New LMP2 outfit Racing Team India has announced its driver lineup for the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series along with ambitions to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.
The team’s Oreca 07 Gibson will be driven by ex-Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan, European Le Mans Series racer Arjun Maini and IMSA Prototype Challenge champion Naveen Rao.
The program will receive technical support from Algarve Pro Racing, which is also running the two G-Drive Racing LMP2 entries.
Racing Team India is aiming to become the first team from its country to compete at Le Mans, and can do so by winning the championship to gain an automatic invitation.
The 2021 Asian LMS is being held entirely at Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates next February, with a quartet of four-hour races making up the season.
“It is very exciting to welcome Racing Team India to the Asian Le Mans Series,” said Asian LMS managing director Cyrille Taesch Wahlen.
“Having an Indian flagged LMP2 team is not only a first for the Asian Le Mans Series, but it is also a first for ACO racing around the world.
“We have a growing supporter base in India, and now they have a team to support. I wish the team all the best and look forward to seeing them in Abu Dhabi.”
Racing Team India is led by businessman Gautam Singhania who is the chairman and managing director of textiles company Raymond Group.
Singhania is also a motorsport enthusiast and has taken part in Ferrari Challenge races.
The team’s lead driver Karthikeyan is set for his first appearance in sports prototype machinery since 2009 when he drove a Kolles-run Audi R10 TDI LMP1 at Le Mans.
The ex-Jordan driver, who worked with Algarve Pro team principal Stewart Cox during his F1 spell, most recently competed in Super GT and took victory in one of the 2019 Fuji ‘Dream Races’ that the Japanese series jointly organized with the DTM.
“Racing Team India is probably the most exciting project I’ve ever undertaken in my career as a racing driver,” said Karthikeyan.
“Going back to Le Mans is something I’ve been dreaming about for quite a few years now. The Asian Le Mans Series is going to be a massive test for our young and fledgling team, and I hope the amazing Indian sports fans support us big time in our new adventure.”
Maini has the most LMP2 race experience of the trio, having driven an RLR MSport Oreca in last year’s ELMS season before joining Algarve Pro for two events in 2020.
The former FIA Formula 2 driver also piloted an RLR-prepared Oreca 05 Nissan in part of the 2019-20 Asian Le Mans Series.
Rao, meanwhile, made his LMP2 debut in last month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring behind the wheel of an Oreca 07 run by ELMS outfit Inter Europol Competition.
The 45-year-old Bronze-rated competitor is now set for his full graduation to the second-tier prototype class having won the 2020 Prototype Challenge title with his K2R Motorsports co-driver Matt Bell.
“I’m super excited to be partnering with Narain and Arjun to bring the first-ever Racing Team India to Le Mans,” said Rao.
“Le Mans has a magical quality and is the dream of many kids to be a part of. I hope we can bring that dream to kids throughout India and inspire a new set of top racing drivers.”