Winning in karting is never easy. Winning a championship is even harder and so Jack Barlow’s success in the 2009 Formula Kart Stars Mini Max Championship seems even more remarkable for a driver who didn’t even take up karting until 2007. Having missed the typical school of Cadet Karting the 14 year-old driver from Pett in East Sussex has been playing catch-up from the moment he first sat in a pukka race kart at his local track, the Lydd International Raceway.
Fast forward some 36 months and Jack is now looking forward to making his debut in the world renowned Florida Winter Tour series, part of his prize for winning the most closely fought class in the 2009 FKS Championship.
By his own admission Barlow and the Wavertree Motorsport team arrived at the opening round of the season at Kimbolton in April not really knowing what to expect and with some fairly modest goals for what would be just his second season of national racing.
“I wasn’t really expecting too much at the start of the year,” says Barlow, who made an inauspicious start to proceedings with 18th fastest time in qualifying on a wet Saturday afternoon. “I just wanted to get off to a good start and mix it with the top ten. I didn’t really know who would be at the front although I knew Harry Crawley would do well as he’d done Stars before and was quick in testing.”
A sign of things to come came in Saturday’s wet pre-final when Jack kept his head in the midst of the midfield Mini Max chaos to come home in seventh and set himself up for his first major podium finish behind Crawley and Bobby Thompson in the main final.
“We only qualified 18th, we had a good set-up but I didn’t know what to do with brand new wets. The final was my first major podium and I got fastest lap so we were really pleased with things.”
Better was to come on a damp and greasy Sunday where, in conditions he revels in Barlow was able to not only set pole position in qualifying but go one better than his Saturday result with a close second place finish sandwiched between James Singleton and Crawley. Little did he realise that Singleton and Crawley would be the two drivers he would lock horns with until the final lap of the final race of the season nearly six months down the line.
Holding a slender lead in the points Barlow and team travelled to Glan-Y-Gors in North Wales for round three, a track where very few of the main contenders had much prior experience. If the track itself was unfamiliar the weather bore a striking resemblance to the opening weekend of the season.
“I had done one club meeting at GYG in the dry so I was struggling a bit in the wet. I got a good start but Harry Crawley got through. I couldn’t stay with him but I got second place and so I was still leading the points.
Barlow and Wavertree used the six-week break between GYG and the next round of the championship at Rowrah to switch from Octane to an Alonso chassis that they hoped would prove a better proposition during the summer months. Their decision was vindicated with a win in the Brazilian Cup at Whilton Mill, Jack’s first major karting victory and things would continue to improve at the glorious Cumbrian venue on the last weekend in June. The driver explains:
“I qualified second at Rowrah behind Harry but his clutch fell off on the rolling lap. I didn’t even notice he was gone until James Singleton moved up to take his place on the rolling lap. On the first lap I saw his kart at the side but I was concentrating on the race.
“It was dry but there were spots of drizzle during the race. I got punted onto the grass on lap one and had to come back through the pack. I passed James quite easily but he stayed with me and pressured me all the way to the flag. I managed to hold it though.
“I was really, really happy with the win as we never expected to be in this position. The win gave us a gap in the points but on dropped scores it was very close between Harry and myself.”
With his confidence boosted Jack went to the next round of the series at PFI on a high and stormed to victory in the pre-final, before the rains returned just before the final.
“I wasn’t very confident as I haven’t done much racing there [PFI] in the wet but I was still looking forward to it. I led initially but Harry got me and pulled away, then a few more got me and I spun and finished sixth. I was still ahead in the points but the pressure was on.”
With Crawley racking up another win in the final a good weekend at Genk for rounds six and seven was vital but despite good weather and a track he loves, things started going wrong in Saturday’s pre-final.
“My dad left a wheel loose and I had to come in on the rolling lap,” recalls Jack, now racing with the GP plate following victory in the prestigious Kartmasters Grad Prix at the start of the month. “I restarted last and finished 23rd.”
With the red mist well and truly descended, Jack would use the disappointment of a 23rd starting spot to good effect as he put in his best drive of the year a few short hours after his worst.
“In the final I knew that I’d be quick but I was worried about the first corner. I got through and picked people off one by one. On the last lap I was fourth and Louie Marshall started to defend against Harri Taylor. I got a run and nipped up the inside of Harri for third and a very satisfying podium.”
Sunday’s format allowed for zero misfortune with timed qualifying followed directly by the final. Unfortunately for Barlow misfortune came and found him, along with more than half the field just a few hundred metres into the twenty-minute final.
“I started fourth and everyone was loading each other up going into turn one. They all pushed to the outside where I was and took my nosecone off. I had to pit and finished a lap down. I didn’t think it could get worse after the pre-final on Saturday, but it could.”
The only consolation for Jack was that his main rival Crawley was also caught up in the first turn melee and finished just two spots ahead of Barlow in 22nd place. But after being a two horse race for much of the year the title fight now found itself with four protagonists with Genk winners James Singleton and Danny Sweeney now moving to within 40 points of Barlow with just the final two rounds at Whilton Mill remaining.
The penultimate day of the series was a tense one with high winds creating havoc with kart set-up with Singleton winning both the pre-final and final from Crawley with Barlow hanging tough in third.
“I went out hoping to hang on to Harry and James but they started pulling away. Then the caution flag came out and bunched us up. They pulled away again but I managed to work with Bobby Thompson and break away from the pack and chase the leaders down. I bagged a good few points so the pressure was still on me but there was also pressure on Harry and James.”
Pressure indeed, but after working out the maths Jack woke up on his day of days knowing what was needed to do.
The critical point came in timed qualifying, where on the very last lap of the session Barlow vaulted above Zubair Hoque to take pole position and ten more invaluable points. Thus, ahead of the longest and hardest race of the year, fourth place would be enough regardless of what Crawley and Singleton did.
The race was a classic:
“Harry led and I tried to push him away but the caution flags came out again so we were all bunched up again. On the restart he went for it and we pulled away. I dropped back a bit then pushed really hard and got the fastest lap. I knew I didn’t have to pass him so I just stayed behind him until the chequered flag came out.”
Second place was enough to give Barlow his first major karting title by 29 points over Crawley, who was most gracious in defeat and before long it dawned on Barlow that he had won the dream trip to America for February’s round of the Florida Winter Tour.
“I just thought, I’m FKS Champion, the adrenalin didn’t really wear off, I just sat there and realised that I’m going to Florida. Before Whilton I said to my mum and dad that I wanted to win it just so I could go to Florida as I’ve always wanted to go to America.”
There was a time when an eleven-year-old Barlow would pester his parents to take him testing at Lydd every Thursday after school. Three years down the line and it seems as though persistence has paid off.