James Singleton has finished a sensational fourth in the 2012 Euro Rotax Challenge at the end of a sparkling maiden campaign at Senior Rotax level – with the talented young North Wales karting star justifiably rating the achievement as the finest of his increasingly impressive career.
Following a mixed first half to the season on the international stage – the highlight of which being sixth place in the Genk curtain-raiser in Belgium – Singleton travelled to Kristianstad in Sweden and instantly laid down the gauntlet to his 60 rivals. Describing it as ‘probably the best track I’ve ever been to…really undulating with a mixture of tight hairpins, fast chicanes and sweeping corners’, he qualified an outstanding third, less than a tenth of a second adrift of the outright benchmark and praising ‘a big step forward’.
The Conwy-based speed demon went on to convert that stellar form into three heat race victories out of four, but exclusion from one of them when his kart was subsequently adjudged to be underweight cost him pole position for the pre-final, leaving him mired instead in the mid-grid danger zone in 17th.
From there, Singleton found himself forced unceremoniously off the circuit on the opening lap and plunging down to 28th place, with a bent track rod on his Coles Racing mount for good measure. After producing a determined recovery to take the chequered flag 16th, a persistent engine misfire then scuppered his efforts to advance further in the grand final.
Although the highly-rated Penmaenmawr hotshot lapped second-quickest once the issue had cleared – outpaced only by the race-winner – the damage had already been done and an unrepresentative 15th-place finish was the outcome. Nonetheless, even if he did not leave Sweden with the results his potential palpably merited, Singleton was able to carry his burgeoning momentum on to the last round of the campaign at Salbris in France.
“Senior Rotax is unquestionably one of the hardest classes in Europe, with 20 drivers I would say all fast enough to win,” he mused. “That makes for a tremendously tough field – the toughest I’ve ever competed against, certainly – and the racecraft at the front is invariably of an extremely high calibre. I felt optimistic heading to Salbris, though. I knew the kit I had underneath me was up to the job after the form we had shown in Sweden and winning the British Super 1 Series meeting at Wigan, so the rest was up to me!”
A self-confessed fan of Salbris – particularly the ‘flat-out’ chicanes on the back straight that have no compunction in punishing drivers for over-enthusiastic use of their kerbs by flinging them unforgivingly into the tyre barriers – the MSA Academy member stormed to a magnificent pole position in qualifying and followed that up by triumphing in three of his four heats, artfully fending off the ever-present threat and pressure from behind and always confident he had the extra pace in his pocket should he need to deploy it.
Adding to those victories with the runner-up spot in his remaining heat – barely half-a-second adrift of the winner – on any other weekend, that quartet of results would have been comfortably enough for Singleton to top the intermediate rankings, but by a quirk of fate, one of his adversaries had won all four of his races, leaving the former Ysgol Aberconwy pupil to begin the pre-final second.
“Just two minutes before it started, some of my rivals changed over to new tyres, but we wanted to save ours for the grand final,” he recalled. “Starting on the outside is never ideal, but it’s a sweeping first corner at Salbris with a large run-off area and I was able to hang on by taking a wide line through the first two turns and then tucking into third at the following right-handed hairpin.
“Since I was on older rubber than a lot of the others, I was playing a defensive game from then on and conceded three places before the flag – but I was satisfied enough to finish sixth in the circumstances. The pre-final is not where the major points are handed out, after all, and although our tyre tactics had cost us a little there, I was confident we would be paid back with interest.
“There was a gap that I was able to slot into at the start of the grand final to move immediately up to fourth and as we had expected on new tyres, we had good pace. The driver in third defended for a while, but I managed to get past him after a handful of laps, and then I overtook the driver in second just a couple of laps later still. By that stage, the leader had an advantage of about ten kart-lengths over me, but I closed it down to finish less than a second behind him. It was just a shame the race didn’t last a tiny bit longer…”
Singleton’s maturely calculated approach on the tyre front paid dividends indeed, and fastest lap simply served to enhance his achievement. Moreover, his best finish in Euro Rotax this year secured the 16-year-old – one of the youngest contenders on the grid – an incredible fourth position in the overall title standings. Not bad, all-told, for a Senior Rotax rookie.
“In Sweden, I had been targeting a top five championship finish, and whilst the two finals there clearly set us back a bit in that respect, we never stopped believing we could do it because we knew we had the pace,” he asserted. “We were really happy to accomplish that goal, especially considering some of the difficulties we’ve faced this year and the less-than-perfect first half.
“To finish fourth in our first season in Seniors up against the very best drivers in Europe – most of whom had a lot more experience than me – yeah, I would definitely have taken that if you’d offered it to me six months ago! The standard of driving has been so high, and although I finished third in the world at Junior Rotax level last year, I’d say this surpasses that.”
Not content with just that, however, Singleton has also clinched his second crown in as many seasons in the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship, courtesy of a convincing double top at Whilton Mill. The 2011 FKS Junior Rotax Champion is now equally the 2012 FKS Senior Rotax Champion – the first and last, given that the outing marked the series’ British swansong at the end of its inaugural Senior campaign.
Despite having been indubitably the class of the field and the driver to beat year-long, the Gwynedd Forklifts-backed ace had also been relentlessly luckless. His ill-fortune returned to haunt him once again as a power valve came off inside his engine during Saturday’s second heat – you guessed it, as he was commandingly in the lead – but that and a troubled start to Sunday’s final aside, he did not allow his competitors so much as even a look-in.
“I was down in sixth place at the end of lap three, but I was so determined to win,” he recollected. “Although the leader was half the length of the main straight ahead of me at one stage, I pushed as hard as I could and caught and passed him with a third of the race to go. The FKS grid this year wasn’t the biggest I’ve ever raced against, but it was definitely a case of quality over quantity – and the championship remains one of the most prestigious to win. Plus, being the only driver ever to claim that title just makes it even more special.”
James is seeking sponsors to help support his burgeoning career; if you are interested in backing him, please contact his father Mark on 07795 297350 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To keep up with his latest career news and results, please visit: www.james-singleton.co.uk