He gave it everything he had, did Nathan Harrison, in pursuit of a second British Championship crown in the finale of the national Super 1 Series at Three Sisters near Wigan, and even if he was ultimately denied by the very narrowest of margins, still the highly-rated Oxford karting star can hold his head high as he prepares to jet off to Dubai in the quest for one last glittering trophy for his 2011 cabinet.
Nathan travelled to Three Sisters locked in a season-long, tooth-and-nail duel with arch-rival Jack Barlow for the fiercely-contested Super 1 Junior Rotax class laurels, entering the meeting lying six points in arrears. He did, however, have prior experience of title showdowns, having successfully raced to glory in the Mini Max class two years earlier.
“I was a little bit nervous because the stakes were so high and the pressure was pretty intense,” he confessed, “but I had been in a similar situation before when I won the British Championship in 2009, so that definitely helped in terms of knowing how to calm my nerves. I was trying not to think about the championship too much and just concentrating on enjoying the racing.”
By his own admission a stronger racer than qualifier, third spot in his qualifying session – a scant tenth of a second shy of the benchmark in a 46-strong field uniting the indisputable crème de la crème of young home-grown talent at Junior Rotax level – represented a hugely encouraging start, with Nathan confident of having successfully ‘conquered’ his single-lap demons now and buoyed by the fact that ‘we knew we had really good race pace, too, so that was a good sign’.
Unfortunately, from there, the Botley-based speed demon would begin both of his heat races from the unenviable outside line in second place, and with a long run down the pit straight into a sharp right-hander at Wigan, those with even-numbered grid slots are invariably punished.
In the opening encounter, Nathan initially slipped down to fourth position, before grittily battling his way back into second and proceeding to reel in the leader – only to see his valiant charge scuppered when he skated helplessly off-track on water deposited by a rival’s broken radiator. Merely a passenger from thereon, he recovered to reclaim fourth in the end, just over a second adrift of the winner and matching the fastest lap of the race to ably demonstrate what could – and should – have been.
In a changeable heat two, meanwhile, the Cumnor Hill hotshot plumped for a wet set-up on his Evolution Racing kart, but with the handling not right, he struggled for grip in the tricky conditions and gradually fell from the pace, doing well to limit the damage in the circumstances by bringing it home in sixth at the chequered flag.
“I was disappointed with the heat results, because they left me at a bit of a disadvantage heading into the pre-final,” he confessed. “I was only eighth on the grid for that, with my chief championship rival on pole position, but I was still optimistic I could move forward from there.
“I made a solid start and then picked the others off one-by-one until I was up to third. By that point, the two leaders had the length of nearly half the straight over me, but I closed them down and on the last lap managed to latch onto the back of them. I just needed one more lap...”
One more lap for the race and – as it transpired – also for the championship, given that Nathan had to finish ahead of Barlow to keep his title hopes alive. Winding up just six tenths of a second short – albeit with equal fastest lap to his name, better than that of the winner – whilst the big prize had slipped from his grasp, the grand final remained...and with it, the honour of snaring the very last victory of the campaign.
“Even though I knew the title had gone, I still had butterflies in my stomach,” the Matthew Arnold School pupil recollected. “I began second but got a really good start to move into the lead straightaway, and I stayed there for a couple of laps before being pushed back to third. When my kart came to me and I knew the time was right, though, I re-passed them both and was able to establish a small lead that I maintained all the way to the end. There was a little bit of pressure in the closing stages, but nothing to really worry about.
“It was a great feeling to win the last race of the season; it was another trophy for the cabinet, and it meant I won five of the 14 Super 1 rounds this year, which I think is a pretty decent statistic. Everybody always remembers the last race, too, so it was an important one – and it made up a little for missing out on the title.”
It is a result, indeed, that tends to linger in the memory over the winter ‘off’ season. Winning the battle but narrowly losing the war – by the slender deficit of just four points, closer than he had been back at the beginning of the weekend – Nathan’s determined effort was so very nearly enough, and he certainly went down fighting.
What’s more, in triumphing in the British Championship in 2009, finishing a superb fourth first time out in Europe 12 months later and winding up as vice-champion in both series this year, the 15-year-old has proven over the past three campaigns just how consistent a front-runner he is – and besides, there remain the Rotax World Finals in Dubai in November for the opportunity to add one final piece of silverware to his burgeoning 2011 collection.
“I had really wanted to be British Champion again, but you win some, you lose some,” Nathan maturely reflected. “It was a bit gutting to miss out by such a small margin, but that’s racing and overall, it’s been a really good season. We definitely made the right decision to change team midway through. I’m really happy with Evolution; they’re a great team, and they’ve played a big role in what I’ve achieved – so I need to say a big ‘thank you’ to them.
“Despite the end disappointment, there are still a lot of positives to come out of this year, and now I’m just focussing on going to the World Finals and doing my best to sign off with a win there. That would just be awesome – definitely the icing on the cake.”