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Life on the fast lane

A red-blooded racer on track and a gentleman off it, Narain Karthikeyan is waiting for his shot at F1 glory



Narain Karthikeyan: `I want to do something in F1: testing or racing.' — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

HE IS undisputedly the fastest Indian on wheels. His aggression on the racing track has almost taken him to the pinnacle of motor racing — Formula One. But off the track, you'd be surprised to find any hint of that aggression. For the last couple of years Narain Karthikeyan has been the 21st driver in Formula One waiting for his chance for a shot at glory. But coming off a successful season in the Telefonica Nissan World Series, Narain is as optimistic as ever. He was in the city to give away the prizes at the Bharat Petroleum Speed Run 2005.

"Last year was pretty good. I won in France and Spain and finished on the podium in Belgium. I need to get into F1 as soon as possible," he says. Narain's latest chance of an F1 drive was thwarted when the new Red Bull F1 team stopped short of offering him a drive.

"Red Bull signed David Coulthard and Christian Klein. I want to do something in F1, testing or racing. It's been hard because I have been trying to get into F1 for the last three years. It has never been done before," he sighs.

His main obstacle remains lack of sponsorship. Though a career in F1 appears glitzy, getting a drive entails a lot of money, which only sponsors can provide.

"For Indian sponsors, it is a huge amount to justify the returns on investment. Tata and BP have been my biggest supporters; so we have to see what happens," he says hopefully.

"The challenge of F1 has been my biggest motivation. I just want to prove that I can do it. I have been successful in what I have done. Nobody in India has done what I have done," he adds.

His F1 drive apart, Narain's success has made motor sports more accessible for kids across the country. "Kids can get into motor sport through the JK Tyre National Championship. It is the easiest and cheapest way. You have to pay just Rs. 100 to get a drive. If you get through you are sponsored all the way."

His advises kids to maintain good fitness levels and be committed to their goal. "It is very intense. You have a lot of mind games, politics and so on. You need to have a strong head."

His idols on the track have always been the late legend Ayrton Senna and, of course, Michael Schumacher. He absolutely refuses to accept that Michael has made F1 boring. "No, I think the dominance should be appreciated. People who are really into the sport will know what I am talking about. It is a good thing that he is getting quicker with age," he laughs.

Being on the road all through the year, so does he ever get homesick? "I have been living away from home since I was 15. I am used to it. I got married recently to a girl who understands the sport. She supports me and I have a companion while travelling. Home food is an added advantage," he smiles.

A.S.

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