The crowd erupts in unanimous cheer.
Glistening in the sun
– Steering strained, wheels turned –
Comes Black Beauty.
Formula Atlantic – Chevron B40
When racing at the T-shaped track of Sholavaram was a matter of great pride and prestige, Sundaram Karivardhan was a name that everyone knew. Fans cheered him on, racers went up to him for advice – he was the face of Indian motorsport. Think of Karivardhan though, and more often than not, it’s not the soft-spoken mustachioed man that comes to mind. Instead, it’s images of Black Beauty in
all her racing glory that waft into one’s head. That’s what Kari’s Number 65 Formula Atlantic was fondly called. And it’s a car nearly as revered in Indian motorsport circles as the man who drove it.
So, just how did a Formula Atlantic come down to race at an abandoned airfield near dusty Madras? Well, back when importing race cars into India was a matter of much paperwork and money, Kari decided that perhaps it would make sense for him to bring down a car that was an outgoing model abroad – easier on the wallet, you see. And so he settled on the Chevron B40 that wasn’t being raced abroad any longer, but was likely to beat anything else on Indian soil silly! It came powered by a 1600cc Ford engine tuned by Geoff Richardson that made 250 bhp, mated to a Hewlands gearbox. So the Chevron was boxed up and shipped to India under Carnet. For one weekend every year it would be prepared specially, take to the track ably piloted by Kari, and would, more often than not, win everything in sight! Black Beauty was raced in India for three consecutive years – 1987, ’88 and ’89.
Safdarjung airstrip, 1987. Given the fact that the engine hadn’t been rebuilt specifically for this particular race, the car had to be driven rather gingerly. This meant Kari had to compromise his pace and tenderfoot it around as much as he could. But Kari being Kari, and Black Beauty being Black Beauty, they still managed to gallop straight onto the podium.
Eventually when the car had completed three full seasons, it went back to the UK and Kari decided to move onto a Formula Monoposto, a car he built himself. But images of Black Beauty, they still endure. Much like the man who raced her.
A powerful car, an unfamiliar track,
An apprehensive driver coerced into taking a spin.
Round the corner at Knockhill
– Uh oh –
1972 Formula 2 Chevron B42
Picture this. A fully blown Formula 2 car that featured a 2.0-litre Hart engine and put out approximately 330 bhp of power, mated to a 6-speed racing gearbox. With slick tyres shod on it, and a clear stretch of road ahead, it was capable of hitting a top speed of up to 310 kph. And it did so on a regular basis on a one mile stretch of road. It just so happened that this idyllic stretch of tarmac happened to be nestled between bales of hay arranged in such a way as to convert a World War II airstrip into a racetrack. Yes, the red and white Chevron, piloted by Vicky Chandhok, was quite the crowd pleaser at Sholavaram.
In 1982, when Chandhok was in London on his honeymoon, he chanced upon an advertisement in the newspaper that announced Elio de Angelis’ F2 car was for sale. Seeing as the car was within easy reach, he hopped on a flight to Scotland and went up to Knockhill track where he first laid eyes on this thing of great beauty. Remembers seeing her in pristine condition, gleaming in the sunshine and decided to put down the money for it then and there. On the owner’s insistence took it out for a test drive dressed in jeans and leather shoes. Remembers it was the most powerful machine he’d ever driven. And remembers being frightened silly when around a bend at the track he came upon a tractor leisurely making its way across.
Remembers leading every single lap of the 50 lap All India Grand Prix at Sholavaram. And then, on the fiftieth and final lap spun out of control, which allowed his nearest rival, Vijay Mallya in a Formula 1 car, to whizz right past him to take victory. Had his revenge the next race at Barrackpore though, where the Chevron took him to the top step of the podium.
After being raced succesfully by Chandhok between 1983 and 1986, the car was sent into retirement. It stayed for a while at the MRF factory and eventually was shifted to the MRF corporate office. And if you visit the office today, you’ll see it still occupies pride of place right there.
One car to beat them all
One car to fight them.
One car to blaze past in
And that very car for the final win.
Ensign F1 MN08
Eventually at Sholavaram, cars were evolving. Things moved slowly from the road-going cars that people took to the track, to purpose built race machines. Specials began to make their way onto the racetrack. And as cars got faster and faster, there was a need to bring something in that would beat the rest of the grid. When Vijay Mallya realised racing a fully-prepared Fiat wasn’t going to get him anywhere, when compared to the Formula 2 cars that were busy blazing across track, he decided the only way to beat them was in an F1 car. And so, that’s precisely what he bought!
A classifieds advertisement declared that the Ensign F1 was up for sale. And so it was imported into the country under Carnet. The car came down to India with Bob Fearnley supervising proceedings and a mechanic to ensure things could be operational. Of course, given the fact that the Ensign was the first Formula 1 car that he would be driving, Mallya hired a disused airfield at Warangal for a while and the team went and parked themselves there. He practiced every day for a week, got himself acclimatised to the car – the acceleration, braking and everything else, and was then ready to take on even the stiffest competition!
Well, the Ensign only ever did two full races in India, driven by Mallya himself. While the first race at Sholavaram went according to plan, winning from Vicky Chandhok’s Formula 2 car, things went awry at Barrackpore. When two cars ahead of him got into a bit of a scrap he needed to avoid the collision and so went off track. Once in the gravel though, the air intakes got jammed with the stuff, and it was race over for the Ensign.
With Mallya retiring from racing, the Ensign was sent back to the UK. And while Bob Fearnley eventually came down to run several other of Mallya’s cars, this Ensign, once raced by F1 driver Patrick Tambay, now resides in the Mallya Collection in Sausalito, California.