Sanjay joined JK Tyre in 1994 to head its motorsport division and to make the team more professional and focused. In 1997, he started National Racing Championship which has grown from the humble beginnings to India’s premier motorsport championship today.
An affable man, Sanjay used to be a rally driver and loved the sport so much that he had to be associated with it even after he hung up his racing boots. In 2000, he brought karting to India which again has clearly emerged the preferred choice for professional karters to develop their racing careers.
Express Drives caught up with the rally expert to ask him the progress about motorsports here as well as the future. Here are a few excerpts.
1) When did the motorsport bug bite you?
A- Well, I would say about 45 years back. When I was a kid I grew up playing with cars. I was lucky enough to afford a car and start rallying. So that’s how it all began. Whereas for our company, right from inception, the company evolved along with motorsport. This is not just any branding exercise for us. It gives us an opportunity to place our product in the most advanced and demanding conditions. As a brand, the promoters were absolutely clear about this as they were sponsors of international motorsports events. From there till now, we knew what we wanted for our brand. We are not mere branding partners to the sport- we own teams, infrastructure, manage sportspersons and have been responsible for the evolution of the sport.
2) Where do you think has motorsport reached in India? Has it developed over the years in a staggered way?
A- I think we are right there today. It’s obviously not the preferred sport in India. Cricket remains the preferred sport. But we need to understand this is a combination of man and machine- making it a very unique proposition. Thanks to tech evolution, the sport has seen a lot of advancement in the country too. You can see 70% of kids participating in our events are from an engineering background. In the last couple of years, there has been some staggering progress- even though auto manufacturers are very busy so the priority is to run the company, there is some investment happening in R&D. On the ground everyone- one way or the other is involved with this sport- either supporting or sponsoring. In the last 10 years, the way the progress has been made is almost at par with the world. We are at the same level in terms of technology. Sure, the magnitude of events is not as high but they are happening with international standards across verticals. They are all up there and worth talking about.
3) How much more accessible has JK Tyres brought motorsports to the average Indian?
A- That was the whole idea- demonstrating the propensity of our product; doing extensive research on the international level. The second initiative was to nurture the sports players. 90% of the kids performing at the global stage are from JK motorsports program. Almost two decades back we started a program to catch the talented kids young. Graduating each level starting out in your hometown and moving on to global levels became easy because of our program. We have made efforts to make it so accessible to the common man- that kids from smaller towns have gone on to become national champions. That is a testament to the success of the program.
4) How does boosting motorsport talent help JK Tyres in the long run?
A- Development of sporting talent is a crucial part of our program and eventually, for the sport itself. Without talent, sport is nowhere. Most people who are giving results internationally are all products of JK motorsports. Especially, due to our investment in technology.
5) If a promising Indian driver comes to JK Tyres, how does the company help him/her? How do they approach the company?
A- It is a simple formula- you keep winning and you keep progressing, that’s how we support. Every time you win a championship, you graduate to next grade of racing and are supported by the program- and all this is irrespective of the background of a driver- until you reach the highest ladder. This program helps you reach that level- only if you have it in you.
6) Are they still expected to find their own sponsors or does JK Tyres help them?
A- Till Formula 3 grade 100% sponsorship comes from JK. However, at the highest level, they do need a lot more people to help them.
7) Are there any plans to highlight BIC once again as the epitome of race circuits in India? Perhaps an F1 or MotoGP can be hosted here?
A- We are really glad to have a BIC in the country in terms of the facility. Going forward, for the Super world Cup we have in priority requested them to work with BIC.