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He has that drive

He has no time for girlfriends and is happiest zooming on the racetrack at 200 kmph-plus. Karun, Vicky Chandok's son, is emerging from his famous father's shadow.

Karun, in full racing gear, with Williams-BMW F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya, and (above) doing what he does best.

"LOOK AT it this way," he says, thick eyebrows darkly knit, trying very hard not to bang at the edge of the table with his fingers and not succeeding, "there are only 20 people in a world of so many billion that will make it to Formula 1. And there are, at any given point of time, about 500 people waiting to get into Forumla 1, waiting to fill in the two or three seats that might be available. So, you need to want it more than anyone else to be able to get there." And Karun Chandok thinks he wants it enough to be able to get there soon enough.

With good reason. He's been preparing for it all his life. When his friends were chortling over Tom and Jerry's antics in kindergarten, Karun was watching F1 tapes. When they trotted off to fun parks or skating rinks, he got his first go-kart at six. By age eight, he was giving his uncle's Maruti 800 a spin on the race track, and by 12 or 13, he was at the race track every weekend, waiting for his father to finish so that he could get his 15 minutes on the Formula Marutis or Esteems his pater had been racing.

It might have been natural for Vicky Chandok's son to follow in the footsteps of his father, but what makes Karun stand apart is his single-minded tenacity for staying there, thinking of nothing else and completely focussing on winning. "Because nothing else matters. It is the only motivation that is there, otherwise why bother?" he asks. For Karun, nothing has excited him more than winning races. "The pleasure of driving at 200-odd kmph, the speed and the fighting with other drivers, wheel to wheel, the competitive-ness of it all, is what I enjoy. Espe-cially, the competition," he says with a wide grin, adding, almost gleefully, "the pleasure you get out of beating someone else at a race is incom-parable."

Naturally, the tempta-tions of a `normal' teenage life are blasé for this 19-year-old. "Yeah," he says, almost apologetically, "I do hang out with friends at pubs, play pool with my brother and stuff like that, but I'm happiest when I'm working with the engineers, with my team, planning for the weekend's race and when I'm actually racing." Most often he'd rather be "by myself, go off riding on my mountain bike, or work out at the gym, or swim".

School, too, was usually incidental. Long weekends at racetracks away from Chennai meant missed classes and missed assignments. So, did he miss out on a normal life? "At the end of the day, this is what I've chosen to do and I enjoy doing it, so there really are no regrets," he says.

With a thumping victory at the Silverstone Forumla 3 recently, there can't be. This victory resulted in two major changes in Karun's life. One, he made his mark in international racing and two, he emerged from his father's looming shadow. Though Vicky Chandok never really went international, he has been a major influence in his first-born's life, (Karun's younger sibling Suhail "detests racing"). He has been there, until recently, at every race that Karun ever participated in. "Even before I've finished, he's usually been trying to phone me." laughs the son, "Most often, I'd come out from a race to find five missed calls from him!"

The relationship has changed over the years. Karun has grown from a young lad watching races on dad's shoulders to an independent driver of international stature. "He's learnt to accept that I'm now in the hands of professionals and he's stepped back, unlike a lot of parents who do get in the way of the team and insist that they know what is best for their sons," explains Karun. The relationship now has turned more professional. "Somewhat like that of commercial manager and driver, apart from, of course, father and son."

Yet, Vicky remains the concerned, involved father. "My mum says he's climbing walls when I'm racing and he's not there to watch," says Karun, smiling indulgently as any teenager would at what he thinks are the adult's unnecessary concerns.

And, Karun has that air of invincibility as any teenager. He's had his crashes, his "bull-in-a-china shop" scrapes, but fear of dying is something that does not bother him at all. "People die walking on the side of the road these days, so really if it's your time, you'll go," he philosophises, adding what he fears most is that "maybe my career will end before I get a chance in F1 simply because of lack of money." So, is motorsport really a viable career option? "Why not," he shoots back. "If you've earned credibility, the opportunities are tremendous. There are so many alternatives today that it really is not difficult to make a living in motorsport."

Meanwhile, he continues to yoyo between being a teenager and a racing driver. Between Friends on television and Alain Prost on the racetrack. With no girlfriends ("I'm never long enough at one place to have girlfriends and all the Indian girls in Britain are weird," is his typical adolescent explanation) to distract him and a lifelong urge to be there with the Schumachers of the world, Karun, obviously is on the right track.


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