Mahi Racing Team India
If it wasn’t for the Dhoni connection, blank looks would usually follow if one was to mention World Supersport and Kenan Sofuoglu. The Indian captain, a self-confessed speed junkie and a lover of most things on two wheels, decided to lend his name to and invest, along with his friends like Southern superstar Nagarjuna, in a two-wheel racing outfit. The team entered the FIM Supersport World Championship late in 2012 as MSD R-N Racing Team India but 2013 saw them being christened Mahi Racing Team India.
The change in name was followed by a change in driver lineup too. With Kawasaki coming on board – Mahi Racing is a Kawasaki’s factory team – Dhoni’s team was able to get the attention and approval of three-time Supersport champion, Turkey’s Sofuoglu (2007, 2010 and 2012). The 29-year-old Sufuoglu is a very highly rated rider. His teammate is also a former World Supersport champion, Fabien Foret – he won in 2002 with Ten Kate Honda – who has bucket loads of experience.
If Dhoni was a superstitious man, he would put down 2013’s success down to the name change. But with established riders like Sofuoglu and Foret and the expertise of Kawasaki backing it, Mahi Racing has quickly become one of the more consistent performers out on the track.
The team has seen some stunning performances by the two riders — ranked 2nd and 3rd in the standings — at the last round in Silverstone, it was a weekend of double celebration for Mahi Racing as both Sofuoglu and Foret were on the podium. The defending champion registered his second win of the season holding his closest competitor Sam Lowes at bay. Foret, who started in seventh place fought to third place with a blazing ride through the field.
FHM India caught up with Arun Pandya, chairman of the Mahi Racing Team on the team’s ascent and plans
What was the objective behind joining the fray of two-wheel racing?
AP: MS Dhoni is passionate about bikes and biking. Taking a cue from that passion we wanted to do something with motorsport in India. World Supersport looked like the best option to try our hands on. The idea was to form a good team, win races internationally and also create an identity for the team and the sport in India. Motorsport is one of the most widely-viewed sport on television and our efforts are to catch the interest of that population.
Despite being a late entrant last year, the team had some solid results. What has been the most difficult part of the process?
AP: Yes it was a late entry but we had a podium finish last year itself, which shows that we are on the right track. Challenges like choosing riders, logistics are all part of the process, but we managed everything.
Having Kawasaki on board obviously is a big advantage for the team. What prompted Kawasaki to come on board with a team that was being launched by relative unknowns in the field of racing?
AP The reasons why we decided to invest or buy a team were very clear to us as the management. We wanted to bring World Supersport to India and introduce the sport in this country. We also wanted to produce champions and a champion team from India and Kawasaki had seen in initial races that we have the ability to do well and therefore in 2013 we have their full support are one of their factory teams. Plus, with Kenan and Fabien doing really well, the arrangement has come good.
How involved is Dhoni with the running of the team?
AP Dhoni barely gets time away from cricket but he definitely follows the races online internet and keeps interacting with the team as and when he gets time. The team has the best riders and efficient management staff.
Have you been able to get the press leverage you hope you would, given the performance of the team?
AP The biggest hindrance is that World Supersport is not shown live on TV in India. But we have already done two events with the riders in India and they were very well received. Our wins and triumphs do find a mention in the media but we have a long way to go. I’m sure the way we are performing, next year we will be a name known across the circuit.
Born to a motorcycle dealer in Adapadari, Turkey, Kenan was the youngest of three brothers who all shared the common passion of bikes and racing. Becoming a racing biker was a given and life seemed good for the Sofuoglu brothers till, in a cruel twist of fate, Kenan lost both his brothers in a spate of six years. Bahattin died while crossing the road and Sinan succumbed to his injuries while training for the Turkish championship. Kenan came close to putting away his body suit away for good but it was his father, who’d already lost two sons, who made him come back to the sport he loved so much. Kenan returned to the field in 2010 and won his second World Supersport title. In 2011, he lost his father to cancer. The 29-year-old won his third world title in 2012, a fitting tribute to his father. It was perhaps these family values that attracted Kenan to Mahi Racing Team India, who had a choice between an Indian and Italian outfit and chose the Indian for its “culture”. “I preferred to choose the latter because coming from Turkey we feel that we are quite close to Indian culture. We can relate to the people here,” Sofouglu says.
What is it about the team structure and atmosphere at Mahi Racing that suits your style and personality?
Kenan Sofuoglu: I like my team. I have a great connection and working relationship with the team. I like the Indians.
You’re a three-time WSS champion and you chose to race with an Indian team, one that you knew little about. What influenced your decision?
Kenan Sofuoglu: According to me this was the package. I’m a Kawasaki driver and I had the option to choose between an Italian and Indian team and I thought I would work better with an Indian team. That looked like the best option. Also, I have an interest in Indian people.
How does a rider who’s a multiple world champion maintain his focus and motivation when he knows that he doesn’t have to prove anything? You’ve said that Sam Lowes is your only competition. Is it tougher to push yourself when you know that competition is limited?
Kenan Sofuoglu: I have to keep myself motivated but it’s easy because I enjoy what I do. I love racing. Yes, sometimes it gets difficult to keep pushing but Lowes is my competition and he keeps me on my toes.
MS Dhoni is a huge star in India. You’re a star back home in Turkey. Have you got a chance to swap notes about how to handle adulation and attention?
Kenan Sofuoglu: I think Dhoni is much more famous than me in Turkey (laughs). Cricket is India’s number one sport while in Turkey there’s no interest in motorsports. I think I’m famous because the Turkish president keeps talking about me. He will sometimes mention me as a great example of a Turkish man, has invited me many times and if I crash he often calls me to ask if I’m OK.
Mahi Racing has evinced interest in moving to Superbikes next year, as have you. What will be some of the exciting challenges that 2014 could hold for you?
Kenan Sofuoglu: For sure that I would like to continue working with Mahi Racing Team. Whether it’s Supersport or Superbike, that decision will be Kawasaki’s.