South African circuit, new Ferrari car ‘a big challenge’: Karthikeyan

February 21st, 2009 - 6:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Feb 21 (IANS) Indian A1GP racing driver Narain Karthikeyan was all fired up to take on the dual challenge of a new circuit at the Kyalami Racetrack here and getting used to a new Ferrari car as he joined racers from 16 other countries for the South African leg of the A1 Grand Prix Sunday.

“Kyalami is an awesome circuit,” Karthikeyan told IANS as he joined his team in rushing to get the car ready for a practice season here Saturday.

“From the outside, it can compare well with any circuit around the world. We’ve never driven here, but we’ve walked around and saw that there are lots of ups and downs, which makes it a very challenging circuit.”

Karthikeyan, who has raced twice before in South Africa when the A1GP was hosted in the coastal city of Durban, said he had thoroughly enjoyed participating there because there was huge support from the large South African Indian community there.

“Even in other countries that I have raced in, the local Indians usually turn up to cheer us on, but there was nothing like Durban, and we hope it will be the same here Sunday,” Karthikeyan added.

While Team India remained positive about its chances despite its developing nation status, it still had some hard work ahead.

“Team India wants to build on the results of last year, when we won two races - one in China and one in England, but it has not gone so well until now this year.

“We missed the first race in Holland, and now with three races down, we missed all the pre-season testing as well, because the new Ferrari car was not ready and so on.

“We are still doing a little bit of catch-up, but hopefully we’ll be OK. We have scored five points, but we need to work on improving that position and trying to get as many points as possible,” Karthikeyan.

He said interest in motor sport was now growing in India, which did not have “a long heritage in motor sport”.

“I was the first driver to make it as a professional and now there are a lot of young drivers who are trying to make racing a career. There is also a lot of coverage for motor racing in the Indian media now and hopefully we can build on that and gain more interest.

“The interest in India is quite big. We have a lot of fans for A1 and myself as well, and surprisingly, it is not only among the younger generation.

Before the seriousness of the racing practices started, Karthikeyan and several other drivers paid a visit to Soweto and neighbouring areas, including the Apartheid Museum, to give underprivileged children a chance to meet them first hand.

“You always hear about it, but until you see it for yourself, you don’t realise how bad things were. Coming from India, you are used to things like democracy and freedom and need to understand how they were denied to so many fellow human beings (under apartheid).”

Karthikeyan said he was deeply moved by a large picture of tiny Hector Pietersen, the first student who was shot by apartheid-era security forces, being carried by a fellow learner during the student unrest in Soweto in 1976 which precipitated the resistance that eventually led to freedom for the majority in South Africa.

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