On form Anderton returns to rostrum with big step forward at Ellough

Ryan Anderton has bounced back from a disappointing start to his British karting campaign in 2012 with a front-running performance on the European stage – and his first national podium in more than nine months.

Having stunned on his international debut in the Euro Rotax Challenge by qualifying an outstanding second in an ultra-competitive, 66-strong Junior Rotax class field at Genk in Belgium, Ryan headed to Wackersdorf in Germany for round two needing to get to grips with a circuit that he had never so much as set eyes upon before. Right from the outset, the talented young Somerset speed demon would again prove to be blisteringly quick, matching his Belgian qualifying prowess – and leading the British charge.

His three heat races yielded fourth, fifth and seventh places, followed by a laudably consistent pre-final in which the highly-rated Glastonbury-based hotshot took the chequered flag seventh. Ryan was subsequently vying for a top five spot during the grand final when he found himself unceremoniously punted off by an errant adversary midway through. Given that he lost in the region of nine seconds and finished just 8.9 seconds adrift of the winner, with a better fastest lap to his credit to-boot, well, as the Americans would say, do the math...

“That was incredibly frustrating,” he reflected, “because we had been on for some really good points, but we’re still well-placed in the championship in sixth halfway through the season, just three points away from the driver in fourth – and I would definitely have taken that if you had offered it to me at the beginning of the year!”

With his tail up off the back of his German brio, Ryan headed next to Ellough Park Raceway in Suffolk for rounds three and four of the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship – and duly maintained his impressive form.

“We’d had a steady first couple of rounds at Kimbolton,” he explained. “We hadn’t had the speed we wanted, but we did manage to salvage some decent points nonetheless. We were hoping to do a lot better at Ellough – and happily, we did! We were much nearer to the pace. It’s a very bumpy circuit, which makes it quite physical to drive and demands quite a bit of strength, but it’s really enjoyable at the same time.”

Despite having benefitted from less testing mileage than the majority of his Mini Max rivals, the St. Dunstan’s Community School pupil refused to let that hold him back and demonstrated an immediate improvement over Kimbolton by qualifying a close fourth on Saturday and converting that into a brace of strong heat performances.

“Being on the outside line on the grid, I had to fight my way across at the start both times, and I was reasonably pleased to finish fifth in heat one,” he recounted. “In heat two, I got into second and managed to pull clear of the drivers behind me, but I couldn’t quite catch the leader who had got away at the start. We were lapping at almost exactly the same pace, so it was impossible to make any impression on him but we were still very happy to finish second.”

Beginning the final in second place – on the unenviable outside line once more – Ryan proceeded to embroil himself in a fierce duel for the bottom step of the podium with Connor Mills.

“I dropped a position at the start, and the two leaders worked together initially to tow each other away from the rest of us,” he recalled. “Over the second half of the race, I had Connor right behind me piling the pressure on, but I always felt I had everything under control as when he didn’t pass me straightaway, I thought, ‘he’s not really any faster than me’.

“I kept my head and defended well enough to hold him at bay, and then a mistake from him on the last lap secured my third place. By pushing each other so hard, we actually caught the leaders by the end, so it was a shame they had got away at the start as without that, I could probably have fought for victory – but third place still represented a big step forward from Kimbolton, and it definitely felt good to be back on the podium for the first time in quite a while.”

Another national trophy for the cabinet – his first since August last year – Ryan crossed the finish line a scant eight tenths of a second shy of victory. The next day, the 12-year-old progressed from sixth in qualifying to fifth in his opening heat race, but his efforts to progress even further in heat two were scuppered when the driver alongside him on the grid was spun round into him at the start, leaving him with a bent chassis and a long way behind the pack. Notwithstanding some scintillating lap times from thereon in, the damage was already done.

“I began the final eighth and got a great start to move immediately up to fifth,” continued the Coles Racing ace. “I passed another driver to take fourth on the second lap and later overtook Alfie Brown for third, but he came straight back at me and in so doing ran me out wide onto the rubber. That allowed Connor Mills past me as well and left me with dirt on my tyres.

“For a while, the three of us scrapped literally nose-to-tail over third place – each of us was strong at different parts of the circuit, which made for a really close and enjoyable battle – but then Connor pulled away a little and Alfie unfortunately went off the track. That removed the pressure from behind and left me on my own in fourth, so I just concentrated on bringing it safely home from there. We were catching the leaders again by the end, but ran out of laps.”

Closing to a mere 1.4 seconds away from the winner, it was a superb showing and the race’s fastest lap only served to underline Ryan’s raw pace. A quantum leap forward in terms of competitiveness since Kimbolton, the West Country star’s consistency, racecraft and excellent points haul have vaulted him up to third spot in the title standings – and, as he switches his focus now to the next FKS outing at Larkhall in Scotland, primed to attack.

“I’m not a massive fan of Larkhall,” he mused, “but we went well there in Comer Cadets last year to finish fourth in the national Super 1 Series, so the aim has to be to go a bit better still in Mini Max. If we can keep everything nice and consistent, we’ll see how it all shakes out.”