Former HRT and Team Lotus Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok will make his first-ever start in the Le Mans 24 Hours later this month - also the first Indian to make it beyond the grid as long as he doesn't injure himself on the pitwall just before the start like Narain Karthikeyan did in 2009.
Following his first two starts for the JRM LMP1 team, he gives his thoughts ahead of his debut in the French endurance classic.
Q. Two races into your new career as a World Endurance Championship driver, how has it been going?
Karun Chandhok: It's been a really pleasant surprise. After spending a lot of 2011 watching or commentating on racing I was really itching to get back to racing full time. The whole saga about the will he/won't he drive around the Indian GP took a real toll on me mentally in the second half of the year, and I felt I needed to do something different to start enjoying my racing again.
I was a bit apprehensive as it's my first foray into non-single-seater racing but so far it's been great. The JRM team is very professional, the cars are very enjoyable to drive and the wheel to wheel racing is fantastic. It's a real challenge to be quick in traffic and plan five or six overtaking moves a lap.
Q. What's the longest stint you've done? Are you enjoying the long-distance nature?
KC: I did a triple stint at Spa to start the race of 2 hours and 51 minutes, which was certainly the longest time I've spent in a racecar at a stretch. The only real problem I had was needing to use the loo for the last two hours of that!
Q. What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far as part of a three-man driver line-up?
KC: It's been a challenge to get used to the radically-different mentality of endurance racing compared to F1. David [Brabham] and Peter [Dumbreck] have been there and done that, and being a bit older they don't have the insecurity you see in F1, which I think in all honesty I still have.
I'm getting better at it, but it's really nice having team-mates that are a good bit more relaxed than I'm used to. I still need to understand the mentality that in this discipline of racing, the more you help your team-mate, the better it is for everyone. In F1, you always push to be the fastest in the team and hold a little back of info from your team-mate, because you want to beat them.
Q. Have you ever done so much overtaking before? What's the key to dealing with traffic?
KC: In the first practice session at Sebring, I was useless! I kept looking in front of me and trying to create a gap for the next lap like I would in F1 but that clear Œnext lap' never came and the session was over before I knew it. Brabs gave me a valuable lesson to 'just relax and visualise the other cars not being there, and instead pretend that you just have to change your line every lap'.
I also saw the Audis come past and saw how aggressive Alan [McNish] and Andre [Lotterer] were in the traffic. The combination of David's advice and watching those guys taught me a lot - being decisive is the most important thing. I tapped an LMP2 car at Spa because I made a slightly indecisive move on the damp part of the track and that was a good lesson going forward.
Q. Following Spa you stayed on for testing, how did that go?
KC: We had a very good test at Spa, which we needed because the race weekend was a bit of a disaster. We spent a lot of time choosing the right tyres we may need for Le Mans and trying a few things which we couldn't do [at Spa]. It was great for the engineers because it was their first day of testing with the car this year and it allowed us all to experiment a bit.
Q. The Le Mans 24 Hours is next up, how confident are you that you have a car that will last twice-around-the-clock ?
KC: The car's been pretty reliable but not bulletproof yet. It's obviously still early days for the team with this car also. 24 hours is obviously a long time for a car to be running flat out - we haven't had a chance to do a 24-hour test before the race so fingers crossed.
Q. Have you ever raced at, or even been to, Le Mans before?
KC: I did a test once on the short circuit in World Series but bizarrely for someone who's probably the world's biggest motorsport fan, I've never been to the 24 hours race. The test last weekend was my first time there.
Q. How many laps had you completed on the simulator?
KC: I did about 10 laps in the sim but I've always been pretty good at learning circuits so I wasn't too worried - it's more the changing track conditions through the 24 hours that are going to be a challenge I think.
Q. How was the test on Sunday?
KC: We didn't have a great morning but we ended the day reasonably happy with the car. There were a few niggling issues which cost us most of the morning's running but in the afternoon the car was reliable and I was able to get my 10 laps in to qualify for the event, which was one of the main things this weekend. The circuit is very cool - proper old school with gravel and barriers to hit and oozing in history like Monza or Monaco.
For some reason I would have reasonably clear laps in the first two sectors, but never a clear lap at the Porsche Curves so I still haven't driven through there quickly. The laptimes are a bit irrelevant at this stage, but I still think it's clear the manufacturer cars are miles in front but the battle between Rebellion, Strakka, Pescarolo, OAK and us could be very good.
Q. Does the event get any coverage in your native India?
KC: I've been working with the WEC and FIA guys to get the TV coverage sorted in India, and it looks like we have a solution now which is great. Narain [Karthikeyan] and I have spent the last decade telling people about F1 and building it up as this all encompassing thing in motorsport, but now it's a task to start from scratch almost and explain to the media and the public that there are high levels of motorsport outside of F1. The print media has been very good so far so the next target is to get the TV guys behind it.