‘Unbeatable’ Ash Hand reflects on 2009 – the year he truly ‘made his mark’

‘Unbeatable’ Ash Hand reflects on 2009 – the year he truly ‘made his mark’

01.01.2010: He might rate it as an ‘up-and-down’ year, but with victory in arguably the most prestigious event on the British karting calendar as well as further triumphs to both begin and end the campaign, it would be fair to describe 2009

He might rate it as an ‘up-and-down’ year, but with victory in arguably the most prestigious event on the British karting calendar as well as further triumphs to both begin and end the campaign, it would be fair to describe 2009 as the year in which Ash Hand truly came of age – and he admits that, at times, he was ‘unbeatable’.

Ash came out of the starting blocks in flying form with a dominant victory in the Kimbolton curtain-raiser for Formula Kart Stars (FKS), the same series that first set a certain Lewis Hamilton on the fast track for future superstardom, and one that now boasts the official backing of both the 2008 F1 World Champion and the sport’s influential ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.

Only one of his rivals was able to get to within five seconds of the Nuneaton star on that occasion, as he set out his stall as a bona fide British title contender in Junior Max – something that many, Ash included, would have struggled to believe given that he had first taken to the national stage only 12 months previously, as a mid-grid competitor in the less powerful Mini Max class. His progress in such a short space of time has been little short of meteoric, as the 15-year-old has quite literally come on in leaps and bounds to consistently take the fight to – and beat – drivers with far more experience under their belts.

What’s more, his searing Kimbolton performance made Ash the only competitor all year to receive a special ‘IOU’ from Ecclestone for being chosen as ‘Driver of the Day’ and for winning the first of the season’s three ‘F1 Sundays’. He would add another one to his CV in the Whilton Mill finale just under six months later, when by dint of a supremely intelligent drive he outwitted newly-crowned champion and season-long arch-rival Matt Parry during the course of a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat last lap to sign off on a high, bookend the year with very different but equally eye-catching victories – and elicit interest from ITV with a special feature on Central News.

“Kimbolton showed we can qualify well and race well too,” underlined the Maple Park ace, “and there aren’t many people who can say they’ve had an ‘IOU’ from Bernie Ecclestone, are there? That made me really proud. Then at Whilton, after about ten laps I was closing the gap to Matt quite well, and whilst I was remaining consistent he began to make a few little mistakes here and there – and with four laps to go I was right on his bumper!

“I overtook him straightaway to see if I could try and pull away, but he seemed to have more power than me down the straights so each time I got by, he was able to re-pass me. I had to figure out where I could overtake him that he wouldn’t be able to come straight back at me again, and after battling for a few more laps we went into the final lap with me in the lead.

“Matt passed me into Christmas Corner, so I decided to try to confuse him by sticking to the outside line whilst he concentrated on defending, making it look like I wasn’t going to try and grab the lead back again. He didn’t know where I was coming from or what I was planning, and going into the last corner I stayed wide again as he tucked in defensively and I was able to get the cut-back on him on the exit and just pip him across the line. I was extremely happy to have gone out there and out-raced the number one in the country in the final race of the year.

“Being filmed by ITV after that was quite a strange experience at first; I was extremely nervous with the interview being focussed so solely on me, but by the end of it I felt a lot more at ease and the team shooting it seemed to understand a lot more about what I do – I think they discovered that karting is a much bigger sport than they had actually expected! It certainly got me noticed with being on there too.”

It was, indeed, a superb way to wind up a year in which he truly justified his inclusion in specialist publication Motorsport News’ list of 50 drivers worth watching – as did similar triumphs in fellow national championship Super 1 at Rowrah and in the annual Kartmasters outing at PF International, by virtue of which he was able to race for the remainder of the campaign with the highly-coveted ‘GP’ plate adoring his P1 Racing kart as the winner of the sport’s very own ‘British Grand Prix’.

“When we went into the weekend we had hardly any engine power,” Ash recalled. “We then struggled in the pre-final on the wrong set-up and I thought we had no real hope; with Matt being on pole for the grand final, I thought he was going to walk it – but we got the set-up sorted, the kart was really quick and we were able to beat him! It was one of the best results of my career, and it proved how good my mechanic Richard Amos is too.

“It was an up-and-down year overall, I’d say. There were parts that went really well – and at the beginning of the year we were unbeatable – but when the 2009 engines came out we struggled quite a bit for two or three months. By the end we were back on the leading pace again, and getting stronger and stronger all the time. Without the problems we had mid-season, we would have been a major title contender, without doubt.”

Upon examination, the engine woes were found to have cost Ash as much as two tenths of a second per lap, and after leaving Rowrah in April sitting a close and challenging second in the Super 1 title standings, the George Eliot School pupil arrived at Buckmore Park just under two months later only to see his bid collapse as quickly as the power evaporated. He wound up a strong fourth in FKS and 11th in Super 1 in the final reckoning.

“I think I’ve improved massively as a driver this year,” he concluded. “We went into the season with the best kit on the grid, and then halfway through we had the engine problems and fell off the pace – and I think that made me a better driver in having to compensate for where the kart was lacking, so in some ways that was actually a positive development, strange as it sounds. It’s been another really good learning year, and it all came together again really well by the end. I won a lot of big races – and I think I really left my mark on the grid.”

To keep up-to-date with Ash’s latest career news and results, please visit: www.p1r.co.uk

- RA -  photo Chris Walker kartpix.net

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/formula-kart-stars-fks-ash-hand-2009-kimbolton-raiser-bernie-ecclestone---74265.html

01.01.2010 / MaP

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