Welsh wizard Harvey back with a bang

 – with first British victory of 2012

Tom Harvey is back – and back with a bang. Following six months away from the competitive racing scene last year, the gifted young South Wales speed demon has regained his winning form on the British stage, with a magnificent triumph at Glan Y Gors.

Having graduated from a title-winning Comer Cadet campaign in the national Super 1 Series in 2010 to the more powerful KF3 level in 2011, a variety of issues led to Tom temporarily hanging up his helmet last May in order to take some time out and prepare fully for a transition to the Junior Rotax class in 2012, with the intention of coming back all guns blazing. He has done that and then some.

Limiting his track time to testing over the summer months, the highly-rated Bonvilston-based hotshot returned to the cut-and-thrust of active competition in November with KR-Sport – and duly won straight out-of-the-blocks at Shenington, somewhat fittingly the scene of his final outing in KF3 half-a-year earlier. Going up against some of the highest-ranked Junior Rotax competitors in the country, he defeated them all first time out...

“KR-Sport is a fantastic team with a lot of experience,” Tom enthuses. “All the guys do a brilliant job and really listen to what I tell them, and I’ve formed a special bond with the team manager, Ash – we can really relate to each other and he knows exactly how to motivate me. 

“He has won the British Championship as a team manager four times, which speaks for itself, and as a former racer, too, he always immediately understands what I’m saying. My driver coach Richard has played a vital role in helping to bring me on, as well, and my dad is my mechanic, so there’s still a family element there, which is nice.”

Treating Junior Rotax as a two-year plan, the Cowbridge Comprehensive School pupil is competing in Super 1 in 2012 – with the goal of becoming the youngest driver ever to race in the prestigious Rotax World Finals at the end of the year, before an anticipated step-up to European hostilities in 2013. Whilst acknowledging that he has set his targets high, Tom is equally confident about being able to meet them.

“Junior Rotax is very different to KF3,” he explains. “It’s more competitive, I would say, and the driver forms a more significant part of the package. In KF3, money is the defining element; in Junior Rotax, it’s talent. 

“There are so many drivers in Junior Rotax in Super 1 this year capable of winning races, so the standard is extremely high, and we’ve already seen some big names unexpectedly well down the order. The racing is incredibly tough, and you need to be absolutely on top of your game if you want to succeed – you need to be ‘on it’ every single time you hit the track, and consistency is crucial.”

After evincing tremendous promise only to find himself unceremoniously shunted off on the opening lap of the 2012 Super 1 curtain-raiser at Whilton Mill, Tom travelled to Glan Y Gors for round two buoyed by strong prior form there. Although he had never actually won around the undulating North Wales circuit, he was optimistic about his chances of breaking his duck, but fuel issues cost him almost half-a-second in qualifying – an eternity in such a tightly-contested field – and left him a distant 21st out of the 49 contenders. 

From there, the 14-year-old gained ground to finish his two heat races respectively eighth and seventh, but it was the following day when he would truly come into his own. Each driver is restricted to just one set of tyres over the weekend, and having deliberately conducted a lot of testing on older rubber the previous summer, when they began to deteriorate, Tom was suddenly right in the pound seats and as his rivals grappled around desperately for grip, he mastered the situation effortlessly. 

“I started the pre-final 15th, but got knocked down to 21st on the first lap,” he recounts. “That was obviously frustrating, but I pushed on and made up positions lap-after-lap to wind up ninth. Towards the end, there was a big group of drivers ahead of me all battling hard, but after what had happened earlier, I didn’t want to risk getting caught up in another accident, so I just used my head and backed off a bit to make sure I finished and secured a good starting position for the grand final.”

Musing that in the light of his sparkling speed, the top four might well have been possible but for his opening lap misfortune, the all-important grand final a couple of hours later would corroborate Tom’s conviction in style.

“We knew we had strong pace, so we were aiming for the top,” he admits. “I dropped a place at the start, but just a couple of corners later, I managed to pass three drivers in one go by out-braking them down the inside. That put me seventh, and I then closed rapidly on the driver in sixth and overtook him into the chicane. After that, the drivers ahead were fairly evenly spread-out, but I chased down and passed two of them to move up into fourth. 

“By that point, Rob Holland in third was a little way in front and lapping quickly, but by retaining my consistency, I eventually reeled him in. Shortly after I had passed him, the two leaders collided. I was able to take advantage of that to assume the lead, and although I still had Holland right on my tail and putting me under pressure, I just focussed on keeping my composure. For several laps, I could feel him buzzing round my back bumper like a bee, but I made no mistakes and managed to eke out a gap by the end. 

“The feeling when I crossed the line to win was amazing; the adrenaline rushes through you all throughout the race, and when the chequered flag comes down, suddenly it’s a massive release. It was a long, hard race in very hot conditions around a demanding and very physical circuit – Glan Y Gors has 14 corners, meaning you are constantly on-and-off the power and using pretty much every muscle in your body.”

Prevailing by 1.5 seconds when the flag fell, the result marked the Vale of Glamorgan ace’s first national triumph in more than a year-and-a-half – and a thoroughly well-deserved one at that. Better yet, it has vaulted Tom spectacularly up the championship table from 43rd after Whilton Mill to fourth on dropped scores, a mere five points shy of the leader – and given his all-conquering form in Cadets, the fact that he is palpably eager for more is ominous for his adversaries indeed...

“The win at Glan Y Gors is already in the history books,” he asserts, making a point of thanking KR-Sport, Cowbridge Comprehensive and sponsors RB Supplies, All Print Supplies, Vehicle Integration Products and THR Graphics. “We’re looking forward to the next round now. This result has proved to me that I can beat every single Junior Rotax driver in Britain, and more importantly still, after a difficult year in 2011, the confidence and feeling I had when I raced in Cadets is back.” 

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