• ‘Bobster’ beats the best at Trent Valley.• Foul weather can’t spoil Thompson’s title joy.
Hornchurch’s fastest teenager Bobby Thompson has won the first major Junior Rotax karting title of the 2012 season as he raced to victory in the Trent Valley Kart Club Winter Series at the Paul Fletcher International circuit in Lincolnshire.
The 15 year-old Emerson Park school student will be battling for glory in his 75mph kart in this year’s Formula Kart Stars Championship, the same series that helped launch the careers of current F1 stars Lewis Hamilton and Paul Di Resta and which is supported by Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management company, and his first title since 2007 is the perfect tonic.
Widely acknowledged as the best circuit in the UK, PF International will become the first British circuit to host a round of the World Karting Championships for more than 40 years this July and the 50-satrong entry list for the Winter Series contained all the leading contenders in the Junior Rotax class.
Bobby, known throughout the karting paddock as ‘Bobster’ arrived at the Lincolnshire venue with a slender nine point advantage over his nearest rival Ash Whiteman. With two treacherous heats to get through before the all-important points scoring final the teenage racer had a lot of pressure to cope with, a situation not helped by the fact that the grey but dry skies seen during Saturday’s practice session were replaced by dark and rain-filled clouds for race day.
“I felt quite confident going into the meeting as I have generally been faster than Ash Whiteman in the first three rounds,” recalled the Vital Motorsport driver. “I wasn’t really nervous and my team just told me to race my own race and not to worry about and the points. I was happy with the wet set-up, which gave me a boost as it’s harder to get the right set-up in the wet but I have worked with Gaz (Vital team boss Gary Rolfe) and Tonykart for so long that he had the set-up bang on from the start.”
Bobby had drawn 10th and 27th for the heats, the results of which set the grid for the final so he knew that with a full field there were plenty of potential hazards to negotiate on the opening laps.
True to form, Bobby had to use his lightning quick reactions to get through the first couple of corners unscathed in heat one, moving from tenth to fourth place.
“I had to avoid few fireworks at the start and dodged a few crashes before everyone settled down,” stated Bobby, who remained fourth and waited for the trio in front, including his title rival Whiteman, to start battling in the closing stages.
“In the last couple of laps I really caught the group of karts in front of me,” said Bobby, who moved onto Whiteman’s rear bumper on the final lap. “I took a tight line into the Fullerton Esses and went over the kerb as I turned in to pass Ash. As soon as I passed him I knew I would be quicker coming out of the corner as his rhythm had gone. We had Kyle Fowlie behind us and I knew Ash would have to defend from him down the back straight so I took my normal racing line and pulled away.”
With half the job done and a strong third place finish in the bag Bobby still had a mountainous task in his final heat from the 14th row of the grid and with the rain intensifying, track conditions were worse than ever.
Mindful of the possibility of getting caught up in other people’s accidents Bobby was preparing to make a cautious start from the right hand side of the grid but, as he explains, circumstances dictated otherwise.
“The weather was getting really bad and as we crossed the line a lot of people thought there was a false start and didn’t pick up speed. I moved to the left, which was the faster lane and there were people flying off everywhere in the first corner but I got through and picked up more places going onto the banking.”
Already into the top 20, Bobby’s dramatic opening lap wasn’t over yet.
“As we came off the bridge I took a tight line into the first hairpin and gained two more places and then committed to the inside line at the second hairpin. There was a crash right in front of me but luckily they went to the outside so that plan worked as well.”
Bobby finished the opening lap in 16th place and with his kart really suiting the sodden conditions he continued his rapid climb up the order, passing another eight karts by lap four.
“I knew I was quick through the first section of the track and I was one tenth faster than everyone else on the new extension,” said Bobby, who grabbed sixth place on the penultimate tour. “The kart was set-up really well for the tight sections and coming out of corners so it was easy to make moves and pull away.”
Just like the final lap of the first heat Bobby found himself sitting on Whiteman’s rear bumper as the chequered flag approached but unlike the first heat, Bobby remained more circumspect this time.
“I was really determined although when Gus Greensmith overtook Ash and I had a chance to go through I didn’t because I didn’t want to risk a crash.”
Taking the chequered flag in sixth position gave Bobby some more excellent grid points and secured him fourth place on the grid for the final, one place in front of Whiteman.
Some furious calculations during the break between the heats and final revealed that, with a nine point advantage Bobby could afford to finish sixth in the final IF Whiteman was victorious but a combination of the full grid and the unpredictable weather meant nothing could be taken for granted.
“We went to a different tyre which came on a bit later in the race so I had to be really careful for the first few laps,” said Bobby, who slipped to fifth in the early stages of the final but remained ahead of Whiteman, who was scrapping for sixth. “When the race settled down and my tyres came up to temperature I was able to keep a big gap behind me and I knew Ash was five kart lengths back.”
As the final progressed Bobby and Luke Whitworth began catching third placed driver Harry Webb but with Whiteman still lurking Bobby had to make a tough call regarding whether or not to risk a move on those in front or sit tight behind them and hope that Whiteman wouldn’t catch them.
“As my tyres got better I worked with Luke Whitworth but we caught Harry Webb and I started to worry about the group behind catching us up,” commented Bobby. “But instead of battling I decided to stay where I was rather than make a mistake by pushing too hard and get caught by Ash.
“I went into the last lap like any other lap. I wasn’t too cautious as I didn’t want to lose concentration. I made sure I was safe though and didn’t take any unnecessary kerbs.”
Bobby negotiated the final couple of corners safely in fifth position and with Whiteman getting demoted to seventh there would be no last second drama and when the chequered flag flew Bobby knew he was champion, even if it took a little while for him to fully realise it.
“I knew I had won the title as soon as I crossed the finishing line but I don’t think it sunk in until I was half way around the slowing down lap and I looked at the pit wall and saw the team and my family going crazy,” concluded Thompson with a smile. “It’s a great thrill to win the title against lots of strong competition and I’d like to thank my parents, Vital Motorsport, Grice Engines and Dolly the Bulldog. This is a great achievement for the whole team and I know I have the pace to compete for wins in Formula Kart Stars.”
Bobby’s Formula Kart Stars Junior Rotax campaign gets under way at Kimbolton near Peterborough on Easter Weekend.