Genk has never been too kind to George Russell. Two years ago he ended his weekend on his head after flipping his kart at the start of Sunday’s Cadet final and twelve months ago he suffered an engine seizure in timed qualifying, which relegated him to the B Final and saw him lose ground in his ultimate successful championship campaign.
Following two heartbreaking late race losses to Adam Glear at Glan Y Gors, Russell bounced back from that disappointment by winning his third Kartmasters GP Plate in succession and therefore arrived at the 1350-metre Belgian circuit in high spirits ahead of the seventh and eighth rounds of the 2010 Formula Kart Stars Championship.
Glear’s stunning double win in North Wales last time out put him back atop the points standings but the Wavertree Motorsport driver had no breathing room over Russell with the Strawberry Racing pilot just a handful of points behind him but when the 27 Mini Max drivers took the track on a balmy Saturday morning for timed qualifying it was two other members of the Wavertree camp who stole the limelight.
Boosted by his maiden FKS podium finish at Glan Y Gors Brett Ward set the fastest time of an incredibly close session at 58.48-seconds, snatching pole position in the final minute from his teammate Seth James. James put in his best time of 58.52-seconds less than a minute before Ward’s best time but couldn’t retaliate on his final flying lap.
With virtually the last lap of the session Vital Motorsport’s Bobby Thompson grabbed third on the grid with a time of 58.54-seconds, getting a great tow down the back straight from RL’s Josh White in the process. White also set his best lap on his final tour, equalling Thompson’s mark to the hundredth but losing out on third by virtue of Thompson having a better second-fastest lap.
Glear ran in tandem with teammates Ward and James but couldn’t quite match their pace and was fifth fastest on 58.58-soncds, still only one tenth slower than the polesitter on the longest lap of the year. Glear would be sharing the third row of the grid for the two twelve-minute, 14-lap heats with Russell, who didn’t go out at the start of the session and saved a couple of laps on his tyres. Russell’s best mark was 58.62-seconds but a telling check of the individual sector times showed that had Russell hooked up his three best sectors on the same lap he would have taken pole.
Zubair Hoque was the leading TMR Development entry in seventh place on the grid with Global Karting’s Oliver Myers eighth, Sam Oram-Jones in ninth on a new chassis to replace the one that was bent at GYG and new Wavertree recruit Josh Cornwell rounding out a top ten separated by four tenths of a second.
In fact half a second separated the top 15 drivers, who also incorporated Evolution’s Jack Bartholomew, PS Racing’s Nikita Sidorov, new RL signing Sam Marsh and Evolution teammates Connor Mills and Jay Goodwin.
At the other end of the timesheets round one winner Ryan Norris was mired back in 17th place, just over half a second off Ward’s pole time with Panther Motorsport’s George Li Wright a couple of hundredths slower in 19th. Series returnee Callum James suffered problems with his Protrain run kart and was only 26th while TMR’s Andrew Finn only made it as far as turn two on the opening lap before his engine died.
The first turn at Genk is always a concern with the track bearing right and tightening until the circuit almost comes back on itself and with 27 karts all jostling for position at the start of the first 14-lap heat it was almost inevitable that there would be casualties. Front row starters Ward and James got through cleanly as did Thompson but fourth place starter White wasn’t as fortunate and was turned around, triggering a melee that also caught up Oram-Jones, Cornwell, Bartholomew, Sidorov and several others. All were able to continue once the rest of the field had passed.
Thompson led the opening lap but was soon overtaken by Glear who had made a demon getaway. Both Ward and James were struggling to maintain their qualifying pace in race conditions and were passed by Russell, who, after a circumspect start that included a trip across the recently extended CIK kerbing on the exit of turn one, was now making his way back up the top six.
Russell moved into third on lap four and then caught a fantastic slipstream on Thompson coming across the start finish line to take second going into turn one, passing Glear for the lead several corners later as the karts sped down the long back straight. Hoque and Myers held on to the lead trio in fourth and fifth but soon began losing touch as Russell began to put in a series of quick laps.
Thompson grabbed second from Glear on lap six and seemed able to keep pace with Russell if not overtake him. Time and time again Thompson would get into Russell’s slipstream coming on to the start/finish straight but didn’t quite have the speed to outbreak the leader going into turn one. Glear fell away in third place to leave Russell and Thompson to fight it out for the win but despite numerous attempts Thompson couldn’t make a move on Russell, leaving the Strawberry Racing driver to take the chequered flag by four tenths of a second.
Glear finished in a safe third place, two seconds behind the leading duo and six seconds ahead of the battle for fourth, which kept changing hands right until the last minute. On lap eleven Myers and Hoque got a little too close for comfort and touched, sending both spiralling down the order and briefly promoting White, who had made a magnificent recovery. A lap later however White was passed by Lemuel Pay and Ethan Patterson, who had started on the twelfth row of the grid but who had worked together all race, picking off drivers one by one in a great display of overtaking.
Pay took fourth on the line, two tenths ahead of Patterson with Goodwin taking sixth on the final lap as White and Oram Jones tripped over each other with just a handful of corners to go. Hoque held on to seventh place with Li Wright, Jed Jeffreys and Callum McKechnie completing the top ten as White, Oram-Jones and Ward all tumbled down the order on the final lap. Oram-Jones crossed the line 13th, Ward an injured 19th after an errant kart ran over his foot, White 20th and Myers 22nd. James and Marsh both failed to finish.
Front row starters Ward and James were hoping for better fortune in heat two but for James his weekend went even further downhill instead when his kart refused to leave the dummy grid. For Ward at least the start went better as he guided the field through the first couple of corners. Once again in the midfield there was some bumping and barging with Oram Jones, Sidorov, Marsh and Mills amongst those delayed to some degree or another.
Ward held off Thompson for the first two laps but behind them Russell was gaining fast and the heat one winner encountered minimal resistance as he first dispatched Thompson and then Ward to take first place on lap three. Unlike the first race Thompson was unable to latch on to Russell and was left in a fierce scrap for second with Ward as Russell escaped into an unassailable lead.
It took Thompson until half distance to finally move clear of Ward but by then Russell was almost one second ahead and he increased that gap to more than two seconds over the ensuring laps until he took the chequered flag more than two seconds ahead of Thompson, who had Ward sitting in tow in third place.
The fight for fourth place was settled in the first half of the race with White passing Glear and Myers in quick succession to seal the place. White crossed the line four seconds behind Russell and half a second ahead of Myers, who had Goodwin two seconds behind him in fifth. The fight for seventh went down to the wire with Glear taking the place having passed Pay with less than two laps to go. Pay was rewarded for another tigering drive with eighth place, fractions ahead of teammates Norris and Hoque with Cornwell eleventh and first lap victims Marsh and Oram Jones next.
Patterson, Pay’s race one compadre, was on course for another decent finish in his Dave Smith run machine and was in the battle with Pay, Norris, Hoque and Cornwell until he was bundled off track in the last half a lap, eventually finishing 25th.
Russell and Thompson shared the front row of the grid for the final with Glear and Pay on row two, Pay’s position a remarkable feat considering his lowly starting slot for the heats. Goodwin and Hoque would start from the third row with Norris and Ward on row four. At the other end of the spectrum James, who qualified second, would start the 17-lap race from 27th and last.
Remarkably all 27 karts made it through the first three corners relatively unscathed although in the middle of the pack Cornwell, McKechnie and James Beumee all took to the grass and lost several positions as the field, with Russell at the helm, sorted themselves out.
After following Russell for virtually the entire day Thompson knew where the leaders strong points and weak points were and, after quickly dispatching a fast starting Glear he set off in pursuit of the leader and latched on to Russell’s rear bumper as he did in the first heat,
Unlike the first heat though, Thompson was finally able to make a move on Russell for the lead, outbraking the GP Plate champion going into turn one on lap four. Russell tucked in directly behind and, two laps later, repeated the same move on Thompson to retake top spot.
For the balance of the race Russell and Thompson were locked together. Behind them Hoque briefly deposed of Glear for third with Goodwin completing a top five that were separated by less than a second at half distance. But as the laps wound down Russell and Thompson were able to pull away with Thompson occasionally getting to the inside of the leader under breaking for the first corner. However Russell was always able to immediately re-pass Thompson and retain his lead, putting in his personal best lap three laps from home to finally open the gap out to more than half a second.
With a potential first FKS victory less than half a dozen kart lengths ahead of him Thompson refused to concede defeat though and put in his best lap two laps from home to close the gap back up to four tenths. But Russell wasn’t about to let another win slip away in the final laps of a race and didn’t crack under the pressure, taking the chequered flag a fraction under half a second ahead of Thompson, who was still delighted with second place.
Glear minimised the damage to his championship position with third place, finishing one second behind Russell but several seconds ahead of the fourth place kart of Myers, who passed the backsliding Hoque just after half distance and then took Goodwin to consolidate his position. White bundled past Marsh on the final lap to take fifth place with Goodwin losing four places in the same manoeuvre to leave Pay, Oram Jones and Hoque to complete the top nine, just ahead of Goodwin.
Ward was never a factor in the final and finished eleventh with James salvaging some pride from a day that started so well as he came from last to 12th. Norris was a disappointing 13th with Patterson and Mills completing the top 15 of a race where all 27 starters made it to the finish.