• Senior Max ace fast but out of luck in Winter Cup.• Wigan lap record falls in determined display.
One of the keys to being a successful racing driver is not to dwell on races which don’t go as planned and to bounce back quickly, something which Littleborough’s Andy King did in fine style in the opening two races of his 2012 Senior Rotax campaign.
On the heels of his third place finish in last year’s Super One Senior Rotax Championship and his stunning drive to tenth in the prestigious Rotax World Finals, the 19-year old Myerscough College student and his Strawberry Racing team were looking to pick up where they left off in the season opening Rotax Winter Cup at Campillos in Spain.
But despite being one of the fastest in a full international field of more than 30 drivers Andy, named by Motorsport News as number two on their annual list of ‘Drivers To Watch’ in 2012, didn’t leave the Malaga circuit with the result he had hoped for.
“We started testing on Wednesday and I used the first session to acclimatise myself with the kart, the circuit and the front brakes and as the day went on the pace kept coming and by the end of the day I was one of the fastest,” stated King somewhat modestly after finishing the opening practice session third overall.
King’s pace translated well into timed qualifying, where he set third fastest time, just over one tenth of a second slower than polesitter and fellow Briton Sean Babington around the demanding 1.6-kilometre Campillos circuit. Three heat races followed and with Andy starting from the inside of the second row of the grid the risk of being wiped out in any opening lap skirmishes were diminished, especially as Andy was no longer an unknown quantity to many of his foreign rivals.
“There were a lot more familiar faces and the competition was strong as usual,” said King, who finished third less than one second behind winner Harrison Scott in the opening heat and then went one better in heat two with a hard fought runner-up effort, again to Scott in heat two. “There were a lot of Juniors coming up to Seniors and this was their first time with the big boys so they had to earn their stripes like I had to at the World Finals last year.”
Searching for that elusive heat win Andy ran second in the opening stages of the third and final heat but wound up fifth, a finish that pushed him back to fourth in the intermediate rankings and meant a starting position on the dreaded outside row of the grid for the pre-final.
“Starting fourth wasn’t ideal as it meant I was on the outside line but it was still a potentially winning position,” recalled King. “But as we went into the first corner I got hit from behind and I went into Babington who was starting second and we both went into the gravel trap.”
With his back against the wall Andy showed his fighting qualities once again as he powered through the field, gaining 17 positions in 12 laps, setting the third fastest lap of the race as he picked off his rivals. But despite another of his trademark charging drives, not even the fact that he completed the opening lap 17-seconds behind eventual winner Charlie Eastwood and took the chequered flag just 13-seconds behind his countryman could help Andy’s mood.
“Luckily the kart was undamaged and from 35th I was able to catch and pass people until I got up to 18th. It was frustrating as we knew we were fast enough to win but that wouldn’t be much use from 18th on the grid for the final.”
Faced with a similar situation to that which he encountered in the Rotax World Finals last December, where he had to start 34th, Andy knew that he wouldn’t be able to rely on his superior fitness ahead of the long 18-lap race as temperatures weren’t too energy sapping.“It wasn’t too hot so the heat wasn’t a factor, that was a bit disappointing because if it was boiling then others would have got tired and my fitness would have put me at an advantage,” stated the National Diploma in Motorsport student. “I was starting 18th and I knew that my mindset had to be that if I saw a move I had to go for it.”
Utilising his ability to fight through traffic Andy gained nine positions in the first two laps until he came upon an un-named rival in eighth place who simply wasn’t going to be passed under any circumstances.
“I got up to ninth in the first three or four laps but as I was coming into the bottom corner I went for a move on eighth place and the driver just turned in on me and sent me up in the air and into the gravel again,” rued King, who found himself further back than where he started with tyres coated in dirt. “That was effectively game over and the rest of the race was just a salvage operation to pick up places where I could.”
Crossing the line in 20th position was certainly not what Andy or his mechanic Tom Fawcett had envisaged but Andy was able to console himself that the Winter Cup is a one off event and not part of the main Rotax Euro Challenge.
“It’s disappointing but I’ll take the highlights that we had the pace to win. That’s racing you win some you lose some and we had some bad luck. We didn’t get the result we wanted but we know we’ve got the pace in Europe to compete for wins and I know that will continue to improve through the year.”
King didn’t have time to dwell on what might have been as a few short days after returning to the UK he and his Strawberry Racing team were on the road again to the Three Sisters circuit in Wigan where several of the main contenders in this years Super One Senior Max Championship were using the latest round of the Manchester & Buxton Kart Club Championship as a test session ahead of the Super One round later this year.
“We thought we’d go to a track that is quite local to us as we knew we would get a lot of testing and that information and data would be useful later in the year,” stated King, who happens to be the lap record holder around the Valley and Club layouts at Three Sisters. “It was a top field with the likes of Ash Hand, Ross Wylie and Ryan Norris so I knew it would be a competitive event.”
With a large field the plan for the three heat races was to stay out of trouble, particularly as Andy had drawn 18th, 17th and fourth on the random grids. That goal achieved, Andy found himself starting fifth for the final.
“I started fifth but the poleman moved over to the middle of the track and slowed the inside row down as we went into the first corner and allowed the drivers starting second and fourth to slot in ahead of me, backing up the inside row even further,” commented Andy, who was about to embark on a record breaking afternoon, albeit one that didn’t start too well.
“As we went through the Valley my front right wheel got caught on Ash Hand’s rear bumper and that twisted the track rod. I could tell something was wrong straight away as the steering was very heavy when I tried to turn left and very light when I tried to turn right.”
Quickly getting to grips with the somewhat quirky handling characteristics of his kart Andy knuckled down and moved from fifth to third and began to chase the leading duo, who had pulled out a small lead. As the chase progressed Andy broke his own track record with a lap of 42.73-secvonds although such was his concentration, he didn’t know this at the time.
“I managed to get into third with four or five laps left and I really got my head down to try and catch the top two by getting a good tow down the straights. I was so focused on catching the leaders that I didn’t notice the time on my steering wheel.”
Still unaware of his record breaking pace, Andy made one final bold attempt to snatch victory.
“As we started the last lap I finally caught the tow of second place. Ross Wylie was leading but defending his line so I got the tow on Ash Hand and went for a move going into turn one. What I didn’t realise that I had also got a tow on the leader as well so as Ross broke for turn one I was still making my move on Ash.
“It was very close and I nearly grabbed the lead in one go but I had to back out at the last second to avoid a collision. That dropped me off line and I lost a place. The move nearly came off, even if some of it was a bit unintentional.”
Any lingering frustration at missing out on a podium finish was soon erased when he received news of his new track record. After all, the most important aspect of the weekend was to establish that Andy and the team have got the set-up and pace to win and Andy proved that he has the ultimate pace, even on a track which he admits shouldn’t favour him.
“After the race my dad came over to me and said I had broken the lap record. I was surprised as the situation I was in with the bent track rod wasn’t perfect,” concluded King. I’ve always been fast at Wigan but because it’s such a fast track and I have to put lots of weight onto my kart it is a track where in theory I should struggle, especially coming out of the corners. It was good to finish the day with the lap record and we learned a lot of valuable data for Super One.”