If anyone was still in any doubt about just how far he has come over the past two seasons, then those doubts can now be laid well-and-truly to rest – as in clinching a superb top six final placing at the conclusion of the 2011, Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship at Ellough Park Raceway, Luke Whitworth determinedly staked his claim to being the most improved driver in Britain.
Having achieved his breakthrough national podium finish at Ellough in 2010 – there have been a good many more since – and having stormed to a brace of rostrums in the preceding 2011 outing at Whilton Mill, the talented young Rotherham speed demon returned to the Suffolk circuit with his tail up. Much like Whilton, Ellough is a fast, bumpy and physical track around which fitness plays a key role – and just the kind of challenge Luke relishes.
“We had been quick there before, so we had high expectations,” he affirmed. “Our results at Whilton Mill meant we went to Ellough on a real high, and although we knew there would be some stiff competition, we hadn’t been far from the pace in testing, so we were feeling pretty good about everything.”
With the Junior Max class contenders producing some tremendously close lap times and hard, competitive racing weekend-long, Luke went on to qualify fourth on the Saturday, firmly in the ballpark – but he admitted that he had been hoping for better than a brace of sixth positions in the day’s two heat races.
“The first corner after the start is quite a fast right-hander with not a lot of run-off,” explained the highly-rated Wickersley-based hotshot. “Starting on the outside line is never ideal, and with it being such a short run down to turn one, it was difficult to get across to the inside. I had no option but to stick it out around the outside – which cost me in both races – but after that, I just had to get on with it and focus on driving as quickly and consistently as I could to regain ground.
“In the final, there was a crash at the start, and I got spun round and left facing the wrong way, which was obviously disappointing. I was dead last after that, but I knew the race was long – almost 20 minutes in total – and that I could recover. I had to make sure I just kept calm and didn’t overdrive the kart – and it was quite good fun fighting my way through the field.”
Impressing with his gritty tenacity and the eye-catching alacrity with which he chased down and caught his adversaries – even matching the fastest lap time of the race-winner along the way in evidence of his outstanding raw pace and what might have been – Luke professed himself satisfied enough with ninth place in the circumstances, phlegmatically musing that ‘bad stuff happens sometimes’ and maturely vowing to put it behind him and concentrate on the following day.
Unfortunately, a change in track conditions on Sunday left the Wickersley School and Sports College student just eighth in qualifying, meaning he would once more begin his heats from the unenviable outside line.
“Some drivers ahead of me bogged down at the start, which left a gap on the inside and I was able to dart across to fill it,” he recollected of the opening encounter. “That put me third straightaway, and three laps later, I made a move for second. After that, it was all about maintaining my consistency. I knew I was being caught by the guys behind, so there was never any opportunity to relax – I had to stay ‘on it’ and keep pushing right to the end.”
That persistence ultimately paid off handsomely as Luke artfully and successfully defended his second position all the way to the chequered flag, and he followed it up with a very solid seventh spot in heat two, meaning he would begin the final from fourth – on the outside line yet again…
“The drivers on the inside bogged down at the start, which enabled me to vault into second place,” the 16-year-old revealed. “After that, due to not having the outright speed, I knew my racecraft would be paramount – but a few laps in, I got hit from behind and forced out wide, which allowed several people past, and later I got hit again, which really knocked me out of my rhythm.”
Understandably frustrated after the race, Luke was nonetheless also justifiably pleased with his stirring fightback to an eventual sixth position – even if that couldn’t disguise the fact that he had wanted, not to mention deserved, considerably more.
Still, having climbed nine spots from his championship ranking of 15th in 2010 to sixth out of FKS’ 28 Junior Max competitors a year later – at the end of only his second full campaign in the sport, lest we forget – the Yorkshire ace is now aiming to take another leap forward again in 2012. Given the progress he has made thus far, who would bet against him..?