Kart Masters, the self-styled British Grand Prix of karting, is renowned for the fierceness and high-calibre of its racing. Its winner-takes-all nature means that every competitor raises their game in a bid to win the coveted GP number plates.
So it would be understandable for a driver to select a lesser event at which to return to racing. Not Joe Reilly, though. The former Junior Max Super One champion and Formula Renault BARC star-turned mechanic with Strawberry Racing, made a stunning comeback at PFi last weekend (3/4 August).
The Londoner posted the 6th-fatest time in qualifying, which saw twenty nine drivers separated by less than a second. His 8th, 3rd and 5th place finishes in the heats gave Joe a respectable 11th place on the grid for the pre-final.
The 2007 O Plate Junior Max champion and Euro Max runner-up showed that retirement had not dented his natural speed or talent as he charged up to 2nd place at the chequered flag.
At the start of the Grand Final, Reilly was shuffled down to 4th but was still within striking distance of the race leader. As the fight intensified, he lost two further places. By lap three, the race lead had changed and Reilly was on the move back up the order. A lap later, he was 3rd and pressing for 2nd place. By mid-distance, little more than two seconds covered the top ten, but Joe was under pressure from behind. With 30 seconds to go, Reilly snatched the lead, but in the space of two corners was pushed back to 5th. A thrilling last lap saw Joseph able to claw his back into 3rd, which he held to the finishing line, to complete a superb performance throughout the meeting.
Strawberry Racing team manager Warwick Ringham was both delighted and quite shocked by Joes success: Prior to the event, he had tested the kart just seven times. Joe decided to enter as a bit of fun and hasnt really driven a kart since he went to cars in 2009. To come back and lead the Grand Final was pretty amazing. Will he make a full time return to karting? I dont know - but I suspect hes quite keen now! Jai Nijjar was the teams only other entrant to the event, competing for Junior Max honours. He qualified in 8th spot following timed qualifying and the heats.Like Joe, he turned on the style and picked his way through to an excellent 3rd place at the finish of the pre-final. Sadly, his hopes of another podium, or indeed of victory, were dashed in the Grand Final. Jai held his starting position as the field plunged into the opening sequences of bends. He held station for several further laps, but as the combatants tripped over one another, Nijjar lost out and dropped back to an eventual 11th. Thats the nature of Kart Masters, Warwick observed. Everything has to go perfectly and you need a massive dose of good luck too. Jai drove really well in the first final, but made some mistakes in the second one, which cost him. Some of the other drivers werent racing cleanly and in those circumstances, it is always going to be hard. Still he learned a lot and gave a great account of himself, and thats all you can ask for.