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Formula One:All roads lead to Greater Noida

Greater Noida: India`s image as a growing sports superpower will be put to test when it hosts the first ever Formula One Grand Prix beginning with the free practice session tomorrow where racing afficanados will get the first feel of the high-speed action set for Sunday. Amid the Sebastian Vettels and Lewis Hamiltons, the racers of home team, Sahara Force India, would look to score points to make the country`s entry into the glamorous world of F1 a memorable one.

The action begins with the free practice session tomorrow, followed by the qualifying on Saturday before the race on Sunday. Son of the soil Narain Karthikeyan will realise the dream of his life when he will run the Hispania car on the track of brand new Buddh International Circuit but Karun Chandhok is not that lucky as Team Lotus has not given him a racing seat. Chandhok has no choice but to be content with driving during the practice session tomorrow.

Like any shrewd business group, Team Lotus put business over emotions and decided to stick with regular drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli as they aim to finish 10th ahead of fellow newcomers Hispania and Virgin. A 10th place finish would mean receiving close to USD 30 million as revenue from FIA, so Team Principal Tony Fernandes did not hesitate in making an unpopular decision.

"Driving in front of the home crowd cheering on is going to be a surreal experience. A once in a lifetime experience and I feel extremely fortunate. There is a huge buzz around the Grand Prix already and I`m sure that it`ll be a resounding success that will motivate more youngsters towards the sport and give us the future F1 drivers," Karthikeyan said.  Force India drivers-Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta-have been in points contention consistently in the second half of the season and a good result will boost the team`s chances to stay in the sixth position in the constructors` championship.

The local outfit is going to face stiff competition from Sauber, which is nine points behind the home team at 40, and Toro Rosso (37). Last season, Force India had conceded the sixth place to Williams by just one point and the team would not want a repeat this time around and hence making the Q3 in Saturday`s qualifying would be crucial for them.

Only two races will be left after the Indian Grand Prix-Abu Dhabi and Brazil-and the team would look to consolidate its position and extend the lead over Sauber. Red Bull has sealed both the drivers` and the constructors` championship but Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are not expected to drop intensity.

The fight for the second and third place in the drivers` standing is still fierce with McLaren`s Jenson Button leading the race with 222 points, just 10 ahead of Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso. Webber is not too far behind at 209 and would look to end his win drought this season. The 5.14 km BIC is a virgin track but drivers who got a hang of it through simulators have termed it one of the fastest in the world but how things will unfold can be known only on Sunday. From the organisational point of view, it`s India`s first major event after last year`s Commonwealth Games and also the first major motorsport showpiece after tragic deaths of Briton Dan Wheldon in IndyCar Rally in the US and of Italian biker Marco Simoncelli in Moto GP in Malaysia.

There will be pressure on the organisers-Jaypee Group, to deliver a successful race, which will be watched by fans in close to 200 countries. India recently hosted two World Cups-hockey and cricket- without much glitch but had to suffer embarrassment due to the shoddy preparations for CWG before finally managing to pull it off.

The Jaypee officials had said that reputation of their own brand and that of the country is at stake and have vowed to wipe off the bad memories of CWG by hosting the race without any glitch. The finishing touches to the sprawling 1,10,000-capacity facility were still being given till the last week and everyone is just keeping the fingers crossed. There were a few challenges thrown by the system before the organisers for hosting the race and those speed-breakers were dealt well but all that matters now is performance in the next three days.

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