Review: Close MRF title battle; Tharani victorious
The 2015 season of MRF FF1600 culminated in Chennai last weekend, with Karthik Tharani lifting the winner’s trophy on his home turf. A deeper analysis of the season shows how the momentum shifted between Tharani and his chief rival Goutham Parekh.
The opening round of the National Racing Championship - where MRF 1600 serves as the flagship series - was held on the same weekend as the MRF Challenge finale, giving budding racing drivers more exposure and a chance to learn from their more experienced counterparts.
Parekh and Arjun Narendran were the two drivers who thrived in extra pressure, winning one race apiece. Parekh also secured a podium finish in the second race to take the lead of the championship.
The second round, however, showed a completely different picture. Chennai’s Tharani - who played second fiddle in the first round - completed a clean sweep that weekend, bagging the top spot in practice, qualifying and both the races.
Such supremacy put him in the lead of the standings and showed he is unbeatable when things are in his control - a trait shared by some of the best drivers in the world.
This dominance was matched by Parekh in the third round of the season. The Chennai born driver flourished in damp conditions that took over the Kari Motor Speedway, winning race one by ease and challenging Tharani for victory in race two. The two title protagonists were separated by just 0.155s as the chequered flag was dropped at the end of lap 12.
Pace and luck to win championship
But championships aren’t won on pure pace alone. Luck will always be a factor in deciding the title in any form of racing. And the final two rounds of the season gave a stark reminder of how a race or two could change the complexion of the championship.
In round four, Tharani - who had been leading the championship since the second round - was handed a drive through penalty in race one, while a race two, a contact with Narendran on the opening lap added to his misery.
Parekh, meanwhile, exploited the situation to its maximum, overtaking Narendran for victory in race one and securing another podium finish in the second race of the weekend.
The two rostrum results put him on the top of the leaderboard going into the final round of the championship, 12 points clear of erstwhile leader Tharani.
But in the final round of the championship, it was Parekh who came off worse.
Drama in the final round
Having been in touching distance of Parekh, Tharani tried a manoeuvre on the final lap of the race, sending the former out of the points and into retirement. Tharani, meanwhile, crossed the line in first place, turning the tables in his favour in the championship.
In the final race of the year, Parekh did all he could to snatch the title, rocketing from eighth on the grid to take a dominant win.
It was arguably the drive of the year as the Chennai-born driver scooped his way past rivals with apparent ease, showing no signs of stopping.
However, the damage had already been done. Having fallen 13 points behind in the standings, Parekh required Tharani to finish the race fifth or below - something that was unlikely given his form.
“After the incident on the last lap of the first race, the championship was over for me," Parekh conceded.
"Having a DNF in the last round in a championship-deciding race is really disappointing."
This meant that Tharani - having recovered from his poor start - could cruise to the finish line in second place and seal the title, to add up to his Volkswagen Polo Cup triumph from last year.
“It feels great to get my second consecutive championship after winning the Volkswagen Polo cup last year,’’ Tharani said.
“It's been a challenging year. I had to find my feet in these cars and also had to deal with a bit of misfortune in some races.
"But I always had great pace so I knew I could challenge for wins. Chennai is my home track and taking the championship here was even more special!"
Future is bright
Looking back at the season, there was little to separate between Tharani and Parekh. Both had their dominant weekends and their share of bad luck.
In fact, the two drivers won the same number of races - four - with Tharani just edging Parekh in number of podium finishes, nine to eight.
The duo are destined for great careers, provided they can find adequate funding to take the next step in the motorsport ladder.
In their shadow, Narendran finished third in the championship as he played a dual role competing in the Indian Touring Championship, of which he became the champion.
And the rookie honours went to Tejas Ram finishing fourth with two podium place under his belt.
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