Eye-catching Anderton stuns observers on European debut and step-up in class

Ryan Anderton left observers and his rivals alike with mouths agape on his international debut in the 2012 Euro Rotax Challenge curtain-raiser at Genk in Belgium – and despite a double step-up in class, the talented young Somerset karting star took to his new surroundings like the proverbial duck to water.

After ranking an excellent third in the country in the MSA British Cadet category of the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship in 2011, Ryan has graduated to the more powerful Mini Max class with Coles Racing for the forthcoming national campaign. When an eleventh-hour opportunity then presented itself to enter the Euro Rotax Challenge one notch further up the ladder still at Junior Rotax level, the highly-rated Glastonbury-based hotshot admits it was too good to refuse.

“I was really looking forward to it, but at the same time, I knew we would be up against it,” he confessed. “I had no chance to try the kart out beforehand, and the top ten or so drivers are all of an extremely high calibre. It was all a bit last-minute, to be honest, so we were fully expecting it to be a big learning curve and we weren’t too sure where we would shake out in the pecking order.

“There are quite a few similarities in terms of the two karts’ characteristics; the brakes are sharper on the Junior Rotax, but it has power in all the same places as the Mini Max – there’s just a bit more of it, and as far as I’m concerned, the faster, the better!

““Coles is a new team for us, but I’ve settled in really well. It’s clearly a very successful and professional outfit, with an excellent record in the sport, and I’ve already established a good relationship with my mechanic there. I’m confident we can have a strong season together.”

Grinning like a Cheshire cat the first time he climbed out of his new kart, Ryan acknowledged that his familiarity with Genk – he is a former podium-finisher there in FKS – was a help, and he got down to business impressively quickly, lapping on the leading pace immediately and ending practice firmly ensconced inside the top three.

Buoyed by words of encouragement from his mechanic, the St. Dunstan’s Community School pupil sped to the fastest time in his group in qualifying, placing him a superb second overall in the bumper, 66-strong field, a mere hundredth shy of the outright benchmark and toasting a ‘brilliant’ start. From there, he headed into his three heat races with his tail up – only the first of them would go far from according to plan.

“My engine wouldn’t fire up on the grid,” he recounted, “and after I finally got it going, I was unable to regain my original position. That left me right in amongst the pack and with it all to do, and I then got shunted off in the first corner – one of the hazards of beginning the race in the middle of the field. I was 21st at the end of the opening lap, but I was coming through very quickly and was almost back into the top ten when I went for a move on the driver ahead and he turned in on me. The impact was enough to throw me out of my kart...”

Bravely getting back in again, Ryan ultimately took the chequered flag down in 22nd position when his lap times made it clear that but for his engine issue, the top three at the very least would have been on. Battered but unbowed, in heat two, he demonstrated that he was swiftly adapting to the no-holds-barred hostilities with an excellent third place.

The 12-year-old crossed the finish line an even more eye-catching second in heat three, right in the wheeltracks of the race-winner, but all that hard work was subsequently undone when his kart was excluded for being marginally underweight – the legacy of an early red flag that had necessitated four extra laps and more fuel than had been anticipated. Without that misfortune, Ryan would have lined up inside the top ten for the pre-final; as it was, he was 41st in the intermediate standings and 13th on the grid for the dreaded second-chance repêchage. “The pressure was really on, because I knew that if I didn’t finish inside the top six, we would be going home there and then,” he reflected. “It was a real dogfight of a race, and it was a relief to get through it in third after all the bad luck we’d had in the heats.”

Be that as it may, Ryan still had a mountain to scale from 31st on the pre-final grid – but his searing charge through the field to gain a staggering 27 places in just 11 laps and wind up less than two seconds away from victory was truly magnificent to behold.

“There was mayhem at the start, with so many drivers piling into each other, but I managed to thread my way through it all and progressed to 15th,” he recollected. “I then picked up my pace a little to move into the top ten, and I was catching the guys in front when a few late collisions lifted me to fourth. I could honestly never have expected to get that far up given where we had started – it was a really enjoyable race, and we were over-the-moon with the result.

“After that, most of the others had saved a set of new tyres for the grand final, but ours were getting quite used by then because we’d had to put them on early to make sure of getting through the repêchage. That meant we didn’t have the grip we needed, which made things difficult, and a few changes had left us a bit down-on-power, too. I was being attacked everywhere, and I had to drive a really defensive race. 

“People would just come past me and I couldn’t do a thing about it – I would catch them through the twisty infield section, and then they would pull away down the straights. I was pleased that we were able to hold onto seventh place in the end, and I was very glad to see the chequered flag – because it was getting harder to hang on by the lap!”

Ending the weekend joint-fifth in the championship – only 12 points off the lead and five shy of second place – Ryan ably proved that he will be a force to be reckoned with indeed this year, and if the majority of his rivals are significantly older, bigger and more experienced than him, he outpaced and outraced them with brio. He might not know the remainder of the tracks on the calendar, but the West Country ace is palpably up for the fight – and after all, nothing fazed him in Belgium.