Jordan King refused to let an uncharacteristically off-colour qualifying performance defeat him in the fourth outing of the 2012 Formula Renault Northern European Cup (NEC) at Assen in the Netherlands, as he battled his way determinedly to a brilliant rostrum finish that has kept his title hopes very much alive.
Despite never having raced at Assen before, King had proven to be extremely quick there during winter testing and headed into the weekend in bullish mood. Describing the track layout as mega, the talented young Warwickshire single-seater ace made an encouraging start in practice by lapping consistently inside the top four amongst the 30 NEC contendersbut unbeknown to him at the time, his problems were already beginning.
I really enjoy the circuit, he enthused. Every corner is really flowingyoure always turning, even down the straightand thats the kind of challenge I love. The only trouble was, we didnt put new tyres on in practice, which meant we didnt realise you get just one hot lap on themand that hurt us in qualifying.
On my first lap in the first session, everything was going really well but then entering the last cornera flat-out left-handerit was really gusty and that caught me off-guard, causing me to lose the rear of the car. Once I had cleaned my tyres up and found myself some clear air, I started pushing againbut the grip had gone. It was all just a bit of a nightmare.
The outcome was a distinctly unaccustomed 14th place, from where the target for race one was predominantly damage limitation.
With Assen being so tight-and-twisty in parts, its not a track that lends itself naturally to overtaking, revealed the highly-rated Stoneleigh-based speed demon. It was also pretty dusty due to the wind, so if you went off-line to pass somebody, it then took a couple of laps to clean your tyres up and you had to wait a while before being able to attack again.
It was quite slippery off the racing line, so you had to pick your moments carefully, but we had good speed in the race and I was pleased with the progress we made. I was pretty satisfied to make up six positions, and had we been able to start higher up the order, Im pretty confident we had the pace to challenge for the podium.
A better fastest lap than the winner corroborated Kings conviction, and eighth at the chequered flag in his Manor MP Motorsport machine at least salvaged something from a potentially disastrous situation. From a rather more representative fourth on the grid, race two the following day would happily go significantly better.
The track had cleaned up quite a lot by then, which made it slightly easier to overtake off-line, related the 18-year-old British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) Rising Star and MSA Academy member. I got a really good start to move immediately up to second, but then I spent too long trying to find a way past the leader, which probably cost me the win, in hindsight.
I eventually managed to overtake him, but in so doing I ran wide on the exit of the corner and because he had been holding me up for so long, the pack behind had caught us and a couple of other drivers were able to take advantage of my loss of momentum to pass me.
I worked my way through to the front again, but there was another driver who had maybe been just that bit sharper in fighting his way through the traffic and when he got up behind me, it was impossible to hold him off. I tried to keep him at bay for as long as I could, but ultimately, whilst obviously it would have been nice to get the win, I was happy to finish second as I was still in front of the championship leader.
Winding up as the top British driver in the field, the result marked a much brighter conclusion to proceedings than had looked may be the case after qualifying. Next up is the Red Bull Ringformerly Austrian F1 venue the A1 Ringwhere King will arrive lying second in the points table, 33 markers adrift of the leader. Although he has never competed there before either, it rarely takes the Hugo Boss brand ambassador long to get to grips with new circuitsand he is palpably fired-up to step things up a gear in his quest to clinch the NEC crown.
The gap to the championship leader has increased a little, but Im not too worried, to be honest, he mused in conclusion. Its far from irretrievable. Were on the back foot slightly so we need to consistently beat him now, but I know were capable of doing that. Were very much still in contention. Weve had a lot of podiums this year, so the focus has clearly got to be on getting the win. Its definitely there for the taking.