Karun Chandhok's sophomore GP2 Series campaign this year ultimately turned out to be something of a rollercoaster ride for the likeable Indian, with victory at Hockenheim and hugely popular podium finishes both in Monaco and on 'home' turf at Silverstone interspersed by some appalling ill-fortune.

With his focus set firmly on becoming his country's second representative in Formula 1 by following in the wheeltracks of compatriot Narain Karthikeyan, the 24-year-old looks back over his second season in the top flight's feeder formula, and ahead to what 2009 may hold in-store for him...

In qualifying for the first round of the 'summer series' in Barcelona, it was a shame Romain Grosjean blew his engine and dumped some oil at the first corner in the final three minutes. I lost two tenths of a second on my best lap, which cost me a top three slot on the grid and left me seventh.

In the feature race I got up into fourth on the first lap behind my team-mate Bruno Senna, but then the safety car came out for an accident as the pit-stops were approaching. It's so frustrating when that happens, because there's just nothing you can do.

You have to stop under the safety car; if I'd stayed out I would have lost even more time. The mechanics did a great job to do both the pit-stops, but after the delay of waiting for Senna to finish his pit-stop, my good work from the opening lap was ruined. After that, because it's so hard to pass at the Barcelona circuit, S?bastien Buemi, Kamui Kobayashi and I just drove around in a procession!

We tried something different on the car in the second race and it worked really well, but on the first lap I was alongside Pastor Maldonado and then Luca Filippi hit me, so I fell to last place. Luca apologised for it afterwards, but unfortunately it was another first lap incident that ruined the race. What was so annoying was that I could have scored points in both races there.

I was looking forward to the second round in Istanbul, because I had led the race there last year until Kazuki Nakajima took me out, and I really love the circuit. It wasn't a bad qualifying for me lining up seventh again, but a couple more tenths and I would have moved up the grid quite a few places.

In the feature race I got a good start and was up to fourth, and without the gearshift problem we had I would have been able to stay with the three leaders, no problem. Even after dropping two seconds in the space of two laps, the gap stayed the same.

After my pit-stop I then set three consecutive fastest laps, but I lost out again when the safety car appeared, which allowed the three guys ahead of me to pit without losing time. It was all going so well, but then Ben Hanley - a lap behind - was in my way for nearly two laps, slowing me down, even though our team boss Paul Jackson spoke to Campos on the pit wall.

There was no way I could catch the leaders after that, and they were on fresher rubber anyway, but I was so pleased with my pace, banging in quick times lap after lap. The team did a great job with the car and the pit-stop was very good as well. It was a very satisfying way to get our first points of the season.

We then headed to Monaco, the most famous grand prix of them all. The street circuit there is famous around the world, and it's a real honour to race there. To be on the podium in Monaco was the best place in the world and the best feeling I've ever had in racing.

I really had a bad run with the traffic in qualifying, and the first half of my race was compromised by where I qualified. I was stuck behind Adrian Valles, but once I was in clear air my pace was good and I was able to close on those ahead. I had a good chuckle about what happened to both Grosjean and Mike Conway.

With Grosjean, the marshals waved at us to go right, and he went left and drove into Giorgio Pantano's car! With Conway, I spoke to Javier Villa and he said he was just caught out by how early Mike braked. He might have been a lap down, but Villa was quicker than him and was on his tail for three laps. I was catching them both by 1.5 seconds a lap, so I think the pressure I was putting on him was a factor.

The track isn't physically difficult, but it's mentally challenging, so to finish in the top three means you really deserve it. It was a great relief after a difficult second race in Istanbul, and I was delighted for the team to get both its cars on the podium along with Bruno. It was amazing to have the Indian tri-colour up above the Royal Box in Monaco.

After the summer break we travelled to Magny-Cours in France, and though I wasn't really able to hook a lap up in qualifying - starting the feature eighth - in the race the car worked very well and I got into a good rhythm. I lost a place to J?r?me d'Ambrosio in the pit-stops because Maldonado's car was uncomfortably close to my mechanics, but otherwise I think it was a good afternoon.

I had a good battle with d'Ambrosio and Buemi straight after the stop, but it's so difficult to pass there that I couldn't make more progress. It was good to keep my points score ticking over after Monaco, though.

Unfortunately, Sunday's sprint race was a big mess. It was a tough choice with the tyre strategy, and it was one of those where all the guys at the back who could afford to gamble came out on top, while those of us at the front lost out.

After changing tyres, I was really catching the group of cars in front including Pantano, but at one stage about five of us tried to squeeze into the chicane and he and I didn't come out unscathed! It damaged my front wing and the brake duct, so I had to retire.

It was nice, however, to meet one of my sporting heroes, Sachin Tendulkar, for the first time. I was surprised at how humble he is for someone with such stature in India. He is more than just a casual viewer of the sport, and was certainly very keen to learn about the technical and driving intricacies. Moreover, it was great to interact sportsman-to-sportsman with a man who has done a lot for our country.

Next up was Silverstone, and until I get an Indian Grand Prix, Silverstone is the next best thing for me. I live five minutes from the circuit and have a great affection for the place. It was really frustrating to have had four non-finishes out of the first eight races of the season, so I was looking forward to a good weekend at Silverstone, especially as it was a home race for the team as well.

The feature had to be my best race ever in GP2. We knew before the start that the race would be all about managing the tyres, just like they do in Formula 1, because it was one of the toughest tracks of the year. My pace was really quick, and considering it's meant to be difficult to overtake around Silverstone, I don't think I did too bad - I passed more cars in one day than I had done all season until then!

Apart from Pantano, who won the race, we were faster than everyone else. It was such a shame that I got blocked on new tyres in qualifying, or I wouldn't have been stuck in the traffic in the first place. I was quicker than Lucas di Grassi, who finished second, but I just didn't have the time to catch him.

Still, to finish third from tenth on the grid after passing a lot of guys felt awesome. The team did a great job and they and the sponsors gave me fantastic support. It was such a great race to be involved with - there was so much going on - and it was brilliant to stand on the Silverstone podium.

As we had some really bad luck on Sundays this year, it was nice to finally win one at Hockenheim. It was a good win, because I had to pass di Grassi for the lead and was under pressure all the time, but I had good pace. The team did a great job for me and it was a fantastic result.

We had changed the clutch overnight, and I just couldn't judge the bite of it at the start. Lucas had an amazing start, but he was pretty slow and it was no problem to pass him. He was sliding around a lot, and I got a good exit from turn two and got a good run into the hairpin.

I sold him a dummy, so although he was briefly back in front, I knew I'd get him on the way out. From then on it was okay. I didn't really feel under pressure too much from Andreas Zuber, although he was always there.

The rear tyre degradation was much higher than we had anticipated, so it was tricky to manage. I knew if I ran away from Zuber, I would have been in trouble with the tyres at the end, so it was a case of managing the gap to him.

The only problem I had in the whole race was lapping Diego Nunes, and I ran wide at turn one when I lost the downforce. That allowed Zuber to get a bit of a run on me, so I had to defend at the hairpin.

Besides that brief moment, I was in total control of the situation. I was really delighted for the whole team, the sponsors and everyone. It was really fantastic to have the Indian National Anthem playing at a Formula 1 weekend for only the second time.

After that we went to Budapest, and I had set fastest lap in Hungary last year, with a smaller team, so I was hoping for a similar result this year. In qualifying, unfortunately, I had to move to the inside to avoid d'Ambrosio when he spun in front of me, but in doing so I clipped the kerb and spun too.

I hadn't quite maxed out the first set of tyres, which was still good enough for second at the time, so I was disappointed I didn't get a chance to prove I could have gone quicker on the second set of fresh tyres and ended up fifth.

Bearing in mind the clutch problem we had at the start and what happened in the first couple of laps, a fourth place finish was a good result. I couldn't believe that Grosjean rejoined like he did right in front of me - I almost had to come to a halt to avoid a major crash. We showed we had good pace, though, and as usual around it there it was hard work in the high temperatures.

The sprint race, by contrast, was so frustrating, being ready to go and then having an electronic problem leave me stranded on the dummy grid. I just sat there in neutral not able to go anywhere. We tried replacing everything we could - even the steering wheel - but it made no difference.

After that the month of August must be the unluckiest time I have ever had. Valencia and Spa were a huge kick in the guts, as they were both weekends where we were very quick but got zero points out of the weekend for me and the team.

The Valencia street circuit was certainly very interesting, with a good mix of corners and some overtaking opportunities even though the circuit was quite dusty off-line. Neither the circuit nor the atmosphere were as good as in Monaco or Macau, I have to say, where it really feels like a true street race around a city and you can feel that extra-special glamour angle to the event, but it was still a good job done.

I flew out there a day early and spent most of the Wednesday morning going around the circuit on a bicycle, which was great training in the heat and also a good way to learn the circuit. Bruno and a load of other drivers had been there before in either F3 or GT cars, but I felt that the money they wanted for that was way too much and anyway, I've always been reasonably good at learning new circuits.

In free practice I got into a good rhythm, and by the end of it we were P3, which I was happy with. In qualifying it all turned on its head, and after a spin early on I then had Davide Valsecchi in front of me on my best lap, which cost me half a second and sent me down to P12 on the grid. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed!

Race one was a bit of a nightmare, when I got up to tenth, then had a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release from the pit-stop. It was a tight squeeze with Andy Soucek and I don't want to criticise Chris, our chief mechanic who does the lollipop, because it really is the worst job in the pit-lane. What I couldn't understand is why we should get a drive-through penalty for an incident that really is no fault of the drivers. Later in the F1 race, Ferrari got fined for exactly the same offence but Felipe Massa got no drive-through...

In the end it didn't really matter because after dropping to 19th and then climbing back up to ninth, we ran out of fuel on the last lap! I wasn't the only one, but it was still no consolation for me or the team.

Sunday was again a battle through from 15th up to seventh before a collision with Vitaly Petrov put me out of the race, and I also ended up with a ten-place grid penalty for Spa. I was really not happy after Valencia, and I spent a couple days away from phones, e-mails and motorsport to just get over it before getting into some good training again before Spa.

We also had our team barbeque, which was a good way to boost everyone's morale after the weekend. The whole team work as a single unit, and to come away with no points for anyone was a really bitter pill to swallow.

We knew going into Spa that it would be a tough weekend with the ten-place penalty, but even so, I knew that I had started 17th and finished seventh there last year with Durango, so some good points were still a possibility. Nothing could have prepared us for the roller-coaster weekend we had, though!

I absolutely love Spa. I love everything from the drive there from my home in Brackley, to the thick forests, the atmosphere in the grandstands and - most importantly - the circuit. It truly is a super challenge for the drivers, with its undulating corners and incredibly unpredictable weather.

Free practice went well and we were straight into the top six without too much trouble. The car was working well and I felt that I was driving with a bit in reserve for qualifying. Just before the session started, Paul Jackson said: 'This is the first time your objective is going to be to get P11.'

The rain came down when we were in the pit-lane, and although it took me a couple laps to get going, we were right in the hunt for a good spot. After a mid-session red flag I got stuck in a load of traffic, and eventually on the final lap I had a clear enough run to do a lap, which was a pretty committed but still clean lap and gave me my first GP2 pole position...temporarily.

Obviously I knew I had the ten-place penalty, but then I got another five places for setting a personal fastest time in a particular corner under yellow flags. Given the changing circuit conditions, it was a bit harsh I felt, but at the end of the day I accepted P16 as a starting position with the mental satisfaction of knowing that I had set the fastest lap of the session.

The races turned out to be painful again, however. We had an error with the rear tyre pressures, which meant that the car was pretty undriveable in the early stages when it was wet. I was down in 26th and last when it was time to put slicks on, and from there we ended up tenth which was great on its own and pretty exciting, but all-the-same frustrating since we were clearly quick enough to get some solid points.

The second race was again more of the same after Sakon Yamamoto took me out at the first corner and left me last behind the safety car. Once again it was a long hard climb back up to eighth. It was really frustrating to drop from fourth to tenth in the championship with five non-scores in a row, but it meant we went to Monza with more motivation than ever to finish the season with some strong points - even if, again, that weekend would only end in disappointment and frustration.

Overall it was a positive season, though. I am very pleased with the progress I have made this year. Winning my second GP2 race was a big highlight, and having been a regular front-runner this year has put me in a good position in the queue of drivers trying to break into Formula 1.

To win the award for the 'Best Driving Style' was a fantastic way to end the season, and one I feel really proud of. It was the only award that was voted for by the fans of the championship on the GP2 website, which makes it more special.

Looking back, I'm a bit frustrated that the second half of the season didn't deliver as much as it promised points-wise, and our terrible luck on Sundays, in the sprint races, really hurt my points total. In the middle of the year in Budapest we were right in the fight for the top five in the championship, but from then our luck changed and seven non-scores put me on the back foot. It's particularly frustrating since five of those non-scores were out of my control, but such is life. I learnt a lot this year and will carry that into next season.

I'd like to thank everyone at iSport International. They are a great team of guys, and I'd also like to wish Bruno Senna the best of luck for the future. I really enjoyed working with him this year, and I think we pushed each other hard. Of course, I couldn't have done it all without the support of our partners Red Bull, Punj Lloyd, JK Tyre, Amaron, ICSA Logistics and Sidvin, so thank you also to all of them.

At the moment it's a bit too early to have confirmation of my programme for 2009. This year there were very limited options in terms of race seats in Formula 1, so it looks like the best option for me in 2009 would be to be a test driver in Formula 1 and gain some experience in preparation for 2010.

The test driving role these days is quite limited, so I think it will be important to combine that with a season of GP2 to ensure that I am racing often at a highly-competitive level. We are in discussion with Formula 1 and GP2 teams in order to put this programme in place, and I am optimistic that that by the end of November I will have a clearer idea on things.

I'll keep you updated...

Karun

To keep up-to-date with Karun's latest career news and results, visit: http://www.karunchandhok.com

 

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