Brave Singleton goes down fighting in thrilling FKS finale

Brave Singleton goes down fighting in thrilling FKS finale

08.10.2009: North Wales’ leading karting star James Singleton demonstrated just how much he has improved this year with a peerless drive to triumph in the last meeting on the 2009 Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship

North Wales’ leading karting star James Singleton demonstrated just how much he has improved this year with a peerless drive to triumph in the last meeting on the 2009 Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship calendar – and the performance was almost enough to see him pinch the title from under the noses of his two main rivals into the bargain.

James headed into the double-header finale at Whilton Mill in Northamptonshire as an outsider in the chase for the coveted Mini Max crown, sitting fourth in the drivers’ standings – but proudly sporting the #4 on his Coles Racing kart after having proven himself as one of the top five drivers in Britain in fellow national series Super 1 a fortnight earlier, he was undeniably in fighting mood, if at the same time realistic about his prospects.

“We had to win pretty much everything and score maximum points to stand a chance,” he explained, “but because FKS is so competitive and Jack Barlow and Harry Crawley are both very quick drivers at the top of their game who weren’t going to want to back down, I didn’t see that happening if I’m honest.

“Whilton Mill is a very bumpy and demanding circuit that tests your endurance a lot. You need to constantly adapt to what the track is doing there more than at any other circuit, which makes getting the set-up right quite an issue – but on the Friday we were flying, quickest by three tenths of a second all day long. That was a confidence boost and made us believe we really did have a chance, but as the weekend went on the others just seemed to catch us up.”

Untouchable in qualifying the following day – “nobody could really keep up with us; I’d expected to be fast, but not that fast,” James admitted – the Conwy ace eased to pole position by two tenths of a second, the same margin that blanketed second place all the way back to sixth.

Going on to lead the pre-final from lights-out to chequered flag – expertly fending off Crawley from start-to-finish – a similarly dominant showing in the all-important grand final later in the day saw the pair scamper off into a race of their own, leaving champion-elect Barlow trailing as the Penmaenmawr speed demon proved to have the legs of both of his adversaries and crucially upped his pace in the closing stages with a stunning fastest lap time that broke his pursuers’ spirits as he extended his advantage to six tenths at the chequered flag.

“Luckily my kart started to come on towards the end of the race just as Harry’s was going off,” James recounted of the pre-final. “That was enough to give me the breathing space I needed. It was very intense with him being right behind me for 17 laps; I was just trying to concentrate on my own race, but near the end I couldn’t help but wonder about where he was, and that meant I started making mistakes that I shouldn’t have. Fortunately I just about had the edge over him the whole way through, and he was never able to try a move.

“My start was pretty good in the grand final, and initially I managed to get a bit of a break before Harry caught me, and then he stayed right with me again for the first 18 laps. The pressure was even worse than it had been in the pre-final, but towards the end I was just able to pull away from him a touch. To go across the line to win and score pretty much maximum points from the day – it couldn’t really get any better than that...”

‘Pretty much’ maximum points alluded to the fact that James had been narrowly pipped to the overall fastest lap – and the extra ten points that accompany it – by Barlow, the only fly in the ointment on an otherwise perfect day. Whilst that may have been a blow to his title hopes, nonetheless he had successfully reduced the deficit, but qualifying the following day swiftly turned into a nightmare, as persistent issues with traffic contrived to leave the 13-year-old – one of the youngest drivers in the Mini Max class, open to competitors as old as 17 – third on the grid, something of a miracle save in itself given that for most of the session he had languished down outside of the top ten. And then the race would provide a truly bittersweet ending...

“We were really happy with how Saturday had gone,” he mused, “and went into the next day with a big smile on our faces and feeling really fired-up. I was confident of being able to retain that kind of pace and stay at the front, but then when I went out in qualifying people just seemed to always be getting in my way on my fast laps – having to overtake someone will always cost you time.

“The championship was pretty much over after that – Jack had to come off for me still to have any chance – so I just wanted to go out in the final and do the best I could. Unfortunately, we hadn’t got the gearing quite right which meant I made a bad start, and during the race the kart wasn’t coming off the corners as it should have been, which left us about a tenth off the pace all the way through. It didn’t come on very well in the beginning, which allowed Jack and Harry to pull away and Bobby Thompson came past me too.

“I managed to hold onto the back of him until my kart came on and then got back past again, but by then there was too much of a gap ahead to catch the two leaders. Plus, because Whilton is just so physical I could barely hold onto the kart or hold my head up by the end; 20 minutes was the longest race I’d ever done around there – it felt like it went on for about an hour!

“We were happy to get a podium in our last-ever Mini Max race, but if we hadn’t had the two bad rounds we did earlier in the year, I really think we could have won the title – the first round at Kimbolton which we messed up, and the pre-final at PF when I finished 13th really didn’t do us any good in terms of the championship. Still, we were quite pleased with third in the standings in the end – we had really wanted to get the chance to go and race in America for finishing first, but we’ll just have to do that in Junior Max instead!”

Indeed, with three victories to his name from nine finals – two more than the champion – in the same series that first set none other than a certain Lewis Hamilton on the fast track to future F1 glory, and one that now boasts the prestigious official patronage of both the sport’s youngest-ever world champion and its influential ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, James has every right to be proud of what he has accomplished in 2009, incredibly only his second season of competition in karting.

Having barely been off the rostrum year-long and having turned a number of heads with his commendable consistency for one so comparatively inexperienced, people have been made to sit up and take note. As he readies himself to graduate now to Junior Max – beginning this weekend with a club meeting at Clay Pigeon in Dorset, what he acknowledges will be something of a baptism of fire in being thrown straight in at the deep end with no prior testing under his belt on his new mount – the Ysgol Aberconwy pupil is keen to begin his new challenge, with a winter of testing ahead to get himself up-to-speed in preparation for what he hopes will be a 2010 campaign in which he goes two spots better than in 2009.

“Back at the beginning of the year, I expected to get the odd podium here and there and maybe get a single number at the end of the season if we could,” he concluded, “but we never expected to be on the podium in practically every round! It’s been a very good year...

“Going into Junior Max, I guess I’m ready to get bullied again – I’m sure I’ll be initiated into the class by everyone ‘welcoming’ me in their own special manner! I think the racing is going to be a lot more aggressive than in Mini Max, and in a way it’s going to be a bit like starting over. It will be an all-new playing field and a lot to get to grips with, but it’s exciting at the same time – and I’m definitely ready for it!”

James is seeking sponsors to support him in 2010, and if you are interested in backing North Wales’ brightest young F1 hope, please contact his father Mark on 07795 297350 or at:

- RA - photo Chris Walker


08.10.2009 / MaP

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