India will be represented in the preliminary stage of this year's Race of Champions, will F1 drivers Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok lining up against teams from China, Thailand and one other, as yet unnamed, nation in Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium on 14 December.
The four-way competition will seek to find Asia's fastest nation, with the winners going on to race against the best drivers in the world in the ROC Nations Cup and the Race of Champions over the ensuing weekend. The end-of-season contest, which is being staged for the 25th consecutive year in 2012, brings together the world's greatest drivers from motorsport's main disciplines – including rallying, touring cars, Le Mans, MotoGP, Indycar and the X-Games as well as F1 – and pits them head-to-head in a variety of machinery.
Karthikeyan will complete a full F1 season before heading to Thailand, having run alongside Pedro de la Rosa at HRT in 2012. He returned to the top flight for a partial campaign with the same team last year, after a seven-year hiatus following his debut with Jordan. After running at the back of the field this year, he is naturally hoping for more success in the RoC.
“It's really cool to receive an invitation to participate in the Race of Champions," Karthikeyan enthused, "The competition is the strongest in the world, with only the best of the best from many different forms of motorsport all competing against each other. The added benefit of representing your country is a real privilege, and one which I have done before in my career, so I know how special that feels.
"Karun and I are definitely going to enjoy ourselves, racing against our peers in some pretty cool machinery, but we will also be gunning for victory, and with a bit of luck, we will bring glory to our nation.”
Chandhok's F1 appeared to recede when he was unable to land a seat for 2012, but the former HRT driver carved himself a new niche in sportscars, running alongside David Brabham and Peter Dumbreck in the JRM squad at venues such as Le Mans and Road Atlanta.
“I'm very excited about going to the Race of Champions this year!," he admitted, "It's fantastic that the organisers have decided to have an Indian team, and that Narain and I had the dates free to do it. The event looks like a lot of fun while obviously being very competitive.
"The concept of RoC Asia is very interesting - we have seen in the last ten years how motorsport has been shifting to this end of the world more and more and it's great that Fredrik [Johnnson] and his team at RoC have embraced this. Narain and I haven't been in the same team since 2004, when neither of us was an F1 driver, and a lot has changed in life since then, but it should be a lot of fun to work together again. RoC has always attracted some of the biggest names in world motorsport - including Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Mick Doohan - and it will be nice to spend time with all these guys as well.”
In addition to Team India, Team China will also feature a driver with F1 experience, as one-time Williams test driver Ho-Pin Tung lines up alongside Han Han, who secured a rare double in 2012 by winning both the China Rally Championship and the China Touring Car Championship - but is even better known as the world's most widely-read blogger. The Chinese pair already have experience at the Race of Champions as they both competed in the 2009 event at Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' Olympic Stadium, getting as far as the semi-final of the RoC Nations Cup.
“Even today, people in China still ask me about my experiences at the Bird's Nest in Beijing in 2009," Tung revealed, "It's a great honour to be back again and to represent China for the second time at RoC Asia. We will try to repeat the great performance from Beijing where I think my team-mate Han Han and I surprised quite a few people when we made it all the way to the semi-finals. I can't wait!”