Karthikeyan, Maini withdraw from Le Mans 24 Hours

Narain Karthikeyan and Arjun Maini have been forced to withdraw from their planned outing in the Le Mans 24 Hours with the Racing Team India operation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karthikeyan, Maini and a third yet-to-be-named driver were set to form the first all-Indian driver line-up to compete in the French endurance classic this year in a Ligier JS P217 fielded by the Eurasia team.

The duo, along with Naveen Rao, also completed a season in the Asian Le Mans Series earlier this year in a Racing Team India entry run by Algarve Pro to prepare for the rescheduled Le Mans event on August 21-22.

However, less than three weeks before the race, the team announced that Karthikeyan, Maini and other personnel will not be able to travel to France due to restrictions imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

India’s first Formula 1 driver Karthikeyan is based in Coimbatore in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, while Maini has been living in Europe this year to take part in the revamped DTM with the factory-supported GetSpeed Mercedes team.

India was hit by a deadly second COVID-19 wave earlier this year, with daily cases peaking at well over 400,000 in May according to official government figures. 

This forced all major economies around the world to shut their borders to Indian travellers, although several countries - including France - have eased travel restrictions following a rapid fall in cases in the last few months.

Both Karthikeyan and Maini have past experience at Le Mans, and along with driver-turned-TV pundit Karun Chandhok, are the only drivers to represent their country in the blue riband round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Karthikeyan was part of Kolles’ LMP1 crew in the 2009 edition of the event, driving a customer Audi R10, but couldn’t contest the race itself after dislocating his shoulder while climbing over the pitwall.

Maini, meanwhile, made his Le Mans debut with the RLR MSport team in 2019, sharing an Oreca 07 with Norman Nato and John Farano in the LMP2 class.

In a statement, the team said Karthikeyan and Maini are planning to return to both Le Mans and the Asian Le Mans Series next year.

In the absence of the Indian duo, Eurasia is expected to press ahead with its own plans to race at the Circuit de la Sarthe, having signed James Winslow, John Corbett and Tom Cloet as per the latest version of the entry list.

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