Having already proven himself to be a winner in Britain in his new class, talented North Wales karting star James Singleton has demonstrated that he will be a front-runner on the international stage this year, too, by exceeding his expectations with a top six finish in the 2012 Euro Rotax Challenge curtain-raiser at Genk in Belgium.
With his confidence buoyed by his breakthrough Senior Rotax class victory at PF International just over a month earlier, James travelled to Genk – a circuit around which he has an excellent record, and one that he describes as ‘fantastic to drive, and a lot of fun’ – feeling much more comfortable with his Coles Racing-prepared CRG chassis and full of praise for his new mount...but equally, under no illusions.
“We knew it would be a learning curve in Europe, and we were doing it to gain experience as much as anything else,” reflects the Senior Rotax rookie. “I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself, and although we were privately aiming to get inside the top ten, we knew it would be extremely tough. It was a massive field, bringing together the very best Rotax racers in the world.”
Very quick in practice amongst the 89 contenders, a combination of the wrong tyre pressures and traffic on his fastest runs in qualifying left James a disappointed 11th. Undeterred, a clutch of top five finishes in his four heat races elevated the Gwynedd Forklifts-backed, Conwy-based speed demon to seventh in the intermediate rankings, and he would begin the pre-final from the same position.
“I gained some ground at the start, and then focussed on chasing down the three leaders,” he recounts. “I pulled them right in and went for a move on Ed Brand in third, but he stayed wide to take the better line for the following corner and was able to hang me out on the outside. Several drivers behind managed to get past as I was pushed over the rubber, and that left me with dirt on my tyres, which always takes a few laps to get rid of.
“The trouble is, you make one little mistake and that tends to compound, and it’s a lot more punishing when you go off-line in Europe than in Britain. The racing was also more aggressive than I had expected it to be, and that knocked my confidence a bit and caused me to fall backwards. I think my lack of experience at Senior Rotax level in terms of racecraft counted against me, and that was a shame, because my kart was fantastic – probably quick enough to win. It was the driver that was the problem...”
A characteristically candid appraisal, James ultimately took the chequered flag just 14th, albeit barely five seconds adrift of the race-winner and having set some very competitive lap times along the way. The all-important grand final later in the day would happily go rather better.
“I said to my dad on the grid, ‘I’m going to go around the outside at the start – it might work or it might not, but I’ve got to give it a try’,” recollects the highly-rated young Penmaenmawr hotshot and MSA Academy member. “I got away well and was briefly up into the top ten, but then going through the last part of Turn One, someone ahead got spun round and straight into me, which knocked me down to 18th.
“I then worked together with the driver in front to climb through the field, and I got into sixth with a handful of laps to go. In the closing stages, the five leaders began battling and defending against each other, which allowed me to reel them in, but I didn’t get properly onto the back of them until the very last corner. If we’d had just one more lap, it could have been an altogether different outcome. Still, we were over-the-moon to finish sixth and to be on the same pace as the leaders – and it’s always nice to end the weekend on a high.”
Outpacing and outracing a good many drivers with considerably more experience than him at Senior Rotax level, James is swiftly getting to grips with his new challenge, and his eye-catching form thus far augurs well indeed for the remainder of the campaign. Ninth in the championship standings after the opening round – a mere seven points shy of fourth – the 16-year-old Ysgol Aberconwy pupil is palpably punching above his weight, and his target of consistent top ten finishes over the forthcoming meetings looks to be well within reach.
“It’s going to be a very hard year, with some excellent drivers out there in Senior Rotax,” he acknowledges. “We’re certainly not expecting to win – the whole game plan is to consistently improve and pick up the pace ahead of a proper title assault in 2013 – but if we can get some decent results along the way, all the better.”
James is seeking sponsors to help support his burgeoning career; if you are interested in backing him, please contact his father Mark on 07795 297350