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June 27, 2000


The Rediff Interview /

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'I'll be the first non-Japanese Asian driver to test a Formula One car'

Although Narain Karthikeyan is only 24 years old, he has already achieved a considerable reputation in the world of motor sport. His first exposure to motor racing came through his father, G.R. Karthikeyan, who for years was the Indian National Rally champion. Narain's interest was thus stimulated from a very early age. When he was sixteen, he attended the Elf-Winfield Racing School in France. Showing an immediate talent for the sport, he was among the semi-finalists in the Pilote Elf Competition in Formula Renault Cars. He hasn't looked back since, winning the Formula Asia series.

Currently, Narain is third in the standings at the British Formula-Three championships, the stepping stone for many Formula-One drivers. In a freewheeling interview with K Nagarajan, Narain speaks about his season so far, his hopes for the rest of the season, and the state of motor sport in India.

First of all, how does it feel to be called the fastest Indian on wheels?

It feels really good because it is recognition of the fact that I have achieved something. This year I have had a very consistent season at the British Formula-Three championships. Seven rounds of the championships have been completed and I am presently in third place. This is considered to be one of the toughest championships in the world. In fact, only the Formula-One circuit is tougher. There are 30 cars on the starting grid and I am in third place so that is a good feeling. Now I need to start winning races and take the next step into Formula One.

What are your aims for the remainder of the season? Do you think you can improve your present position?

There are 20 points for a win. I will definitely be trying very hard for second place in the overall standings. Antonio Pizzonia, who is currently leading the championships, has a very good team and they won the championships last year as well. He is a very good driver and the team he is with is also very good; together they are very tough. They are always three-tenths of a second ahead of us. Although that is not much in layman terms it is a lot in racing terms. So it is going to be difficult to catch up with him but it is possible mathematically.

How is the set-up of the car? Are you satisfied with the way it has performed over the championships?

To be honest, it is not the best set-up possible. Marino Sport, who are leading the standings, have a superior package overall but I do think they are beatable on certain circuits. I am hoping to give them a run for their money in the remaining seven races of the championships.

Now, the big question on everyone's mind is your plans for the Formula One circuit. Can you elaborate on those?

Of course, Formula One is the main aim. I will be testing for the Jaguar F-1 team in the next couple of months. The date and the venue hasn't been decided as yet but it is likely to be somewhere in Europe. It is a great opportunity for me to be able to test an F-1 car. I'll be the first non-Japanese Asian driver to test a Formula One car. It will be a great eye-opener for me and, if I can perform well, it is sure to open a few more doors for me; and my goal to become a formula-one driver will become easier.

So how are you planning the assault on the Formula One circuit? When will we see you driving on the F-1 circuit?

For now the immediate aim is to do well in the remainder of the Formula Three season. I also have to perform well at the Macau World Cup in November. And with the Formula One test coming up I have to do well there. As I have always said, you have to be at the right place at the right time. In F-1, you need to be a good driver but you also have to be marketable. I think I am from the right country. Formula One is a World championship and drivers from different parts of the world compete. India has a big viewership and if I can perform well, that's going to be a big plus.

What are your impressions about motor sport in India at the moment? Do you see yourself as a pioneer of sorts?

I think the sport has made outstanding progress in the last three years. When I started, there were no go-karting tracks. Now there are 21. The new generation of drivers will hopefully be better as a result of all this taking place. As far as being a pioneer is concerned, well yes, in a manner of speaking you could call me that. When somebody does well at a particular sport everyone looks up to you. If I do well in F-1 then maybe that will pave the way for more young talent to come up.

What do you think should be done to promote motor sport even more in India?

Go-karting is being promoted in a big way. I think soon there will be a championship in India and that is bound to throw up new talent. I think the government has also changed its attitude. It was thought that motor sport is for the elite but now everyone has realised that it is marketable and MNC's are funding everything. I have been lucky with my sponsors. I think it is a good sport. The government should encourage it and maybe look at bringing a Formula One race to India in the future.


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