By Anand Philar. Source: sify.com.
Last week was historic for Indian motorsport and it had nothing to do with Formula One or GP2 series. Rather, it was Velappan Rajendran Naren Kumar confirming his participation in the World Rally Championship (Production class), the first Indian to do so. You can liken it to Naren Karthikeyan’s feat in 2005 when he made his Formula One race debut.
Unfortunately, one did not witness the same fanfare when Naren, the 33-year old from Coimbatore, made his announcement in Mumbai. It has been a long time coming for Naren who is undoubtedly the best rally driver India has ever produced. From the time he made his rally debut in 1993 in a patched-up Maruti Gypsy, Naren, it seemed, was destined for glory. And he didn’t disappoint the discerning who had seen natural talent in him by winning six Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) titles besides the Asian Zone crown over the next decade.
In fact, I vividly remember the 1995 Karnataka-1000 Rally when Naren, having just then signed up with Team MRF and driving a Group N (unmodified) Maruti Esteem, clinched the overall title with a sensational drive. He was then a tall, gawky lad but those who saw him in the Special Stages, taking the corners with total commitment and displaying amazing speed, car control besides enviable judgment, marked him out as a future champion.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of sitting with him as he drove around traffic-free tarmac and dirt road sections at close to rally speeds when he tested his car set-up. I watched in awe as he zipped through the sharp corners using the left foot braking technique to swing the back and playing around the gear lever like it was a magic wand. The car did his bidding and honestly, these drives have been exhilarating experiences. More…