with near-perfect Whilton Mill weekend It had been on the cards right from the beginning of the campaign, truth be told, but to come in the manner that it did only served to make James Singleton’s success all-the-more spectacular, as the talented young North Wales speed demon has followed in the wheeltracks of Lewis Hamilton, no less, by triumphing in the 2011 Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship – and two rounds early, to-boot.
From the start of the season, James has indubitably been the driver to beat in FKS’ fiercely-contested, 28-strong Junior Max class, and he headed to Whilton Mill boasting an impressive previous record around the demanding Northants circuit and with the title uppermost in his mind.
“The main goal really was to keep finishing ahead of my nearest rival Sam Marsh to extend our championship lead,” he confessed. “We were feeling quite confident, because Whilton is probably one of our better tracks and we’ve always been quick there. It’s very bumpy which makes it very physical to drive, and it’s twisty and technical, too, which is just the kind of challenge I enjoy.”
Qualifying a close second on the Saturday, James mused that since ‘our engines and the way we set the kart up are more suited to the hot summer weather’, with the onset of autumn, the edge he had earlier on in the year is no longer quite so apparent and his pursuers have narrowed the gap – but he served a timely reminder of just who is boss in the day’s two heat races.
“I slipped back to third at the start,” recounted the Conwy-based hotshot of the opening encounter, “but I knew we had the pace and gradually I picked off Luke Whitworth and then Marsh and was able to pull away, so it all worked out really well.
“In the second heat, Marsh got black-flagged early on – that was definitely a bonus for us, although at the same time, we don’t want to win by default – and then I got passed by both Whitworth and Bobby Thompson. After that, it developed into a bit of a fight. I got Bobby back, but I sat behind Luke all the way to the end. We didn’t want to take any risks given our position in the championship, so we just decided to settle for second.”
Incredibly, the three points he surrendered in that race were the only ones he would concede all weekend, and whilst James felt he had the pace to be able to attack Whitworth, he equally knew that with Marsh failing to finish, it would not have been worth risking ‘throwing away all that hard work for nothing’ had there been a collision in making a bid for the lead.
From pole position in the all-important final, the highly-rated Penmaenmawr ace found himself needing to stave off some early pressure, but then as his competitors began scrapping in his wake – affording him some welcome breathing space – he seamlessly cleared off into the distance to notch up his sixth victory from nine rounds this year, a result that he recognised was ‘another big step towards the championship’.
“At the beginning, the kart wasn’t the best it could have been so I waited for it to come on,” he explained, “but a few laps in, I felt it click and after that, it was really good. I knew I had the equipment underneath me, and when the two guys behind started battling later on, I got a little bit of a gap and then just had to keep my head and focus on pulling away.”
That he did to perfection, going on to take the chequered flag more than two seconds clear of the chasing pack and leaving the 15-year-old to enter the second day with his tail up. A commanding pole position in a wet qualifying session – the kind of conditions in which James invariably excels – installed him as the firm favourite heading into the heat races.
“In the first of them, I got a really good start and managed to pull out about a five-second lead over the opening laps,” he recalled, “before I backed off a bit to look after the tyres. Whilst the track was generally still wet, there were some dry patches forming, and although it would have been quicker to go onto them, that would also have wrecked the wet tyres we had on, so it was a real balancing-act.“We always felt comfortable and were never afraid the others were going to catch us – and even if they had done, we had enough in-hand to be able to push a bit more.”
The second heat was rather closer, as after a textbook getaway had vaulted the Ysgol Aberconwy pupil into an early lead, Marsh grittily reeled him back in and tracked him every step of the way over the second half of the race.
Very much within striking-distance in the closing stages, as James’ Coles Racing kart began to fade, his title rival increasingly piled on the pressure – but he was always capable of responding with a better lap time whenever Marsh got near enough to be a threat, and he duly tallied maximum points once again and with them pole position for the final.
“I got a really good start in the final and managed to open up an early lead,” he reflected, “and as soon as I felt comfortable enough, I backed off because the pressure was off and I didn’t want to risk any errors – though it’s still difficult to maintain your concentration in those situations, because you just never know what can happen. It only takes one little mistake, and your race is over. You need to find a balance between backing off and staying focussed.”
It was a balance that he struck magnificently, and although he didn’t realise it at the time, the result – allied to Marsh’s torrid weekend – was sufficient to secure James the crown without even needing to enter the remaining two rounds at Ellough Park, appropriately clinching it in style up on the top step of the podium. A tremendous accomplishment – and replicating a feat achieved by McLaren-Mercedes star Hamilton back in the late 1990s – it was thoroughly well-deserved for a season of total domination.
“We didn’t know we had actually won it until several days after the meeting,” he confessed, “but when we found out, we were just over-the-moon. The goal had obviously been to win the championship, but with some top drivers competing, we always knew it was going to be tough.
“I’d never have believed we would win seven out of the first ten rounds. We expected to be realistically in the fight for the top three, but we didn’t expect it to turn out like this... It all just came together for us, though, and this is definitely the highlight of my career so far – it really has put the icing on the cake for the year.”
James is seeking sponsors to help support his burgeoning career; if you are interested in backing Britain’s newest champion, please contact his father Mark on 07795 297350