King sails through qualifying to make a claim for European crown He may be in only his maiden season of international competition in 2009, but young Warwickshire karting star Jordan King has nonetheless demonstrated to his rivals that he views...
King sails through qualifying to make a claim for European crown
He may be in only his maiden season of international competition in 2009, but young Warwickshire karting star Jordan King has nonetheless demonstrated to his rivals that he views this as anything but a learning year in confidently easing his way through the hotly-contested qualifying phase for the prestigious CIK-FIA European Championship.
The Western Region qualifying round for the high-profile one-off meeting - designed to whittle the initial field of 176 entrants from all across Europe down to an altogether more manageable 81 for the main event in mid- summer - took place at Angerville in northern France, a circuit that up until a fortnight beforehand, Jordan had never so much as set eyes upon. He soon got down to business.
"We tested there to play around with set-up and concentrate on learning the track so that we had a solid starting point for the race weekend," he explained. "It's quite tight and twisty, but somewhere that you still need a lot of power from the engine. We were quick in testing, but the problem was we didn't know if we were quick compared to the others because we were the only ones there."
'The others' comprised the very creme de la creme of the KF3 class from the UK, France, Spain, Switzerland and Portugal, including drivers of the calibre of Gerard Barrabeig, Carlos Sainz Jnr - son of twice World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz - and fellow leading Brits Alex Albon and reigning British Champion Jake Dennis, as well as a number of drivers against whom Jordan had never previously competed.
Despite his comparative lack of experience on the European stage - with still barely a handful of outings under his belt in the hotly-contested WSK International Series - the 15-year-old is rapidly crafting himself a burgeoning reputation and marking himself out as a regular podium contender, and he entered the qualification round confident of being able to hold his own in such exalted company.
"We weren't bang on the leading pace in practice," he recounted. "The track conditions had changed quite a bit since testing when we had been so fast and the kart had felt really good. Now it was sliding around a lot - all of the Maranellos were struggling - which left us a couple of tenths off and I had to try and drive around that.
"In qualifying the kart still didn't feel great even on new tyres and we didn't have any real pace. Other drivers were just managing to pull away from me, and we knew we were not where we should have been at all. My racecraft has always been strong, though, so I was confident we would be able to actually compete more in the races and that I could pull it back a bit in the heats and finals."
In such a closely-packed, 54-strong field, a mere half a second off the top spot in qualifying equated to a lowly 29th position for the Harbury ace, and left him to start each of his four heat races from 12th. From there he would wisely concentrate on scoring good points throughout, well aware of the value of consistency in a competition in which just one DNF could mean game over.
With no repêchage (second chance heat) to fall back on this time, seeing the chequered flag was the number one priority, and there were inevitably some big-name casualties along the way as the entire pack duelled over the 34 places available in the two finals. An excellent second place in heat one set Jordan up well, and three further top ten finishes saw him comfortably through.
"I got quite a good start in the first heat and picked off a few drivers in front of me," he related, "and after that there was a fairly big fight ahead. I got onto the back of the group and managed to get the better of all of them. That was a good confidence boost, but whilst we were a bit closer to the pace we still weren't close enough.
"Given that the European Championship is a one-off event, this weekend was all about making sure we qualified, though, and after three solid results in my first three heats that definitely took the pressure off a bit for the last of them. I knew there were quite a few other drivers having to fight simply to get into the finals, which resulted in carnage in some of the races with people pushing so hard just to make it through."
Twelfth on the grid once again for the first final, whilst he acknowledged that a mid-pack position meant 'there's always a chance things can go wrong', Jordan fought hard to recover from a scrappy opening couple of laps that dropped him down to the foot of the top 20 to reclaim his starting position at the close.
"With 12th place I knew we were already pretty much safe," the Repton School pupil acknowledged, "as long as we got around the first corner in the second final. That took the pressure off again and meant I no longer had to play it safe - obviously I wasn't going to risk doing anything stupid, but I certainly wasn't intending on taking it easy either. I was just aiming to go out there and do the best I could."
Indeed, he would do rather more than merely make it around the first corner in the second final, timing his getaway to perfection when the lights went out to vault up into fifth - where he would remain all the way to the chequered flag, setting a fastest lap on a par with those of the leaders but unable to quite match the consistency of the four drivers ahead of him at the close.
Still, the result secured Jordan a superb sixth position in the overall rankings - second highest-placed of the ten Brits in attendance. As he now switches his attentions to the main championship at Zuera in Spain in mid- July - a track that, by dint of its sweeping nature, is practically the polar opposite of Angerville and will therefore challenge drivers with a true test of their mettle at both extremes - he does so in confident mood, having twice mounted the rostrum on his only previous appearance there, scene of his JRP Maranello debut back in October.
"That was my first real race abroad and only my second time out in KF3, so to go there for the first time and come away with two podiums in the Spanish Championship was pretty good, I thought," he concluded. "Zuera is fast and flowing and at one stage you're flat-out for about seven seconds, which compared to many tracks is a long time.
"It's a one-off event, so whilst a top three finish for my first time in the European Championship would be good, there's only one aim really - we're going there to win."