Chandhok: Government underestimated tourism potential of F1

"It is a shame we don’t have an F1 race. Sad for the country. India is one of those countries where we had a readymade fan base," says Karun Chandhok.

Karun Chandhok is of the view that the Government missed out on the opportunity to market India through F1.   -  Shivraj Gohil

Karun Chandhok takes a lot of pride in the fact that he is the only Indian so far to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Having been part of teams that finished in the top six in three of the four seasons that he competed in, the 32-year-old racer is eager to get back into action at the endurance event for the fifth successive year.

In an interaction with Sportstar, Karun, who was here to promote Nissan GTR vehicles, spoke about his career in particular and the state of Indian motor sports in general.

Excerpts:

On his association with Nissan GT Academy: I started working with Nissan a couple of years ago under the GT Academy programme. That was an interesting way to get kids involved in motorsport. It was a very cheap way – for them it was no cost, just a video game in the shopping mall. It was a really interesting initiative.

This year they are launching the GTR in India which is a big product. It is a very high performance car. Nissan is very well known for its high performance cars worldwide. It was good to get involved with them. Hopefully they will do a lot of fun events across India.

On response to the GT Academy: First year 8,000 people took part and the following year 10,000. As a programme it is really interesting because if you look at any type of racing in India it is much cheaper. It costs around Rs. 6-7 lakh to race a season in India but in GT Academy you get a video game and practise. If they do well they get a full career out of it. We have 12 prospects so far in the two years. I work with them, train them and try to help them in their career. It is a good aspirational programme. We are trying to fulfil somebody's dream of being a racing driver at Le Mans one day.

On GT Academy not making desirable impact across the country: It has made an impact but only in certain pockets. In Chennai for example, we had fantastic coverage. In Bangalore we had great coverage. At the national-level the programme certainly needs to improve. We have to realise that any programme you start from ground up there are a few lessons to be learnt. But what works in England you can’t copy-paste in India. We have to ‘Indianise’ the process and that’s what we will try and do in future.

On his performance at Le Mans last year and his goal: Le Mans is a special race. I am proud being the only Indian to take part in it now for the last four years. It is one of the three top races in the world. I am proud that I (my team) finished in the top-six in three of my four attempts. I look forward to going back this year. It is a great challenge. Last year I drove nearly 10 hours out of 24. And it was very satisfying.

At Le Mans we had more than three lakh spectators this year. That is more than double the spectators for a match between India and Pakistan at the Eden Gardens. Even if you combine the spectators at the Eden Gardens, Ferozeshah Kotla and Chepauk, they are still less than what we see at Le Mans. That tells you why Le Mans is such a special event.

On India not hosting an F1 race anymore: It is a shame we don’t have an F1 race. Sad for the country. India is one of those countries where we had a readymade fan base. I have been to Turkey, Bahrain, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi – all new venues – but India was the only venue where we had a big crowd straightaway because there was already a fan base here. But it is down to the Government. In all other countries the Government helps with the funding and permission, regulations, customs and visa etc. People should not underestimate what the Jaypee Group has done. They effectively gifted India something by building this race track (Buddh International Circuit), spending hundreds of crores. I don’t think they got enough credit for it. I wish the Government one day plays ball and we can have the race back.

I don’t know how many crores they spent on the Commonwealth Games but the Government missed an opportunity to market India through F1. I think they kind of underestimated the value of F1. Look at Abu Dhabi or Singapore for example – they used F1 to promote tourism. We could have easily done package tours to visit India.

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