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Sundaram Karivardhan: Pioneer of Indian Motorsports

Sundaram Karivardhan: Pioneer of Indian Motorsports
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A Man From Coimbatore Laid The Foundation For Indian Motorsports - Sundaram Karivardhan.

Former FMSCI President and national champion, Vicky Chandhok walks us through the life of the legendary  S. Karivardhan, a man who changed the face of Indian motorsport. 

Kari was widely regarded as the pioneer of Indian motorsport. He was instrumental in developing the motorsport scene in the country, with the introduction of Formula Maruti.

His passion for cars, motorcycles, and anything propelled by an engine is rarely seen in another individual. 

From the initial days of building a Yezdi Road King-engined single-seater, which was essentially a go-kart with suspension, the FISSME (the iconic Formula Maruti), to the McDowell 1000, the Datsun special or even the Formula 2000 cars, his dedication and attention to detail in the construction of racing machines inspired awe.

And it was not just cars, he started a very innovative project of building microlight aircraft with Rotax engines to export to France and sell to adventure units, and the Indian army – back in the '80s. 

Kari's Roots

Sundaram Karivardhan or short Kari (June 20, 1954, Coimbatore, India–August 24, 1995, in the same town) was a legendary figure of Indian motorsports. 

Apart from being a successful formula car racer, was also a designer and constructor of several formula cars, his most famous design being the Formula Maruti open-wheeled race car. 

His low-cost cars helped other racers, notably Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandok, and Armaan Ebrahim to their entry into motorsports. A wealthy industrialist, he was later killed in an air crash, aged 41.

Building Up A Racing Car

One of his early complete in-house designs was the 300 BHP Formula Monoposto based on the Formula Atlantic Chevron B40 model nicknamed "Black Beauty". But until the late '80s, motorsports was only for wealthy drivers.

In an effort to make racing more affordable in India and improve grassroots-level racing, he designed and tested a small single-seater, dubbed as India's Formula Ford, with a Maruti 800 engine, and adapting easily available parts, sometimes made in-house.

His second design was a two-seater car named McDowell 1000 using a Maruti Gypsy 1.0 liter engine.

Motor Rallying

Kari entered very few rallies, among them the Karnataka K-1000 in Bangalore. He later launched the JK Rally team in 1992, when JK Tyres wanted to enter into rallying which was previously dominated by MRF Tyres. 

In the 1990 season, he spotted a young Hari Singh from Chandigarh taking part in the Coimbatore Rally and, seeing his talent, offered him to tune his car, enabling him to win the Indian Championship title 5 times. 

During the early 90's he quickly converted all Maruti GypsyRally cars to fuel injection when tuned chips gained popularity.

Racing Team

Kari's racing team was Super Speeds, and the main sponsor was Lakshmi Mills. The early cars had a white and blue body shell which was later switched to black and gold. 

The company that built his cars was P&B Engineering. J. Anand and N. Leela Krishnan were some of the notable drivers from his team before the duo switched to rival Team MRF.

Kari's Contribution

The Formula Maruti project was perhaps his biggest contribution to Indian motorsport.

Everybody, including Narain Karthikeyan, Akbar Ebrahim, Gopi, Karun, Kamlesh, and Parasuram, cut their teeth on the Formula Maruti.

The Formula Marutis were reliable, fast, and most importantly, affordable. 

They ran for nearly 20 years before the Formula LGB arrived (incidentally from the same Super Speeds workshop in Coimbatore; his legacy lives on!).

His ability to work magic with engines and cars resulted in the first-ever fuel-injected Gypsy in motorsport (around 1994!).

Powered by the Haltech injection system, his Gypsy was stunningly quick, when it debuted in the K-1000 rally.

Kari anchored the JK Tyre motorsport program in 1993. He had set the standard and it was left to me to keep his vision flying high – and the team saw great success in both rallying and racing.

He also started a fantastic road car project to build replicas of the AC Cobra, Ford GT 40, and Lotus 7.

All the tooling, and body moulds had been imported for the Lotus 7 replica with Contessa's 1.8-liter engine set to go into production. But fate intervened. 

Fatal Crash

He died on the 24th of August 1995 while flying a Puspak trainers aircraft. The purpose of flying was to log some additional flying time as required to retain his flying license.

The accident was widely mourned by the racing scene. He was about to make a full mark in the automobile scenario and his last press interview was with Car and Bike magazine and Motor Show programme days before his crash.

Widely known as a gentleman racer, his unselfish ways and dedication to the development of Indian motorsports attracted many new talents into Motorsports.

Kari also earned admiration from several quarters more for his character than his racing talents.

These are Kari's words given to a press interview in 1994 "We are on step two on a scale of 10 in circuit motor car racing today. The Sriperumbudur race track is the beginning. We will need to import Formula Three cars into India and corporate sponsors can make that happen."

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