Chandhok, Gill shone in motorsports (2010 in Retrospect)

By Anand Philar, IANS
Sunday, December 26, 2010

CHENNAI - Although Karun Chandhok made it to the pinnacle of motorsports with his Formula One debut, it was left to Gaurav Singh Gill to bring home top honours with his second place finish in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship to round off a year that saw Indians otherwise struggling to maintain a toe-hold at the international level.

India is now seen as a “hot” Formula One destination with the Indian GP scheduled next year and more significantly, the FIA General Assembly and the FIA annual awards gala, also to be held in New Delhi.

On the face of it, the scenario appears hunky-dory at the international level, but on the domestic front, the sport is in dire need of a thorough cleaning of the Aegean Stables.

In a country that relates motorsports to Formula One, the 29-year old Gills brilliant performance in Team MRF livery and driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 10 was all but glossed over, but indeed it was the highpoint of 2010 from India’s perspective.

A victory in the rugged Rally of Australia underlined Gill’s undoubted potential as a top notch driver as he seems better prepared now for an assault on the World Rally Championship, subject to sponsorship of course. In 2009, he had a brief stint in the Production class of the WRC, but although he showed raw pace, the campaign ran aground due to lack of funding.

It was much the same case with Chandhok whose stint with the back-of-the-grid HRT-Cosworth lasted just 10 races before he was replaced when the funds dried up. At this point in time, it is still uncertain whether he will get a race seat in F1 in 2011 although he says he is in talks with some teams.

Chandhok, who turns 27 in January, however, fought on bravely in an ill-handling car and his record of two 14th place finishes with just two retirements in 10 outings was creditable for a rookie, given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, Vijay Mallya, owner of Force India team that completed its third F1 season with a tally of 68 points and seventh in the final standings, scoffed all talk about having an Indian in the saddle, thus scuttling Chandhoks hopes.

However, with the inaugural Indian Grand Prix scheduled next year, there is speculation that he could yet get a drive and also considering the marketing angle.

India’s first Formula One driver, Narain Karthikeyan, too entertains some hopes of a return, although he seemed content doing the NASCAR series. Which racing driver wouldn’t like to do Formula One? But I wouldn’t like to say anything at all about my return to F1. I am quite happy doing the NASCAR, said Karthikeyan.

Karthikeyan’s move to NASCAR (Camping World Truck Series) in the United States this year was almost inevitable with the F1 doors shut firmly after just one season (2005) with Jordan. In the super-competitive truck series, Karthikeyan, who will be 34 in January, finished 30th in the overall standings from nine starts, and by the looks of it, he is likely to continue in the series unless of course, he gets a F1 calling.

Elsewhere, 21-year old Armaan Ebrahim had a fling in the inaugural Formula 2 series, but success was rather sporadic although there was no doubting his pace. He signed off with a podium finish in the concluding round in Valencia and ended the season in creditable 10th with 68 points.

As in the case of his peers, funding has been an issue with Ebrahim who is now hoping to get back into the GP2 series in 2011, but again subject to securing sponsorship. Along with Chandhok, he did GP2 test runs in Abu Dhabi in November.

Another 21-year old, Aditya Patel, had a promising outing in the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup in Germany where he finished overall 12th with 170 points with a best of first and fourth at the Nurburgring circuit.

The spotlight has also been on the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) with two of its representatives, Mallya (Chairman) and Vicky Chandhok (Chairman, 4-Wheeler Racing Commission) on the governing council of the Federation Internationale de lAutomobile (FIA).

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