After an engine failure left him right down at the bottom of the timesheets in qualifying, George Russell knew he would have to roll the dice in the SuperNationals in Las Vegas – and a superbly gritty, never-say-die effort duly saw the highly-rated young Wisbech speed demon hit the jackpot as he swept to an emphatic victory that he justifiably ranks amongst the very finest achievements of his hugely impressive karting career to-date.
George might have competed stateside before – in 2009, at New Castle Motorsports Park in Indiana – but it was his first time at the prestigious SuperNats. With the tortuous and demanding Rio Hotel & Casino street circuit being new to all concerned, it was a level playing field right from the outset, enabling genuine talent to shine through – and up against a fiercely high-calibre, 68-strong TaG Junior class field composed of home-grown heroes and international front-runners, the Tydd St Giles hotshot showed them all a clean pair of racing boots.“I liked the track a lot,” he acknowledged. “You couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, because if you ran wide, you would hit the barriers – it was extremely unforgiving. That made it a real challenge to drive, but I got used to it pretty quickly, to be honest and after that, it was all about extracting those last couple of tenths. In testing, it was looking really good – we were the fastest in almost every timed session – but then on Thursday night, we had a problem with the engine...”
That was the point at which everything began to unravel, and although the engine was rebuilt in time for the next day, confusion over the provision of a running-in session saw George controversially denied vital track time and left the 13-year-old Wisbech Grammar School student to head into qualifying with to all intents and purposes an untried motor – one that promptly seized on only his second lap before he had even had chance to post a representative time on the board.
The upshot was an unaccustomedly lowly 63rd spot in the standings, and although he had triumphed before after having to battle his way back from qualifying woes, this time, he knew, there was another variable to throw into the equation.
“With it being such a tight and narrow track, I was pretty nervous going into all the heat races from plum last on the grid,” conceded the reigning European Champion and multiple British Champion. “We were at least confident in the speed we had, though, and we made some changes to be able to get through the traffic more easily.
“In heat one, there was a crash ahead at the start, and whilst I managed to avoid it, I clipped another kart as I went past, which left me contending with a bent axle for the entire race. That cost me straight-line speed and probably about three tenths a lap, making it a bit harder to come through, so we were pleased to end up fifth.
“The second heat was better, and we finished third; it was really good fun fighting my way through the field, but the first couple of laps were certainly pretty nerve-wracking because there were so many accidents and you had to keep a really cool head to steer away from them all.”
Setting the race’s fastest lap by a commanding four tenths of a second served as a potent warning of George’s palpable potential, and the Intrepid Driver Program member – racing under the banner of Intrepid North America – once more fairly scythed his way through the order like the proverbial hot knife through butter in heat three, only for a late collision directly in front to restrict him to seventh place. Still, his trio of heat results nonetheless secured him fifth on the grid for the all-important final – right back in the game.
“I found myself involved in a lively four-way scrap to begin with, allowing the leader to escape,” he recounted of the race that would determine the destiny of the keenly-prized laurels. “I got through into second, though, and then just pushed and pushed and pushed to close the gap, which definitely wasn’t easy around a track like that when you’re flirting with disaster at practically every turn!
“I caught and passed the leader, and after only three laps I saw I had already pulled out quite a gap over him, but the problem was I didn’t know how many laps were left so I just had to keep on pushing. It felt amazing when the chequered flag came down, especially given where we had been after qualifying. At that point, some people had been saying it would be impossible to win and that the weekend was as good as over for us, but we managed to come all the way back through, which proves that you should never, ever give up.
“The whole meeting was massively high-profile, with more than 500 drivers in total across the different classes. I’m told it was the biggest karting event that’s ever taken place the world over, so to win it has to rank as one of the very best achievements of my career so far.”
As a postscript, George confessed afterwards to having developed quite a soft spot for all the glamour of the world’s glitziest city. Just as well, really; should he maintain his current outstanding progression and go on to make it all the way to the dizzy heights of F1, he’ll need to get used to the bright lights...