It's hard to tell what would hurt Narain Karthikeyan more. Being branded a 'pay driver' along with the negative connotations that come with it or constantly having to point to British Formula 3 wins over the likes of Jenson Button and A1 GP wins to prove otherwise.
As if in response, 36-year-old former Formula 1 racer for Jordan and HRT F1 kicked off his second stint away from motor racing's top flight by putting in a storming drive to fifth in the first race of the opening round of the AutoGP World Series in Monza after falling to 15th and last on the opening lap of the 14 lap race.
"Somebody hit me from behind at the first chicane," Karthikeyan told HT over the phone from Italy. "I decided to take my mandatory pit stop early and then make my way up the field."
En route to fifth, Karthikeyan also stormed past his Zele Racing teammate and reigning FIA Formula 2 champion Luciano Bacheta of Great Britain who had outqualified him on friday.
"I had to be content with 12th on Friday because I was struggling with the tyres," said Karthikeyan. "The soft tyres started to delaminate and then blew up, so I had to qualify on the slower, hard tyres."
Karthikeyan's drive into the top five from the tail of the field included a daring move at the challenging final corner of the Monza autodrome.
"I lost track of who I was racing against," said Karthikeyan. "I ended up passing one of the drivers on the outside of Parabollica, which is not something you are normally supposed to do!"
Karthikeyan also set the third fastest lap of the race, which was 1.032 seconds faster than teammate Bacheta's best effort.
The second and final race of the Monza round of the AutoGP race today will see the top eight finishers having to start in the reverse of the finishing order of the first race.
That will result in Bacheta starting from pole and Karthikeyan starting from fourth. Race one winner Sergio Campana will start from eighth.