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Allow me to let you in on a little secret. I’ve always loved motorsport – I’ve followed F1 and touring cars for a long time – but I never thought I’d actually be taking part in it myself. Here I am, though, heading into my third full karting season and with two car racing tests under my belt. What follows is the story of how I got here – and of where I hope to be in the years to come…
My first experience of high-octane action came in 2009 at the age of 14 – I was a late-starter, see, in a sport in which many first take to the track when they are barely out of nappies. I joined several mates in participating in some corporate karting at Tattershall Kart Centre close to my granddad’s house. I went there on a few occasions that summer, and the first time, I got repeatedly lapped. I was no good at all, but the trouble was that by then, the bug had already bitten…and in my fourth race, I won!
I instantly loved it – the atmosphere, the excitement, the thrill of travelling so fast so close to the ground, and I soon found myself wanting to go more-and-more regularly. I was then told that I should look at entering some events sanctioned by the MSA, the official British Motor Sports Association. I passed my Association of Racing Kart Schools (ARKS) test to gain my novice licence in October, 2009, before plunging myself into MSA-level competition with a vengeance at Junior Rotax level.
I earned 12th place on the grid first time out on novice plates, and I won a few novice trophies. Some people told me I was further ahead than I should have been for my experience. That gave me a confidence boost, and I carried on racing pretty much every weekend over the winter to make sure I attained my national ‘A’ licence to be able to enter the Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship with P1 Racing the following April.
FKS is the same series that first set a young driver by the name of Lewis Hamilton on the fast track towards superstar status, and it is now backed by both Lewis himself as well as the sport’s ‘Mr. Big’, Bernie Ecclestone. Although I was obviously nervous on my debut at Rowrah, I set myself the target of finishing inside the top 15 in the weekend’s two finals out of the 27 drivers present.
It was a massive step-up from novice competition and I was way off the pace to begin with and wondering what on earth I had let myself in for, but in a damp qualifying session on the first day, I only just missed the top ten. That gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the weekend, and despite a couple of disappointing heat races, I fought back from 25th to 14th in the Saturday final and followed that up with 15th the next day. Mission accomplished.
2010 was undeniably a steep learning curve, but I made consistent improvements and in the fourth meeting at Genk in Belgium, I secured my maiden top ten FKS finish with eighth position. Not satisfied with that, I went three spots better in the season finale at Ellough Park Raceway, taking fifth place on the opening day and then – in what was a real breakthrough – third in the very last outing of the campaign, my first national podium. What a way to end the year!
In 2011, I took another big step forward. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone again by signing up to compete in the national Super 1 Series – the official British Championship for Junior Rotax – and claimed a top ten finish at Buckmore Park, winding up 18th in the final standings out of 67 drivers and second-best ‘rookie’, despite seeming to encounter ill-fortune at almost every turn!
Happily, Lady Luck was rather kinder to me in FKS, where I achieved three podiums – including a runner-up double at Whilton Mill, as well as my first national heat win – en route to sixth spot in the end-of-season points table, a performance I was really proud of. Better still, at PF International in April, I sealed my breakthrough karting triumph – and I enjoyed the taste of victory ‘champagne’ so much, I went and did it again at Shenington four months later and then at Whilton Mill, too, at the end of the campaign.
Away from the cut-and-thrust of competition, there have been some other memorable highlights from the past two seasons, as well. In both years, I was featured as ‘one to watch’ in the karting chapter of the prestigious F1 yearbook Autocourse – the motor racing bible, by all accounts – and in 2011, I attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone as a special VIP guest of Bernie Ecclestone, my prize for winning the coveted ‘Driver of the Day’ award at Ellough Park Raceway the previous year. I’m also training hard towards the acquisition of a private helicopter licence.
2011 didn’t stop there for me, though. After being scouted at FKS’ Whilton Mill meeting, I was one of only three British drivers invited by BMW to test a Formula BMW Talent Cup single-seater at Brands Hatch – an amazing experience, and one during which I received expert advice from three-time World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx. Two months later, I then got behind the wheel of a Ginetta Junior car at Bedford Autodrome, where my instructor said I had ‘a lot of natural ability’ and ‘a huge amount of potential’. Wow! Oh yes, and I was inducted onto the MSA Academy’s Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence. Phew – and breathe!
It was a big year for me, 2011, but I’m hoping 2012 will be even bigger still! It will be my final campaign in the Junior Rotax class, and aside from FKS and Super 1 with P1 Racing, my major goal is to make it through to the World Finals. We know the equipment we have is top-notch, and I feel a lot more confident in myself now than I did 12 months ago – as a driver, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. I might still be playing catch-up in relation to my rivals who have been racing for so much longer than me, but everybody remarks upon how far I’ve come – and I’m nowhere near done yet!
My long-term ambition is to graduate into car racing and make a professional career out of the sport that I love. Touring cars are where I’d eventually like to end up – they invariably produce good, close and exciting racing. I strongly believe I have the dedication, determination and drive to become a champion – so keep track on my progress as I endeavour to speed my way up the motorsport ladder!