the-south-asian.com August 2003
Only 19, Karun Chandok , Indiaís latest auto racing sensation is burning rubber in England and notching up win after winÖ
Karun Chandok debuted three years ago in the JK Tyre Racing Championship and became the youngest ever national racing whiz kid. He is the second Indian, after Narain Karthikeyan, to participate in the British Formula-3 and the first Indian to win six races in a season. Formula-3 has also made him the youngest ever Formula Asia Champ.
After his sixth season win at Oulton Park near Manchester on July 13, 2003, Karun Chandok is racing to fame and glory. And he is just 19!
" These are just the beginnings. I have age on my side," he told sports journalists soon after his amazing triumph at Silverstone where he claimed victory in Round 10 of the all-important championship.
But victory against famous names doesnít overawe the teenage champion who seems to have signed a long-term contract with winning. " I donít get carried away by emotions. I am very practical where racing is concerned." When his mom called after the race to ask how he was celebrating, he replied, " I am tired. I am going straight to bed."
Chandok says he has just one image in mind and that is the chequered flag waved at the winner. " When I go to a racing event I donít enjoy sightseeing or shopping. I donít have the time to buy unnecessary things."
Born on January 19, 1984 in Chennai, Chandokís first foray into motor sport came as a six-year-old when he tried his hand at go-karting. At eight he was driving his fatherís Maruti-800---though obviously he didnít have a driving license. " I know it was illegal but my dad let me drive the car around" he recalls.
In 2000 he made his debut in the United Kingdom at the Daytona Raceway where he won his first race at the very first attempt. After taking pole position and victory in both races in his debut in the Esteem Class of the Formula Maruti Championship, he moved into the Formula Asia Championship for 2001, following in the footsteps of fellow countryman Karthikeyan by winning the championship comfortably. And since then he has moved on to British Formula-3 championship and competes in the scholarship class.
The British F-3 championship evolved in the 1960s as the world's premiere single seater racing series and has nurtured some of the finest driving talents. Traditionally it has provided the vital link to the pinnacle of motor racing---Formula 1. It has produced world class drivers like Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen.
Of the 34 men who have won the British Formula-3 titles since 1966, 29 have moved up to Formula 1. The maximum speed of the car in Formula 3 is 275 kmph while the maximum speed in Formula-1 is 320 kmph.
The F-3 championship is a very competitive arena. "The drivers in the Scholarship Class are no less qualified than the ones in the Championship Class. Itís just that I couldnít find the budget for the Championship Class," says the sporting prodigy.
Racing has been in his genes. Karun has grown up in a motor sport environment. His grandfather was a racer in the 1950s and founded the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India and the Madras Motor Sports Club. His father Vicky has been racing since 1972. It was a natural progression for him to get involved in the sport. Karun recalls that his first birthday cake was shaped like a car and his bed was also car-shaped. Once, when he was ill, he converted his bedroom into a race track.
Of course, being an Indian racer has its disadvantages, the biggest being lack of finance. Besides possessing the qualities of grit and determination, Formula racing drivers must also have huge financial resources to participate in these races. The whopping cost of the races is due to the technology involved in the race and not just the fee, says Chandok. The role of sponsors in supporting Grand Prix drivers for Formula 1 and 3 is thus paramount.
Even after doing pretty well in the international scene, Chandok has not been able to find a full sponsor. He still has to spend around 30 percent from his pocket. " Money obviously makes a lot of difference as this is one of the most expensive sports. The more money you have the more testing and research you can do," says the young champ.
Incidentally, participation in Formula-3 can cost over Rs. 60 lakhs. " Had it not been for sponsors my participation would not have been possible," he says frankly. And how much money would he need when he enters the Formula 1 circuit? " About a hundred times of what I need in Formula 3," is the startling answer.
Now a teaching instructor at the Silverstone Racing Academy, Chandok who lives in Cambridge, England , says that when you teach you get to spend more time testing different cars.
Fitness is important for such a stressful sport. He runs five kilometres a day, does workouts on the rowing machine and when the weather permits goes mountain biking. He also does light weight training, floor exercises and swims.
Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Damon Hill are Chandokís heroes. However he would like to follow the tracks of the late Brazilian daredevil, Ayrton Senna whom he idolises.
Despite his wins and victories, Chandok has his feet firmly on the ground. " It's a great feeling to be an Indian winner in this high performance racing, " says he barely able to hide his excitement of going on a medal hunt in the British Formula 3 championship.
And his ultimate goal? "Of course, I want to be a Formula I driver and a World champion. Only time will tell what is going to happen," he says.
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