CHANDIGARH, July 2011 (AFP) â€“ 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 Indiaâ€™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 SUV (sports utility vehicle) 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 worth up to seven million rupees (160,000 dollars).
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 talk often about how to evade the police and keep their licences.
â€œOur idea is to make driving stress-free for the members,â€ Paritosh Gupta, 26, the clubâ€™s founder, told AFP.
â€œTo 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.â€
Gupta, who drives a Porsche Panamera, said that despite punitive import tariffs of more than 100 percent, more Indians are buying sports cars â€“ but then end up leaving them in the garage.
â€œOwners restrict the usage. Either they drive it to their office or just take it out when they head to a luxury hotel,â€ explained Gupta. â€œI want club members to have more fun with their expensive cars.â€
Dhruv Talwar, 24, a gem trader and jewellery exporter from a prosperous business family in Chandigarh, said he had encouraged his friends to buy a car and join the club for the â€œpure thrill of enjoying a mean machine.â€
â€œI love my car but I must say that driving a sports car can be a rat race in India,â€ said Talwar, who owns a Porsche 911 in Delhi â€“ and a Mustang at his other home in Los Angeles.
He admits Indiaâ€™s roads are often unsuitable and that sports cars can look out of place among the other travellers.
â€œChaotic traffic and potholes are not the only problems. The very presence of a sports car excites people and generates mixed emotions on the road,â€ he said.
â€œMotorbikes 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 carâ€™s paint.â€
â€œOwning an expensive car is matter of pride but driving is a matter of persistence,â€ 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.
â€œHaving a club exclusive to super cars indicates a healthy sign,â€ Ashish Chordia, a director of Porsche in India, told AFP. â€œIt gives everyone a common platform to interact and experience different products.â€
Chordia, who also heads conglomerate luxury brand the Shreyans Group importing sport cars, designer clothes and jewellery, believes the potential for top-end goods in India is huge.
â€œThe premium car sector grew by 70 percent last year,â€ he pointed out.
In May, Ferrari became the latest sports car firm to open a showroom in India, attracted by the countryâ€™s growing wealth.
Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Bentley, Jaguar, Porsche already have dealerships despite the massive taxes.
With clubs like the Cannonball likely to become more popular, the police say its activities are not illegal, but that anyone caught speeding or dangerous driving faces large fines or a court hearing.
Gupta is keen to stress that members are trying to strike a balance between rules of the road and getting the most out of their cars.
â€œWe want our members to explore all the possibilities the cars offer but in a responsible manner,â€ Gupta said. â€œPosh cars are not just meant to be parked. Flaunt them if you have them.â€ â–