He had already ably proven himself as the best in Britain with an outstandingly dominant performance to claim the 2010 Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship laurels, but after heading out to La Conca to compete in the fiercely-contested Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, Ash Hand demonstrated that he is every bit as capable of doing battle for glory on the international stage, too.
As a ‘wild card’ entry by dint of his tremendous success in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed FKS series this year, the highly-rated young Nuneaton hotshot travelled to La Conca in the heel of southern Italy’s boot preparing to pit himself against no fewer than 71 Junior Rotax class adversaries composed of more than 30 different nationalities and constituting the veritable crčme de la crčme of global talent at that level.
What’s more, many of them had spent the season going wheel-to-wheel in the Euro Rotax Challenge, which gave them an immediate advantage over Ash, who was a complete virgin on the international scene and needing to swiftly get to grips with a new circuit, a new chassis with Sodikart, a new team in Jason Parrott Motorsport and a whole host of different rivals to those against whom he is used to racing on home shores.
“That didn’t really bother me, to be honest,” he maturely revealed. “I didn’t think about that aspect of it at all. I was just looking forward to getting out there and driving! I didn’t know much about the circuit beforehand, but it was probably the best one I’ve ever driven – and certainly very different to anything I’d raced at before. It’s an exciting and interesting track and quite flowing – you never really get a chance to take a break – and one where you have to be really ‘on it’ to be fast. It’s really technical, too, and just one mistake could cost you a lot of time.
“I’d been out testing with Jason a few times beforehand, and I get on with him really well – we work well together and understand each other perfectly, and I think we were able to learn a lot from each other. He was such a good driver when he used to race, so I could draw upon all of his experience, and it really helps that he has been in my position before – it means he grasps my feedback a lot quicker and tends to understand what I’m saying about the kart immediately.”
Despite everything being so new, Ash was rapid straight out-of-the-blocks over a single lap during practice – featuring inside the top seven on the first day alone. Undeniably ‘on it’, the 16-year-old entered qualifying with his spirits buoyed, but a ‘horrendous’ session saw him get caught out by just how much grippier the tracks are in Europe compared to Britain, and he consequently didn’t push his new tyres hard enough soon enough to take full advantage of them when they were at their best.
“I was really disappointed by that,” he confessed after placing just 33rd, “but I also know overtaking is probably the strongest part of my racing, so I was confident of being able to come through still.”
He would be every bit as good as his word. After finding himself unceremoniously punted off at the beginning of his opening heat race, Ash fought back magnificently from 31st position to eleventh in the space of just seven laps, tempering his red mist with controlled aggression to make extraordinary progress up through the field as this time he got all of the grip out of the tyres that they had to give and made full use of La Conca’s plethora of overtaking spots.
Admitting to enjoying fighting his way confidently through the pack – passing four drivers in one fell swoop at one point in a supremely opportunistic manoeuvre and setting the second-fastest lap time along the way – he was made to work similarly hard in his third heat, with another early knock sending the Maple Park ace plummeting down the order from where he recovered to 13th at the chequered flag, with easily the best lap of the race to his credit to again show what might have been. Still, at least one of the heats went to-plan…
“In heat two, we were so fast it was unreal!” Ash recounted. “I went from 17th on the grid to finish second and felt comfortable with it – I wasn’t ruining my tyres, but just driving calmly and keeping everything in-check. When I wanted to overtake, we had the speed to do so.”
Driving past his fellow competitors almost like they were standing still, the North Warwickshire College student wound up a scant four tenths of a second shy of the winner at the end, placing him tenth on the grid for the pre-final the following day – and bullish about his prospects.
“Considering how much we had been shunted about during the heats, I was really pleased with tenth,” he acknowledged. “I was a bit wary about starting on the outside line, but luckily I only lost one place and dropped to 11th – I don’t think anybody on the outside managed to hang onto their position all weekend!
“After that, I set about working my way through the pack. When we needed the speed, we were able to turn it on, pass people and then drop them. I ended up third and was very happy with that performance – it was just perfect, and left us really confident that we could win the grand final.
“I got knocked down to seventh into the first hairpin in that race, but then I started making my way through, and we had a lot of pace again. I got back into third and rapidly closed right in on the top two, but then going round the first corner, Jack Aitken tried to go up the inside of the leader. It didn’t come off so he tried again into the next right-hander, but he clipped the other guy’s rear bumper, which sent Aitken spinning across the track and he took me with him! He spun literally right in front of me and I had nowhere to go.”
Finding himself sent crashing helplessly into the barriers, Ash was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the bitter outcome should not detract from what was an eye-catching weekend over the course of which the stakes and pressure had been at their absolute highest and the Warwickshire speed demon had put not a wheel out-of-place.
To progress from 33rd in qualifying to fight for the lead in the grand final of such a prestigious event is praiseworthy in the extreme, and if he didn’t return home with the winner’s trophy that he indubitably deserved, still Ash’s phenomenal potential was clear for all to see. A superb representative for his country, that he turned heads is irrefutable and afterwards, his was the name on everybody’s lips.
“I was extremely disappointed, because we had so much speed I’m convinced I would have won,” reflected the Voi Jeans brand ambassador in conclusion, “but I learned a lot from the weekend about racing on European tracks with European tyres and against different drivers, and the whole team did a great job to get the kart and engine spot-on. I’m frustrated about how it ended, but I guess that’s racing – and I’m definitely proud of how well I drove and of what we achieved.”
To keep up-to-date with Ash’s latest career news and results, please visit www.p1r.co.uk
Note: These articles are written and supplied by you the competitors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Championship
Picture credit: N/A