Narain Karthikeyan’s excited he could be racing superbikes for a day if it gets penned into the programme, while Karun Chandhok’s thrilled he could be astride any of those fancy Bat-Mobile like contraptions, not to mention some seasoned sedans, world Rally cars and the typical Race of Champions (ROC) buggy car when the two jam together for the ROC weekend in Bangkok, where the Indian ‘team’ debuts amidst some of motorsport’s biggest names.
Michael Schumacher, of course, has famously put off bidding a complete adieu to race-cars until next year so that he can win 7 ROC titles — seven being his favourite number. And Sebastian Vettel will join him for a dream German team in the second-day Nations Cup. But this coming weekened in Thailand will mark a first appearance for the Indian duo — arguably motorsport’s most recognised faces in India post their Formula One stints — even as the ROC, a “serious fun event” as Narain describes it enters its 25th year.
The ROC is a gala-like season-ending melting pot for the who’s who of motorsport going beyond F1. It brings together heroes from vrooming machines’ many outposts including world rally, touring cars, Le Mans, MotoGP, Indycar and the X-Games.
It pits drivers head-to-head in identical machinery.
After pit-stopping at London’s Wembley Stadium (2007-2008), Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic Stadium (2009) and Dusseldorf’s ESPRIT arena (2010-2011), ROC 2012 will now be held on a tarmac track with two parallel lanes winding their way round Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium.
“It’s hosted football matches,” Narain says, curious about how the weekend will turn out, since stadium racing’s vastly different from circuit racing.
A football stadium race
“Racing lanes will be much narrower,” Chandhok adds. “Slower in speed, and tricky.” Built for the 1998 Asian Games, the 50,000-capacity stadium hosts pop concerts and even political rallies, but will be perhaps Asia’s biggest star-gazing venue for motorsport buffs.
Freshly minted MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo will turn out for Spain, while Triple V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup and five-time 500cc MotoGP world champion Mick Doohan will compete for Team Australia, while Jenson Button and David Coulthard complete a star-studded line-up for Team GB.
“I’m looking forward to racing against Mick Doohan, five-time 500cc MotoGP World Champion and legend,” Chandhok says.
India will go up against the Chinese pair of Ho-Pin Tung (Formula 1 test driver for Renault) and Han Han (China Rally and China Touring Car Champion