Murata (Japan), Sept. 22: India's Narain Karthikeyan on Sunday mastered tricky weather conditions on a rain-soaked Sportsland Sugo circuit here to clinch his maiden podium finish in the Autobacs Super GT series.
Narain, who is currently racing in the Japanese Super GT championship, drove the #64 Modulo Nakajima Racing Honda NSX-GT and put on an impressive display of speed and precision at the very narrow and fast circuit to secure the 2nd spot on the podium. Karthikeyan first showed potential of a podium finish when he set the third quickest time in Saturday practice, less than four tenths off the top spot.
Later on Saturday, Karthikeyan set a blistering lap time of 1m10.799s to secure Nakajima Racing's best qualifying result of the season in sixth. When the race got underway amid light rain shower, Karthikeyan was quick off the line, making several positions to run fourth early on. Contact with the LeMans Lexus of Kazuya Oshima pitched Karthikeyan into a half spin and trailing down the order, but the ex-Formula 1 and Super Formula ace quickly recovered and pitted on lap 28 of 81.
During the pitstop, the Nakajima team opted to bolt on a different compound of Dunlop wet tyres as the weather conditions worsened. The tyre choice turned out to be a masterstroke and they were able to rapidly rise up the order, replicating Karthikeyan's early race charge. They overtook several cars in the process, even passing last year's championship-winning Honda of Jenson Button, as the Dunlop tyres on his Nakajima Honda shined in the wet.
Makino and Karthikeyan eventually finished the best of the Honda runners in second, just behind the Nissan of Frederic Makowiecki and Kohei Hirate. "It was an exciting race," an elated Karthikeyan said after collecting the second place trophy.
"We started P6 and after a few laps we were battling with the championship leader (Oshima) for P4. He tried to overtake me and hit my front right in the battle which sent me into a spin and pushed me down to P7. "Then after the first pitstop we shifted to full wet tyres and the tyres started working really well. We worked our way upto P2 overtaking the car shred by Jenson Button, Heikki Kovalainen [SARD Lexus] and the championship leader.
"The Dunlop tyres were working extremely well with our Nakajima Honda NSX and it all came together in the end for a great result. We will go to the next race with the same pace and we hope to have a strong finish to the season."
Moreover, Karthikeyan's impressive performance helped Nakajima Racing secure its first podium finish since the team won the last-ever running of the prestigious Suzuka 1000km in 2017. Following his Sugo podium, Karthikeyan will return to action at the season decider at Motegi in November.