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Sriperumbudur race track in tug-of-war

Calcutta: When the Indian Bank Tuesday, using the recently issued Securitisation Ordinance, declared India’s premier racing circuit in Irungattukottai, near Sriperumpudur, on the Chennai-Bangalore highway, a non performing asset, one assumed it was a banking move on loan recovery. Such moves have been noticed in the recent past after financial institutions have been teethed with this weapon.

However, it seems, the 200-odd acres of facility, run by MMSC (Madras Motor Sports Club) and the MMST (Madras Motor Sports Trust), is possibly now an arena where two motor sports bodies of the country are racing for pride of place.

The bank had asked for its money back and issued a notice that the property be closed. That threatened the National racing (FISSME and others) championship finals that are scheduled there for Saturday and the day after. Feathers flew as officials of the MMSC argued over the liability, and over the right of the bank to issue such an order.

The Chennai high court has stayed this order (of the Indian Bank), and while Thursday is the hearing, the MMSC head honchos are meeting the Indian bank supremo Monday.

The loan principle, it was learnt has been Rs 4.59 crore (“taken in several tranches between 1987 and 1994,” senior MMSC committee member Vicky Chandhok says). Nobody is arguing over that. And Chandhok says over Rs 4.31 crore has been “paid back”. There seems to have been a problem with the interest levied. A minor problem, such that are generally resolved across the table.

However, with two major tyre companies — JK Tyre and MRF — being on either sides of the ‘balance’, men in the middle complain that they are being crushed in a non-sporting move. “These are big vested interests, vying for prime slots in the national market,” said one whose activity has been affected while not being in the main picture at all. “As a result the sport in the country is dying.” The likes of Chandhok and Sanjay Sharma, head of motorsports at JK Tyre, may not agree, but a show of pure financial muscle isn’t helping the sport.

The property is prime (though technically “agricultural land,” as Chandhok argues), but more importantly, it is the only track in the country where even FIII cars can race. It is of international standard and can easily demand pride of place.

The issue has been “settled” for the moment, and the National Racing championship will be held, but the bigger race of who gets to kill the hen that lays the golden egg is on.

The Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) and Motorsports Association of India (MAI) spat has been the least helpful for the sport in the country. Now, it seems to have manifested itself in having the premier facility for the sport in the country held to ransom.

The MMSC constructed the racing facility in the 1980s, when they used to run the All India Motor Race meet on the abandoned World War II air-strip in Sholavaram. The new track was inaugurated in 1990.

In the past 13 years the MMSC has run many major events like the All India Motor Race Meet, the FIM Asia Pacific Championship round.

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