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Karun Chandhok

 

My earliest memories of motorsport go back to the 1987 when as a young child I watched my father drive his ex Elio de Angelis Formula 2 car and he then took me to Brands Hatch the following year to see a Formula 3 race. My grandfather and my father raced and also my grandmother drove competitively too, when she raced ambassadors back in India. The difference with my career being I was given the opportunity to race across the globe whereas previous generations of the family only raced at home.

Neither myself nor my brother were ever pushed toward any particular career. I’d grown up around motor racing, but there was no pressure on me to take the sport up. It was the sport I chose and I set out to forge a path towards the ultimate drive.

Looking back on my early career in India and Asia, it was very different to the experience people have in Europe. I never did a go kart race when growing up which is a big disadvantage I think. I now think back to some of the circuits I raced in the Philippines and Thailand and at the time, you are just racing and it all seems fine, but I revisited them a few years later and you just think “how on earth did we even race there, they looked so dangerous!”

My career progressed well from there. However, by the end of a very successful season in 2006 when I won the Asian Formula Renault V6 Championship, I really thought my career was about to finish there and then. I had absolutely no budget. I’d won the championship, so it was a question of what next? If I was to get into F1 I knew I had to come back to Europe but I had no money at all.

My father and I had been assisting Bernie Ecclestone in India for a few years, helping to bring F1 to the country, helping to find promoters and introducing contacts with Indian TV etc. I’d stayed in touch with Bernie and went to see him in 2006 to see if he had any solution to get me to where I wanted to be – F1. In typical Bernie fashion he told me to go off and win the V6 championship, which of course I duly delivered, so I called him again and said ‘now what?”

“Let me have a think’ said Bernie, nothing happened, silence for a couple months before out of the blue, he rang to say there was a test at Jerez the next week and to get myself over there. Fortunately I had a visa ready and I literally left that night for Spain, to get to Jerez for the test. The test was reasonably good but I had no way of affording the budget required for the 2007 season, so now what?

Once again Bernie disappeared for a couple months !

Completely out of the blue, he called my dad just as I was fixing up a job to manage a good friend’s F3 race team. Bernie told me there wasn’t much available, in fact there was just one seat left in GP2 with an outfit called Durango. I was aware this was the last seat on the grid as I’d been following what was happening in over the winter via the internet. I hadn’t bothered approaching any teams as I didn’t want to waste their time since I had no budget to bring to them. Bernie told me to contact Danny Bahar the CEO of Red Bull Racing , who he got to back me as part of their driver development programme, get as much backing and sponsorship together as I could from India and to get on a plane ! He did the contract with Durango and off I went !

The team had finished last the previous year but the second half of 2007 really started to come together, we gained points every weekend and won a race. Whenever and wherever I raced, there was always pressure and a level of expectation from backers, sponsors and the huge following of fans back home That win was a very, very special day indeed. Spa-Francorchamps holds many great memories for me and remains a favourite circuit of mine. I secured pole back in 2008 there but then had to take a grid penalty. When I won the GP2 race in 2007 and stood on the top step of the podium, it was the very first time the Indian National Anthem had ever been played at a Formula 1 meeting. Spa remains a firm favourite of mine, the circuit is great and the waffle stand in the paddock is pretty good too!!

I was now one step from F1

Karun Chandhok

www.karunchandhok.com follow on twitter @karunchandhok

 

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Karun with the 2006 Asian Renault V6 Trophy. Image copyright www.karunchandhok.comKarun with the 2006 Asian Renault V6 Trophy. Image copyright www.karunchandhok.com