Whitworth throws off ill-fortune to scythe through field to ‘O’ Plate trophy

Luke Whitworth took all the ill-fortune that was thrown at him in the prestigious ‘O’ Plate outing at Rowrah and cast it aside to storm his way through the field in the grand final – in so doing, not only earning a trophy for his determined efforts, but also delivering himself a timely injection of self-confidence into the bargain.

Notwithstanding a brace of podium positions in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars Championship, it has not been the start to 2012 that Luke had anticipated. After qualifying an outstanding second out of some 50 competitors in the national Super 1 Series curtain-raiser at Whilton Mill – compared with a 2011 best of 12th – the talented young Rotherham speed demon then backed that up with the same result in one of his two heat races, only for the finals the following day to be rained off.

There followed a disastrous second round at Glan Y Gors – where practically everything that could go wrong, did – meaning Luke arrived at demanding Cumbrian circuit Rowrah with something of a point to prove. Pitching himself against an intensely high-calibre field composed of 30 of the fastest Junior Rotax contenders in the country, he went on to do so in fine style.

“Rowrah is a really fun track to drive,” affirmed the highly-rated Wickersley-based hotshot. “It’s in a quarry, which makes it different to most other circuits, and because the wind changes direction quite frequently, kart set-up can be a bit of a nightmare. It’s challenging and undulating and tricky to get right – a real drivers’ track, with a great variety of corners, hairpins and chicanes. The kerbs make it pretty physical, too, so you need to be in good shape.

“It was a mega strong field, with most of the leading British names there, so the competition was extremely tough right from the start – and with the ‘O’ Plate being a one-off meeting and no championship points to play for, we knew the racing would be even harder than usual because everybody is chasing just one position.

“We’d not had the best results at Rowrah in the past, but we were really fast in testing and so went into the weekend feeling quite confident. Unfortunately, in qualifying, I didn’t read the traffic very well and got caught out in terms of track position. I was less than a quarter-of-a-second away from the pace, but in such a tight field, that was only good enough for 16th. It was the kind of session where you needed to get everything absolutely spot-on – and we didn’t.”

Whilst the outcome of qualifying was palpably not what Luke had been hoping for, his lap times were nonetheless impressively consistent. The racing in the heats was – as he had predicted – no holds-barred, but the 17-year-old MSA Academy member battled his way into the top ten in the opening encounter only for the axle on his P1 Racing kart to then snap. In heat two, he was again grittily fighting his way through the pack and on the verge of breaking into the top ten when a rival turned in on him.

The result was 20th place which, allied to his heat one DNF, left Luke a lowly 25th on the starting grid for the pre-final. His goal was to progress into the top ten to put him in the ballpark for the all-important grand final later in the day, and a gain of seven spots on the opening lap alone inarguably augured well.

“We concentrated on working our way through the order,” recollected the Wickersley School and Sports College student, “but then when I made a move on the driver ahead in 12th going into the second hairpin, I don’t think he saw me and there was contact. That put me on the grass and cost me several positions, and my kart was bent for the rest of the race so it wasn’t handling right.

“That left us with a mountain to climb from 17th on the grid in the grand final – but equally, we knew we still had a chance, because we had proved our pace with our lap times in the heats and pre-final. I got a decent start, and then made sure that every move I pulled counted. I removed the pressure from myself completely, and concentrated solely on moving forwards. Towards the end I got into fourth place, and then because there was a large gap ahead and we were all lapping at a similar speed, I focussed on retaining my position.

“I had the reigning British Junior Rotax Vice-Champion right behind me and breathing down my neck over the last five laps. I knew he had a lot of racing experience, but I’ve been in that kind of situation before and I just tried to learn from the mistakes I’d made in the past. I was always confident that I had the measure of him.”

And so it would transpire. In a truly masterful display, Luke ably demonstrated not only his superb overtaking prowess, but also his much-improved defensive skills, and the receipt of one of the four trophies on offer was thoroughly well-deserved. After a troubled start to the current campaign, things are, he hopes, finally looking up.

“We were very happy with what we managed to achieve,” concluded the Yorkshire ace. “I lapped third-fastest in the grand final – quicker than the three drivers who finished in front of me. That went to show what might have been but for everything that had happened earlier in the weekend. We still came away with a trophy, though, which is always nice, and having not had the best of luck so far in 2012, this has given us a real confidence boost. Hopefully we can keep it going!”

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