Graham dominates FKS KF3 showdown but misfortune costs him the crown

Matty Graham proved himself to be indubitably the cream of the crop in the 2011 Formula Kart Stars (FKS) KF3 class showdown at Whilton Mill – but for all of his scintillating raw speed, a variety of misfortunes saw to it that the talented young Edmundbyers hotshot was cruelly denied the coveted champion’s crown.

With the one-off nature of the meeting meaning there was only one goal – to win – Matty signalled during practice that he would be one of the very leading contenders around a circuit that he described as ‘a little bit bumpy, but fun to drive’. What’s more, in a KF3 class field that prioritised quality over quantity – with just nine entrants, but every last one of them fast and experienced, and many with European pedigree to-boot – a tough battle was always in prospect.

The Ponteland Community High School pupil had displayed strong form at Whilton before, and in Saturday’s qualifying session – the first true barometer of the weekend’s pecking-order, with all of the competitors bolting on new rubber for the first time and getting down to serious business – he delivered himself a timely confidence boost by annexing a comfortable pole position.

In the opening heat race, he proceeded to artfully stave off some early pressure and then scamper away once his pursuers began battling fiercely in his wake, taking the chequered flag nigh-on five seconds to the good.

After briefly surrendering the lead at the beginning of heat two, meanwhile, within just a handful of corners Matty was already back in front and from thereon in his adversaries would again not see him for dust as he sped clear to triumph by more than six seconds, leaving the rest to squabble over the scraps. He even had the luxury of being able to back off a touch and ‘relax’ in the closing stages to preserve his tyres.

The MSport Zanardi ace was every bit as dominant in the final, recovering from a lively first lap to fight his way back to the front and engage in an entertaining battle for the lead, before swiftly and firmly re-asserting his palpable authority just prior to half-distance. He was inching away and controlling the pace, practically able to taste victory when – with only four laps to go – he suffered a crankshaft failure.

“I got put onto the grass on the opening lap and pushed down to fifth,” he recalled, “but I worked my way back through the pack and established a little bit of a lead. Not far from the end, though, the whole kart started to vibrate. I could feel the piston in the engine moving about everywhere, and then it just blew up on me...”

Acknowledging that the failure to finish was ‘a bit of a disaster’ in an event in which every single point was crucial, Matty nonetheless remained very much in with a fighting chance on Sunday – but the heavens opening before qualifying was admittedly not what he had wanted to see.

“I wasn’t terribly fast in the rain,” he mused, after winding up just fourth. “I wasn’t really used to the wet tyres and hadn’t driven in those conditions for quite a while. We couldn’t generate much front-end grip with the kart, so I was quite happy when I saw the sun come out afterwards...”

The weather, however, would soon transpire to be the least of the 15-year-old’s concerns, with a stubborn starter motor constituting another scare he could well have done without.

On a wet-but-drying track in the day’s opening heat – with the treacherous conditions very nearly claiming one victim even before the race had got underway – Matty produced an awesome first lap to recover from being pushed out wide through turn one by regaining two places heading up the hill and then snatching the lead into the very next corner. Despite there being only one dry line, from thereon in, he again drove off into the distance. Until his tyre fell off...

“That was actually my fault,” he candidly confessed. “We were in such a hurry with having to change the set-up between qualifying and the heats and with the starter motor problem that I had to put the tyres on myself. My dad was telling me to do various things, which put me under a bit of pressure and I think I just didn’t screw that one on properly...”

Knowing that he needed a good result in heat two to keep himself in the title reckoning, the Co. Durham-based speed demon benefitted from contact ahead on the first lap to rise to second place, before chasing down the leader and diving brilliantly past his quarry at the end of lap two.

From that point on, it was a familiar story, as Matty effortlessly set fastest lap after fastest lap to gradually break his rivals’ spirits, lapping as much as half-a-second quicker than anybody else on the circuit before easing off towards the end to save his tyres. He had almost the full length of the straight as his advantage by the time the chequered flag fell.

From fourth on the grid in the win-or-bust final – with the winner quite literally set to take all – Matty was fired-up in the extreme, but sadly, his chances of glory would be dealt a fatal blow mere split-seconds after the starting lights had gone out when Sam Webster clattered over the kerbs and sent him into a spin.

“It wasn’t really Sam’s fault,” he magnanimously reflected. “He bounced off the kerb and into me – it was just a bit of bad luck again. We had too much of that over the weekend! As I was spinning, I thought if I could get away again quickly enough, I might not be too far behind the rest of the field – but it was up a bit of a hill so the engine wouldn’t pull away very well.

“I knew I had a long way to catch up, but I pushed my hardest and during the race I was getting closer-and-closer. If there had been a few more laps, maybe I would have got to the front... Unfortunately, time just ran out, but I think I drove a pretty good race.”

Far better than merely ‘pretty good’, Matty’s mesmerising red mist charge as he fairly scythed his way up through the order into third place was all anybody in the paddock was talking about race-long and for some time after. Slashing a 7.3-second deficit to the leader at the end of the opening lap to a scant 1.4 seconds at the flag, the reigning CIK-FIA Asia-Pacific Champion ably demonstrated that he was head-and-shoulders above the others and the indisputable pace-setter. All he was missing was the rub of the green.“Things didn’t really turn out the way we had planned,” he pondered in conclusion. “Luck just wasn’t on our side – but we still proved that we’re really fast. The meeting was a little bit about testing for the national Super 1 Series, as well, and now we know we’ve got good pace round Whilton, we should be good there.”

Matty is seeking sponsors to help him to progress his burgeoning career; if you are interested in backing the north-east’s most promising young motor racing star, please contact him at: matthew.d.graham@hotmail.co.uk