In 2011, the Mahindra Group made a lot of news when it entered the FIM 125cc Motorcycle World Championship, part of the MotoGP series, the top-tier of two-wheeled motor sport in the world. Mahindra Racing was the first Indian team and manufacturer to compete in international two-wheeled motor sport. Although a small first step for the USD15.9 billion diversified, Mumbai-based multinational group that employs more than 155,000 people in over 100 countries, the team was well received and its riders regularly finished in the points during the last year of the two-stroke 125cc era.
In 2012 the championship switched to the new Moto3™ format – 250cc, single cylinder four-stroke machines. The switch proved challenging for the relative newcomer in a series dominated by ‘off the shelf’ motorcycles supplied by well-established racing manufacturers. Not satisfied with its performance in the early part of the season, Mahindra Racing’s management undertook a comprehensive review of operations and in August 2012 announced a complete re-structuring of its team and technical partnerships for the 2013 season.
Working with established Swiss engineering firm Suter Technology AG, Mahindra Racing set about designing and building a totally new Moto3 challenger to compete in the 2013 season – no mean feat in a short, four-month window. At the final race of the 2012 Moto3 season in November, the team announced the signing of two new riders, talented Portuguese teenager Miguel Oliveira and experienced Spaniard Efrén Vázquez. With a number of new personnel appointments following, the new-look team moved to a base in Switzerland.
By February 2013, the all new MGP-3O was in action in the pre-season group tests at Valencia. This was followed by two tests at Jerez. In all three, the MGP-3O displayed some impressive reliability completing many trouble-free kilometres on the track as the riders and team worked on setting up the machines for the season ahead.
After such a positive start to 2013, Mufaddal Choonia, CEO of Mahindra Racing, looks ahead to the rest of the year.
Q. Have you had a busy winter?
We have had an extremely busy winter re-structuring our entire operation while also developing the new bike. I have to give credit to everyone involved who has helped make the changes happen. Mahindra engineers have worked closely with their counterparts at Suter Racing and the result, in such a short amount of time, has been encouraging. Meanwhile, we have also moved our operating base to Switzerland.
Q. Are you pleased with how things have gone?
So far so good! The effort has been enormous and it has been satisfying to watch the professionalism of our riders and team members during the three pre-season tests. Equally satisfying has been the performance of the all new MGP-3O. We have managed to do a lot of laps with no real problems and this gives us great hope for the long season ahead. I know that testing was only a small step in the right direction and we do not want to get ahead of ourselves, but we have also been happy with the times Miguel and Efrén have achieved after such a short development time in the factory.
Q. How are your new riders?
I am extremely pleased with both riders. We chose them because they have great pedigree and are known as front runners. They also provide a great balance of speed and experience. I have been impressed with the professionalism and work ethic of both riders and, on a human level, they fit in well with the team and are both great guys. The fact that both of them speak far better English than I speak Spanish or Portuguese is also extremely helpful!
Q. How much of the new bike is ‘Mahindra?’
The all new MGP-3O is very much a Mahindra bike. Of course, we have benefited enormously from the experience and expertise of Suter Racing Technology, our technological partner in the project. We certainly could not have proceeded from concept to track within such a short amount of time without the input of Eskil’s team. However, we have had Mahindra engineers involved in the project at every stage, in fact the entire project management has been done by Mahindra engineers. We have also carried out a lot of the design analysis (including FMEA) at our R&D centres in India. So yes, a lot of Mahindra expertise has gone into the design of the new bike.
Q. Mahindra Racing has a new logo this year, can you explain the change?
It is fitting that the change in the Mahindra corporate identity gives us the opportunity to update the Mahindra Racing logo at a time when we have made significant changes to the team. I think this clean, modern Mahindra logo works very well for us. It reflects the evolving nature of our organisation, our global outlook and progressive management style. In short, it reflects the ‘core’ of Mahindra.
Q. What are your objectives for the season?
We are splitting our season into stages, which reflect the development planned for the bike during the season. For each stage we have objectives to improve our performance. However, I do not wish to be drawn into a discussion on specifics at this stage. Both our riders seem to be happy with the bike and are very enthusiastic about the season ahead, but I shall wait and see how we perform in the opening three races before making any predictions. Clearly, Mahindra is not involved in MotoGP to make up the numbers and we are keen to be challenging the front runners during the course of this season.
Q. How is Mahindra’s racing programme being received in India?
The reception to our MotoGP programme in India has been fantastic and honestly speaking, that has surprised even me. We are the largest online motor sports community from India with more than 671,000 fans on Facebook. And many of these are not just fans making up the numbers. They are fans who regularly interact with the brand, monitor the progress of the team, ask questions and give us their feedback and suggestions. This is very encouraging for us as a team.
Q. Has Mahindra’s racing programme expanded in 2013?
In addition to our Moto3 racing activities in 2013, Mahindra Racing will again be competing in the CIV Italian Championship, also in the Moto3 class. Last year we succeeded in winning the Constructors’ Championship in the CIV 125cc class. This year our satellite team will feature two exciting new riders, Andrea Locatelli, who is 16, and Michael Rinaldi (17). The CIV programme is an interesting way to develop new talent, and provides valuable data to develop our bike over the course of the season. We are hoping for another successful season in the CIV.
Q. What is Mahindra’s long-term plan?
As many people will remember, Mr Anand Mahindra, the Chairman of the Mahindra Group, made a commitment that Mahindra is in motor sport for the long term and we will stick by that commitment. However, we need to take it one step at a time and so I am solely focused on delivering dramatically improved performance for the team in the 2013 Moto3 season. If we achieve that step then we shall redefine our plans and objectives for the future. The Moto3 class remains our focus.