Less than a fortnight after he turned 33, Narain Karthikeyan received a belated birthday gift by way of Padma Shri award announced for him on Monday.
The award provided the country's foremost racing driver a soothing balm at a time when his father has been hospitalised due to a heart ailment.
Speaking to IANS here Monday, Karthikeyan, who in 2005 became the first Indian to race in Formula One Grand Prix championship, said: "Obviously, I am extremely happy that the government has selected me for the Padma Shri award. But more importantly, it is recognition for motor sport in India."
"If I am not mistaken, I think this is the first time that someone from the motor sport fraternity has been chosen for an award like this. I thank all my well-wishers and supporters as also the media," Karthikeyan said.
The Coimbatore-based Karthikeyan, who is at present in Chennai attending to his father who underwent a successful heart bypass surgery Monday, is the highest ranked Indian in the Castrol World Rankings at 126.
Reacting to the news, K.D, Madan, president of Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India, said Narain deserves the award.
"It is a wonderful news for Indian motor sport and my congratulations to Narain. He has worked extremely hard to get to where he is. Although it is a bit late, he nevertheless deserves the Padma Shri."
Vicky Chandhok, chairman of four-wheeler racing commission FMSCI, felt motor sport has finally got its due recognition in the country.
"It is obviously a big boost for Indian motor sport that has finally received recognition that it deserved from the government. I am sure, with this award, motor sport in India will enter a new era. I do hope that many such awards and recognition follows for Indian motor sport."
Sanjay Sharma, head of motor sport in JK Tyre, who supported and groomed Karthikeyan since his early racing career before he shifted to MRF Tyres as its "Brand Ambassador for Racing" last week, said: "It's a golden letter day for Indian motor sport. Narain deserves this award and it is a culmination of six years of effort since he test drove for Jordan in 2004. I hope that the government will now recognise other deserving Indian racing and rally drivers for awards."
Karthikeyan's manager, Yohann Sethna, hoped for more awards to follow.
"We are absolutely delighted. Having said that, I think we must give a lot of credit to Narain's wife Pavarna, who worked very hard to get the documentation done. Finally, Indian motor sport has been recognised, and let us hope that there will be more such awards to follow."
Karthikeyan drove in Formula One for just one season and he finished the year with five points, missing a possible podium finish at the US Grand Prix where only three teams took part while others stayed away due to safety-related issues.
In 2006, he switched to Williams team as a test driver before exiting the Formula One scene at the end of the 2007 season and moving on to A1 Grand Prix representing Team India. He subsequently made his debut in the Le Mans 24-hour series, driving for Audi.