Narain Karthikeyan may be India’s first and only driver in Formula One right now, but Karun Chandhok holds the unique distinction of ‘inaugurating’ the Buddh International Circuit track at the first Indian GP last year. Chandhok was honoured to have completed the first timed lap on Friday morning of the inaugural Indian GP with Lotus Racing last year.
This time round though, he will be in neighbouring China, revving it up for JRM Racing at the FIA World Endurance Championship, as the Indian GP celebrates it’s second edition this weekend. He promises to follow every second of the action on TV nonetheless, and even predicts a repeat of history, claiming Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel will once again take the chequered flag this year at the BIC.
Excerpts from an interview
Can you recall your experience at the inaugural Indian GP?
I was fortunate to be a part of the process from the time the circuit was just mounds of mud! To see the final product last year was very special. If someone would have told me around 10 years ago that I’d be setting the first ever timed lap of the Indian Grand Prix circuit in a Formula One car, I’d have laughed at them, but to actually go out and do it was fantastic!
How has your time been away from F1? Do you miss being part of the set-up?
The challenge of doing Endurance races this year has been a really unique experience. Races like the Le Mans 24 Hours are a tremendous challenge and I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I perhaps initially thought I would. Coming into the year, I didn’t know what to expect in a way, having only done sprint races before. But driving at night in the fog through the forests at Le Mans was probably as challenging as driving through the streets of Monaco in an F1 car. I was a F1 test driver in 2011 and missed the wheel-to-wheel action of actually racing. But being towards the front end of a World Championship definitely feels good this year.
There is no Indian F1 driver among the Top 20 at this stage despite India having contributed two drivers to F1 in the past. What is the reason for this?
A lot of people have said that Narain and I were probably success stories not because of the system, but despite the system that we had in place at the time. When I started out, racing in India was at a very nascent stage. I was a product of the JK Tyre National Racing Championship but had no karting experience. Since then, we now have a much better structure in place. The number of racing categories in India now have probably doubled or even tripled compared to three years ago. We have manufacturers taking a bigger interest and already have two series. We have many more karting and single-seater championships as well. But it’s a very capital-intensive sport and is as much a business as it is sport, so you have to also be marketable for sponsors while being technically strong for the engineers. If manufacturers and sponsors realise the potential in this sport and lend support to our nation’s top drivers, it’ll make our struggle a lot easier.
Sebastian Vettel, who won the inaugural Indian GP, seems to have suddenly got back into winning mode. Do you think he will storm to victory once again?
Based on the last couple of races, I’d have to say that Sebastian and Red Bull are clear favourites. Teams struggle to bring a major update to India with our various customs regulations in place, so the cars aren’t going to be that different to what we saw in Korea, where he dominated. I’d love to see the battle go the distance and hope Alonso has the machinery to take to Seb in these final few rounds of the 2012 championship.
You’re not going to be in India this year as you are away with JRM Racing, but will you follow the Indian GP proceedings?
Of course, I will! I would have loved to be here but in another way, being at the races and not driving is not so exciting for me, so I suppose I’d rather be somewhere else racing this weekend. Hopefully the time zones won’t be an issue and I’ll be able to catch some of the action in Shanghai.