* Shaun victorious in Formula Kart Stars warm-up event.
* Matthew ninth but faster than his brother.
Britain’s fastest twin brothers, teenage kart racers Shaun and Matthew Arnold, enjoyed their most successful weekend of the year to date with a sensational victory for Shaun and a top ten finish for Matthew as they continued to prepare for the 2012 Bernie Ecclestone and Lewis Hamilton backed Formula Kart Stars Championship.
The 15 year-old Capel St Mary based brothers took their 75mph Junior Rotax karts to Kimbolton near St Neots for the latest round of the Hunts Kart Club Championship where they faced more than 30 rivals, many of whom, like Shaun and Matthew, were using the event as a test session ahead of the first two rounds of the FKS Championship, which take place at Kimbolton on Easter weekend.
In changeable conditions the East Bergholt High School students proved their title credentials for the same karting championship that helped launch the careers of Lewis Hamilton and Paul Di Resta with Shaun taking a ‘lights to flag’ win he described as “the biggest of his Junior Max career” and Matthew setting the second fastest lap of the final, two tenths of a second quicker than his brother.
Having narrowly missed out on a podium finish in his most recent FKS warm up event at Whilton Mill Shaun was determined to make amends at a circuit where the Danny Cruttenden Motorsport team has a lot of experience with their new Intrepid/Ogden chassis/engine combination while Matthew was keen to exploit the ever improving pace he has been showing but which has been masked by a series of mishaps that have thus far conspired to prevent the driver known by his nickname ‘Diddy’ from showing his true potential in the finals.
Freezing weather in the build up to the event meant the staff at Kimbolton were still shovelling snow into the run-off areas as Friday testing was due to begin but despite the almost sub-zero temperatures the track remained dry for the first of Sunday’s heats, which saw Shaun start 22nd and Matthew 28th.
With a mere ten laps ahead of them both brothers new that they had to make quick progress towards the front if they were to give themselves a chance of a good grid position in the final and neither disappointed.
Shaun took advantage of a first corner pile-up to gain 15 places on lap one and continued to pick up places almost every lap.
“There was no room for any errors,” said Shaun, whose quickest lap equalled the best of the whole race. “The kart and engine were really good and it was easy to catch and pass people, which is a massive confidence boost.”
Moving into third place with two laps to go Shaun swiftly closed the gap to second place driver Luke Knott and primed himself for a move.
“I pulled away from the group behind and caught Knott on the last corner,” added Shaun. “I went for a lunge but it didn’t work but because I had such a gap to those behind me I didn’t lose any places and still got third.”
Starting two rows behind his brother Matthew had to take evasive action to avoid the first corner pile-up, emerging unscathed but still in 27th position. But as the field calmed down slightly Matthew was able to pick and chose his passing moves and gained nine places in the next nine laps to cross the line in 18th place, a result he felt happy with.
“I came through the field quite well,” commented Matthew. “I didn’t get the best of starts but once the field settled down I was able to pass people and leave them for dust so it was a positive start to the day.”
The random grid draw was much kinder to the brothers for the second and final heat of the day with Shaun lining up fifth and Matthew sixth but any thoughts the Durapipe Ltd backed drivers had of working together to push for victory were dashed at the first corner when Matthew was forced off track and lost a bunch of positions.
Despite a pre-race pep talk from dad Dave to take it easy and secure a top five result Shaun quickly raced into the lead and held off a determined last lap attack from Chad Shiner and Harry Campey to take the win and secure pole position for the final. “My dad said that as long as I got a top five then I would almost certainly get pole position for the final,” grinned Shaun. “But obviously as a racer I want to win, which is what I did. I got a clean start and pushed hard from the word go. Because the kart was so good it was easy to keep everyone behind me.”
While Shaun was able to enjoy some clear track at the head of the field Matthew found himself in a familiar position, mired in heavy traffic with the added worry of a damp track surface off-line making any passing moves extremely risky. After dropping as low as 14th Matthew recovered to take twelfth place at the end even though he later admitted that he had ‘missed the boat’ slightly in terms of set-up for the slick conditions.
“I started near the front and tried to follow Shaun into the first corner but I got hit and lost six places,” recalled Matthew. “We were on slicks but it was still damp all over the circuit. Once I got into a rhythm I was able to pass a few people and pull away even though we didn’t quite have the right set-up for the conditions.”
A brief shower between the heats and finals put everyone on tenterhooks as Shaun, Matt and the rest of the 33 strong field sat on the dummy grid ahead of the final and even though it had long stopped raining, the freezing conditions meant the track was still highly treacherous, something that DCM team boss Danny Cruttenden and mechanic Dave Smith were quick to notice.
With minutes to spare the decision was taken to change from slick to wet tyres for the 13-lap final and, seeing two of the fastest drivers in the field changing rubber, many of the leading contenders followed suit. It proved to be an inspired choice.
Sitting on pole position and unsure of what track conditions would be like Shaun admitted to having a few pre-race nerves but when the lights turned green those nerves quickly dissipated as he simply drove away from the field to record a stunning victory despite nearly coming to grief at the first corner.
“It was my first time on pole for a major final and it was a bit nerve-wracking before hand but as soon as the engines started and we went out onto the rolling lap I felt fine,” said Shaun. “Going into turn one I was hit hard from behind and I thought I was going to hit the wall but I managed to keep the kart on the track as the late change to wets gave me more grip. I looked behind me and saw that I had a five kart length lead over Sam Marsh so I got my head down and pulled clear.”
With renewed confidence in his tyres Shaun was simply untouchable at the front, extending his lead to almost six seconds before he started to encounter backmarkers later in the race.
“Towards the end I started to catch backmarkers which made things a bit interesting as they were on slick tyres and had less grip than me but I was pleased with how well I could control the pace and keep my rhythm going.”
Understandably circumspect whilst lapping slower drivers Shaun allowed second place driver Marsh to close to within four and a half seconds of him when the chequered flag fell but it was still a dominant win and one that was sweetened further by the fact that Marsh was the runner-up in last year’s Formula Kart Stars Junior Rotax Championship and is expected to be one of the main title contenders in 2012.
“It’s my biggest win in Junior Max so far and it is even more special because it came against so many drivers who will be challenging for honours in Formula Kart Stars,” beamed Shaun. “I’m pleased with the Intrepid chassis and the Ogden tuned engine is also really strong. The whole package has come together at the right time.”
While Shaun was celebrating victory Matthew was also brimming with confidence after getting a clean run for the first time this year, rising from 13th on the grid to ninth by the end with a best lap some two tenths of a second faster than his brother.
“I started mid pack but didn’t get hit at the start,” said Matthew, who had been the victim of a first lap crash in each of his last two finals. “Wet tyres were the best option but I got stuck behind a group on slicks and I had to take my time to get around them without any contact.
“I had a good battle with Stephen Letts, who was on slicks and had dry gearing so as the line dried he was faster on the straights but I was quicker through the turns. We passed and re-passed each other loads of times but by the end of the race the track had dried out a lot and he was able to stay ahead.”
Ninth place was the best result of Matthew’s Junior Max career to date but even more encouraging was his pace with his best lap being just three hundredths of a second slower than the fastest lap of the race, leaving the Danny Cruttenden Motorsport driver in no doubt that had he been further up the grid at the start he would have been able to challenge his brother Shaun for outright victory.
“It was a good result from where we started and it felt really good to be quicker than Shaun. I was definitely quick enough to win and it shows how much progress I’ve made and how my race pace and racecraft have improved. I’ve got to sharpen up a bit more before the FKS season starts but its looking good.