Thursday, 25.07.2024 | Deutsch | English
Tata takes its T1 Prima effort to the next level

Tata takes its T1 Prima effort to the next level

21. April 2015MAN’s withdrawal from the FIA ETRC at the end of 2014 marked the exit of the last actively engaged manufacturer from the European truck racing scene. The overwhelming superiority of the MANs over the last five seasons, added to the departure of Renault, meant the ETRC had in effect become an MAN-only contest, departing CEO Anders Nielsen told a year ago.
MAN may be out, but Tata wants in.
For the moment India’s largest automaker, projected by IHS Automotive to become the third-largest truckmaker worldwide by 2025 behind Daimler and the Volvo Group (with Dongfeng consolidated), is investing generously in the promotion of its proprietary T1 Prima event, which it has decided to make an annual fixture on India’s showpiece circuit, the Buddh International in Greater Noida near New Delhi.
The €5-million-odd that Tata reportedly spent on the 2015 event (with another €2 million from partners and suppliers), may constitute only a small portion of its overall marketing budget for the Prima, the flagship truck series it builds in India and South Korea. But the company has lofty ambitions in the sport — it wants to build trucks and train Indian drivers that will compete with the best in Europe.
Someday soon.
For the moment, though, Tata has revealed elements of what appears to be a clear evolutionary roadmap for its one-make, one-weekend “championship”. At the recent “Season 2” round, Tata’s vice-president (sales and marketing) R. Ramakrishnan announced that enthusiastic response from the truck drivers – it hosted an estimated six times as many at the 2015 race as in the previous year – and popular demand from its fleetowner customers had persuaded the company to add rounds in individual sales regions across India, converting the once-a-year event into a proper “season” building up into a true championship. “Soon.”
This would expand the popularity of T1 Prima racing, and indeed truck racing as a sport, in India, not to mention establish a fascination for the Prima brand in the trucker community.
As for its plans concerning the climactic event on the Buddh International, we know now that the British racers who piloted the T1 Primas this year will be back in 2016 and 2017. We also know that, next year, Tata will campaign trucks that are several notches higher in performance than those that featured in this year’s field, in a newly created “Division 1”.
More particularly, learns, the grid for 2016 will consist of up to 16 all-new BTRA-spec trucks powered by Cummins’ new ISG12 engine race-developed by Cummins in India, driving through a ZF 16-speed gearbox and, possibly, a Meritor “hybrid” race axle of the kind that featured on the MKR Renaults a couple of seasons ago, with disc brakes to match. The company plans to showcase the first prototype “2016” truck at the Silverstone round of the British championship in August.
It’s now clear that the T1 Prima Championship was never intended to be just a domestic demonstration of the splendours of the sport; rather, it’s part of an elaborate strategy – worked out with Steve Horne, ex-BTRA, over the last three years – to introduce a new crop of Indian drivers to the sport. As such, the 2016 race featuring the experienced BTRA contingent and the high-performance trucks will serve as a demonstrator — but it will not be the only race on the schedule. There will be a second, all-Indian race with the 2015 trucks. The drivers for this “Division 2” race will be selected out of a rigorous search-and-train effort that the manufacturer kicked off in mid-January.
Tata has begun canvassing its customers to nominate drivers in their employ for its racing-skills development programme, the paramount qualification being “drive, dedication, and a positive attitude”. The company hopes it will be able to induct 240 prospects, who will be instructed in racecraft in classrooms and on a simulator, and then tested for competitive driving in a simulated race. The 60 best “gamers” of the lot will be coached on-track, presumably by volunteer-racers from the BTRA pool, and schooled in fitness and nutrition.
Only 24 of those who make the cut on the basis their solo track skills will be offered an opportunity to race in future T1 Prima events. The drivers for next year’s Division 2 race will be selected from this pool. What’s more, if everything goes as Tata envisages, Indian drivers could even make up half of the grid for the following year’s Division 1 race.
The driver selection and development exercise will be repeated every year to give as many Indian truck drivers as possible a go at glory and widely reinforce the aspirational cachet of T1 Prima racing among this downtrodden community (see our 22 March 2014 report).
Most interestingly, Vicky Chandhok, chairman of the T1 Prima Championship and immediate past president of the FMSCI (the FIA-recognised national sporting association or ASN), tells that the two best Indian drivers in the T1 Prima Division 1 stand to be selected for race-licence training at Silverstone in the UK, preparing them for full-blown racing careers on the British and European circuits.
The next obvious step for Tata – a dream it could hold out for Indian trucking – would be to establish an all-Indian team of high-velocity Indian truckers racing Tata Primas in Europe. Chandhok admitted the T1 Prima stars could eventually choose to switch to European teams, but pointed out that Tata would have achieved its objective nevertheless. In that case, it could still make a vital marketing breakthrough in Europe by providing trucks for a European team, even in the FIA ETRC. The rules of engagement certainly allow for such a possibility. Why not?

Text & Photos: Eliot Lobo


Tata takes its T1 Prima effort to the next level
Tata takes its T1 Prima effort to the next level