By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Amit Sandill, principal of Kawasaki Mahi Racing Team India, which is fighting for the 2013 World Supersport crown with Kenan Sofuoglu.

Sofuoglu's team-mate is former champion Fabien Foret...

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As a team owner, are you a frustrated rider?

Amit Sandill:
No, not at all. I did a little riding in the early eighties but in India there wasn't much racing and we had nothing other than the old air cooled RD350's. We used to faff around on those without the right tyres. I remember using a set of treaded semi slick tyres until they became slicks. I've never raced anywhere other than India.

I stopped riding on the road in 2007, mainly because I had started managing race teams but also because Indian roads can be very dangerous. I've always owned 1000's and used to ride a little too fast so my wife sat me down and that was that. I want to buy a ZX10R now though.
Is there a lot of racing in India?

Amit Sandill:
Yes, a fair amount, usually on smaller machines. Up to last year there was also a 600 championship, but unfortunately it's becoming difficult to import 600s because of customs regulations designed to protect local industry. 1000's are being imported by the factories, there just aren't enough tracks though. I'm sure that this is only a temporary phase and they will realize that you have to let the world come in as regards motorcycles.
So what was the motivation for getting into racing?

Amit Sandill:
I've always been interested in racing and that interest became concrete when I ran a team - Red Rooster Racing, India's first ever fully fledged international bike racing team - in the Asian championship as a favour for a very good friend of mine. Eventually in 2010 when running Glenn Allerton we continued racing despite my better judgement due to a lack of sponsorship, we were leading the championship but we had to pull out after 3 rounds. It was a great shame.

We were told that Kawasaki wanted to talk to us at the time and the chances are that the bike that Fujiwara is riding in the Asian championship would have been ours

Everything happens for the best though and because we pulled of that championship, I could then get cracking with this team.

I started working on this team with Andrew Stone, our accomplished technical director, in April last year and it took us about six weeks to set it up. I have to say that it was one hell of a stressful ride for me because we were setting up from zero. We've been lucky in that we are working with some of the best and Kawasaki have given us their full support.

When we started racing last year we had done no testing, the racing was our testing. We just got the bikes ready, put Dan [Linfoot] and Florian [Marino] on them and we kept improving from 21st place to a third place at Magny-Cours. Getting to be front runners in a world championship in our first season is a great achievement and I really don't know what we were doing right, all I can say is that everything just came together.

The team has functioned well and was efficient enough. Even now I'm not satisfied regarding this aspect, I still want things to be better, not in terms of the results, they're OK, but in terms of how the team functions; the logistics, the support structure and the general efficiency of organisation.
It sounds as if a good part of the enjoyment for you is in running an efficient organization?

Amit Sandill:
Absolutely, that's a part of it. When I'm in India I just do my normal job, it's concerned with racing and it's here that I get my enjoyment. I forget about the issues at home, I'm here, shut off and there are five days of enjoyment fun and challenge. Then it's back to the grind; it's almost like being on tour.
Is running a team a money making enterprise?

Amit Sandill:
Right now the team is funded by personal money, not mine, but it's private money. It's actually a friend of mine of 35 years, called Nandish Domlur. Nandish has almost fully bankrolled this whole team along with Arun Pandey, the dynamic Chairman of Mahi Racing. One of the owners of the team is Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Mahi - captain of the Indian cricket team) Mahi was happy to lend his brand equity to the company and we are proud and privileged to have him as one of the owners. MSD is a fantastic personality and adores anything on two wheels.

Also having a stake in the team is one of the most loved film superstars in India and motorsport enthusiast - Nagarjuna, as well as two of our associates - Satya and Sai Deeps. So far we are running with our own funding and haven't got any money from sponsors.

Kawasaki support us solidly with their technical might, racing parts and engines and we also get to use their web site and certain media arrangements.

The motivation is the passion of it though, it's as simple as that.
I noticed that the name 'Mahi' also appears on the WSBK team's bike

Amit Sandill:
The reason for that is that in India, Supersport isn't televised whereas Superbike is so we put some money into the Superbike team to get some branding there. So in a way, people think we've got four riders rather than two and that's a good impact to have. It's purely strategy because of the media in India. The teams are totally separate, though the WSBK team do sometimes help us out in a fix.
Is your family OK with the fact that you're away so much?

Amit Sandill:
My daughter's 18 now so while she's happy that one of her parents is away, I think my wife would prefer me to be home more. When you're 18 and have just got your driving licence, it's great when your father's away so that you can stretch your wings.
Is the Indian identity of your team important to you?

Amit Sandill:
It is to me and it's also important to Kawasaki simply because of the potential market there. Because we are the first Indian team in WSBK, our brand will give certain openings into the Indian market.

I am of the opinion that maybe Kawasaki are going for the philosophy of giving the small capacity Indian market what it requires rather than pushing something onto it and they have developed a 300cc twin sports machine which they want to market there. It's like a slightly bigger Ninja 250.

We feel that even though we are newcomers to the paddock, we are conducting ourselves with a certain amount of dignity and that it would be great to be considered as ambassadors for our country.
With teams such as yours and the F1 Force India team, is there an enthusiasm for racing there?

Amit Sandill:
There's a great enthusiasm for racing there.

I was in China and there they don't look on motorcycles as a sensible means of transport, or a vehicle for sport. That's why the MotoGP there had a very low attendance.

India on the other hand is the biggest manufacturer of two wheelers in the world and a huge potential market, they make in excess of 10 million motorcycles per year, In India there is a culture of motorcycles, people buy them because they need them. Any bike manufacturer wanting to spread their wings in Asia starts from India and might want to move on to Indonesia.

WSBK is televised on the main TV channels.
What characteristics do you look for in a rider?

Amit Sandill:
For both of the riders we are running, there was really no need to test or interview them as they are champions and long standing members of the paddock. Also Kenan came straight into our team because of the Kawasaki connection.

Our plans are different with Fabien [Foret], he's a fantastic rider and he's still enjoying his riding, but I said to him that if he wanted to retire, to go ahead and become part of the team management and stay part of the team. That's the agreement we started with last year.
Is there an element of number one and number two riders in the team?

Amit Sandill:
Not really, but at the end of the day it has to be Kenan as he is the world champion. I try to keep it equal as much as possible. Fabien and Kenan are very good friends now anyway despite the history between them. Kenan is such a good guy, so humble and I feel that people really haven't understood him fully. He's incredibly competitive though and he doesn't even want to keep the trophies he gets for second place, he's totally focused on winning.

There would never be any pit signals to give up places though. The last time around at Portimao for example, it was the riders who came up with that plan, Kenan and Fabien were only racing Sam. Sam was sandwiched between our riders, they were playing around and forgot to race.
Do you get nervous during races?

Amit Sandill:
No I don't. I don't watch the screen though, I'm on the pit wall to keep a strategic overview and up to last year was hanging out the pit board myself. I just like doing that kind of thing, being there as the rider goes past is a nice feeling for me.
What is your day job in India?

Amit Sandill:
I own a company supplying equipment and material to the construction industry together with my brothers and they look after the company in my absence. I'm not able to devote time to that company at all at the moment because this is a full time occupation for me now.

I'm an electronics and communications engineer by training and vocation. When I was doing my degree in '84-85 I was still working in the office of the then family business for a couple of hours a day and then started working full time in that factory afterwards. In 2007 we sold that company and I then was suitable empowered to start the current business and also to indulge some of my passions.
What about the team's plans for the future?

Amit Sandill:
The ideal way to go would be the WSBK class and that's what the company plans would be. That is mainly for the purposes of the media as well as a natural progression for the team - albeit an early one.

Everyone in India focuses on the 1000s and few consider the Supersports machines. They feel that Supersports is a couple of notches down, so we are looking at Superbikes in an ideal world. We are talking with Kawasaki at the moment, we contacted Kawasaki to get their opinion on such a move and they said 'why not'.

The only reason that we are not sure is due to the rule changes for next year. The final decision will have to made in the next 15 days to a month.

I think the chances of us going to WSBK are about 50:50. I'm personally not sure if we would have been ready for Superbike as they stand and we would maybe have spent another year in Supersport to give us some more thrust, the new rule changes have made the transition more possible. At the end of the day I'd rather do well in Supersport than not do so well in Superbike as the public back home may not understand the effort needed to take part in WSBK.

The recent tests with Kenan were really just a quick test to give Kenan a bit of time on the bike. To get any information we'd really need a two or three day test minimum. He rode Loris [Baz'] bike and it really wasn't set up for him. We didn't even look at lap times. When we get more serious the tests will be far longer. Kenan is also still not sure about how keen he is about WSBK and is still in two minds.
If you were to go to the main class, what would be your relationship to the current factory team?

Amit Sandill:
We'd obviously be a satellite team, the regulations might be slightly different next season though with regard to the equipment that a satellite team would get in that it would be the same equipment as the factory team. Hopefully that will be the case.

The budgets have come down considerably and I believe it is capped at approximately 300 to 350K per bike.
What do you think of the new Dorna proposals?

Amit Sandill:
There is such an element of charm to watching the current Superbikes in that they're cutting edge and can be seen as a technology demonstrator. There is a real excitement about the level of their engineering.

I believe that the new regulations will be something like the BSB level and it comes down from being an elite sport to something more ordinary.

A fuller grid is needed though for the factories and Dorna marketing. Also more teams will be able to afford racing. I believe that the net effect will be more thrilling racing.

I still prefer the glamour of the current machines though. Also what's going to happen in five years time, is it going to become even simpler and become totally Superstock? For me that takes away a lot of the charm. Racing is an expensive sport and you have to find the right balance between spectacle, affordability and performance, I just hope the performance isn't too low.

Cutting edge technology is important to me and I want WSBK to be different to the various domestic championships that exist at the moment. I think that there is perhaps something missing in Superstock.

That's really my heart speaking, so if there are Superstock style rules, we'd still take part. Whatever the organisers choose to do, that's what we'll do and overall I support the new rule proposals, as I believe that it will, finally, create opportunities for more teams/bikes to be on the grid.
Do you ever have a go on your team's bikes?

Amit Sandill:
Never, I've never even sat on them. I am often tempted but I feel that the rider should be the only one who rides their bike. I feel the bike is the rider's property. If we win the title though, if the rider allows me, maybe I'll do a burnout!
How is it going battling against Sam?

Amit Sandill:
Sam's a brilliant rider and coming out of last year, things have slotted into place for him, he's right in the zone. We're competitive with him though and I think there's going to be some hard racing yet.
In the light of what happened in Russia, do you think the rules with regard to wet weather WSS races need to be revisited?

Amit Sandill:
I think there have to be some modification of the rules, I can't say what, but where do you draw the line? We've been discussing all sorts of possibilities even to the extent of have time trial races in the wet.

The problem is that at the end of the day these things will happen and people have died even in the dry. I just feel that the rules need to be continually examined. It's not an easy decision but I feel that the rules should be biased slightly more towards safety; I'm just pleased that I don't have to make the decision.
Thanks Amit.

Amit Sandill: