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Karthikeyan: India will be a surreal experience 24 Oct 2011

Narain Karthikeyan (IND) Hispania Racing F1 Team (HRT).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, European Grand Prix, Race Day, Valencia, Spain, Sunday, 26 June 2011 The Buddh International Circuit, New Delhi, India Narain Karthikeyan (IND)HRT Formula 1 Team HRT F111. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice Day, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 23 September 2011 Neel Jani in action for Red Bull at the Buddh International Circuit, New Delhi, India Narain Karthikeyan (IND) Hispania Racing F1 Team (HRT) F111.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 10 June 2011

This weekend’s 2011 Formula 1 Airtel Grand Prix of India will be a step into the unknown for all the teams as the paddock visits the Asian country for the first time. However, it will be a particularly special occasion for HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan, who will become the first Indian to race in front of his home fans.

Karthikeyan, who became India’s first F1 driver back in 2005, will have the honour of taking part in his country’s inaugural Grand Prix as he enjoys a one-off return to HRT’s race line-up, taking over Vitantonio Liuzzi’s car to partner Daniel Ricciardo for the New Delhi event.

“Driving in front of the home crowd cheering on is going to be a surreal experience,” said Karthikeyan, 34. “A once in a lifetime experience and I feel extremely fortunate. There is a huge buzz around the Grand Prix already and I’m sure that it’ll be a resounding success that will motivate more youngsters towards the sport and give us the future F1 drivers."

Karthikeyan, from Chennai, made his Formula One race debut with Jordan at the 2005 Australian Grand Prix, but lost his drive at the end of that season. After stints in other formulae, including the Le Mans Series and NASCAR, he finally returned to the grid this year, contesting the first seven 2011 rounds with HRT, before standing aside for Ricciardo.

“Making it into F1 at the time I did was a seriously uphill task and the thought of being able to compete in the inaugural Indian GP was non-existent,” he continued. “But it is finally here and I’ll be on the grid. It is going to be one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar.”

Like all the teams, HRT have no hard and fast data on the new Buddh International Circuit, but having sampled it on a simulator, Karthikeyan is relishing the challenge of its high-speed layout and dramatic elevation changes.

“There are points at which, if you’re in an F1 car, you will see nothing but the sky,” he added. “The layout itself is going to put tremendous energy through the tyres and the strategy will play a key role in the final result. For sure I’ll race hard and try to get a good result for myself and the team.”

Another Indian hoping to join Karthikeyan in competing this weekend is Lotus tester Karun Chandhok. The 27 year-old, himself a former HRT driver, made a one-off race appearance for Lotus in Germany earlier this year, but the team have yet to confirm whether he will get another opportunity at his home race.

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