Chennai-based Karthik Tharani notched up a fantastic performance in his international racing debut last weekend at Shanghai International circuit in the Volkswagen Polo GTI Cup China.
Tharani competing for the first time outside India impressed the touring car contingent present in China with his showing.
The VW Polo Cup China, a support race to World Touring Car Championship and China Touring Car Championship – meant, he was driving in front of the best touring car drivers in the world.
A rookie in the final round of the Polo GTI Cup season, Tharani started the weekend with a third-place finish (0.288s off P1) in the only practice session as he did the dual work of adapting with the car and also the track.
The two qualifying session went almost according to plans until late drama which left Tharani disappointed.
In Q1, the Indian set the pace finishing first but was later informed that the first session determined the grid for race two – where the top 10 finishers would start on a reverse grid formation, meaning Tharani started the second race from 10th.
Later in Q2, he finished fourth and was 0.900s off the polesitter. His flying lap was compromised due to another rookie driver, who blocked Tharani unknowingly for three corners.
Unhappy with rivals
Having started race one from fourth, Tharani got off to a difficult start. He was down a place to fifth and later fell to the back of the field when he was hit by a car behind which resulted in a spin.
The Indian then recovered well to finish sixth in the race and clocked the fastest lap with a time of 2m17:818s; the only driver to dip below the 2m18’s barrier.
“I am very disappointed with the driving standards. I was hit from the rear going into a corner and that is just not acceptable,” he said to Motorsport.com after the race.
“I am all for hard racing and if anything I actually encourage a bit of rubbing in touring cars but hitting someone to take them out is just not right.
“I spoke to VW China and they were not happy either with the driver antics. I believe they have issued a warning to the drivers,” he added.
“Overall, my race was ruined but I still managed to get the fastest lap and that too by a fair margin. While that is some solace, I am still pretty disappointed.”
While starting the second race from 10th, Tharani got a good start and made a couple of places up to eighth by turn one.
He made further inroads and was second midway in the race chasing the race leader until the last lap and the last corner when his gearbox went into false neutral.
An unfortunate car issue dropped him two places down to take fourth in the end. “I have no words. I did everything. I drove an aggressive race to make sure I finish on the podium,” he said after the second race.
“I was running second on the last lap with a corner to go and my gearbox went into neutral, when I was downshifting for the penultimate corner.
“There is nothing one can do when that happens and I had to wait before I got a gear,” he added.
Summing up his first international race, Tharani left wanting for more as what could have been a win and podium finish, ended up being sixth and fourth.
Looking at the brighter side, the Indian said: “On the positive side, I have had a lot of people appreciate me for what I have managed to do.”
“Especially considering that this was my first time at the circuit, drivers from WTCC and CTCC congratulated me on my performance.
“It certainly feels good, but nothing can replace the feeling of a win. I will come back stronger very soon."