Determined Whitworth snatches well-earned podium on damage limitation weekend

Luke Whitworth demonstrated his superb racecraft in the second outing of 2012 in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship at Ellough Park Raceway, by grittily battling his way to a hard-earned podium finish that has kept him firmly in the title battle on an off-colour weekend.

After taking the chequered flag third in the Kimbolton curtain-raiser in Cambridgeshire, Luke travelled even further east to Suffolk in bullish spirits, sitting sixth in the Junior Rotax class points table – and targeting another rostrum.

“I quite enjoy Ellough as a circuit,” confessed the talented young Rotherham speed demon. “Having achieved my first national podium there at the end of 2010 gave me confidence, and I felt reasonably optimistic going into the weekend. The layout is so fast-and-flowing that you never really get a break around the lap, and with such long races in FKS, it was a real physical test, too, so fitness played a sizeable part.”

In a fiercely-competitive, 19-strong field – in which the top ten drivers were all of an extremely high calibre indeed – Luke was pleased to qualify fourth on Saturday, placing him comfortably in the ballpark for the day’s two heat races, albeit having to start on the unenviable outside line. From there, the highly-rated Wickersley-based hotshot secured two very solid finishes in sixth and fifth places – although already, his kart troubles were beginning to make themselves known.

“It was one corner mainly where we were losing out, and whatever we tried, I could never seem to pull away from it quickly enough,” he explained. “Given that the following corner represented a massive overtaking opportunity, I frequently lost even more time as I was always vulnerable to attack.

“What’s more, with the racing being as close as it was, consistency was particularly important and we were lacking a little in that respect in heat one. We made some changes for heat two that seemed to help matters a bit, though, as we lapped second-quickest and finishing fifth secured us the same position on the grid for the final.

“I managed to move up into third place pretty much straightaway, but the two leaders were able to make an early break. I was just focussing on trying to keep everything nice and consistent, and I had a good fight with Bobby Thompson at one stage; we exchanged third place several times until he fell back into the clutches of the guys behind. That took the pressure off me a bit and meant I could concentrate on just driving my own race, and in the end we got the result we had wanted, so we were happy with that.”

Justifiably so, and by maturely retaining his composure and setting his own personal fastest lap on the penultimate tour, Luke pulled almost a second-and-a-half clear of his pursuers by the time the flag fell, and his second podium from three FKS starts in 2012 was richly-deserved.

Qualifying the following day was every bit as tightly-contested as Saturday’s session, and although the 17-year-old MSA Academy member lapped a mere tenth of a second shy of the leading pace, that was enough to leave him down in fifth place.

There followed what he described as two ‘scrappy’ heats, finding himself clipped from behind in the first of them and making limited progress back through the order with such small gaps in performance up-and-down the field. In heat two, following a lightning getaway that vaulted him immediately from fifth into second, thereafter Luke struggled to maintain the pace and ultimately slipped back to sixth, placing him tenth on the grid for the final.

“I managed to get across to the inside at the start and actually succeeded in making up five positions into fifth,” recalled the Wickersley School and Sports College student, “but the racing was really aggressive and I later lost a few places because we didn’t have the pace to fight as hard as we needed to. I ran in tenth for most of the race, but then in the closing stages, the leaders all began battling and defending against each other, and that had the effect of backing the whole pack up.

“The field concertina-d together so much that by the start of the last lap, the first ten of us or so were all in one long train. There was a collision ahead of me, which I was able to safely navigate my way past to gain a couple of places, but then there was another one at the very next corner and I simply had nowhere to go. Sadly, the damage to my kart was too bad to continue.

“It was obviously a disappointing way to end, but I’ve already put that behind me and am looking forward to the next round. It wasn’t a disaster for the championship by any means. There’s a long way to go yet and we scored some excellent points in most of the other races over the weekend, so we’ve just got to keep our heads up and take the positives away. It was certainly encouraging to finish on the podium on Saturday considering we were far from happy with the kart.”

Indeed, notwithstanding his ill-fortune, Luke has successfully narrowed the gap to the championship leader from 43 points to 29 heading next to Larkhall in Scotland – and having consummately dominated the last time he competed there, the P1 Racing ace admits he will return north of the border in positive mood.

“In the club meeting we entered there a few weeks ago, we were very quick and won three out of four races as well as setting a new lap record in Junior Rotax,” he mused. “I know the competition will be strong again in FKS, but it was strong at the club meeting, too, with so many local specialists present, so I’m feeling confident and the goal has to be to gain some more ground in the championship standings.”

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