, will kick off in Mumbai on 5 December. The rally will take place in Pune till 7 December.

The Himachal Rally Association (HRA), Western India Automobile Association (WIAA), Western India Sports Association (WISA) and SportzPR are all involved in organising this event in India. Over 20 international teams from Japan, Germany, Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand are expected to participate in the Championship. ESPN-Star Sports will air a half-hour wrap-up of the event everyday.

HRA chairman Nazir Hoosein says: "Our aim is to give the rally the status of World Rally Championship (WRC) with in the next three to four years. This could put as much as $20 million into the local economy. New Zealand, for instance, was able to fill 4,500 hotel rooms each night when the WRC event was held there."

Hoosein reminisces, "About 23 years ago, I had announced the Himachal Rally and it had a successful run of 10 years. Unfortunately, after that nobody expressed interest. Now hopefully, we will be able to attract attention again."

The rally will start at the government engineering college in Pune and end at the monumental "seat of the Peshwas" (Maratha rulers).

While talking about the preparations, Hoosein says, "Last December we had run a candidate event in Bangalore. We will start with ceremonies at the Gateway of India, Mumbai. It is hard to tell what kind of impact the recent bomb blast in that area will have on countries expressing interest, but we have tried to convince them that it's not a regular occurrence."

Earlier too, the FIA Rally saw hard times, when the Calidonia Rally was cancelled and the Chinese leg was canned because of SARS, landslides and floods in the region. Initially it was supposed to have seven rounds.

The rally course in Pune will be of 250 kms. There are plans to hold a round of Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) also simultaneously. Presently, Naren Kumar is leading the INRC with 30 points.

The rally headquarters will be set up at the Taj Blue Diamond in Pune and Park Ferme at the Talera Gardens. SportzPR will be in charge of organising an auto exhibit as well as corporate hospitality at important stages of the tournament. They will take care of the promotional activities as well. The aim, they say, is to make Pune the hub of racing.

HRA plans to conducted further activities in Mumbai, Khandala and Lonavala, in the future. Hoosein adds that the event would give car manufactures a chance to showcase their wares. "In 1980 you had Fiat, Ambassador and the jeep. Today companies like Mitsubishi, Ford, Hyundai, which participates in the WRC, manufacture vehicles in the country," Hoosein says.

Cars that one can expect to see on the race course in Pune include the Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, Suzuki Ignis, Ford Escort.

The Indian viewers can also catch the WRC action from different countries on Ten Sports.

A marketing campaign to generate interest and excitement about the event will kick off sometime in November and will encompass television, print and the Internet.

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