Racing Team India to kickstart 24 Hours of Le Mans bid with Asian Le Mans debut
Racing Team India, in association with JK Tyre Motorsport, will take its first step on the road to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend when it makes its debut at the season-opening round of the Asian Le Mans Series in Dubai. The all-Indian squad, spearheaded by a star-studded driver line-up of Narain Karthikeyan, Arjun Maini, and Naveen Rao, will compete in the LMP2 category over two four-hour-long races at the Dubai Autodrome, set to take place on February 13 and 14, respectively. The next round of two, four-hour races will then take place at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit, on February 19th and 20th.
A lot depends on the team’s showing at the Asian Le Mans, as it will set the foundation for their entry into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which will take place in June 2021. If the team is able to accomplish the feat, it will no doubt be a historic achievement, considering it will become the first squad flying the Indian Tricolour in the iconic twice-around-the-clock endurance classic at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France.
The 24 hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest sports car race, which has been held every year since 1923. The distance covered in this one single race is equivalent to 18 Formula 1 races, thus making it the most extreme test of man and machine in the world of motorsport. Further, it is considered one of the trifectas of legendary motorsport events, alongside the Monaco GP and the Indianapolis 500.
Fielding the Le Mans-winning Oreca07 with technical support from reigning Asian Le Mans Series champion team Algarve Pro Racing, Racing Team India has already displayed a promising turn of speed. The car has a 4-litre V8 engine which produces 600bhp and has a top speed in excess of 320 kmph.
Padma Shri Awardee and India’s first Formula 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan ended the first day of testing, also held in Dubai, at the top of the timesheets. Speaking about the events that lie ahead, he remarked, “It is an incredibly proud moment for me to be representing our nation’s first all-Indian endurance racing team. I have flown the flag for our country across various motorsport disciplines from Formula One to NASCAR and SuperGT racing. I’ve raced at the Le Mans series races before, and it was an incredible experience, one which I always wanted to repeat. However, I couldn't have imagined anything better than to compete there for an Indian team. I’m extremely grateful to the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest, the organiser of the Asian Le Mans series) for giving us the platform to compete. They have been incredibly supportive from the first time we approached them, and this support has been instrumental in getting our team up and running.”
“As for the weekend ahead, I’m looking forward to it. Arjun, Naveen, and I have considerable racing experience between the three of us. Our package has also been quick through testing. We did have some issues on the second day with traffic and difficulty in switching on the new tyres. But there’s a lot of speed in the car and I’m confident we can deliver a strong result on our debut.”
Former Formula 2 and European Le Mans Series racer Arjun Maini added, “Firstly, it’s great to be back behind the wheel, and to be flying the colours of an all-Indian team makes the experience even more special. Endurance racing is a format I’ve come to enjoy during my time racing in the European Le Mans series. I believe it plays to my strengths as a driver. It feels strange to think that of the three of us I have the most endurance racing experience. I’ve competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and I can tell you it’s an incredible feeling. I’m really looking forward to going back there. We have a strong package, a proven driver line-up and with support from Algarve Pro Racing, who I know well, I believe we have all the ingredients in place to make it happen.”
2020 IMSA (International Motor Sports Association, a North American auto racing organiser, headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA) Prototype Challenge Champion Naveen Rao said, “My entire career has been spent racing sports cars and for me, Le Mans is the absolute pinnacle of competition. I have spent a long time dreaming about one day driving at the iconic event and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it for a team representing the country I have my roots in. I’ve got a good feeling for the car, the three of us have struck up a strong relationship and I believe we genuinely have a package that can help us fight at the front.”
Sanjay Sharma, head, JK Tyre Motorsport said, “At JK Tyre we have been steadfast supporters of Indian motorsport over almost five decades. Not only have we created a robust domestic motorsport ladder but we have always been extremely proactive when it comes to identifying, grooming, and supporting the international racing careers of some of our most talented racers, such as Narain Karthikeyan and Arjun Maini. Now, with Racing Team India we have yet another chance to create history for Indian motorsport. We are confident the team has what it takes to be successful and race at Le Mans which would deliver the breakthrough that Indian motorsport needs.”