It is a measure of just how far he has come during his fledgling career to-date that Luke Whitworth should conclude his 2011 karting campaign with two major achievements – a peerless lights-to-flag victory to round off the season, and selection for inclusion on the MSA Academy’s prestigious Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE).
Few are the drivers that are invited to apply for AASE membership, but this year, Luke was one of them, and the talented young Rotherham speed demon confessed that he was ‘amazed’ when the letter came through the post. That, however, was as nothing compared to his reaction when he was informed that he had actually been picked as one of the successful candidates.
The government-funded AASE is a human performance-enhancing and educational initiative aimed at developing participants into elite athletes capable of competing at the very highest level, catering for 16-18-year-olds and running alongside their sporting programmes.
A sports science course, it is designed to teach students how to improve their athletic prowess and achieve competitive advantage, helping talented drivers to attain excellence and realise their full potential by focussing upon academic theory and practical and vocational learning.
AASE athletes partake in various workshops and training courses delivered by motorsport specialists. Students receive three separate qualifications within the AASE framework – a Level 3 NVQ in Achieving Excellence in Sports Performance, a Level 3 BTEC National Certificate in Sport (Performance and Excellence) and an MSA Level 2 Certificate in Coaching Motorsport.
“I’m just so happy and thankful that I got onto the programme,” enthused Luke, who this year – only his second in the sport – finished a superb sixth in the final standings of the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship. “It means a lot to me; it’s a really big thing, and it will help me so much in the future with my racing, my fitness and my education. Hopefully, that will all give me an extra boost to move further into a professional racing career.
“We’ve not been karting for that long, so seeing that I’ve been noticed is a real confidence boost, knowing people have been watching me. That just motivates me to want to do even better still. Looking back to where we were a year ago and then looking at where we are now does show the massive progress we’ve made. It’s been such a good year, and hopefully next year we can move forward again. There’s plenty more still to come!”
Those sentiments are echoed by MSA Academy co-ordinator Greg Symes, who reflected that the highly-rated Wickersley-based hotshot is already displaying all the attributes to make a success out of his AASE participation and go on to accomplish even greater glories in the weeks, months and years to come.
“Luke was accepted onto the MSA Academy AASE programme after impressing us with his sheer commitment and dedication to becoming a better athlete and progressing through the ranks of motorsport,” he revealed. “As a result of these qualities, Luke has already progressed quickly during his short time in the sport to-date, and we are confident that he will make even greater strides as an MSA apprentice.”
In evidence of his potential, the Wickersley School and Sports College student left his adversaries trailing quite literally in his wheeltracks in his latest outing at Whilton Mill in Northants, up against a sizeable 31-strong Junior Max class grid composed of a number of rapid rivals and a glut of local specialists who knew the physically demanding Northants circuit like the back of their hand. Be that as it may, Luke would show every last one of them a clean pair of heels.
Having excelled with a brace of runner-up finishes at Whilton in FKS the previous month, the 16-year-old Yorkshire ace went on to scythe his way dramatically up through the field from 30th position into ninth in his opening heat race, before overcoming a staunch early defence by the leader in heat two to find a way past and scamper away to a comfortable four-second triumph. Fastest lap in both encounters was a mere formality.
Heat three, meanwhile, yielded a strong fourth place from 14th on the grid – missing fastest lap on this occasion by a scant hundredth of a second, but earning Luke pole position for the all-important final. He would not waste it.
“I got a good start which meant I wasn’t challenged into the first corner, and I was able to establish an early advantage,” he explained. “After breaking away, I then just had to focus on trying to remain as consistent as I could.
“We had gone for lower tyre pressures for the final, so we knew we wouldn’t be as fast as we could be to begin with, but should be able to edge away later on as the kart came to us – and that’s exactly what happened. I set fastest lap on the last lap, which I think proved that – the kart and engine both felt spot-on. It was really good to win up against such a big grid – and a timely confidence boost, too, to take with me into the winter...”