Whitworth makes single-seater test debut

Little over two years ago, Luke Whitworth had not even made his competitive karting debut, but his progress since then has been nothing short of outstanding – and his maiden car racing test around the legendary Brands Hatch Indy Circuit marked a measure of just how far he has come.

Palpably impressed by his eye-catching performances, Sebastian Herke, then Head of Formula BMW, approached Luke during the Whilton Mill meeting of the 2011 Formula Kart Stars Championship – a series boasting the official backing of both 2008 F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton and the sport’s influential ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone – as the highly-rated young Rotherham speed demon claimed a brace of runner-up finishes en route to an excellent sixth position in the final Junior Max class title standings.

Herke invited Luke to attend a testing outing for the Formula BMW Talent Cup at Brands Hatch, alongside nine other drivers from eight different countries. There, he would climb behind the wheel of a potent 140bhp single-seater capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in an eye-watering four seconds – and a car with which reigning double F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel stormed to a record-breaking 18 victories out of 20 back in 2004.

“It felt amazing to be asked to the test – a complete bolt-from-the-blue!” confessed the Wickersley-based hotshot. “To drive a racing car was something I had wanted to do for quite some time, but I never expected to get the chance so soon and I was really excited about it. I was over-the-moon and totally blown away by the invitation, and it just topped off an already brilliant weekend!”

In preparation for the test, Luke headed to iZone Driver Performance at Silverstone, to begin to get to grips with both the track layout as well as gear-shifting on the driver development centre’s state-of-the-art simulator. Whilst there, the 16-year-old Yorkshire ace was also able to benefit from expert tutelage from a multiple world champion in the shape of three-time World Touring Car king Andy Priaulx.

“Andy spoke to me about the psychological side of racing, and how to visualise everything whilst I’m driving round,” he explained. “That was really useful, and helped me to find a lot of lap time on the simulator. He talked about how important it is to work as hard as I can on every single aspect of being a racing driver, and to get advice from somebody as successful as him was pretty inspirational.”

Feeling more ready for the challenge that lay ahead, Luke subsequently travelled to Brands Hatch eager to put into practice all that he had learned – and possibly even turn a few heads along the way for good measure. There was, however, one variable that he hadn’t counted upon, as the elements did their worst and persistent rain swiftly turned his debut into a real baptism of fire. Or rather, water.

“Going into the test, I was still excited, but also a bit nervous,” recalled the Wickersley School and Sports College student. “I’d had no preparation in those kinds of conditions, so it was almost a case of having to learn Brands Hatch all over again because the lines are so different in the wet – but I just had to get on with it.

“The track was extremely slippery and I did have a few ‘moments’, but I really enjoyed driving the car. It felt totally different to a kart and was definitely a big leap – bigger than I had thought it would be, if I’m honest, and certainly an eye-opener.

“The extra weight and aerodynamic downforce took some time to get my head around, as did the fact that the faster you go into a corner, the more grip you have – it just seems against all your natural instincts initially. It’s a strange feeling, speeding up when your brain is telling you that you should be slowing down! Ultimately, it’s a question of being brave enough and having the confidence in the car to keep your foot planted.

“And then there were the sequential gears, the sharpness of the brakes, the power and blipping the throttle through the corners – there was a lot to get used to, but by the end, I was starting to get the hang of it all.”

Indeed, despite the steep learning curve, Luke coped like a seasoned pro – betraying few signs that everything was completely new to him. What’s more, the knowledge gleaned at Brands Hatch will doubtless pay dividends when he does eventually move on up – and it has evidently whetted his appetite to do so.

“The whole day was really about gaining a good understanding of the car,” the recently-appointed MSA Academy member mused in conclusion. “I had to steel myself not to be scared of making mistakes, and just to try to be more consistent each time I took to the track.

“I definitely got better as the day progressed, and as my confidence increased, I was able to push harder and go faster and I made fewer errors. I just loved the entire experience, and I feel it helped to improve me as a driver and has certainly motivated me to keep on working as hard as I can to attain my goals.”

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