Narain Karthikeyan closing in on Japan's Super Formula drive

New Delhi: India's top driver Narain Karthikeyan is close to securing a drive in the Japan-based Super Formula single-seater racing series. He first competed in the one-make championship in 2001 when it was called Formula Nippon.

The series, introduced in 1973, is aiming to revive international interest with the addition of foreign drivers. Karthikeyan is hoping to sign for one of the top teams by the end of January.

The car, powered by a 550bhp engine, is touted as the fastest outside Formula 1 and that is what caught the Indian's attention.

'The car has improved a lot since 2001 and the field looks competitive. Now it is just about negotiating a deal with a top team. Things will be clearer by the end of this month,' the former F1 driver told IANS here Wednesday. He also confirmed testing the car twice in Japan late December.

The series' prize money too is attractive with around eight million yen ($76,704) split between the top eight drivers per race.

'The money looks decent but most importantly, it is about consistently fighting for podiums. It is something I could not do while driving for a small team in F1. Racing in Japan is a big challenge as I am not familiar with the circuits other than Suzuka,' said the 37-year-old, who won five races in the 2013 Auto GP season, finishing fourth in the standings.

The other established drivers linked to the series are Ex Force India reserve James Rossiter, former Williams man Kazuki Nakajima and reigning Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 Champion Loic Duval.

The championship has had nine foreign winners including Ralf Schumacher (1996), Pedro de la Rosa (1997) and Duval (2009).

The 2014 season comprising seven rounds begins at Suzuka April 13.