Autobacs Super GT series: Narain Karthikeyan clinches podium finish

Narain, racing for the Nakajima Racing Honda team, puts on on an impressive display of speed and precision at a very narrow and fast circuit to finish second.

File Photo: Narain Karthikeyan hailed a “great result” for his team.   -  HANDOUT_E_MAIL

India’s Narain Karthikeyan drove through tricky weather on a rain-soaked Sportsland Sugo circuit here to secure his maiden podium finish in the Autobacs Super GT series on Sunday.

Narain, currently racing in the Japanese Super GT Championship, drove the #64 Modulo Nakajima Racing Honda NSX-GT and put on an impressive display of speed and precision at the very narrow and fast circuit to finish second.

Karthikeyan showed potential for a podium when he set the third-quickest time in Saturday’s practice, less than four-tenths off top spot. Later on Saturday, Karthikeyan set a blistering lap time of 1m10.799s to secure Nakajima Racing’s best qualifying result of the season — sixth.

When the race got underway amid light showers, Karthikeyan was quick off the line, making several positions to run fourth early on. Contact with the LeMans Lexus of Kazuya Oshima sent Karthikeyan into a half-spin and trailing down the order, but he quickly recovered and pitted on lap 28 of 81.

Tyre change

During the pitstop, the Nakajima team opted to provide a different compound of Dunlop wet tyres as the weather worsened. The tyre choice turned out to be a masterstroke; Karthikeyan and his team-mate Tadasuke Makino were able to rise up the order, replicating Karthikeyan’s early charge.

They overtook several cars, including Jenson Button of Honda — the 2018 Championship winning car — as the Dunlop tyres on his Nakajima Honda shined in the wet. Makino and Karthikeyan eventually finished the best of the Honda runners in second, behind Frederic Makowiecki and Kohei Hirate of Nissan.

‘Exciting race’

“It was an exciting race,” an elated Karthikeyan said after collecting the trophy for the runner-up. “We started P6 and after a few laps we were battling with the championship leader (Oshima) for P4. He tried to overtake me and hit my front right in the battle which sent me into a spin and pushed me down to P7.

“Then after the first pitstop we shifted to full wet tyres and the tyres started working really well. We worked our way upto P2 overtaking the car shred by Jenson Button, Heikki Kovalainen [SARD Lexus] and the championship leader. The Dunlop tyres were working extremely well with our Nakajima Honda NSX and it all came together in the end for a great result. We will go to the next race with the same pace and we hope to have a strong finish to the season,” he said.

Karthikeyan’s impressive performance helped Nakajima Racing secure its first podium finish since 2017, when it had clinched the top spot during the final edition of the prestigious Suzuka 1000km. Following his Sugo podium, Karthikeyan will return to action at the season decider at Motegi in November.