Few Indian faces are as recognisable globally in the motorsports community as Karun Chandhok. Born into a family that one could call racing royalty in India, Chandhok has had more to live up to than just the legacy of his father Vicky Chandhok, who set up the Motorsports Association of India – the national sports authority in India for the FIA.
The first person the youngster looked up to for inspiration was his grandfather Indu Chandhok – a key architect of the Madras Motorsports Club and the first race track in the country at Sholavaram in the 50s. The 35-year-old has once said, “Family businesses are a big thing in our country, and I suppose motorsports is ours.” However, the story of the Chennai-born racer is perhaps, more dramatic than most others his age. We trace how he made his way up from the Indian National Racing Championship circuits to the paddocks of Formula 1 in 2010.
Though Chandhok stepped away from his racing career earlier than expected, he currently finds himself representing India as a global motorsports pundit as a commentator and writer, alongside other industry greats like former F1 World Champion, Damon Hill and Nico Rosberg. All this, while juggling duties with a circuit designing company, being a part of the race drivers’ commission and being involved with the heritage car division of Williams. “I’ve never taken up anything full time. In a way, I think it has allowed me to dabble in all areas of the sport. However, I am primarily a racing driver; that is the foundation of my career,” shares Chandhok, who recently took championship-winning Lewis Hamilton’s W10 for a spin, as a part of a feature on F1. “Everything else I do comes from the experience and credibility that I have built over the years.”
Accumulating experience living in India was not an easy task as it was for his European counterparts. “I think people like Narain (Karthikeyan) and me, who grew up in India, missed a huge deal in our careers. I never went go-karting. Unlike guys like Lewis (Hamilton) and Nico (Rosberg) who had been karting since they were in their nappies. The first time I bought a Rotax kart was when I got into F1 in 2010,” he informs. But, Vicky Chandhok had always been a supportive father, who initiated Karun into the world of Western motorsports.
“I still remember the first time F1 was telecasted live in India in 1993. It was the Grand Prix in France. But, I had been watching races since 1987. Dad would get us the recorded versions of the race, though they may have been at least a couple of weeks old.” This passive enthusiasm wouldn’t be enough, Chandhok would soon learn.
“All my growing up years I knew I wanted to be a race car driver, but I hadn’t worked towards it.” It was at the age of 15 that Karun decided to do something about it. Working a deal with his father, a 96-kg Karun Chandhok underwent an immense lifestyle change losing 26 kilos in a span of 10 months as preparation for his Indian Championship Racing debut, which would be his ticket to the Asia Cup. On February 1, 2002, Karun landed in the UK to explore a new aspect of racing, the British F3. And since then there has been no looking back.