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He is fast, he is fit and he is famous. The fastest Indian in the world, Narain Karthikeyan loves his circuit, which is made up of his job, family, and peace of mind
As children, we all dream of being racers or pilots. What made you seriously take up racing as a career?
Narain Karthikeyan: My father is an accomplished rally driver, so I was brought up surrounded by motorsport. However, my interest was always in circuit racing, not in rallying. So when I expressed my interest to him, he insisted that if I was going to be serious about racing as a career, I should travel to Europe and test my skills there, against the best in the world.
So he arranged for me to visit the La Filliere Academy in France when I was just 14 years old. That was where my career path was moulded. With his practical and logical approach, my father played a pivotal role in guiding me during my initial years, and he still continues to do so.
What helps you to be consistent in your performance?
Narain Karthikeyan: Being able to do good lap-times repeatedly requires a combination of physical and mental fitness. Having a stable personal life also plays an important role in maintaining a balanced approach, and this is very important in order to be consistent. I’m very lucky to have a wonderful family that supports me 100 per cent. My wife is by my side at many of my races; she gives me a lot of strength and support.
And what do you do for your physical fitness?
Narain Karthikeyan: I spend a lot of time in the gym. After doing extensive research, my personal trainer Ramji Srinivasan has designed my fitness protocols to exactly suit the requirements of my sport. He has been an asset to me. He even has some machines designed exclusively for racing drivers.
For instance, there is a neck training machine, which helps us strengthen our neck muscles. Stronger neck muscles help us withstand the tremendous lateral and longitudinal g-forces, which our necks are subjected to during racing.
Like the strong neck muscles, are there any other particular aspects of fitness that are more important in racing?
Narain Karthikeyan: Racing drivers need upper body strength to be able to turn the steering wheel, as most racing cars do not have power-assisted steering. We need strong leg muscles to be able to work the brakes effectively.
For example, my Superleague Formula car with carbon brakes needs me to apply a pedal pressure of over 100kg just to make the car stop. Try doing a left-leg-only leg-press with a 100kg weight once every five seconds for one hour, and you’ll know what I mean.
Probably more important for a racing driver, though, are stamina and endurance. I spend most of my time in the gym doing cardio training. Since our heart rate in the car can peak at 180bpm, we must concentrate most of our fitness training in this area. You’ll notice that most racing drivers have a physical body structure more akin to a marathon runner than a 100m sprinter.
Were you always so serious about fitness?
Narain Karthikeyan: In my teens, I did not have a meticulous training routine, unlike now—it’s easier to have a more casual approach to fitness when you’re that age, you know. As long as I was winning races, I never felt that I should train so seriously. That changed after I started racing in British Formula 3. And the dedication has grown exponentially over the last 10 years… now I’m probably fitter than I’ve ever been in my career.
Let’s change tracks now. what do you do just before a race?
Narain Karthikeyan: When the race is about to start, I do some stretching and breathing exercises. Other than that, I just relax and enjoy.
And when you’re get into your car or gripping the steering wheel, do you say something to yourself. what goes on in your mind?
Narain Karthikeyan: I don’t really say anything to myself. I must admit though, that even after so many years of racing, I still feel a surge of excitement as the adrenaline starts surging for the race. When I was younger, I used to have a lot of nervous energy, especially just before the race started, but now I have learned to convert this negative energy into excitement at getting on with the job.