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A lady approaches Formula 1
Japanese Ihara jumps to F3 from Chennai track

Tokyo/Calcutta: Move over Michael. Here comes a former Japanese race queen raring to become a 'racing' queen in the man's, man's world of Formula One.

Keiko Ihara, who swapped the model's leotard and makeup for a racing suit and helmet in 1999 at age 26, declares her goal to compete with Germany's seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher.

After six years of duelling with male drivers on lesser tours in Asia, Britain and France, she is revving up for the British Formula-3 series which has produced such F1 greats as Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen.

'I respect Michael Schumacher and always will. I dream of running on the same track with him but I don't dare imagine myself overtaking him,' Ihara said ahead of her British F3 debut on April 2 at Donington Park.

'I am working to the limit in testing now and my machine and myself have been improving each day,' the 31-year-old said over telephone from Marlow where she is based with the Carlin Motorsports team.

Ihara had shown her prowess in India as well. On December 22, 2003, in Chennai, the crowd at the JK Tyre National Racing was pleasantly surprised to see a lady in the works. A winner, too.

The Formula LGB novice category (modified Esteem engine cars) was won by this girl from Tokyo.

Later, she graduated to F3, steps that India's first and only Narain Karthikeyan had been through too.

Narain was also present in Chennai that afternoon, and was pretty impressed at her victory.

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