India’s first Formula 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan is gearing up for his fifth straight Super Formula series season in 2018. It will be his sixth time in all, counting in the 2001 drive when the championship was run under the Formula Nippon banner.

Ever since his second stint in F1 ended in 2012, Karthikeyan moved over to Japan’s premier single-seater competition in 2014 after spending 2013 competing in Auto GP. In the four years in Super Formula since 2014, Karthikeyan has raced for both the Honda and the Toyota-powered teams.

Last year, he returned to Honda fold with Nakajima Racing as the team signed Tata Consultancy Services’ as its title sponsor as well. However, the season turned out to be a difficult one for both Karthikeyan and his teammate Daisuke Nakajima.

Together they scored only two points with the Indian returning empty handed – his first time that he hasn’t managed to score points in Super Formula, with reliability also affecting the team’s performances in the seven races run.

“Yes, 2017 was definitely a frustrating season,” admitted Karthikeyan exclusively. “You need to be very strong mentally to continue pushing hard amidst such situations. But knowing that the car has the potential was a huge relief.”

The 41-year-old has every right to be optimistic as the team did show good pace albeit in pockets towards the end of the 2017 season, which he believes will be key for them to target for podiums and wins in the coming season.

“The team has been extremely strong in terms of car performance and race pace, albeit last year we struggled to convert it into results,” he said. “We have overhauled a lot of processes and re-visited strategies to ensure that we are able to seal results befitting our performance levels.”

Hailing Super Formula cars as the fastest he has driven outside F1, Karthikeyan said he cherishes the competition while driving on some old school Japanese race tracks, which effectively poses an extra challenge for the drivers.

The rigorous demands don’t bother him as he feels he is right at his prime fitness wise. “The field is super competitive as always and I’ve always been pushing as hard as possible on a personal level - on the track and off of it,” he said.

“Physically, I think, I am the fittest I’ve ever been during my career. I am completely focused and understand the team and have a good rapport. So, I think all the ingredients are there to put together a strong season in 2018 and we’ll definitely be targeting podiums and wins if everything goes right.”

Driving the #64 car, Karthikeyan will have a new teammate in the form of Takuya Izawa in 2018, which kicks off during April 21-22 weekend at Suzuka. The first round will be followed by races in Autopolis (May 12-13), Sportsland Sugo (May 26-27), Fuji (July 7-8), Motegi (August 18-19), Okayama (September 8-9) and back to Suzuka for the finale during October 27-28.

Meanwhile, during the current winter season, Karthikeyan also had his maiden Super GT test in Malaysia where he drove the Honda NSX-GT car of the GT500 category. Despite an apparent interest, for now the Indian has not decided if or when he will make a switch to the championship in the future.

“The Super GT test was a great outing,” he said, adding that it was fastest tin-top car he had driven in his career. “The cars are superfast and it was very physical in the Sepang heat and humidity. The balance I would say is very close to a single-seater.

“It is extremely strong on the brakes and there is a proper tyre-war in the championship which is very rare to see in today’s era of control tyre championships. The pace too is very close to LMP1 prototypes from the World Endurance Championship.

“I think it is much faster than the LMP2 machinery from the same championship. In terms of racing the GT500 category in Super GT competitively though, we haven’t thought about it yet and we’ll see about that when the time is right.”