Karun storms to first GP2 win India's Karun Chandhok capped off his recent strong run of form with his first victory in the GP2 series in the second race at the daunting Spa-Francochamps circuit in Belgium yesterday. Starting off the front row...
Karun storms to first GP2 win
India's Karun Chandhok capped off his recent strong run of form with his first victory in the GP2 series in the second race at the daunting Spa-Francochamps circuit in Belgium yesterday. Starting off the front row in front of over 100,000 people Karun passed Andy Soucek in a bold move around the outside to take the lead just 5 laps from the end to take a historic first win for an Indian at a Formula 1 race weekend.
After being 11th during the free practice sessions, Karun qualified in 16th place after a wrong call on gear ratios but was positive that the Durango team will give him a strong car in the race as they had done in Monza a week earlier where he went from 18th to 5th at the end.
During the first race on Saturday, Karun fought his way up and the team used clever strategy to bring himself up to 9th place before passing Vitaly Petrov in an opportunistic move that caught the Russian unawares into the first hairpin. When Xandi Negrao dropped out with an engine failure, Karun moved up to 7th which gave him the front row slot on the grid for Sunday's race ( the top 8 finishers from Saturday get reversed for Sunday's grid. )
With clear skies and a packed house, it was an all Asian front row with Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung starting on pole position with Karun alongside. With the blessings from Bernie Ecclestone, Renault boss Flavio Briatore and Spyker co-owner Michel Mol on the grid, Karun and the Durango squad were in confident mood.
At the start, Tung, Chandhok, and Soucek all charged into turn 1 together with the German coming out in front and Karun, having narrowly avoided Tung, slotted into second place. Soucek pulled away initially for the first 3 laps, before Karun pegged the lead at about 1.5 seconds. About the early laps, Karun said "Andy was pushing very hard early on I think and he opened up the lead a bit early on. Spa is such a quick circuit and the tyre wear is very high so I decided it would be better to be patient and look after the tyres for the first 5 laps before pushing. I could see Andy was sliding around a bit more than me in front so as long as I was willing to wait, I knew that I would be in better shape in the second half of the race."
From lap 6 onwards, the Indian started reeling in Soucek and by lap 10 was starting to look for overtaking opportunities. With championship contender Lucas di Grassi in third place looking ominous Karun was now clearly quicker than Soucek and had to pass in order to get out of di Grassi's clutches. On lap 11, Karun had a look down the inside at the end of the long straight after the infamous Eau Rouge corner, but choose to back out of the move.
Two laps later, he charged through Eau Rouge visibly faster than Soucek and got in the slipstream. The German covered the inside line forcing Chandhok to take the more risky route around the outside at over 305 kmh. Karun braked later than the German and swept around the outside in a move that was later hailed by paddock experts as one of the best of the season. From there on, Karun instantly opened a 2 second lead and then held pace to take an emotional first victory for himself and the first for the team in 2 years.
After the race, Karun reflected "It's been a really emotional day for many reasons. I was really happy obviously but when the Indian National Anthem started playing I must admit I had tears in my eyes. It was then that I realized that it was the first time the Indian anthem had been played at a Formula 1 weekend and to be the first person in over a billion to have that feeling was something unreal. I looked down and saw my dad, the whole Durango team and even the cooks from the hospitality all in tears !! It was all a bit surreal to be honest.
Our deal for this year came very late and to have a win in our first season is one thing but to do it here in Spa, widely recognized as one of the last real driver's circuits is something else.
I knew I was quicker than Andy from about lap 5 and really had to be patient and size up the situation. It's not easy to go through Eau Rouge when following another car and for the previous two laps I was a little careful. Finally I just decided I was going to do it without lifting off the throttle and got a run on him down the straight. I knew he'd cover the inside but I thought, no risk - no gain and went for the outside, which worked out perfect. The car was really great today and our race pace was really strong all weekend.
The win has come at a perfect time as well. This is the last race we do with the Formula 1 teams and they will leave for Japan with the memory that I won the last race they saw this year. All weekend my dad and I have been under a lot of pressure from all sides about next season and there's a lot of speculation about our plans so this win has been ideal.
Afterwards Bruno Michel, the boss of GP2 said I was 'crazy' for the overtaking move and he introduced me to Fernando Alonso who also complimented me on the move. It was really amazing to go through the F1 paddock after the podium and have people like Bernie, Dietrich Mateschitz (the owner of Red Bull), Tadashi Yamashina (Toyota F1 boss), Dr. Helmut Marko and Christian Horner who run Red Bull Racing, Collin Kolles (Spyker F1), Adam Parr (CEO of Williams) among others congratulate me and Vijay Mallya had already left missed calls and sms' on my phone by the time I got back to the pits !!"
Karun also paid tribute to his sponsors and team "Without Red Bull, JK Tyre, Amaron and ICSA this day would never have been possible. They are all great people to work with and it was fantastic to hear how emotional the day was for all of them as well. The Durango squad have had a difficult last couple years but they worked so hard this weekend and I really have to thank them all, especially my race engineer Nick Wasyliw with whom I have formed a really fantastic working relationship this year."
The final weekend of racing of the 2007 season is in Valencia in two weeks time as a stand alone event.