MS Prince may not be a household name in the Indian motorsport scene, but the rally racer has been steadily forging a path for himself up the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) order. As a two-time National Dirt Track champion (in 2009 and 2010), he had already established himself in the two-wheeler racing scene in the country. But following in the footsteps of his mentor, rally ace Gaurav Gill, he decided to switch over to car rallying in 2019.
We catch up with him to discuss what motivated this move, his INRC aspirations, the motorsport scene in India and a lot more.
Moving to the INRC
After spending nearly a decade racing in Supercross and Motocross championships, sticking to what he’s known best would have been the safer choice for Prince. When quizzed about why he decided to take a leap and try his hand at car rallying, he pointed out that the biggest reasons were the lack of a clear path to progress and the lack of facilities for Supercross racers to really hone their skill. “It was very hard for me to move away, but I knew that I wouldn't progress if I kept doing that,” he says, further pointing out how some of the biggest two-wheeler racers in the country like CS Santosh, Aravind KP and Harith Noah switched from Supercross to bike rallying to break into the international scene.
“Gaurav [Gill] was behind me to come to car rallies and eventually in 2019 I took the step to compete in the Coimbatore Rally in the INRC3 category,” he adds. His debut outing caught the attention of JK Tyres, who decided to back him for the truncated 2020 season. In just his second year racing behind the wheel of a car, he managed to finish third overall in INRC3 – with one win in Itanagar and two 3rd place results in the remaining rounds.
Learning curve and training with Gaurav Gill
Prince wanted to take his off-road racing experience from Supercross and Motocross and apply it to cars, making the INRC the perfect fit - “When I switched to cars my only objective was to stick to car rallying and not racing because it’s is more fun, more technical and most of all because there’s dirt.”
He draws a parallel between the two disciplines, explaining how his prior experience has helped him adapt to car rallying fairly quickly, saying, “Just like how a bike and a rider should be one, the same applies for a car – a driver and the car should be one”. But succeeding in the INRC also takes a lot of practice and he credits observation as a key learning technique.
“Whenever I’m with Gaurav [Gill], I don’t look ahead when he’s driving. I always look at his steering inputs, his feet inputs, along with other key techniques. And whenever he goes on with his testing, I try to always go there and sit with him because that's how he learned most of his driving in early 2000’s - by sitting with the best drivers and seeing what they're doing,” he says.
“He instructs me that what I can teach you, you can put in your mind but to do that you have to see what I'm doing in the car and then you have to practice also.”
“It’s the same as Motocross, in rallying you can’t just jump into the car; you have to put in the seat time and effort because that’s how you will learn, there's no shortcut. I realised that talent counts. Now everyone knows the new techniques, he’s [Gill] also been training a lot of people. So you have to make sure that your talent comes together with your hard work and only then will you achieve success.”
Prince will continue racing in the INRC3 category this year, driving a Volkswagen Polo for DB Motorsport, with backing from JK Tyres once again. The INRC will also return to a more standard format this year, with six rounds spread across eight months. And Prince believes the longer calendar will be a big asset for all the lesser experienced drivers – “The main thing is that you have back-to-back events as well, which allows you to stay in touch. So you tend to do better and that’s very good.” He’ll also be spending his time in between the rounds attending training sessions with the Gaurav Gill Advanced Driving Academy.
As for his goals for the year, Prince says, “Our aim is just to win the championship now and proceed into INRC2 for next year. I know I can do it.”
Racing on two-wheels vs four-wheels
It’s a question he’s probably been asked way too many times in the past, but Prince maintains that both, bikes and cars have their own pros. “With bikes, there is nothing like the adrenaline rush you get in Motocross or Supercross. There’s no match for it; your bike is flying. We used to do 50 feet jumps, 70 feet tabletops, in one lap you're doing about 23 jumps.”
“Dirt bikes keep you fit, especially your reflexes. That brain, eye and body coordination, nothing can match what Motocross can give you in that regard.”
“But since I moved to car rallying, I really love it because obviously you can slide it around, but yet keep it under control,” he adds. “I can achieve higher speed in cars than bikes because I know I’m sitting in a car that has a roll cage, which will keep me safe. So I can go all out and that's what gives me the rush to drive.”
The future is bright for the Indian rallying scene
“Over the years what I realised - and this is also one of the reasons why I've shifted from bikes to cars – is that especially after 2010, car rallying has improved so much,” says Price.
He also singles out current INRC promoter Vamsi Merla for his role in this – “He’s truly changed the sport since he came in. Car rallying today is one of the top forms of motorsport in the country and has even left car racing far behind, because there are so many privateers like me there and even women now. So many people are getting the opportunity, the prize money is increasing, infrastructure is improving, exposure has increased.”
“We’ve seen Gaurav Gill win the Arjuna Award and motorsport has become a sport discipline in the country in the eyes of the Sports Authority of India. You do see the sport is heading in the right direction because we have never seen almost 65 entrants in the rallying scene in a long time.”
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