Calcutta: Narain Karthikeyan has been around for ages it seems. The lad from Coimbatore started off young, thanks to his father, G.R. Karthikeyan, a national rally champion.
His Formula One test drives had become folklore in India's motorsport world, but that was the culmination of many long hard days at the track in smaller races and minor placings. Narain has been lucky to have retained a sponsor but the fight was instilled in him early, watching his father in the rally circuit which was extremely competitive those days, despite the poor condition of the cars available.
He told this correspondent once that probably the most important thing he had got from his father was the dedication to go on and never give up. It is difficult to comprehend the immense determination that lies beneath this soft-spoken 28-year-old's veneer. An affluent birth (coming from a traditional business family of Coimbatore) notwithstanding, he was never really attracted to his family business. 'I never really wanted to,' he had told this correspondent. 'The track held so much more importance.'
Maybe, he said, he could have ultimately succumbed to the business circle had this F1 not worked out. But no more, it seems.
His father was behind such encouragement. From putting him into the famous Winfield Racing School in France (which has produced the likes of Alain Prost and Damon Hill), to overseeing his competitive spirit when he was a finalist at the Pilote Elf Competition for Formula Renault cars while just 15.
Then he came back to conquer Asia, so to say, winning the Formula Asia title in 1996 before going over to the British Formula III circuit, where he met Trevor Carlin. That started it all. He has always been acknowledged as a star performer, but even stars need the cash. Carlin, though, was way deeper into his activities and pushing Narain into the Jordan team was probably the first thing he did.
And Jordan has a name to go by, whatever it's present standing, being the baby of the great Eddie Jordan himself. It makes no difference that the Russian-born super rich Alex Schnaider's Midland group now owns it.
On the way Narain earned junior victories in Grands Prix in famous tracks like Donington Park, Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps.
Yet, even before he finally made it to the top rung, he had become the face of Indian racing. He would be the pin-up boy in all fast wheel events that he could afford to attend, and along with Karun Chandhok, made for the only two heroes that the country motoring world has.