Narain Karthikeyan takes first podium of the year at Super Formula Championship | other sports | Hindustan Times
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Narain Karthikeyan takes first podium of the year at Super Formula Championship

Narain Karthikeyan had a lot to be happy about at the Okayama International Circuit in Mimasaka, Japan, on Saturday.

other sports Updated: Sep 10, 2016 19:20 IST
Leslie Xavier

Narain Karthikeyan had a lot to be happy about at the Okayama International Circuit in Mimasaka, Japan, on Saturday. The seasoned Indian racer recorded his first podium of the year at Super Formula Championship, driving an almost perfect race from start to finish in Race 1 of the fifth round of the championship.

The third place is something to cheer about, no doubt. But Karthikeyan was happier with how the double-header weekend has progressed so far—relatively flawless compared to the previous four race weekends where he grappled with technical and set-up issues in the car.

With the result, he has climbed to 12th position in the championship standings, and a strong result in Race 2 on Sunday should see him enter the top-10 of the 19-driver title race.

“I think it is the first weekend of the season where things went our way from start from finish, and with one more race to go tomorrow I am hoping that would continue,” said Karthikeyan. “The baseline was superb right from Practice One, I think we were about four-tenths off the pace but I was quietly confident for the race and we ended up only two-tenths slower in terms of lap time as we reduced the deficit with some optimisations,” he added.

Having optimised the set-up and almost back on pace with the leading pack, Karthikeyan used his experience to gain a few places at the start.

The Indian qualified sixth for Saturday’s race which began with confusion after pole-position driver, Kazuki Nakajima of Vantelin Team Tom’s was penalized for stopping on the wrong grid after the formation lap. The Japanese driver was forced to start the race from the back of the pack. That left Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne of Docomo Team Dandelion Racing in the lead after he overtook Yuji Kunimoto of Japan.

Meanwhile Karthikeyan, who drives for Sunoco Team Lemans, was quick off the block and overtook his former teammate, Tomoki Nojiri, and Koudai Tsukakoshi to climb to third place.

Nojiri tried to fight back for several laps, trying to pass Karthikeyan at the hairpin section of the track, but the Indian continued to increase the advantage. At the end of the 28-lap, 110 km sprint race, Karthikeyan finished five seconds ahead of Jojiri. Vandoorne won the race, edging out Kunimoto.

Now that Karthikeyan and his engineers have hit upon a good base set-up, he is planning to make a few tweaks for Sunday’s race to overcome the 0.2-second deficit with the leaders. Karthikeyan has tasted podium and wants nothing less in the upcoming races.

In the season’s standings, Kunimoto leads with 18.5 points followed by Yuhi Sekiguchi (17) and Hiroaki Ishiura (16) in second and third place. Karthikeyan has five points and with four races to go, including Sunday, and it is unlikely that the Indian will be fighting for the year’s top spots. Instead, he is aiming to be on the podium in the remaining races, trying to “win a couple” in the process.

“We are looking at a small change in set-up for Sunday,” added Karthikeyan. “We have some quality drivers and the difference in the hardware is miniscule. So getting the set-up right is very important. From pit-stop issues to not finding the right balance in the car, we have been plagued by issues so far this season. But things look bright now and the next four races, I am confident I will be right up there fighting for podiums and more.”