It has been two years already since Birel ART made its presence in the Indian shores in 2016. The popular Italian manufacturer committed itself to the Indian National Karting Championship by setting up a factory team through partners Marco Bartoli and Preetham Muniyappa.

The goal was to provide a platform for young Indian hopefuls, dreaming of Formula 1 and professional racing. With the Birel ART having a significant ladder until the FIA Formula 2 Championship – the F1’s foremost feeder series, it remains an enticing manufacturer to join hands with.

Over the years, the Indian arm has seen a good number of drivers competing with them, and last year the team’s driver Ruhaan Alva made his first appearance internationally in the Easykart Championship in Italy, which is run under the Birel ART banner.

The 11-year-old from Bangalore finished as the vice-champion in the 60cc class despite missing the first round and was fifth overall in the Easykart International Finals. He was also second in the Micro Max class in the Indian championship, while he finished 12th in the Rotax World Finals, before he was disqualified for being underweight.

Alva will graduate to the 100cc class in the Easykart series and to the Junior class in the national series. Joining Alva in the 100cc and the Junior category respectively will be Rishon MR, who finished third in the Micro Max class in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Micro Max 2017 champion Arjun Rajiv will move up to the Junior class together with Vivaan Chiripal, joining Alva and Rishon. Chiripal and Mihir Avalakki will do several rounds in Easykart too, eyeing a spot in the International Finals.

The Micro Max class will be formed by Yashas Morae, Aadi Karande and Kunal Vinod, with Shreyansh Jain returning full-time in the Senior class. It is expected that more drivers could join the team before the season starts later in the year.

“Ruhaan's performances in Europe showed that Indian drivers can definitely compete and succeed at the top level of go-karting in Europe,” said Bartoli, when asked on Indian racers capabilities. “Ruhaan gained a lot of respect among Italian and foreign drivers who competed in Italy.

“After witnessing Ruhaan's performances, a lot of people in Italy started to look at India differently. They realised, to their surprise, that India can be a great source of talented drivers, who can compete at the International level.”

Despite the improvements made in the Indian motor racing sector, the drivers still face troubles in matching up to the competitors at the world stage. A lack of proper medium which includes practice, finance and exposure has hit the racers hard.

These are the few reasons for which we have only seen Narain Karthikyan and Karun Chandhok make it to F1. Indeed, there are guys like Armaan Ebrahim, Aditya Patel, CS Santosh, Aravind KP, Sarath Kumar, Rajini Krishnan, etc, who have made their names in different streams, but budget wise they still struggle.

“If you consider that India has a population of 1.3 billion people, you would expect to have a lot more drivers and engineers climbing through the ranks of International motorsport,” said Bartoli. “The past and current results just don't match the law of the numbers.

“Lack of infrastructure is the biggest issue as there are not enough go-kart tracks to enable kids in major cities in India to start a career in motorsport, whereas Europe has thousands of tracks, enabling a larger pool of athletes.

“Lack of awareness is another thing, where in Europe the media coverage is huge, but Indian sports have traditionally been dominated by cricket,” explains Bartoli, who adds that even though other sports have gained some popularity in recent times, but it still is limited when compared to cricket.

While Bartoli admits that the problem of cost of racing is common everywhere, but he feels the population in India actually puts it in an advantageous position which it doesn’t reap benefits from. “If you estimate the wealthiest 20 percent of the population who could afford to pay for their children's racing, it would still leave you with a market of 260 million people, which is huge pool of potential athletes.”

In terms of experience, Bartoli says that while in Europe, a driver can compete in 30+ races, in India it is only limited number with just the five National Championship’s rounds along with one Open Cup event. Even though, the 2018 season may see an additional two-stroke event, but it still less opportunities for the Indian racers.

“It may take Indian drivers five years to accumulate the same amount of experience that a European driver can gain in a single year,” which he feels is hugely contrasting. “In addition to experience, practicing also becomes an issue.

“For some reason, and I don't know why, a lot of drivers in India don't practice that much during off days. If anybody has serious aspirations of competing against the best drivers in Europe, he/she should practice extensively to improve his/her racing skills,” which was key for Alva to succeed in his first year of Easykart run.

Along with practice, Alva’s performances were also down to continuous driver coaching as per Bartoli. “There’s misconception that coaching can be a one-time event, but in reality, to succeed in any sport at the international level, an athlete needs constant and on-going training.

“[That’s why] we have a program of 10 to 15 days of coaching per month, where we work on racing drills, racing skills, race simulation, qualifying simulation, chassis set-up knowledge, data analysis, as well as mental and physical training.”

In terms of set-up, the Birel ART squad had a challenging time to start with since India is still a developing nation when it deals with motor racing. Bartoli and Muniyappa had to think ‘out of the box’ to find solutions to the issues, but overall they were happy with the progress made.

The idea to move Indian drivers to Europe was formalized when the Birel ART India heads met up with Ronni Sala, the President of Birel ART. It was then decided that in order to gain further experience, they need to start with the Easykart Championship, which ‘creates a true level-playing field’ for drivers.

Despite the difficulties, Bartoli says he wasn’t surprised when he entered India since Muniyappa undertook market research prior the launch which gave a better picture. Being in the country for over a year now, the challenges seem common to him.

“There is definitely scope for improvement,” he said. “Last year, Akbar Ebrahim, who was responsible for the initial growth of the Indian go-karting industry and for bringing the Rotax Championship, was elected President of the FMSCI. So, now India has a FMSCI President who is deeply passionate about go-karting. This can definitely help the go-karting's growth in the country.”