From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.35 :: NO.10 :: Mar. 08, 2012
Karun Chandhok whipped up quite some buzz in 2010 as he became only the second Indian after Narain Karthikeyan to drive in Formula One. His stints in F1 — first with Hispania and then Lotus — were, however, largely uneventful. Karun now has his sights trained on a different terrain — the World Endurance Championship that includes the 24-hour Le Mans.
As he gears up for the event, the 28-year-old talks about the challenges faced by an Indian driver in Formula One, his experiences with Lotus and HRT, and the growth of racing in India, in an interview with Sportstar.
Question: How difficult is it for an Indian driver to get into Formula One?
Answer: It's very hard for any driver to get into F1! But coming from India the challenge is greater as it's a sport that hasn't yet been able to reel in the fairly significant sponsorship numbers that drivers need. This means that it's still hard for drivers to climb the ranks to F1, let alone compete in F1 itself. The relative lack of grass-root infrastructure stems from this — if the companies are willing to invest in F1, that in turn will entice others, and manufacturers in particular, to invest in domestic motorsport. We are seeing this happening slowly with Volkswagen, Toyota, Tata, Skoda and Mahindra all investing now in Indian motorsport in various ways.
Having got there, what are the various challenges, monetary and otherwise, involved in staying in the F1 circuit?
At the moment, F1 is in a difficult phase where the teams are unable to raise the required sponsorship numbers themselves and are counting on the drivers to assist in the budget shortfalls by bringing their own commercial partners. This means that today, unless you have the financial backing of a few million pounds, it's nearly impossible to get a seat in F1.
How did your experience as a Test Driver help?
It was good for my development as a driver to work with a new team and new people and also to learn and interact with drivers like Heikki (Kovalainen) and Jarno (Trulli) who are both race winners in F1. As a sportsman, in any sport, you're always learning and developing your ability, and learning off other drivers is a good way to do that.
What are your memories of the time spent with HRT and Lotus?
With HRT we had some good races in tough circumstances. Canada, Monaco and Valencia were three very good races for me, where I was very strong not only against my team-mate Bruno Senna but also against the cars from our rival teams. The opportunity to drive an F1 car around Monaco is something very special. With Lotus, I particularly enjoyed driving at Suzuka in Japan. It's one of those circuits I always wanted to drive at and I was very competitive there on the Friday practice session.
With racing being such a demanding sport physically, what does your fitness regimen comprise?
I enjoy cycling and try to get on my bike for four days a week at least. I combine that with some running and weight training as well as a variety of core and neck exercises.
Your thoughts on participating in the World Endurance Championship?
I'm very excited to join JRM Racing for the new World Endurance Championship this year. Of course, I am very happy to be racing again. At the end of 2011, I explored the options to race in F1 and, when it didn't look like a possibility, I decided to look outside and the WEC presents the next best option. Doing races that are six, 12 and even 24 hours long is going to be a new challenge. And, while I'm looking forward to the whole championship… obviously, to be the first Indian to start at the famous Sebring 12-hour and the Le Mans 24-hour races will be a huge honour.
How would you rate India as a ‘racing nation' now? What are the areas it needs to work on?
We're certainly making progress, but how much is the question. To have a team, two drivers and a race in F1 is a great achievement. This year we will have the GT1 World Championship also in India. Our domestic racing scene is slowly changing and it's nice that JK Tyres have looked beyond India and created the JK Racing Asia Series which allows our drivers to compete with other drivers from the region. As I said before, with the manufacturers now investing in racing and rallying, progress is being made.
Your short-term and long-term goals?
Well, I've stood on the podium at the legendary venues of Macau, Silverstone, Spa and Monaco among others in my career so far and Sebring and Le Mans are two other classics which would be great to add to that list one day! Of course, everyone would love to race in F1 given the opportunity but the main thing for me is to be back racing full time.
What would you term as your biggest achievement?
Being in an exclusive club of only two out of 1.2 billion Indians to have raced in F1.
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