Back in 2011, a select contingency of Indian automotive journalists proudly watched the season’s opening motorcycle World Championship races unfold at Qatar. Giant Indian company Mahindra & Mahindra had stuck its neck way out over the two-wheeled line by any yardstick; for earning a name selling tractors, jeeps, SUVs and commercial vehicles was one thing, and setting foot in this arena quite another.
Mahindra had only just started making motorcycles and scooters mere months earlier, yet here we were witnesses in somber desert settings as the bold Indian firm dived headlong into the deep end of a sport dominated by the formidable names of Honda and KTM. Mahindra had signed two skilled riders to pilot their GP125 racer in 2011, German Marcel Schrotter and Briton Danny Webb in that, the last year of the 125cc GP racing class.
Five seasons on, and still steadfastly going for it in Moto3, the Aspar Mahindra Racing Team has finally made their red letter day, riding on the plucky shoulders of Francesco Bagnaia, as the Italian fought off stiff competition to cross the line first, placing the team on the top step of Moto3, in a historic finish.
Victory came anything but easy for Francesco Bagnaia. His Mahindra bike visibly on the limit as it kept pace with a hard-charging, fairing-banging lead pack, all KTM or Honda-engine powered. Positions changed lap after lap as often is the norm in the ultra competitive Moto3 class, but in the end, the Aspar Mahindra Racing Team bike used the ace up its sleeve, a sweet handling chassis that gave Francesco his victory in the fast flowing corners of the Dutch track, despite treacherous, greasy conditions. The famous last chicane at Assen proved pivotal for Francesco, as his Mahindra bike hurtled out of this quick, right, left, right carrying unmatched corner speed to snatch glory by a whisker – 0.039sec in virtual photo-finish with all top six riders within 0.161sec of him. It doesn’t get closer or harder fought than that, not even in Moto3!
Mahindra & Mahindra has quite literally pulled off the impossible, becoming the first manufacturer to break a Honda and KTM stranglehold on Moto3, and also the only Asian name outside the Japanese giants to earn a name in this Championship. The significance of Mahindra’s win is underlined by an emotion-charged tweet from Mahindra & Mahindra Chairman and MD, Anand Mahindra; “How do I explain my emotions? Sorry for being a wimp but am moved to tears. Triumph over so many hurdles & skepticism,” and seeing Mahindra Racing CEO Mufaddal Choonia wiping tears of joy off his face just after the race.
Mahindra has delivered India its first big milestone in the bike racing World Championship. It’s time to take our hats off and salute their hard fought victory – victory not just for Francesco Bagnaia and Mahindra Racing, but also to Indian perseverance – that’s hopefully the start of even bigger things to come in the sport.
Rishad Cooper is the two-wheeler editor of Autocar India.
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Issue: 209 | Autocar India: January 2017
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