Mid-Season Q&A with Mahindra Racing CEO Mufaddal Choonia
How do you feel the season has gone so far?
Overall I think it has been a positive first half of the season because, barring the odd race, we have been fighting for podium finishes almost every race weekend. We’ve had many moments where we have shown our true potential, but some race weekends have not been the best. I really hope that many of our rookie riders will now start performing in the second half of the season. I am happy with the performance of the Mahindra MGP3O racer which has shown that it is capable of fighting for podium finishes.
What have been the main changes made to the MGP3O since the start of the season?
I think the biggest change we have made since the start of the season is in the set up. It is very difficult to make major changes to the bike now, considering the regulations, but we have been trying to tweak a few things in the engine as well. This is the first year where we are working with our new factory team, Mapfre Team Mahindra. For any new team to get used to a particular bike it takes a little bit of time, but I believe the team is now very well acquainted with the package. We have also made some changes to the engine mapping strategy during the season and we have been working a lot on the exhaust system, trying out different combinations.
Of the circuits left are there any where you think the MGP3O might have the edge over other bikes in Moto3?
I think that the motorcycles of all the manufacturers are very similar in performance. There are some circuits where a particular brand tends to show better performance than another, but it’s very difficult to single out a particular circuit, or a few circuits, where a particular bike has an edge over another. I think now it is largely the skill of the rider and the team to set up the bike in a way in which the rider can really extract the maximum performance out of the package. So I really cannot say that there are any circuits where we will have a distinct advantage. That said, we do have some interesting circuits coming up where we have had good results in the past. These include Motegi and at Sepang and I believe generally the Mahindra racer is now mature enough to hold its own at most circuits around the world.
What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
The expectations are clearly to keep improving from where we are at the moment. We would like to see ourselves fighting for podium finishes in every race. One of the areas we really need to improve in is our qualifying position and I think that will be my biggest expectation for the second half of the season – to see us consistently qualify in the top five or six positions.
What activities have now been transferred to the new development centre in Italy?
The new development centre in Italy is now the nerve centre for the entire Mahindra Racing Moto3 project. Of course we have a lot of spokes or feeds into this development centre through our various partners. We are working with some very interesting companies who are really contributing to this project with a lot of knowledge and some incredible ideas.
The new centre is working out very well for us as we have been able to make many improvements to the bike and organise our development in a much better way. The biggest improvement we have seen thanks to the R&D centre is that our reaction time has considerably reduced. I think that the development centre will be one of the key differentiators for our progress from last year.
As a constructor rather than a team, what are the main changes you are finding this season compared to previous years?
I think the biggest change has been to our track support team. In previous seasons the team was essentially an extension of the Mahindra factory, but now there are clearly demarcated functions. Working purely with customer teams and of course with Aspar, which is our factory team, but still run independently, puts far more pressure on our track support team to be able to transmit the learnings and inputs from the factory into the teams. It is more challenging now than in previous seasons because every team has its own ideas and wants the bike to be set up in a different way for its riders.
Is the interest in MotoGP still growing in India?
Very much so. I believe the sport is continuously gaining traction in India. We now regularly see reports in Indian newspapers about race results and about Mahindra Racing. Also the frequency of coverage in both online and print media is a little more consistent. I believe that we are all waiting for the day when MotoGP will actually come to India and I know that the fans would really love that. We do get a lot of enquires on our Facebook, Twitter and all our social media platforms asking us this question, which clearly shows the interest in the sport is increasing every day.
In what ways is Mahindra Two-Wheelers feeling the benefit of the racing programme?
We have started working a lot more with Mahindra Two-Wheelers and the President of Mahindra Two Wheelers has now been inducted as a Director on the Mahindra Racing board. This is one more step in bringing the two Mahindra teams closer together. We are also working together in developing certain future products with them from a technical perspective. The marketing benefits are something we are already leveraging in India in various advertising projects and we will soon be launching our first performance motorcycle. Mahindra Two Wheelers will, I believe, make significant gains on the marketing side thanks to the connection with Mahindra Racing. On the technical side, the development centre in Italy will mean that we will synergise much more on technical developments moving forward.
Does the Chairman of the Mahindra Group, Mr Anand Mahindra watch the races?
Yes very much so and sometimes that can make me more nervous than what our riders do on the track. He sends me emails after almost every day of the race weekend asking what has happened and what went right and what went wrong. He is clearly Mahindra Racing’s biggest fan and a big fan of MotoGP itself.
Mahindra has been agonisingly close to recording a first race win this season, when do you think we’ll see it?
Whenever there is a race on Sunday, I believe that a victory is possible for us, considering the number of times we have been excruciatingly close. I hope it will come this season but it is very difficult to say when. In Moto3 it’s often very tough to judge the winner until the last corner and luck is playing a big factor in the races. In short, yes I hope we will see a race win this season because we have the potential for it.