'Exceptionally fast' Hand lauded for 'great potential' on maiden single-seater try-out He had never driven a single-seater before, indeed never so much as set foot inside a racing car at all - but still that didn't prevent Ash Hand from turning...
'Exceptionally fast' Hand lauded for 'great potential' on maiden single-seater try-out
He had never driven a single-seater before, indeed never so much as set foot inside a racing car at all - but still that didn't prevent Ash Hand from turning heads on a hugely impressive test outing at Bedford Autodrome, with assessors left waxing lyrical about the young Nuneaton star's 'fantastic' performance, 'exceptional' speed and 'great potential'.
Ash was one of five leading contenders from the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) British Championship to be invited to Bedford for a special shoot-out, the winner of which would receive a £10,000 bursary towards a season's competition in the Formula Palmer Audi (FPA) junior single-seater series. The 15-year-old earned his place for having thoroughly dominated the second round on the 2009 FKS calendar at Kimbolton, brilliantly triumphing by nigh-on five seconds - a near eternity in karting terms.
"I found out I was going the week beforehand," he revealed. "I was really excited about it, though I didn't really know what to expect, which meant I wasn't too nervous until it got to the point of actually getting in the car. I didn't have any idea how hard it was likely to be - though I knew it would be tough to get through to the final three, and that if I was going to do that I would need to push."
Before that, however, the five participants were taken on a tour of the workshop to see how the cars are put together, listened to a briefing of what they were going to be doing and shown the Jaguar JP1 two-seater sportscar prototype that they would initially be driving, with an instructor alongside and for two runs of ten laps each. For a driver whose prior experience in racing cars was completely non-existent, it was a daunting prospect, and very much a case of being thrown in right at the deep end.
"I was really excited to see the car," Ash confessed, "and even more so when I found out the gears were paddle-shift, which meant I didn't have to worry about getting used to that side of things too much. The Jaguar felt like a proper racing car, and I was surprised by just how quick it actually was! You get to the 50-metre marker before the corner and then hit the brakes from 110mph or 120mph and just stop - I'd never experienced brakes as powerful as that before!
"Going down through the gears at the right time for the brakes was difficult to get used to as well, because if you weren't hard enough on the brakes then you had to be careful how quickly you dropped the gears. You had to be physically strong, because the back end would kick out sometimes and give you a handful of opposite-lock and you just had to control the slide and power your way out of it again. After about three laps I felt more comfortable, though, and was able to take the chicane flat-out - and I loved driving it!"
Once all five drivers had taken to the track, the data was analysed and three of them - Ash included - were told 'X-Factor' style that they were going through to the next and final round, the top three shoot-out. Aware that he was up against some stern opposition, the Formula Jaguar would represent for the Maple Park teenager another challenge again.
"I was so excited to be going out in a single-seater!" Ash enthused, still palpably buzzing from the experience. "The nerves really kicked in then too, though, because you know that with no instructor alongside you anymore, if you make a mistake and damage the car, there's nobody to blame but you. They sent me out first, and on my way out of the pits I floored it in second gear; because of how much lighter it was than the Jaguar, it just felt so much more powerful! It was amazing out on the track!
"Being an open cockpit, when you brake into the corners you can watch the tyres to see if they're locking up. It took me a while to get used to the brakes, and to begin with when I went into corners the inside front wheel would lock up and blue smoke would come off it, which generated some understeer. Once I had sorted that out, though, it just began to feel like driving a big go-kart with gears to be honest and I got better and better. I was pretty quick by the end and going into the corners flat-out..."
With commitment evidently not a problem, Ash's speed, consistency, smoothness, accuracy with regard to hitting the apexes and mature approach both inside and out of the cockpit greatly impressed observers. By common consent amongst those present, the George Eliot School pupil did a superb job, proving to be extremely quick and displaying tremendous promise under considerable pressure.
Whilst missing out on the prize to the oldest and most experienced driver in the field, the Warwickshire hotshot admitted that he was pleased simply to have progressed through to the shoot-out, affirming that he had learned a lot from what was 'a really good experience' and making a special point of thanking the team at FPA for their expert guidance and tutelage and 'an amazing opportunity'.
As he bids to graduate from karting to single-seaters in 2011 - hoping to have made enough of an impression to catch the eye of interested teams - Ash is aiming to do so on a high with the title of British Champion to his name. Either way, FPA championship co-ordinator James Gornall clearly believes the P1 Racing ace is destined for great things.
"Obviously we didn't know quite what to expect beforehand, but Ash was impressive enough to be put through to the final and was the first driver to go out in the single-seater," appraised the man who oversaw proceedings on the day. "There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders because of that, but he performed fantastically.
"We were pleasantly surprised by how fast he was straightaway; he proved he could do the business on the circuit, and I could see he was learning all the time he was out there. Being on his own in the single-seater, there was no-one to point him in the right direction, but he was adjusting his lines and his timing on the throttle and brakes in corners and thinking all the time.
"Ash absolutely has great potential, and no doubt has the ability to perform well in cars. Had he been out in one of our Formula Palmer Audi race meetings, he certainly wouldn't have been at the back - and it was his first time in the car! He is exceptionally fast, and he will perform well when he does move into single-seaters."
-source: ash hand