Former HRT and Lotus Formula 1 racer Karun Chandhok has described the new World Endurance Championship as "a proper crack at making it F1 for sports cars" after his first start in the series at the Sebring 12 Hours last weekend.
The 28-year-old Indian, who has joined World GT1 champion team JRM's initial assault on prototypes, was impressed with his experience at Sebring, even though his HPD ARX-03a suffered a suspension problem which restricted it to 17th-place finish.
"When I walked into the paddock, there were so many familiar faces from F1 and GP2," said Chandhok. "The teams are very professional and you really have to be on it for every lap of every stint to be competitive. In a way it is a bit like F1 – you have the big-budget top teams and then the smaller-budget privateer ones fighting for the odd podium.
"The FIA seems to be pushing the series – I met [FIA president] Jean Todt in Sebring and he seems to be fully behind it, which is great. The calendar is fantastic, especially to have Le Mans and Sebring as points-scoring races so, yes, it's certainly a proper crack at making it F1 for sports cars."
Chandhok moved to sports car racing after failing to land a full-time F1 opportunity, having been the Team Lotus (now Caterham) reserve driver in 2011 and contested the German Grand Prix in a one-off outing. He was also impressed by the performance level of the LMP1 cars, despite limited testing.
"I was a bit nervous before going to Sebring, as I didn't fully know what to expect from the car or the format of the race weekend, but overall I have to say it was a pleasant surprise," he added. "Obviously the car is a lot heavier and has less power than an F1 car, but they've got a good amount of downforce and are very enjoyable to drive once you get it dialed in."
He admitted that the Audi turbodiesels were 2s per lap faster than the best of the non-works LMP1 teams at Sebring, but believes that leading the charge behind them is an achievable aim.
"The battle to be best of the rest is very tight," he said. "When I followed [the Audis] on track, they also seemed to have a big advantage in traffic because they have so much torque with the diesel engine, they can pull out of corners quicker and get past cars more easily. It'll be interesting to see where Toyota stack up when they join the championship.
"I think our realistic aim every time out is to be best of the rest behind the manufacturer-run cars from Audi and Toyota."