Karthikeyan qualifies 14th for Le Mans race

June 13th, 2009 - 7:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Le Mans, June 13 (IANS) Driving for Kolles Audi team, Narain Karthikeyan, the former Formula One driver, qualified 14th on a grid of 55 cars for this weekend’s Le Mans 24-hour race here.
Karthikeyan, who finished sixth overall in the first round last month driving a 5.5 litre V12, turbo-diesel Audi R10 TDi LMP1 Sportscar, has teamed up with Charles Zwolsman and Andrew Lotterer for his outing this weekend.

After a wet and windy start to the week, Thursday was bright and sunny, with not a drop of rain. The two qualifying sessions were scheduled for 7 pm to 9 pm and 10 pm to midnight. Narain drove in both the day and night sessions, and concentrated on improving his feel of the car and learning the track conditions in the dry.

The battle for pole position was fiercely fought between the Peugeots and the brand new Audi R15TDi’s, with the home team pipping the Audi to pole position in the dying minutes of the night session.

Karthikeyan said: “I’m quite satisfied with our qualifying effort. We have a very reliable car which has proven itself for the past three years here at Le Mans and we are aiming to be strong and reliable throughout the 24 hours of the race.

“The atmosphere here at the circuit is just unreal. I’m told that last year the race had a crowd of 258,000 and I can believe it. The crowd is all around the track, even in the farthest corners. The car parks and campsites on the drive into the track are absolute jam packed.”

“It’s quite a special feeling to be a part of something so historic. My level of excitement in starting the race tomorrow is just like my first F1 race in Melbourne in 2005,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Karthikeyan’s first laps were on a wet track during the official practice session that started at 6 pm and went on until midnight, with the trio doing two stints in the car. They are one of the very few all-rookie teams in this year’s edition of the world’s most famous motor race.

At this time of the year, the sun sets at about 9:45 pm, so the latter half of the session was in the dark. It was a whole new experience for Karthikeyan as the rain did not let up all evening.

After the session he said: “Everything about this race is so different from everything else I’ve ever done in my career to date. Driving in the dark was something I recently experienced for the first time when we tested in Paul Ricard a month ago, but driving in the dark on a wet track was just unbelievable.”

“The feeling of speed is multiplied by a factor of 3 and the reflections of the road lights and the headlights of following cars in the mirrors are quite distracting.”

“Add to that the wet track and the spray in the air from the cars in front of you, and the fact that you have other classes of slower cars ahead of you which you’re constantly overtaking, all make for a very hostile driving environment. If you relax for a split second, it can be very unforgiving,” he said.

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