A strong AutoGP World Series campaign that has seen three wins is tempered by Karthikeyan’s bleak outlook on sponsorship opportunities for Indian racers.
Talking to Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula 1 driver, in 2012 was a little different than catching up with him at the third round of the National Racing Championship in Chennai this year.
The previous meetings were in Delhi prior to the start of the F1 season and then just before the Indian Grand Prix weekend.
On both occasions Karthikeyan’s focus seemed to be more on proving that his performance in the 2011 Indian GP was no fluke to the gathered reporters rather than talking racing itself. There was the odd talk of the infamous ‘gherkin GP’ too, but the less said about that the better!
In Chennai, however, Karthikeyan was focused entirely on keeping tabs on the racing in the Formula Ford 1600s and checking out the set up of the MRF Formula 2000 cars by putting in a few laps.
All in all he was far more relaxed but both in 2012 and more recently in Chennai, the major topic of discussion was that of sponsorship. And in both periods there was a hint of resignation at the continuing struggle of a racing driver from India to attract sponsors, even for F1.
“Unfortunately the economy has taken a pounding at the wrong time for us (racing drivers),” said Karthikeyan. “Around the Indian GP they get excited for about a month or two but then things quiet down again.”
And it isn’t due to any lack of visibility either according to Karthikeyan. “We have all the exposure in the world right now but still a new driver has to be very lucky to land a sponsor,” said Karthikeyan. “I got lucky back when the knowledge of the sport was not so high and a major corporate has backed me for 14 years now.”
So where does Karthikeyan, who is now winning races regularly in AutoGP advise an ‘up and comer’ go for backing? “Knock on all the doors, and maybe you’ll get lucky!” said Karthikeyan.
Well that, and to hope the Indian Grand Prix does indeed return to the calendar in 2015. Otherwise good luck in foraying too far beyond JK Tyre and MRF.