One to watch: Karun Chandhok

One To Watch

Karun Chandhok, GP2, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007 | GP2 Media Service / Andrew FerraroWith exquisite timing, India’s Karun Chandhok won his first GP2 race on Sunday just as fellow Indian Vijay Mallya bought out the Spyker team and an Indian Grand Prix is arranged for 2010.

The odds of seeing an Indian in an Indian-backed F1 car in time for the first Indian Grand Prix are pretty good. Here’s a quick look at Chandhok’s career to date.

Born in Madras in January 1984 Chandhok was the Indian National Racing Champion at the age of 16 with a record seven victories from ten rounds. He moved up to Formula Asia with Team India Racing, winning the first five rounds and taking the championship.

He then spent three years in British Formula Three – the first two of which were in the Scholarship category for older cars. Sixth overall in 2002, he won eight times and ended the year third, 9.5 points behind champion Ernesto Viso.

In 2004 he remained with his T-Sport team and stepped up to the championship class but left the championship after 18 races, by which time he was 14th on 37 points with a highest finish of fourth at Donington Park.

He switched to the World Series by Nissan where he joined fellow Indian Narain Karthikeyan at RC Motorsport. He took a best finish of fourth in the final race at Jerez.

Chandhok remained at RC Motorsport for 2005 (in what was now called the World Series by Renault) while Karthikeyan joined Jordan to become India’s first F1 driver. But he left after six races having failed to finish higher than 11th. He made three starts for the Indian A1 Grand Prix team in its inaugural season, managing no better than 15th at Brands Hatch,

He returned to Asian motorsport in 2006, winning the new Formula Asia V6 by Renault championship with seven wins in 12 races held at three different tracks.

That led to a return to Europe-wide competition in 2007, joining the Durango GP2 team. Chandhok has improved consistently throughout the season, scoring his first point in Istanbul and leading the following race before he was knocked off by Kazuki Nakajima.

He took a cool debut win in the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, resisting pressure from championship contender Lucas di Grassi before passing Andy Soucek around the outside at Les Combes.

Already he’s building a strong base of home support. Following the win he said: “It’s the first time I’ve heard the national anthem at a Formula One Grand Prix, so that’s a special feeling. It’s been live on TV in India so everyone’s going crazy back home. My phone has loads of missed calls already!”

No doubt Bernie Ecclestone is rubbing his hands in glee at the thought of all those people following Chandhok’s progress into F1.

A leap straight into F1 next year would surely be too premature for the 23 year-old. But with another season of GP2, plus perhaps GP2 Asia where local knowledge will surely pay dividends, an F1 testing deal in 2009 could pave the way nicely for that all-important arrival on the grid in 2010…

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Photo: GP2 Media Service / Andrew Ferraro

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