* Stunning final drive seals tenth for Rotax ace.
* United Arab Emirates event “Best experience of my career.”
Littleborough’s Andy King capped the most successful year of his karting career to date with a top ten finish in the prestigious Rotax World Finals in the United Arab Emirates.
The 17 year-old Senior Rotax driver, who is studying for a National Diploma in Motorsport at Myerscough College, confirmed his status as one of the best Rotax drivers in the world in an event regarded as the toughest in karting.
Faced with 71 rivals from 46 nations, many of them national champions in their own countries, Andy had to acclimatise himself with the soaring temperatures, a demanding 1400-metre circuit that he only saw for the first time 24 hours before practice commenced and a chassis he had never driven before.
But despite his relative lack of experience in international racing, King shone as brightly as the hot and relentless Middle East sun and ended the week long event with a new found respect from his rivals, who may not have heard of him before the race but who certainly knew his name after it.
“A lot of people who didn’t know me at the start of the week know me now,” stated King, who earned his place in the World Finals courtesy of his third place finish in this year’s British Super One Championship. “You have to gain respect in a very short time and that was the
Far from being intimidated by the Al Ain Raceway, widely regarded as one of the best karting facilities in the world, the Strawberry Racing driver said he relished the chance to prove himself on equal equipment at a track where very few of his rivals had any prior experience.
“My first impression of the track was that it was a miniature Formula One track,” recalled King. “I wasn’t bothered about my lack of experience on the track. I view it as more of a challenge. Very few people had any prior knowledge so everyone was at the same level. It’s a case of who can get to grips with it the quickest.”
Arriving in the UAE on Sunday, King spent Monday and Tuesday getting to grips with the fast and flowing layout and his French built Sodi chassis which, like his engine, was selected for him via a random draw to ensure maximum parity amongst all competitors. But a restriction on the number of sets of tyres available during practice put an added premium on quick learning.
“We only had one set of new tyres for practice so we had to limit our track time to save the tyres,” said King, whose goal was to secure a good grid position in timed qualifying and then score enough points during his three heat races on Thursday and Friday to survive the dreaded cut-off where the field was whittled down from 72 to 34 drivers for Saturday’s pre final and the all important grand final. “It really helped if you were able to learn the track quickly.”
Qualifying 19th overall, a result that he admitted was slightly disappointing and one that left him starting smack in the middle of the snarling pack for his three heat races, King knew he had a tough task ahead of him to stay out of trouble. But some tactical advice from his Strawberry Racing mechanic David ‘Dodge’ Gregory prior to the heat races saw King adopt a ‘softly softly’ approach as a single bad finish would almost certainly mean elimination from the event before the finals.
“It was so hard starting from the outside as there was a fast left hander after the start and if you didn’t get to the inside you were hung out to dry,” continued King, who would start his heats from ninth, tenth and tenth, the latter two from the unfavoured outside row of the grid. “The plan was to find some room and get to the inside as quickly as possible after the start line, which is what I was able to do in heats two and three.”
A stunning runner-up finish in his first heat, less than one second behind Polish driver Karol Dabski but ahead of his teammate and reigning British Champion Ed Brand, eased the pressure slightly on King and he followed that result up with a fifth and a sixth place effort in his final two heats thanks to a combination of fast lappery and a cool, calm attitude. .
“There were so many people not using their heads,” continued King, who admitted to taking a slightly conservative approach to his next two races in order to ensure qualification for the finals. “I picked up places as others went for stupid moves and took themselves out. I sat back and watched the damage happen in front of me and picked up places that way.”
King’s maturity was rewarded with fourth place in the intermediate rankings, which not only guaranteed him safe passage into Saturday’s all important pre final and final but also assured King of a second row start in the first of those two races.
But the pre-final would see King suffer the only major glitch of the entire week, a glitch that magnified the extremely fine line between success and failure in top line karting.
“I started fourth but got up to third on the first lap,” recounted King. “Then Ed Brand overtook me and I tried to follow him and chase down the top two. We were chasing the leaders and I was pushing Ed but on lap five as we came onto the back straight I put my right rear wheel on one of the rounded kerbs and it dragged the kart over the kerb and spun me round. I was a passenger from there.”
The spin didn’t damage the kart but King’s chances of victory had evaporated faster than an ice cube in the desert sun and, returning to the track in 34th and last position King elected to retire and save his tyres for the final itself, where he would start 34th.
“It was my only mistake of the weekend,” rued King. “I had been watching that corner all weekend and so many people had come off there. As far as winning I knew it was game over so I went into the final just looking to have some fun. I had no expectations ahead of the event. I was annoyed at my mistake but I was still determined to enjoy it.”
Having devised a strategy designed to stay out of the expected first lap carnage Andy completed the first of 21-laps in 30th position and set about picking off the karts ahead one by one in the knowledge that his fitness and fresher tyres would pay dividends as the race progressed.
“I got my head down and starting doing what I do best, catching and overtaking people,” said King, who charged up to ninth place by lap 17, a gain of 21 places. “It was a long race and I knew it was going to be hard on the drivers and that people would get tired and that’s where I’d come into play.”
With three laps remaining King moved onto the rear bumper of Canadian driver Marco Dileo who was holding eighth place and catching the group ahead who were squabbling over fifth. Setting lap times comparable with the leaders King was confident of claiming another couple of victims before the chequered flag but hadn’t counted on some overly fierce resistance from his latest foe.
“I went in for a move and he just shut the door,” continued King, who was forced onto the dirty part of the track, ruining his momentum and coating his tyres in dust. “I lost two places but if he had let me go and then followed me we could have caught the fifth place battle.”
Forced back to eleventh place King spent the final two laps of the race trying desperately to regain a spot top ten and with less than half a lap remaining he swept past Russian driver Alexander Zenkin to snatch tenth place after a stunning drive.
“Andy drove very well,” attested his mechanic David Gregory. “It was his first time under such big pressure and he drove very well. He didn’t lose his head, kept his calm and his drive in the final was really good.”
As the realisation of his top ten world ranking sank in, Andy feels confident that if he earns the right to return to the event in 2012, he will have the experience required to challenge for the world title again.
“Overall I’m happy, I enjoyed it,” he concluded. “I’m in the top ten in the world after starting 34th. I’ve learned from my mistakes and fingers crossed I’ll be able to go back next year. It was the best experience of my career so far.”