Best weekend ever moves Whitworth to within striking-distance of top five goal

Luke Whitworth has brilliantly reignited his ambitions to secure a top five championship placing in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) series this year – with an inspired double rostrum finish at Whilton Mill on what he reflected was the best weekend of his fledgling career to-date.

Having begun karting less than two years ago – when the vast majority of his rivals have been pounding round the tracks for considerably longer than that – Luke has made dramatic progress, although his burgeoning form was somewhat masked by a nightmare weekend at Genk in Belgium that dropped him from fifth in FKS’ Junior Max class points table to ninth, with the sole consolation the coveted Bradley Ellis ‘Man on a Mission’ award for his gritty charge through the field from the back of the grid to eighth at the chequered flag.

“We wanted to get on the podium to boost our championship standing, and the aim was to finish in the top five in every race and top three in the finals,” revealed the talented young Rotherham speed demon. “The bad luck we’d had at Genk had really motivated us to fight back at Whilton. It’s a very physical circuit because it’s so bumpy. We’d been round it a fair bit in the past, but we hadn’t been there lately. Still, we were quite familiar with the track and I like it.”

Third position in qualifying on Saturday in the 22-strong field was an excellent way to begin, and Luke went on to convert that into a solid fourth place in his opening heat race, albeit feeling he could have performed better. He would bounce back in magnificent style in heat two.

“We were happy with qualifying, and we knew we were fast enough because I messed up my quickest lap,” mused the highly-rated Wickersley-based hotshot. “We got a good start in heat one to move up to second initially, but my driving wasn’t the best and I made some mistakes, which cost me a few places. I lost my rhythm a bit, but I just had to keep focussed and try to recover as many positions as I could before the end.

“We got another good start in heat two to move into second again. A few laps in, the leader’s chain protector fell off, so I knew he would have to go into the pits. James Singleton and Bobby Thompson came past me, but then Bobby made a move on James which gave me the run and I got them both around the outside through the next corner. I enjoyed that move – it was completely opportunistic! 

“After that, I just tried to keep my head and stay consistent all the way to the end. We knew James was quick behind us, but we knew we had some decent pace as well; there was a lot of pressure, but it was alright.” 

Far more than merely ‘alright’, by grittily holding on with the runaway championship leader – a driver who would go on to be crowned 2011 FKS Champion the following day – breathing right down his neck, Luke clinched his maiden national heat victory and with it, second on the grid for the final.

“We were aiming high,” the 16-year-old confessed. “Starting on the outside line at Whilton is tough, because it’s a fast left-hander into a right. We dropped back to third initially, but that was ok and I just had to keep looking forward. Steven Handford overtook me, but I knew we were quicker than him and after I got him back, I had some clear space in front of me and good track position. 

“I tried to keep it all consistent again whilst pushing hard. I was catching George Williams, and towards the end I overtook him for second at the top of the hill. He then stayed right on my bumper, though, and later gave me a push, which sent me a bit wide; that knocked me out of my rhythm a bit, but he dropped far enough behind on the last lap that I didn’t need to defend and just had to stay as calm as I could. We were really happy to finish second – it was the best trophy we’d had!” 

His finest national result to-date, the runner-up spoils were thoroughly well-deserved, and after promising to ‘go for it again’ the following day, Luke would not disappoint. A lack of prior wet running around Whilton might have disadvantaged him during a damp qualifying session and left him only eighth, but the Wickersley School and Sports College pupil maturely reasoned that ‘we knew we could go forward from there, so we kept our heads up’.On a wet-but-drying track surface in the first heat, he conceded that a number of errors as he ‘pushed too hard to try to get towards the front’ in the inclement conditions arguably cost him third place, winding up four spots lower down in seventh. 

In heat two, a collision directly ahead on the opening lap represented an early delay, and in attempting to recover he confessed that ‘I was trying too hard again, trying to push the kart too much and overworking everything and getting frustrated’. The sole real highlight was a brave defence of his position on the outside line at the top of the hill en route to sixth at the chequered flag, but if he acknowledged that ‘we weren’t as fast as we had wanted to be’, he nonetheless vowed to ‘just get on with it and look ahead to the final.’

“I really wanted a strong result in the final, because we hadn’t been too happy with the heats,” Luke pondered. “We knew another podium would really help us in the championship, so that was the goal again. We got a good start from sixth, which moved us straight up into the top four. I then improved to third, but Singleton and Sam Marsh had established a bit of a gap ahead. I knew I still had people glued right to my tail, but I concentrated on trying to chase the two leaders down and was closing on Marsh until he got black-flagged again. 

“That left me second, at which stage I just tried to keep focussed on not making the same mistakes as in the heats. I looked behind a few times as the race progressed and saw Thompson and Ryan Norris were working together to catch me, and I knew they had both been quick all weekend; Bobby got very close on the last lap, which really piled the pressure on, but we held him off. The kart was good, the engine was good and my consistency was good, and in the end, it all paid off and worked out well.”

A second consecutive runner-up finish, the result has vaulted the Yorkshire ace up to sixth in the standings, a mere four points shy of fifth and only ten adrift of fourth. Recognising that he has a battle on his hands but palpably up for the fight, even more encouragingly still, the season finale will take place at Ellough Park Raceway – scene of Luke’s breakthrough rostrum at national level just under a year ago. Game on, as they say.

“It couldn’t have been a better weekend, really – the best we’ve had so far,” he grinned in conclusion, “and it definitely gives us confidence for Ellough. I’m feeling really positive now, so hopefully that will be another good weekend...”