Sixty-four racing cars on a track just under six-km long. To put that into perspective, the seven-km long Spa-Francorchamps circuit that hosts the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix will have no more than 24 cars jostling for position.
The former is what Karun Chandhok had to contend with at the Sebring International Raceway in Florida, USA when he made his debut in the opening round of the 2012 FIA World Endurance Racing Championship (March 15-17).
The 12 Hours of Sebring was the first competitive race Chandhok had taken part in since the 2011 German Grand Prix, and despite mechanical issues dropping his privately entered Honda HPD ARX-03a from third to 17th, he was clearly happy.
“It's probably been a while since I enjoyed driving so much,” Chandhok told HT. “2010 was probably the last time.” At that time, Chandhok had made his F1 debut with the HRT team and drove in 10 GPs before being replaced.
While Chandhok was physically up to the task, the mental aspect of driving with so many cars at varying levels of competitiveness was something that was new to him.
“It’s a bigger mental challenge dealing with the traffic,” said Chandhok. “You have to be in a Zen-like frame of mind so that you don't get frustrated with the traffic.”
Since it is common practice in sportscar racing to have privately entered production-based as well as factory-supported prototype sportscars sharing the same piece of road, the gap in performance between two cars can be as much as 15 seconds a lap. Losing time is inevitable and Chandhok said the key to ensuring a good race is to minimise the time lost and being aggressive in passing slower cars.
Another novelty for Chandhok was, having to work with and help his teammates instead of focussing on beating them. "You have a sense of responsibility to the other two drivers," said Chandhok. "You also never get the car set up exactly the way you want since we are sharing the same car. You're used to keeping things to yourself so it's a big shift in terms of working with your teammates."