Fri, Jul 29, 2011 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: India’s boy racers negotiate chaotic roads, high taxes

THE NEED FOR SPEED:For its rich, young members, the Cannonball Club is a chance to drive in a convoy with top-brand power cars and to compare notes afterwards

AFP, CHANDIGARH, INDIA

A horse rides past a BMW Z4 sportscar during an event organized by the Cannonball Club in Chandigarh, India, on May 29.

Photo: AFP

Get out of the way — boy racers in India are using escort vehicles to ensure their souped-up sports cars have a clear run along India’s potholed and congested public roads.

Weaving through trucks, horse carts and clapped-out hatchbacks on one recent rainy Sunday afternoon, members of the Cannonball Club sped down a state highway on a terrifying 30-minute dash.

The 25 luxury cars, including Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Jaguars were led by a large sports utility vehicle (SUV), which helped find a route through the busy traffic outside the northern city of Chandigarh.

For its rich, young members, the Delhi-based club is a chance to drive in a convoy with other top-brand models and to compare notes afterwards on the pleasures of owning cars that sell for up to 7 million rupees (US$160,000).

Drivers are told the club events are not races and that they must stay behind the lead escort vehicle, but members are united by a love of speed, and they talk often about how to evade the police and keep their licenses.

“Our idea is to make driving stress-free for the members,” said Paritosh Gupta, 26, the club’s founder.

“To cope with the numerous perils of owning a supercar in India, we arrange drives on national highways, where our cars are escorted by two SUVs, one in the front and the other at the rear,” he said.

Gupta, who drives a Porsche Panamera, said that despite punitive import tariffs of more than 100 percent, more Indians are buying sports cars — but they then end up leaving them in the garage.

“Owners restrict the usage. Either they drive it to their office or just take it out when they head to a luxury hotel,” Gupta said.

“I want club members to have more fun with their expensive cars,” he said.

Dhruv Talwar, 24, a gem trader and jewelry exporter from a prosperous business family in Chandigarh, said he had encouraged his friends to buy a car and join the club for the “pure thrill of enjoying a mean machine.”

“I love my car, but I must say that driving a sports car can be a rat race in India,” said Talwar, who owns a Porsche 911 in Delhi — and a Mustang at his other home in Los Angeles.

He admits India’s roads are often unsuitable and that sports cars can look out of place among the other travelers.

“Chaotic traffic and potholes are not the only problems. The very presence of a sports car excites people and generates mixed emotions on the road,” he said. “Motorbikes accelerate when they see these cars to race us, often risking their lives. Some even take pictures as they ride. There are others who ogle and a few get annoyed with the noise and try to scratch the car’s paint.”

“Owning an expensive car is matter of pride, but driving is a matter of persistence,” he said.

The club, founded last year, already has more than 100 members from three states and has plans to expand with an Internet site and to develop into a one-stop consultancy for supercar owners.

“Having a club exclusive to supercars indicates a healthy sign,” said Ashish Chordia, a director at Porsche in India. “It gives everyone a common platform to interact and experience different products.”

Chordia, who also heads conglomerate luxury brand the Shreyans Group importing sport cars, designer clothes and jewelry, believes the potential for top-end goods in India is huge.

“The premium car sector grew by 70 percent last year,” he said.

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