Getting down and dirty

Twenty-six acres of land on the outskirts of Mumbai has been turned into a dirt track for India's first safety driving school for rally drivers. Innovative programmes and quality teachers make AutoMission a hit.

Anamika Butalia        Print Edition: April 17, 2011

The engine starts up noisily, and a gust of mud from the dirt track is thrown up by the screeching tyres and the race begins. It's a scene straight out of a movie or a YouTube video, one of those races that make your adrenaline pump. When you witness a rally on a dirt track, the excitement of the crowd and the racers is palpable. It can be experienced first-hand, in India, at AutoMission Motorsports, the perfect destination for motor sport enthusiasts.

Situated on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and four kilometers from Khopoli on the old NH4, one would never have imagined that around these hillocks lie 26 acres of almost-flat land. It is home to a noisy dirt track with a number of rally cars, a cafeteria, a racing library, and an instruction centre.

"Tapping an unexplored market within India is as much a challenge as it is an opportunity," says Pradeep Nair, one of three partners at AutoMission. The minds behind the company are Pradeep Nair, a veteran rally driver, Ashok Oza, co-driver and sponsor of the esteemed Himalayan Rally Team, and Bill Gwynne of Bill Gwynne RallySchool UK, who has been a rally driving instructor for over three decades now.

Rally drivers come visiting ever so often to enjoy a drive in AutoMission's fully-prepared cars that are FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) compliant and are equipped with parts like tuned engines, adjustable upgraded suspension and brakes, limited-slip differentials, rally seats, five-point safety belts, fire extinguishers, roll-cage and cut-off switches.The school is an attempt to pioneer high-quality education with modern, state-of-theart teaching techniques and along with classroom computer simulations and testing equipment.

The place is a tad steep on the pocket, with a single-day training on the dirt track and classroom sessions costing Rs 10,000; but the partners say that the kind of training that AutoMission provides is worth the investment.

In addition, AutoMission has also brought in a traffic safety analyst and a training manual expert to standardise the course. The magic words at this school are 'car control'. To that end, instructors from British Rally & AuroCross champions will be flown to India for courses on cruise control focusing on safety on Indian roads. Nair says, "India needed a dirt track desperately.

Now, there will be lesser number of illegal drag races for lack of a better venue." AutoMission has been hosting rallies regularly since it began in January 2011 and is entering into partnerships with various players in the rally driving industry.

While there are high capital costs, the founders are hoping to be leaders in providing low-cost training.

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