Racing Team India gets a trio of drivers with excellent track records
India is gearing up to mark its footprint in the global motorsport scene, with the Racing team India heading for its debut race at the Asian Le Mans 2021. Backed by JK Tyres and led by Gautam Singhania, the team has three highly famed Indian drivers – Narain Karthikeyan, Arjun Maini, and Naveen Rao, with immense experiences in sportscar and proto racing, lined up. These track-nerds will all compete in the LMP2 class and are highly hopeful of doing wonders there.
The Asian Le Mans 2021 will see its start this weekend (Feb 13) in Dubai and end with a final race in Abu Dhabi on Feb 20, 2021. Racing team India will have two four-hour races ( 4 Hours Of Le Mans) on Feb 13 and Feb 14, at the Dubai Autodrome. The series will then move to the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, where the boys will be racing another two rounds on Feb 19 and 20.
Cracking these races would fetch the Racing Team India tickets to the legendary 24 hours of Le Mans, scheduled for June 2021. The 24 Hours is one of the most esteemed endurance events around the globe and is one of the toughest tests for the drivers as well. Team India and its drivers are really hopeful about making it unto there, and if they actually do, it would be the first time that the Indian Tri-colour makes its appearance at the 24 Hours. The twice-around-the-clock race would be held at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, much the same way it has been held ever since 1923.
The key talking point of Racing Team India is indeed its carefully curated set of drivers. The team gets an all Indian squad for the 2021 season. Of the trio, Narain Karthikeyan could be the most familiar name to the average Indian. With a well-laid out history in motorsports, Karthikeyan is also known for being the first F1 driver from India. He had raced at the 2009 Le Mans, for the Kolles Audi team, but met with an accident mid-way, due to which he had to retire from the race. Karthikeyan has his hopes high for 2021 and has been practicing quite seriously for the same at Dubai. In fact, he ended the first day of testing in Dubai at the top of the timesheets.
Naveen Rao, much like Karthikeyan, has extensive racing experience. Born to a US settled parents of Indian descent, Naveen spent almost all of his motorsport career in the American Sportscar scene. He is also the reigning IMSA prototype challenge LMP3 champion as well, a title which he shares with Matt All. This 45-year-old Bronze rated driver considers it his privilege to drive the Le Mans, representing India and is highly hopeful of cracking it as well. What adds to his confidence is the fact that Rao had had an outing in the same LMP2 prototype that team India will use at the Asian Lemans, during the previous year’s 12 Hours of Sebring and thus have an idea of the proto.
Arjun Maini is the youngest of the lot. Despite being of just 23 years of age, Maini has the most experience at the LMP2 races. The Bangalore-born champ had started his career in 2008 and had a boom in his career after switching from Formula 2 single-seater to endurance sportscar racing in 2019. He competed in the European Le Mans that year and was even driving in the top 15 (LMP2) at the 24 Hours of Le Mans when a mechanical failure made his squad retire. In 2020, Maini raced at the European Le Mans again. However, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic made him take up the role of a reserve driver midway.
Thus, Maini joins the Racing Team India as the driver with the most experience at the LMP2. Karthikeyan himself has admitted that the team would heavily rely on Maini’s extensive LMP2 know-how.
The Technical Support
Racing Team India has partnered with a globally acclaimed team for technical and track support. The Portugal-based Algarve Pro Racing would lend all technical support to the team. Algarve Pro Racing has had immense racing experience at the Le Mans in the LMP2 category.
The Asian Le Mans has cars competing in three different categories, viz- LMP2, LMP3, and GT3. Of these, the LMP2 machines are the fastest and the most fierce. The 2021 Asian Le Mans has machines from four different manufacturers competing in the LMP2 space. The Indian team would be driving a G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 ( essentially a rebadged ORECA 07 LMP2 Prototype), which gets a massive 4.0L V8 engine spitting out 600 odd bhp and has a top speed of over 320 kmph. Just to give you an idea of it, United Autosports had won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with this prototype. The Oreca 07 excels in handling and offers a good amount of downforce.
The Le Mans is where both the driver and the machine are put to extensive testing. It is where the endurance of the car is as important as that of the driver. Unlike the usual motorsport events where speeding and finishing first matter, Le Mans looks for the reliability and for how long a car and its driver last. Thus, getting to know the car as much as the track is of utmost importance here, as the same would help you minimize the time at pitstops and the risks of mechanical failures.
It is the first time that LMP2 prototypes are running on the Dubai Autodrome’s tarmac. Thus, it remains on the drivers to actually test and find out how the car behaves on the track and provide feedback to the team to make the necessary tweaks. Racing Team India had earlier revealed these challenges that surround the Dubai circuit.
However, in a recent talk with us, Narain detailed his feedbacks from the test runs. He pointed out that some parts of the track give the driver bumpy braking and many patches of it are quite slippery as well. He further added that the Dubai Autodrome is quite technical a track for LMP2s. Thus the team is now making tweaks to the car to adapt better and the drivers familiarizing themselves better with the same during the test drives.
Another key challenge that was earlier rumored was that it is the first time that the driver trio are teaming up and each of them differs slightly in their driving style. The recent chat with the team, however, was quite reassuring as we found the team members to have gelled in well with each other.
Speculations aside, fingers crossed and let’s wait for the weekend…