CHENNAI: It’s one of the unique races in the world, the oldest sportscar endurance race still running. Ever since it was first held in 1923, the 24 hours of Le Mans has captured the imagination of racers and racing aficionados.
In India, only one man knows what it is like to race at Le Mans, stay behind the wheel during day and night, endure the hot sun and the rain. And over the weekend, Karun Chandhok will be back on the hallowed tracks of the Circuit de la Sarthe for a fifth time.
“It’s a magical atmosphere here,” the former HRT and Lotus driver told Express from Le Mans. “You have some big names here like Rubens Barrichello and former F1 stars like Nelson Piquet Jr, Bruno Senna and Jean-Eric Vergne.”
When he first went to Le Mans in 2012, Karun did not know of a traditional honour accorded to every participating racer. “At Le Mans, it’s a tradition to play the national anthem of each and every participating racer, “ he said. “I did not know this. So when I heard them play our anthem, it was a very emotional moment for me. It was an honour to know that they were doing this just for me.”
Five years on, Karun has a different role to play, that of a grizzled veteran guiding the younger faces in his team. Karun will drive in the LMP2 class (one of the four different classes, LMP1, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am being the other three) for Tockwith Motorsport. One of his teammates, Philip Hanson, is just 17 and racing at Le Mans for the first time. “Experience counts for a lot in a race like Le Mans as it is one of the toughest races in the world. You have to deal with the car over 24 hours, deal with different conditions, different tyre compounds and experience is vital when it comes to setting up the car. And this year, they’re talking about it being the hottest race ever, so that makes it all the more difficult,” he said.
This year has been a strange season for Karun, with the 33-year-old doing more broadcasting than racing in the past few months, being part of Channel 4’s broadcast team for Formula One. But Karun insists that does not complicate things for him. “Honestly, I don’t think that makes a difference for me,” he said. “When we started practice, I was faster than my teammates by the third lap. At Le Mans, a racer gets lots of time in the car.”
His lack of racetime in 2017 is something Karun is not too keen to repeat. “I’ve already started discussions with regards to 2018,” he said. “We are planning to have a full season of racing.”