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Teen trailblazer

Formula 3 star Karun Chandhok is in top gear, finds out SYEDA FARIDA

HE STARTED go karting when he was six, driving in the basement of his father's car workshop. At that time there weren't any go karting tracks. He grew up to win the national racing championship, when he was still in school, and went to Philippines, precisely three days after his Economics 10+2 paper, only to be crowned the winner of Asian Formula Racing Championship, 2001.

And the past two years have virtually found him in top gear. Teen trailblazer Karun Chandhok is racing with the British Formula-3 (Scholarship Class) on No.3, having won 19 races, the first and last crucial races included. "I was bumped off twice or would have been in the number one slot. Hopefully if all goes well I will be doing Championship Class next year," he says while in town recently for the JK Tyres National Karting Championship.

His icon remains Alain Prost and he grew up watching Narain Kartikeyan's races, and his average speed is 270 kmph! "Senna died nine years ago, no one else is dead since, see. You can be killed at the end of a pavement--a vehicle can bump into you while you are standing there. If you have fear, you lose your edge--you tend to hold back a little, which you can't afford in the game. There are 25 cars whizzing past in precisely 1.3 seconds," says the Formula Asia champion.

When not on the tarmac, he is coaching at his home track Silverstone, UK, his adopted home track, six-minute drive from his house. "Probably I am the only Indian certified instructor at the racing school on the track," he says. Basking in the English countryside, biking into the woods, working out at the gym or just watching television take up his free time. And importantly, the teen sits across the table with honchos to talk business.

"A lot of sport happens outside the car. You negotiate contracts, deal with engineers and mechanics and at the end of the day, work towards giving back maximum value to the sponsors. After a Sunday race at 2 a.m. I am writing press releases and editing pictures and mailing themmy sponsors . You need to have some degree of talent and ability, and financers finally come forward," he says. And they have. UK Based NRI David Chopra's Vanguard Group -- the UK telecommunications provider has committed 1,50,000 pounds sterling to the Indian Formula 3 star, joining his current list of major sponsors JK Tyres, Kingfisher, UCAL and Amaron. Two more areas of business he is looking at are a car manufacturer and lubricant company and talks are on with a driver-manager who knows F- I team owners on first name basis. By the way Karun himself happens to be one first name basis with Bernie Ecclestone.

"At the moment we have a racing track at Sriperumbudur, another one will be shortly opened at Coimbatore and now there is talk of Hyderabad having a formula one track. I have spoken with Bernie and he is keen on Indian Grand Prix. It is good to hear that Formula- I is the second highest sport viewed by the Indian youth. The popularity is definitely growing. Today you can go to the F-I from go karting if you have it in you. We need infrastructure and more manufacturers to come into the sport; at the moment we have Maruti," he says. Incidentally he teaches on Formula Maruti when in hometown Chennai during the off-season. "They keep promising me an actual holiday in Chennai. But it never happens," he says. But he still manages to catch up with his friends from Sishya, his alma mater. Studies? `Have to wait. You can't afford to get distracted. You can't get into the game half-heartedly. There are 50 people all over the world trying to get your seat. You can make your career till you are 24-25 years old and then get back to studies ," he says.

"I am 19, but not for long," he says as he plans for the F-I where he belongs. "Patriotism and support is a big thing in India and as Bernie says, you need a local F-I team to have an Indian Grand Prix. So, the more people come from India the better for the game. I heard many people are looking at international tracks. You need such things to happen. Watch out the next five years," he concludes.

Photo: Mohd. Yousuf

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