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The Rediff Interview/Karun Chandhok
'I am sort of 2 or 3 years ahead of the norm'
October 26, 2004
On October 17, Team India, comprising Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, raced at the Nissan World Series. It was the first time that two Indians figured in the event. For Karun, who had till now been racing in the F3 Championship Class in England, it was his maiden outing in the World Series.
The World Series has 20 races in a year, with the season beginning in April. Karun's next race is on November 7.
A pleased Karun spoke to Shobha Warrier about his debut in the elite racing event, and also why he decided to discontinue participating in the Formula 3 Championship Class.
You are back after competing in your first two races in the World Series. How did the races go? As expected?
The two races were very good. Before that also the whole weekend was good. In the qualifying round, we were in the top ten. In the first race I was running tenth and then I collided with another car ahead of me, and I had to come out.
In the second race, I was running eighth and then the engine stalled. So, I lost two laps there. When I rejoined, I rejoined between the leader, a guy from Portugal, and Narain who was in second place. Because I was in between the first and the second, everyone was watching me also on TV. For the first time, I was fastest among all the rookies. On the whole, it was a positive weekend, and I am happy with it.
After the race, many teams came to me and said, 'We are quite surprised to see you in the top ten'.
Last time when we met, you had successfully completed the Formula 3 Scholarship Class and were about to start the Championship class. You were quite excited about it but you couldn't perform well till now. Did you ever expect it to be so disastrous?
Definitely, this was not what I expected. Our team had the potential to finish in the top three on several occasions but, somehow, something or the other went wrong. Out of the 16 races, in nine we could not even finish the race, which is disastrous.
We had three engine problems, we had two fuel pump problems, I had collisions with others four times in the first lap itself. So, I feel, a lot of it was bad luck. We were also hampered by limitations of finances, because in F3 practicing is unrestricted. So, people with more money can practice more whereas for the World Series, etc, everybody is allowed only 7000 kms.
In F-3, we might have done around 28 days of practice, and the top guys might have done maybe 45-48 days. That's why, at the start of the year, we were okay and at the top in the third and fourth rounds. As the season progressed, we were not able to match the developments others were making.
Were you not disappointed? You were in the top three in the F-3 Scholarship Class.
Sure, I was disappointed. This year, the Championship Class was very, very competitive. Last year, I qualified in the top ten overall in the old car event four or five times. Last year, after the second half, you could still be in the top six, but this year, if you are 0.3 off, you are 14th. In one race, I was 0.16 off pole position, and I was ninth. A blink of an eye is 0.3, so, half a blink and I was ninth.
It's not an excuse. Because of the competitiveness, you have to have the money to compete. That's why it was quite difficult.
Last year was very good, and we were in the top not only in the scholarship class but overall too. So we had every reason to be enthusiastic about the season! But we did not live up to the expectations.
At Silverstone in August, the weekend was a nightmare. It was the worst race we had in a long, long time. The car was not good, and I was not able to get the tyres to work. It was just a mess.
Is that the reason why you decided to skip the rest of the championship?
Actually, after that I spoke to my sponsors and my father. We made a collective decision to split with T-Sport. It was not working out with T-Sport. They were not happy with the way things were going, and I was not happy too. It was a mutual sort of decision.
Another factor was obviously the chance at the World Series had come up. The week before the Silverstone race, I was in Germany to watch the World Series race there. At that time Narain introduced me to the people at the RC Motor Sport, and I met some other teams.
After Silverstone, I got a call from RC saying there was an opportunity to do the last four races alongside Narain in the same team. We jumped at the chance. So, you can say that also played a factor in splitting with T-Sports.
In fact, it was Narain who first suggested to me, 'Why don't you do the last four races?'
Were you considering the World Series when you went to Germany to watch the race?
No, no… I honestly went to Germany to speak to people about some testing next year. I didn't go to discuss any racing. But what happened was an unexpected earlier graduation. Circumstances and coincidences happened at the same time. The plan was to finish F-3 and go for World Series in 2005, or maybe in 2006, but not now. At the end of the day, I am only 20 years old. So if I go for two more years of World Series 2005-2006, I will only be 22 where as most drivers are starting their F-3 career when they are only 20! I am sort of 2 or 3 years ahead of the norm. So, time-wise, I have 2-3 years to play with.
Were you excited when you got a chance race at the World Series?
I was excited and nervous. My aim was to get into the top 10, because I only did a short test at Barcelona where I had 50-60 competitive laps just to make myself comfortable in the car.
Just before the race, I had done 300 km in the car, and he [Narain] had done 15,000 kms. He has been there in the World Series for three years and has been racing for 11 years.
How different will World Nissan Series be from F-3?
Very, very different. The cars are very different. F-3 cars are 230 hp. The Nissan cars are 450 hp. They weigh about 130 kilos more. The braking is much better, the aerodynamics is unbelievable. The cars are a lot bigger also. I have a lot to learn. They are 15 seconds faster than F3 cars. It's not easy to get acclimatized.
It is the first time that there are two Indians in the same team at such a high level of racing.
Narain Karthikeyan won the first race and was second in the second race. Did you take any tips from him after the race?
The whole weekend went off very well for him. It is very difficult to take tips as such because, finally, when you racing, you are all alone behind the wheels. You see, he has been there for three years, and he has to fight to be at the top, and I just joined him, and my objective is to be in the top ten.
Though we spent the whole weekend together, we talked very little motor sport. But he told me, 'You did a good job'.
Then, what were you discussing?
We were discussing how we prepare sambar satham, rasam satham etc. No, we were not cooking. His wife was there, and she was cooking us dinner every night, and it was fantastic! She is probably the best cook. She made sambar satham, rasam, etc.
Physical fitness is extremely important for motor sport. What do you do so that you are physically and mentally alert?
I do a lot of physical training, especially for the World Series. The cars are very, very demanding. For the last one month I have been working with a trainer in Oxford. He set out a program for me. I do a lot of cycling. Some days up to 55-60 kms. I do a lot of exercise for the neck, and light weights for the body.
Is it true that racers have to be very light in weight?
Yes; a race driver cannot have muscles like Arnold Schwarznegger because you can't afford to be heavy. A motor racer cannot be more than 70-72 kilos. That's the maximum weight a driver can be.
It is a very specialized training program. When people watch me in the gym, they start laughing. I do one kilo weights, three kilo weights, etc. Everyone keeps nagging me, saying I should be in the ladies section! But that's the way it is for us. It is more to do with muscle toning than with muscle building.