The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Narain’s now-or-never mission

New Delhi: Narain Karthikeyan says the next season has to be a make-or-break one from him. He either climbs way up that ladder or he slips into anonymity.

It is a decision that he has taken after a great deal of thought and is preparing in right earnest. Somehow, one sees a desperate Karthikeyan in what the fastest Indian says.

To begin with, Karthikeyan is getting a nose job done, correcting an old problem — deviated septum — that would allow him to go in for the requisite oxygen intake. The operation is in Chennai Thursday.

It was a none-too-major defect that a London doctor had spotted some time back, but he is getting to it now. “I need this extra bit of oxygen to be able to get my mind going as fast I want it to,” he said.

The bigger problem is the alignment of his career. He is stuck with the Telefonica World Series, and F3000, and though they themselves are good circuits, one has to remember that the entire investment scenario of motorsport is designed to move up to Formula One.

The difference is in money. Karthikeyan has had a pole start and a fastest lap — “with the FIII I have done faster than any FIII and faster than F 3000, just 4 seconds off Formula One” — but he has always fallen back in the race proper. (“At least it was good to be able to thrash Brazilians in Brazil in practice”).

It will be sad if this talented racer’s confidence keeps dipping the way it is.

That gives him the urge to go for it this season. “I will give this one final push,” he says, “that final effort, and I will see.” He will be off practice and rest for two weeks after the operation (“infection problems”), after which he plans his big boost.

What does he plan' “I plan to raise the funds needed — he is sponsored by Tata, JK Tyre, Kingfisher, and more, but the gap remains — to get me a direct entry. I will ask people, I will knock at all doors (starting with his existing sponsors), and see if I do have it in me.” The investment now runs into millions of dollars.

And he plans to prepare with yoga (he wants to talk to Jyoti Randhawa and to Arjun Atwal, both golfers being keen yoga enthusiasts and both are in this country now).

He plans to concentrate on mind development, following how top drivers have coped, and he wants to sandpaper all the rough edges that have set him back. And he also wants his body-mind co-ordination at its peak.

It’s not going to be easy. “With Arrow closing down, with Minardi also not around, and even with Jordan on the verge of a shutdown, I have to look at newer doors,” says Karthikeyan. Incidentally, Jordan had given Karthikeyan a great opportunity at testing F1 cars. That looks distant now.

Karthikeyan isn’t worried about age. “That is a plus, actually, the experience comes with it. They (the teams) need it now.”

Chandhok hopeful

Teen climber Karun Chandhok still has a few years of hope in stock. He will be graduating from the scholarship class in Formula III (British) to the regular class next season. That is a big jump, right into the men’s league, so to say. While Chandhok says it is his hope that he will be able to get a testing (F1) assignment next year, it is highly unlikely that this will happen.

The fray is that much different from the two classes and Karthikeyan feels that Chandhok will have to go sans a single win — last season Chandhok got six podium finishes but no wins — or even podium finishes next season. “The season after that will be the main dig.”

Chandhok has started off, trying to raise more funds for the coming season. A probable budget is Rs 3 crore. A huge investment, considering the fact that returns are in no way guaranteed. Millions of dollars isn’t the level of risk that Indian sportspersons can live down. “I am going ahead with my plans, I am sure I will reach that Formula 3000 level, at least, pretty soon,” said Chandhok.

The problem with Chandhok could be that he just might run out of resources before that. With not a single other promising Indian on the horizon, that could mean the virtual last chapter of the story.

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