No looking back for Karthikeyan on U.S. return

LONDON Sat Nov 10, 2012 8:07pm IST

HRT Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan talks to crew members in his team garage during the first practice session of the Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files

HRT Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan talks to crew members in his team garage during the first practice session of the Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, October 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Last time he competed in a U.S. Grand Prix, Narain Karthikeyan chalked up a Formula One first while a jeering Indianapolis crowd threw bottles and demanded their money back.

Even if that infamous 2005 six-car race made him the first Indian F1 driver to score points, the 35-year-old would much rather focus on the future as he prepares for next week's return to America for the inaugural grand prix at the new Austin circuit in Texas.

"I have no feeling about it," Karthikeyan, now with Spanish-based back-markers HRT, told Reuters when reminded of that farcical June afternoon of seven years ago. "I have nothing much to say really.

"I don't think about it like that," he added when asked whether the race held any special place in his affections for at least allowing him to make history for his country by finishing fourth.

"It was exceptional circumstances and we were told to do a job and we did it.

"Everyone started the race... we didn't know before the race. it was pretty weird to see all of them going out with the warmup lap and back to the pits. Bridgestone had told us to race and we did," he recalled.

The Indian was one of just six drivers who started the race, won comfortably by seven-times champion Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari, after all of the teams using Michelin tyres pulled out for safety reasons.

The six Bridgestone-shod cars lapped in team formation for 73 laps before the chequered flag and the crowd was outraged on an afternoon that created a wave of negative publicity for a sport that had long sought to win over America.

Karthikeyan, who raced for the now-defunct Jordan team in 2005, left Formula One at the end of that season to become the Williams test driver.

NEW START

The veteran did not return to the grid until 2011, by which time America was off the calendar. He has not come close to scoring a point since 2005.

The first Indian driver to race in Formula One, Karthikeyan's record as the most successful from his country could last for decades to come but he knows it does not stand up to any real scrutiny.

"It was what it was. Maybe it wasn't good to happen in the States... but it's too far in the past now," he said of Indianapolis.

Formula One has not raced in the United States since 2007 and Austin, a vibrant city with a young student population, represents a new start with what is expected to be a very different atmosphere to the past.

Karthikeyan has raced in America outside of Formula One, competing in the NASCAR truck series in 2010 and being voted by fans as the most popular driver, but a non-F1 return is not in his plans even if he loved the experience.

"I doubt it very much. Once you get out of there it's very difficult to go back," said the man whose website proclaims him to be the "Fastest Indian in the world", having already shot down speculation that he was planning a move to IndyCars.

"These Indy Car rumours came about and I've strongly said no and that's my decision," said the Indian, whose place at HRT is not a given for 2013, despite the sponsorship he brings in.

"I have very clear plans what I want to do next year and I will focus on that and try and achieve them.

"I would love to stay here and see how it shapes out next year... realistically this would be a good place to stay."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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