TOKYO: India's first Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan is looking forward to his Super GT debut in Japan this weekend, marking a full-time switch to sports car racing.
Karthikeyan is venturing into sports car racing after spending two decades in single seaters.
The 42-year-old is ready for the fresh challenge having completed multiples round of testing in Japan and Malaysia.
He will be competing in the GT 500 class alongside former Formula One world champion Jenson Button.
"The series is very tyre-dependent and in the first few races you would have to get used to the GT 300 traffic. But we believe we will have a good few races. I wouldn't say a baptism by fire but it is going to be very different from what I have done earlier," Karthikeyan told PTI.
The Indian spent the last five seasons in Super Formula, considered the fastest single seater series outside Formula One.
However, it doesn't enjoy the popularity of Super GT.
"I think GT500 is on a much more international level. It is the most popular form of motor sport in Japan. We have a huge number of fans, almost 100,000 people attend some of the races."
Having spent a substantial amount of time in Japan over the past five years, Karthikeyan has also picked up the local language.
"Racing terms are common all over the world so it wasn't anyway a big issue. But yes, I can speak a bit of Japanese if needed. Japan is an awesome place for racing, they have accepted me which is a big thing."
Talking about the motor racing scene in India, Karthikeyan, who last raced in Formula One in 2012, said the country needs a new international face.
"We surely need an international face. Jehan (Daruvala) could be that face but he has to do the right things at the right time. He is entering his third season in F3 and I am sure he knows that he needs to perform," he said referring to the 20-year-old from Mumbai. Formula One hopeful Daruvala finished 10th and sixth in the previous two F3 seasons.
Since Formula One is unlikely to return to India anytime soon, having a driver in top-flight racing will give a much needed boost to motor sports in the country, reckoned Karthikeyan.
"India remains a huge market and F1 teams know its potential. But they will only be interested in an Indian driver only if he does well in the junior formula (like F3 and F2).
"So the important thing is to impress in F3 and get into a programme with any of the F1 manufacturers. It makes life much easier rather than finding a sponsor and then trying to get into F1 because the kind of sponsorship you need is very expensive (running into millions of dollars)."
Like most followers of Formula One, Karthikeyan is excited to see young Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari this season.
The 21-year-old bagged his maiden podium in Bahrain last month and finished ahead of teammate and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Leclerc was cruising to a famous win until his Ferrari encountered a mechanical issue.
"It looks like Mercedes and Ferrari will be strong at different tracks and you have a new driver like Charles Leclerc who seems to be very fast and is going to give other guys a run for their money.
"He has been dominant in all the junior categories, had an impressive debut. So you see how tough it is to get into F1, you need to somebody of Leclerc's talent to deliver. His level is so high so he automatically becomes an equivalent of Vettel in the team," Karthikeyan added.