How Moto GP is trying to avoid the pitfalls that scuppered F1’s foray into India

Ten years ago, India made its mark on the world motorsport map with the inaugural Indian Grand Prix Formula One race in 2011, which ran for three years at the Buddh International Circuit.

The Indian GP was an audacious effort from a private enterprise with little government support. The Jaypee group, which built the circuit, promoted the race before it hit financial troubles, leading to Formula One dropping the country with two years left in the contract.

Also read: Inaugural Grand Prix — a dream come true for India

During its run, the Grand Prix also got mired in various issues, from customs clearance for bringing the cars and parts to taxation when motorsports was not even considered a sport and was instead classified as entertainment.

The bureaucracy did not help matters with the red tape frustrating everyone as there was very little State support for the event.

Earlier this year, a big-ticket motorsport event returned when Hyderabad hosted a round of the FIA Formula E championship around the city’s streets, with the local government being heavily involved in bringing the race. While Formula E is a world championship event, it started only in 2014, and there are already doubts if it will happen next year.

Also read: Hyderabad loses spot in E-Prix, but all is not lost yet

But next week, India has another chance to host a high-profile motorsport event when Moto GP, the premier two-wheeler racing series, makes its entrance with the inaugural Grand Prix of Bharat at the BIC in Greater Noida.

Like F1 was, this event is also being promoted by a private enterprise — Fairstreet Sports. But unlike the Formula One experience, the race has the blessings of both the Uttar Pradesh and the Union governments, which should help in areas like logistics and visas, for example.

But how did the whole thing come to be about? The Hindu recently caught up with Pushkar Nath Srivastava, the chief operating officer of Fairstreet Sports. The promoters have signed a seven-year deal to host a round of the prestigious championship that started in 1949, one year before Formula One.

“Our team has been part of the World SuperBike championship in 2013 and 14. We went racing for two years, and MotoGP acquired the series. My partner Amit Sandill stayed with the racing arena and moved to Europe, where we saw MotoGP from close quarters,” said Srivastava

“So in 2019, when the government classified motorsport as a sport, it was a major step. We started studying what F1 did and didn’t and what we should and shouldn’t do as well. We started reading the judgments and did our homework for two years, and then we realised this is probably the best thing to do,” said Srivastava.

Also read: Did Indian customs cost Alonso the title?

The next step was to convince Dorna, the commercial rights holder for Moto GP. While Dorna was confident with the organisers’ ability, it wanted to know how much the government would support the efforts, having seen what F1 went through.

“They came to meet the UP CM Yogi Adityanath and the Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakuar and quickly realised they were passionate about Moto GP. With that, the approval and compliance process got very smooth, with the Sports Ministry becoming our single-touch point alongside the UP Govt. We got all our NOCs on time and didn’t have to keep running from one office to another.”

Though India is the biggest two-wheeler market, with more than 15 million bikes sold yearly, Moto GP has taken time to come to the country.

“No one was able to convince them before this. We did our study and convinced them how it can be done. We told them you should look at the Indian market to increase your numbers. After the race announcement, Moto GP has more followers on Facebook in India than F1 has. At the end of the day, every house has a bike and a bat,” Srivastava explained.

It is here that the government’s decision to classify motorsport as a sport did wonders. “Now that the federation (FMSCI) is recognised as well, the global federation (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) talks to our federation, which then talks to the Sports Ministry. Things like processing visas have become easy because the ministry recognises the federation.”

The core issue during F1’s three-year visit was with taxation, as teams had to pay a portion of their revenue earned since India was one of the 19 or 20 events on the calendar.

Also see: Grand Prix of Bharat

When asked how the organisers are dealing with it, Srivastava said, “They (F1) didn’t know how Indian taxation worked, and it was a mindset problem because they sold the broadcasting rights and other things.

“So, for MotoGP, we are taking care of selling broadcasting rights to Jio Cinema, and similarly, we are also handling some sponsorships. So, we generate revenue, and we pay the taxes in the right way. It was also a mindset change for Dorna to let go of certain things, and we convinced them that we can handle some things better.”

The Formula One Indian GP was an audacious effort from a private enterprise with little government support
The Jaypee Group, which built the circuit and promoted the race, hit financial troubles, leading to Formula One dropping the country from the calendar
The government’s decision to classify motorsport as a sport, from the earlier classification of entertainment, in 2019 has worked wonders in bringing Moto GP to the country
After having lost F1 and uncertainties around Formula E, a lot rides on MotoGP

While some logistical stuff has been smoothed out, there were issues regarding the track itself. The Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) took over the land on which the circuit was built after the Jaypee Group failed to pay its dues, though it maintains the facility. The problem meant there were some issues in doing the essential repairs to the track to make it suitable for bike racing and needing clarification over which party would do it.

Things were eventually sorted out, with organisers footing the bill to repair the track. “The track had some challenges, and we met the CM and told him we wanted to bring MotoGP, and they helped us immediately. So we partnered with Jaypee and the government, and both gave us the required NOC to do the work on the track. Jaypee was open-minded and keen to bring a big event and is partnering with us. It is a shame to see such a great property not being used,” said Srivastava.

Also read: Rural sports academy dearer to me than F1, says Maken

Across the world, countries provide state funding to bring motorsport events to promote local tourism. While it is a tough sell to use public funds in a low-income country like India with more pressing needs, there seems to be a change in mindset at the government level to at least make it easier to hold such events without direct state funding.

After having lost F1 and uncertainties around Formula E, a lot rides on MotoGP. A third strike could be a massive dent to the country’s image and make other series wary of coming here yet again.

But with just ten days to go, Srivastava is confident of pulling off a great event that can stay on the calendar. “This a great chance to showcase what UP and India offer. More than 200 countries watch MotoGP. Recently, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about following the Qatar model of using sport to promote tourism, and it warmed our hearts to hear that at a time when we are doing that.”

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Where to stay in India? Here are 8 former palaces that are now hotels

The Maharajas of India’s past built magnificent palaces as a symbol of their power.

But in 1971, India abolished “privy purses,” or governmental payments made to these rulers. Several of them transformed their vast estates into heritage hotels, or leased them to renowned hotel chains which carefully restored them to their former glory.

From the eastern state of Odisha to Rajasthan in the north, here are eight regal retreats where travelers can live like kings and queens.

1. Jehan Numa Palace — Bhopal

Visitors can step back in time at Jehan Numa Palace in Bhopal, which has a neoclassical style and a 19th-century exterior.

Jehan Numa Palace.

Source: Jehan Numa Palace

This pristine white building was built by General Obaidullah Khan, son of the last ruling Begum of Bhopal, and transformed into a 100-room hotel by his grandsons in the 1980s. The hotel contains salvaged original artifacts and Raj-era photos as well as modern luxuries, such as a palm-lined pool and Chakra spa services.

Its palatial charm lingers among the racehorses that gallop around the track encircling the hotel. Travelers can dine on Italian and Mediterranean cuisine here, but Indophiles opt for the hotel’s legendary Bhopali fare prepared from secret palace recipes in a restaurant named Under the Mango Tree. 

2. Haveli Dharampura — Delhi

Once a nobleman’s home, the 19th-century Haveli Dharampura was meticulously restored over six years under the leadership of the prominent political figure Vijay Goel.

Haveli Dharampura.

Source: Heritage Dharampura

It’s now a 14-room boutique hotel, which received an honorable mention in 2017’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The atmospheric Mughal-era hotel has red sandstone-arched colonnades, a marble courtyard, Arabesque tile-work and intricate stone and wood details that echo the opulence of yesteryears. 

The in-house Lakhori restaurant prepares historic Mughal recipes, while the breezy rooftop provides a delightful setting for drink-in-hand lounging while listening to the muezzin’s call from the nearby Jama Masjid — a soul-stirring reminder that you are in the heart of Old Delhi.

The hotel has guided heritage walks, kite-flying and high tea on the roof terrace, and kathak performances on Saturday and Sunday, where guests can enjoy an evening of Indian classical dance.

3. Taj Lake Palace — Udaipur

Accessible by boat, this stark white edifice in the heart of Lake Pichola (as seen in the 1983 James Bond flick “Octopussy”) was originally a summer pleasure palace for Mewar royalty in the 1740s.

It was transformed into a heritage hotel in the 1960s and is now impeccably managed by the Taj Group.

Taj Lake Palace

Source: Taj Lake Palace

Straight out of a fairy tale, the Taj Lake Palace boasts domed pavilions, ornamental turrets, crystal chandeliers, and 83 antique-filled rooms and suites, some which overlook a gleaming courtyard that hosts nightly folk dances.

It has four dining options serving globe-trotting menus, a spa boat and butler service.

4. Taj Falaknuma Palace — Hyderabad

Perched nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, this hilltop hotel has 60 rooms and suites, which increase in lavishness as you move up its room classes.

Taj Falaknuma Palace.

Source: Taj Falaknuma Palace

By the time you reach the Nizam Suite — graced with fine tapestry, a private pool and personal butler — it’s easy to envision the lifestyle of the Nizam of Hyderabad, who lived in the palace in the 19th century.

The rooms aren’t the only lure. The 130-year-old edifice is known for its state banquets of yore-style food, grand gardens, billiard room with monogrammed cues and ivory balls, and a library modeled on the one at Windsor Castle. Staterooms are decked out with Venetian chandeliers, royal portraits and heirlooms from the Nizams’ era.

5. Taj Usha Kiran Palace — Gwalior

This palace dating to the 1800s was, in its past life, a guesthouse and later royal residence of the ruling family of the state of Gwalior.

Taj Usha Kiran Palace.

Source: Taj Usha Kiran Palace

Today, it’s a lavish Taj hotel that balances old-world vibes with contemporary style. Its interiors contain ancient stone carvings, filigree work and rich tapestries. For a regal experience, travelers can take a heritage tour through the sprawling estate and stay in one of the Royal Suites, which are kitted out with four-poster beds, Venetian mirrors and mother-of-pearl mosaics.

The hotel also offers plenty of facilities to help guests unwind, including a spa, outdoor pool, and an Art Deco-style bar.

6. Rambagh Palace — Jaipur

Set in 47 acres of gardens that are home to peacocks, this former hunting lodge and royal abode of the Maharaja of Jaipur, dates back to 1835. It is now a heritage hotel managed by the Taj Group.

Rambagh Palace.

Source: Rambagh Palace

Exquisite antique furnishings, silk drapes, domed wooden ceilings and four-poster beds give the 78 rooms and suites a regal feel.

Many other features make Rambagh Palace an unforgettable retreat: heritage walks around the premises conducted by the palace butler, golf putting green, original palace dining room with chandeliers and gilded mirror, a Polo bar festooned with trophies and memorabilia of the Jaipur polo team, and a spa with Indian healing services.

The palace has hosted the likes of King Charles, Louis Mountbatten and Jacqueline Kennedy.

7. The Belgadia Palace — Mayurbhanj

Nestled in the charming town of Baripada, The Belgadia Palace has been with the descendants of the same royal family since it was built in 1804, giving it an authenticity that is hard to replicate.

The Belgadia Palace.

Source: The Belgadia Palace

A portion of this historic palace has been converted into an 11-room hotel by Mrinalika and Akshita Bhanj Deo, royal descendants of the family. It boasts lofty ceilings, marble corridors and artifacts.

There’s also a lavish dining hall that serves Odisha-style meals, and elegant verandas on which to drink tea. The palace arranges activities such as traditional Chhau dance performances on the pristine lawns, handicraft village tours and other excursions. 

8. Chittoor Kottaram — Kochi

The height of exclusivity, the Chittoor Kottaram — which once belonged to the king of Cochin — hosts only one group of no more than six people at any one time.

Chittoor Kottaram.

Source: Chittoor Kottaram

Nestled amid coconut groves by the edge of the lagoon backwaters of Kerala, the three-room abode boasts beautiful Athangudi floor tiles and wooden ceilings.

Precious artworks by Lady Hamlyn of The Helen Hamlyn Trust, the restorer of this 300-year-old palace, lend the property something of a museum feel. A personal chef prepares traditional Keralan dishes that can be eaten at a waterside gazebo or in the lush garden.

Ayurvedic massages and private cultural shows can be arranged, as can a private sunset cruise on the serene waterways.

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