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Karthikeyan nurtures Indian F1 dreams
August 01, 2006 13:22 IST
When Narain Karthikeyan was chasing his dream of joining Formula One's elite, many at home in India felt he was being over ambitious.
Having made history as India's first Formula One driver last year, the Williams test driver is now backing plans to help fellow dreamers in his homeland by setting up a support structure that he lacked as an aspiring driver.
As a first step, Karthikeyan, 29, has launched two teams with young drivers hand-picked by him for this month's national racing series, finding them sponsorship and lending the teams his name.
His eventual plans are to start an academy, providing talented Indian drivers with guidance and sponsorship backing, and saving them from having to go to expensive overseas training schools as he did.
"I wanted to give back something to the sport," Karthikeyan said. "The whole programme was put together with the help of my Indian sponsors."
Karthikeyan drove for Jordan in his rookie year but his role has been limited this season as the second test driver for Williams.
"I'm the most experienced Indian driver," he said. "I'm happy I can give them some time this year."
Although thousands follow F1 races on television in Indian cities, with the interest increased since Karthikeyan's arrival, aspiring drivers have struggled due to poor support and lack of guidance.
Karthikeyan said he has received enquiries from would-be drivers or their parents since he entered Formula One.
"You won't believe, I get so many e-mails," he said. "There is so much interest, enthusiasm. I'm happy I can reply to them."
Motor racing in India was an elite and low-key affair until the country experienced rapid economic growth and several cities introduced karting tracks. Now, the sport attracts many less affluent youngsters.
India is already seen as a future F1 destination thanks to its huge market potential and growing interest in sports other than cricket.
Karthikeyan selected four drivers from among 14 candidates after supervising trials in his hometown Coimbatore in southern India, focusing mainly on the contenders' speed, fitness and ability to work as a team.
"The young guys are lucky to be getting such support early in their career," he said. "I didn't have all these when I started.
"They don't have to worry when their next cheque is coming."
The drivers will race cars with 1.6-litre engines which can produce around 120 horsepower, touching a maximum speed of around 220 kph.
"For the first time in India, the cars will incorporate front and rear wings, the aerodynamic package like an F3 car," Karthikeyan said. "We've come 10 generations ahead in one year."
The teams would also be provided with professional managers and technical staff would be brought in from Europe, he said.
Indian tyre-makers JK Tyre, organisers of the six-leg national circuit, will supply slick tyres for all the teams.
Participation in Indian racing had grown rapidly in the past few years, said Sanjay Sharma, motorsport head of JK Tyres.
"It has grown every year with the introduction of new technology and the arrival of more young drivers."
Karthikeyan said his next goal is the academy, though plans are still being drawn up.
"It is all up in the air," he said. "I'm endorsing it, but I don't know how many cars and stuff like that."
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