Karun Chandhok is approaching the WEC Six Hours of Spa more or less as a test weekend, in lending his experience to Tockwith Motorsport ahead of the team’s 24 Hours of Le Mans debut.
The ex-Formula One driver has joined the British squad for this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship round, as well as the French endurance classic, alongside its full-season European Le Mans Series lineup of Nigel Moore and Phil Hanson in the only Ligier JS P217 Gibson in the new-look LMP2 category.
Having gotten the call from team owner Simon Moore, Chandhok, a veteran of four previous starts at Le Mans, jumped at the opportunity to be part of the program.
“They were looking for someone to come and do Le Mans with them and obviously I was always looking to try and do Le Mans,” Chandhok told Sportscar365. “It’s the best race in the world, and I was really [upset] that I lost out on a deal last year.
“Being the new generation of cars, with new engines, and I’ve never driven the Ligier before, I said I’d only do Le Mans if I could another race before.
“It came down to whether we’d do Monza ELMS or Spa. Spa is the obvious one to do.”
Spa marks the Indian driver’s first regular-season WEC race since taking part in the full championship in 2012 in JRM’s HPD ARX-03a LMP1 entry, although he’s had more recent experience in the ELMS ranks with Murphy Prototypes’ Oreca 03 Nissan.
It, however, will be Chandhok’s first experience in a new-generation LMP2 car, although he’s taking a big-picture approach.
“This weekend for me is just a test, in getting my feet under the table and understanding how they work and understanding what the car is like to drive,” he said.
“For me, this is just a learning weekend. When we get to Le Mans, I think that’s where my experience will start to play a bigger role.
“[Le Mans] is a unique race; you have to set up the car for track temperature differences of 25 degrees; you have to set the car up for the wet, dry, damp and everything in between. And you have to factor in track evolution.
“It’s about helping Phil and to some degree Nigel as well deal with things like traffic at Le Mans.
“Where are the safe places to pass and not pass? At night, where are the blindspots and how do we set up the car for all that stuff?
“I think it’s just trying to give them a little bit of direction, especially at Le Mans.”
While admitting being in a “fairly substantial minority” as the only non-Oreca in the LMP2 class, Chandhok believes technical assistance from the Silverstone ELMS race-winning United Autoports squad could pay dividends not just at Spa but also potentially at Le Mans.
Personnel from both United Autosports and Onroak Automotive are supporting the Tockwith effort this weekend, in the Ligier’s WEC debut.
“As a new team to prototypes, any support and direction we could get from people who have run the car for a long time is beneficial,” Chandhok said.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to work together a little bit when we come to Le Mans as well, because ORECA has the numbers, and although you have a couple of teams that are two-car teams and they can compare notes quite openly, I’m sure there’s serious conversations happening within the ORECA teams.
“I think especially with the new generation of cars, having a two-car team is beneficial.
“So if we can buddy up a little bit with United and help each other… They obviously have Filipe [Albuquerque] in there, a good, experienced driver… We’ll see.”
With the 2016-17 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 championship-winning squad on a rapid rise through the prototype ranks, and additional WEC races post-Le Mans in the works, Chandhok is hoping the initial two-race deal could lead to bigger things in the future.
“I’d love to do more with them,” he said. “So far we all get along but we’ve only done half a day of work together.
“That’s sort of the plan. This year, by all accounts, is a little bit of a toe in the water for Phil to see what it’s like to do Spa, Le Mans and maybe something else later on.
“If it could lead to a full WEC program for next year, that could open up some options for me as well.”