Dhoni, Yuvraj and Tollywood actor Nagarjuna in race to own I1 franchises
New Delhi: Big names in the Indian industry, sports and tinsel town, including cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh and Tollywood's Nagarjuna, have shown interest in owning teams in the nine city-based franchisees in the much-touted I1-Super Series motor racing league of which Sachin Tendulkar is the brand ambassador.
Machdar Motorsports, the promoters of the event, on Tuesday said the list of franchisee owners will be finalised within the next couple of weeks, adding that Dhoni and Yuvraj have shown keen interest in owning a franchise each in the series, beginning January 8 at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi - the venue of the 18th and penultimate race of the 2011 Formula One season.
"We have been in touch with Dhoni and Yuvraj for quite some time and their chances of owning a franchise are bright," M. Darshan, CEO of Machdar Motorsports, told IANS.
I1 primarily aims at promoting motorsports in India and has managed to attract attention ever since Sachin got associated with it and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan jumped in to be the owner of the Mumbai franchise. Management expert Arindham Chaudhuri has bought the Delhi team.
Darshan said Telegu actor Nagarjuna and industrialists Burmans of the Dabur Group more or less confirmed their interest in associating with the league. Tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi also wanted to own a franchise in the beginning, but he does not seem to be all that keen now.
"Bhupathi had shown interest earlier but now it looks less likely that he will buy a team," said Darshan.
The cost of one team is $20 million and the nine franchisees will be named after the Indian cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh.
Darshan said the drivers' line-up for the event will be announced by the end of the month and is likely to feature many of the current and former Formula-One drivers, including two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen and 2007 winner Kimi Raikkonen. The other big names with whom the organisers are in touch are former Force India driver Giancarlo Fisichella, HRT's Vitantonio Liuzzi and Michael Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, who drove in the F1 season from 1997 to 2007.
Each team will have an established foreign and Indian driver in their line-up while the third driver will be picked from talented young Indian drivers.
Darshan said the inaugural F1 race in India last month has given a much needed impetus to Indian motorsports and I1 Super Series will further promote the sport.
"At present, we have drivers racing in the national championships and only a handful of them have made a name at the international level. The I1 Series will provide many Indians an opportunity to share space with the international stars, giving them a great amount of exposure and learning," he said, referring to the the likes of Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.
Radical S3 Sportscar having a maximum speed of 250 kmph will be used in the single-make series, which will have 12 races in a season.
Two races will take place in each of the six rounds scheduled in India, Malaysia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
The second and the final round of the Championships will be held at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida.