October 23, 2001

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Karun Chandok crowned champion

Our Correspondent

Seventeen-year-old Madras-based prodigy Karun Chandok created history by becoming the youngest racer to win the prestigious and gruelling 2001 Asian Formula Championship, after emerging best in the second race at Zuhai in China on Sunday.

At a press conference in Madras on Tuesday, Vicky Chandok, speaking on behalf of J K Tyres, said Karun, in the process, also set a unique record of eight wins in 14 races, thus emulating the illustrious Narain Karthikeyan's record of seven wins in the championship.

The victory was doubly sweet for the Madras star as Karun was also adjudged the "most promising Asian rookie'.

There was more in store for Karun, as he and Bombay-based Asif Nazir led Team India to the team championship title.

The golden moment, however, was on Sunday. After finishing third in the first race, in which he faced brake problems and nearly avoided a collision in the fourth lap, Karun signed off in style in the second race, winning it easily to record his eighth win in the championship.

Placed third in the grid, it was a one-horse race as he led from start to finish to win with a total of 245 points. He was followed by Asif Nazir, at 227 points.

Vicky, himself a prominent driver of yesteryear and father of Karun, said his son's next stop is Macau, where he would be participating in the World Cup on November 18.

A predominant event for Formula-3s, races for Formula Asia were included in it for the second time and Karun and Asif would be competing in it. The races for Formula Asia would be held separately at the Macau championship, he added.

"It's going to be one of the toughest races of the season" as, in all, he would be practicising only for 20 minutes in the 6.5 km long street track.

"In 20 minutes he can cover just six laps, which effectively means that he will be straight into the race," Vicky added.

About Karun's chances in the Macau meet, a physically demanding circuit in the world, a modest Vicky said: "I cannot make a prediction. The gear ratio is entirely different. If he finishes among the top it would be stunning," he added.

Recalling the tense moments in the race at China, Vicky said in the first race Karun was closely following the Japanese drivers in third position, with Asif in fourth. As Karun had problems with his brakes, he allowed Asif to pass on. With two laps to go, Asif braked a little earlier at the first corner than what Karun had anticipated. Karun's braking problem led his (Karun's) car into a spin, keeping everyone on tenterhooks.

With Dennis Lian of Singapore coming right behind, Karun allowed him to pass to avoid collision following which Asif won the race, followed by Dennis and Karun.

"We all were tensed," Vicky recalled.

However, the second race was much more comfortable for Karun, who is sponsored by J K Tyres, as he zoomed ahead to score his eighth win of the season.

After Macau, Karun is all set to shift gears as he will be in a stronger field following his sigining with British Formula-3, the stepping stone to the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One. He has signed with Carlin Motorsport to drive in the scholarship class.

The tests would begin in February next year and the season starts on March 31 at the F-1 track in Kent.

On the new assignment, Vicky said Karun will be the youngest driver in the grid and will be with Pat Long, the F-4 champion, this year. Pat has driven in all British circuits. His experience on the track would be more beneficial to Karun and he could learn from pat.

If all goes well for Karun, his dream of test driving for Formula One could well become a reality in the next three years.

Mail Sports Editor