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Narain still in top gear

Young racing buffs say Narain Karthikeyan will remain the fastest Indian until someone else can make it to F1 testing

— Photo: K. Ananthan

Karting and formula racing don't get enough support from any quarter in India.

NOBODY COULD touch Ayrton Senna, that hugely talented and charismatic Brazilian. But he hit a block at 250 kmph. And we know how it ended. We're talking of risk, dead serious risk, the nerve to race knowing what's coming.

It is, no doubt, very different taking a curve in a kart at a mere 60 kmph. In a Jaguar on an F1 track, it would be over 100! In India, there are those who've never known what it takes to get to that Jaguar stage since the nation rarely ever backs competitors in sports other than cricket.

Enthu youngsters

Not that it gets young karting enthusiasts down. At the Can You Beat the Fastest Indian event at SpeedZone, it was Indian hero Narain Karthikeyan who set the target. The contest was all about beating the target. Aditya Patel did manage to edge past Narain. Does that mean Narain is actually on the wane? Young racing buffs tell you that beating Narain's time in a karting event means nothing. "It is a matter of pride to race against time set by Narain. You may feel good clocking his time, but he is still the fastest in the country." They all love him. Abhishek, Goutham, Aditya... And some not as young, such as Fazal Khan, a formula racer.

All three youngsters say in unison that beating Narain on this circuit should be seen as "fun". This is his effort to promote karting. There is no better Indian than him at formula engines, they say. Adds Gautam: "He is down-to-earth. He shares ideas even with beginners."

Still tops

But has Narain gone quieter and slowed down over the last couple of years? "Look man, when racing was nothing in this country, he made it to the F3, tested F1, the Jaguars... He has nothing to prove to anyone. Just because he is quiet doesn't mean he is insecure."

But did Raymond Banajee's win over Narain at Rotax Coimbatore throw him into self-doubt? Fazal Khan doesn't agree. "Look, I've done Formula racing for sometime and I don't think there is anyone better than him. The Coimbatore championship was first of all a karting one... Narain has gone beyond karting to formula racing." He adds that it was really a mechanical failure that got Narain down.

But why is that we in India can never quite make it to the F1? Surely Narain is good enough to do that? "You've got to realise we need sponsorship not only for Formula, for karting too... Some of us are in the top 25 in karting, have won MRF races, but to compete in the next race, you need Rs 2.5 lakh. If you don't have the money, you're not in karting, let alone formula, and karting is the first step for formula. Give Narain sponsorship and he'll make it," say Aditya.

Fazal points out that Narain's test timings on the Jaguar and Minardi were very impressive and yet could not make a season owing to fund crunch. The Malaysian, Alex Young, he says, is nowhere in Narain's class, but made an entire F1 season because the Malaysian government supported him for Minardi.

In terms of capability, he is still the best because he has a lot of exposure. He has won the Macao Formula Asia Championships stood second at the Formula Nissan, done F3, tested F1, and earlier won the Asian Karting Championship.

Fazal says he has been karting from 1999 and after doing the Formula India his interest in karting is gradually declining. That seems to explain, to him, the Saturday result. "It's like that for Narain. He has seen enough of Formula racing that he does not need to come back to karting to prove he is talented... He does less of it after racing at the highest level..."

And when you ask Narain himself whether F1 requires that extra bit of skill, Narain is unperturbed. "Skill, yes. Anyone racing consistently should be able to do it. But I am unable to get sponsorship for F1. And you need contacts."

* * *

The fast ones

IN THE second round of the challenge organised to promote upcoming karters, Aditya Patel, Preetham Muniyappa and Deepak Paul Chinnappa, who qualified for the Mumbai finals, clocked Narain's time.

Narain, who has been training on high-speed Formula circuits, did the kart drive after a long time. "There's a vast difference driving single-seat Formula cars on the circuits in Europe and driving smaller karts here for the event especially where the speeds are concerned." As Fazal Khan, the Formula racer put it, not karting for a long time may tend to slow down anyone. "You can't really say he has been beaten until someone else makes the F3 and F1."

The Bangalore round saw 24 karters trying to clock Narain's time of 58.872 secs. Aditya Patel clocked 58.783 secs, followed by Preetham Muniappa and Deepak Chinnappa.

The winners secured a crate of Red Bull energy drink, a gift voucher from Speed, timepiece from Tata Racing and a scale model from Overdrive, one of the sponsors.

The winner of the finals and the winner of the race between the regional round champions will get a fully paid trip to Malaysia to witness the third round of the F1 world championship series.

The Can You Beat the Fastest Indian karting challenge is held under the sporting code of the FIA and the CIK, the international governing bodies for Motorsport and Karting.

PRASHANTH G.N.

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