Ash Hand travelled to Genk in Belgium for the seventh and eighth rounds of the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed 2010 Formula Kart Stars (FKS) Championship bidding to re-assert his authority in the chase for the coveted crown – and despite the unpredictable weather doing its best to make life difficult for competitors, he fulfilled that brief and then some.
Having proven unbeatable with four straight triumphs earlier on in the campaign in the same series as had first set Hamilton on the fast track to future F1 superstardom, Ash’s seemingly unstoppable title bid then hit an unexpected speed bump in rounds five and six at Glan Y Gors in North Wales, with a rogue batch of tyres and set-up issues limiting him to a second place and a sixth – and reducing his advantage in the drivers’ standings to a scant three points in one fell swoop.
That hitherto commanding advantage would swiftly be re-established, however, as the highly-rated young Nuneaton hotshot headed cross-Channel determined to build upon the run of podium finishes he had achieved aboard new chassis CRG in the preceding Super 1 and Kartmasters outings – with a return to the very top step.
“I think after Glan y Gors we needed to win again, so that was the aim,” the 16-year-old reflected. “I’ve been quick at Genk over the last few years so I was confident of being quick again – what I didn’t know was what everybody else would be like.
“Genk is a really good, fast-and-flowing drivers’ circuit, and one of those tracks you never get bored on. That makes it quite challenging, because if you take your eye off the ball you lose time really quickly – it’s easy to make a mistake if you don’t stay concentrated. Over the weekend I saw a few people going off-line, and after that it was game over for them for three laps basically because the dirt you pick up just kills the tyres.
“The CRG has always tended to go well in Europe, and it felt consistently planted all weekend, in all conditions. I was able to learn a lot more about it and everything just clicked which made it easy to go fast, and I could always pull a few tenths extra out of it whenever I needed to. It was quite a boost knowing I always had something in reserve. I think it was the best kart in the field overall, so after that the rest of it was down to me.”
The Maple Park speed demon would go on to complete his part of the deal in style, qualifying a quarter-of-a-second clear of anybody else on Saturday to annex an unrivalled pole position amongst the 23-strong Junior Max class field and following that up by prevailing in his two heat races to the tune of five seconds or more each time, setting fastest lap in both encounters for good measure. And after that, well, the all-important final was really just a formality.
Having notched up his maiden national victory for CRG, however – “It felt brilliant to be back winning again; it proved to people that the kart is really good and that I’m driving well too,” he acknowledged – Ash rapidly made it clear that he was not satisfied with just that, and when the heavens opened with a vengeance the next day, he was able to show that he is every bit as adept and imperious in the wet as in the dry.
With his quality as a fast-learner transpiring to be key to his outstanding success, the P1 Racing ace’s first timed lap in Sunday qualifying was a full three tenths of a second out-of-reach of what any of his adversaries could muster all session, and the heats, similarly, were almost a carbon copy of 24 hours earlier. As he admitted to never really feeling threatened all weekend, the second day’s final was in truth the only time all meeting that anyone got so much as remotely close to Ash, and even then he had it all comfortably in-Hand, if you’ll pardon the pun.
“It was really wet and Genk is one of the most difficult circuits to drive in those conditions, but I figured it out pretty quickly and found the grip a lot sooner than anyone else,” he explained. “I was on the pace right from the start on Sunday – nobody else could really keep up.
“In the final, I knew I was going to be fast again after the heats. I had an eight-second lead at one stage and when I looked over my shoulder at the end of the start/finish straight I saw the others hadn’t even come onto it yet, so at that point I knew nobody was going to catch me and I just backed off and kept everything consistent.
“I didn’t really feel under much pressure all weekend if I’m honest, but I still had to stay focussed because if you don’t, it doesn’t take much to make a mistake. Being on my own on the track made it difficult to retain that focus at times, and it would have been quite simple really to get ahead of myself. The only thing that kept me going lap-after-lap was trying to beat or match my lap previous time…”
With no-one else to have to chase or defend from, it is indeed all-too-easy to lose concentration and end up in the tyre barriers, especially in such torrentially treacherous conditions – but to his immense credit, Ash mastered everything that was thrown at him with admirable aplomb, and the fact that his chief rival for glory finished off the podium was merely an added bonus as the George Eliot School pupil demonstrated that he had the pace whatever the weather and ably reminded everybody just who is boss. All-in-all, you really had to Hand it to him.
“It was brilliant to get back-to-back victories, and a great weekend championship-wise,” he concluded of his Hands-down European clean sweep, as he prepares now to take the fight on to the last two meetings at Three Sisters near Wigan and Ellough Park in Suffolk with his confidence sky-high. “We extended our lead quite a lot, I really feel back in control again and now we need to finish the job off. All I’ve got to do is keep getting consistent podium finishes, and hopefully that should be enough.”
What’s more, with Ash’s success adding to the burgeoning tally of CRG trophies in recent outings, the Italian chassis-builder’s UK sales and marketing director Mark Collings muses that any doubts that might have initially been aired about the wisdom of the Warwickshire star’s switch from OTK have now been well-and-truly silenced.
“I’m really pleased,” he enthused. “It shows that with the right driver behind the wheel, the CRG is every bit as competitive if not even more so as any other chassis on the market and is really proving to be the kart to have at the moment. It’s already the leading kart in Europe, and this shows it can beat the rest to be the leading kart in Britain too.
“Ash blew away the opposition at Genk and thoroughly dominated the weekend, by winning every pole position, heat and final by a convincing margin. It was fantastic to see him up there like that, and after his club meeting triumph at Larkhall and second places in Super 1 and at Kartmasters, I think these can be the first of many national wins for Ash and CRG. It’s all looking really, really good.”
Picture credit Chris Walker www.kartpix.net
To keep up-to-date with Ash’s latest career news and results, please visit www.p1r.co.uk, whilst for more information on championship-winning chassis CRG, please go to: text-decoration: underline;”>www.kartcrg.co.uk