India’s first Formula 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan produced a brilliant drive in challenging conditions to claim an emphatic victory in the SUPER GT x DTM Dream Race in Tokyo on Sunday, marking a successful end to his first season in sports car racing.
Driving the Nakajima Racing Honda NSX-GT against an established field of 21 drivers, Karthikeyan shone in both dry and wet conditions to achieve a memorable feat in front of a packed Japanese crowd at the Fuji Speedway.
The 42-year-old was hamstrung by three separate safety car interventions, but he perfected the restart on each occasion to secure a stunning victory.
Karthikeyan had been lightning fast from the get go, topping a Hankook tyre test for SUPER GT cars in tricky wet weather conditions on Friday, to set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
He carried that pace in an equally wet qualifying session on Sunday morning, setting a time of 1m47.034s to provisionally secure third place on the grid, before being promoted to the front-row after a penalty for fellow Honda runner Daisuke Nakajima.
By the afternoon, the sky had turned clear at the 4.563km race track located south-west of Tokyo, leading to an all-dry race.
Despite little dry running on the unfamiliar Hankook tyres, Karthikeyan proved to be just as quick as he was in the wet, tucking behind polesitter and Audi driver Loic Duval on the opening lap of the race.
At the start of the next tour, he slipstreamed past the former SUPER GT champion around the outside of turn 1, taking the lead, which he would never effectively concede for the remainder of the hour-long race.
However, it was far from a cake walk. Karthikeyan’s early advantage was wiped out when a safety car had to be called in to recover debris from the track. On the Indy-style restart, he kept his composure, comfortably leaving the rest of the pack behind heading into turn 1.
After completing his sole pitstop of the race, Karthikeyan came out in third place, behind the yet-to-stop cars of Benoit Treluyer and Alex Zanardi.
Karthikeyan cleared Zanardi after mastering the second safety car restart and assumed the race lead again when Treluyer pitted the next lap for his mandatory stop.
With those two cars behind, Karthikeyan should have had an easy run to the chequered flag, but he hit another stumbling block when a third caution period was deployed to clear the mayhem caused by two separate collisions, including a multi-Lexus crash at the Dunlop chicane.
Karthikeyan was able to deploy all his experience once again perfecting the restart to win the historic second race between Japan’s SUPER GT and the European DTM series. His victory follows a first SUPER GT podium at Sugo in September.