Well, there ain’t no luck
In these loaded dice
But baby if you give me just one more try
We can pack up our old dreams…
We’ll find a place where the sun still shines
The sun has begun to shine on Karun Chandhok, finally.
Always, by Jon Bon Jovi, is almost always on Chandhok’s ipod playlist as well as his Medion laptop when he travels the world with the motorsport circus.
For years, the American rock musician could have been venting Chandhok’s anguish at being the Formula One (F1) outsider — waiting for a break into the big league.
On Thursday, with a call from Hispania Racing Team principal Colin Colles, his dreams turned real.
Hispania is the new avatar of the Campos F1 team after it was taken over by financier Jose Ramon Carabante. The new team is based in the south-eastern Spanish city of Murcia.
Before his moment in the sun, Chandhok weathered many a dark cloud.
“The winter of 2006 was the bleakest,” he says.
“Despite winning the Formula Renault championship, I was getting no funding to race in Europe. I even approached Raikkonen-Robertson Racing for a 9-to-5 administrative job.”
A day before he could join, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rescued Chandhok to offer him a drive in GP2.
Then, in 2009, leading convincingly on his dream circuit in Monaco, his car’s drive shaft snapped.
“It was most disappointing,” he says.
On Friday, the importance of becoming the second Indian to race in F1 hadn’t yet sunk in.
“Only when I am seated behind the wheel at Bahrain and see my name alongside an Alonso (Fernando) and a Schumacher (Michael) would I believe I’ve made it,” he told HT from Spain.
Born to a Punjabi father and Tamil-Brahmin mother, Chandhok has racing in his DNA. His grandfather Indu Chandhok founded the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs in India in the 1950s. His father, former rallyist Vicky Chandhok, raced in the 1970s.
As a child, Chandhok once banged his car into a neighbour’s coconut tree. When his brother ran inside to tell his father about it, a petulant Chandhok rebuked Karun. But only after he had demonstrated how to negotiate a corner.
When he was 15, Chandhok first participated in a go-kart race in England and won. A year later, weighing 96 kilos, he was too tubby to get into a car. Within two months, following a diet and workout regime, he lost close to 25 kilos.
“Today, at 67 kg, I am the lightest I’ve been since I was 14,” he says.
With an Indian Grand Prix slated for 2011, a desi driver makes business sense to Ecclestone.
Plus the Chandhoks have committed to raise a chunk of the $100 million sponsorship.
To critics who allege Chandhok has made it because of his friendship with Ecclestone, he says: “Bernie has a lot of friends — not all of them are racing in F1. He also helped Alonso and Schumacher get their deals. Are you trying to tell me Schumi has gone places because of him?”
JK Tyres Motorsports head Sanjay Sharma, who helped both Narain Karthikeyan and Chandhok get sponsorship for close to two decades, says Chandhok may not have Karthikeyan’s pace, but he is a technical genius.
“He is more Prost than Schumi,” says Sharma.
He is, of course, referring to yesteryears great Alain ‘The Professor’ Prost, whose technical prowess gave him an edge over everybody else before Schumi exploded on the scene.
In a car that has not been tested on the track, Chandhok’s chances of making waves at F1 are slim.
“The first few races will be tough. It is only after we return to Spain that I hope to gain momentum,” he says.
But the coolest tip for Chandhok comes from his predecessor Karthikeyan, who raced with Jordan in 2005.
True to his nature, Karthikeyan doesn’t waste time or words. His two-word advice for the rookie: “Drive fast.”