A mixture of inclement weather and changeable track conditions served up some thrilling races in the Rotax categories at the Motorsport UK British Kart Championships at Rowrah in Cumbria. The unique challenge of this northern cathedral of speed delivered an extraordinary blend of thrilling duels and sensational comeback drives as the drivers in Minimax, Junior and Senior Rotax and Rotax 177 with bumper grids across all 4 classes and some exceptional race craft from a selection of the best kart racers in Britain.
Jed Murphy opened his account for victory with a lap only just good enough for pole position, although Logan Parker and Jez Williams were within a tenth of a second of his limit. The first heat of the weekend would then see a duel won by Jez Williams ahead of Jed Murphy and Harley Haughton, with championship leader Archie Kitching down to 6th place.
Williams then made it two out of two after Murphy would fail to see the finish line in the second heat, as Haughton would finish in front of Tristan Rennie for the podium places. However Archie Kitching would bounce back when it counted most as he fought his way back into contention for the race win in the first final with team-mate Sam Gornall hot on his heels. Jez Williams would round out the podium ahead of Callum Voisin with the top six rounded out by Haughton and Rennie.
Having won both of his heats and finishing third in the earlier final, Jez Williams was not about to be beaten again at Rowrah and put on a fantastic duel to grab the lead on lap 4. He would never lose his advantage up front ahead of Archie Kitching and Sam Gornall, although Gornall would sadly later receive a penalty for contravening a flag signal. It would be Tristan Rennie that earned a promotion to the podium ahead of Harley Haughton as Gornall would salvage fifth position from the final ahead of a worthy comeback drive from Jed Murphy.
With 25 drivers covered by a second in timed qualifying, it would be a sigh of relief for Harry Newman-Oakley as he emerged just 12 hundredths of a second ahead of Will Jenkins, with Matthew Higgins joining them at the front end of each of their starting grids for the heats.
In the first heat Will Jenkins would prove to be a chip off the old block as the son of two-time British Truck Racing champion Dave Jenkins would score his first race win in the British Kart Championships. His win came at the expense of Harry Newman-Oakley who would be black-flagged from the lead on lap 5, allowing Jenkins to grab victory from William Walker and Taylan Babbs. Kai Hunter had originally finished 3rd on the road only to receive a front fairing penalty which would uncharacteristically demote him to 4th position.
Kai Hunter would then re-emerge in the second heat as a strong winner in the wet conditions as he dealt with the drying nature of the circuit to cruise ahead of Matthew Higgins and William Walker. In the third and final heat Higgins found a perfect rhythm at the front of the field in a crazy race on a drying track to grab victory five seconds clear of Ben Caisley and William Elswood, the latter driver being one of over a dozen drivers to receive front fairing infringements and therefore dropping behind Jenkins, as Tom Adams and Jack Steadman would be declared as top six finishers as no less than 8 drivers around them received the same penalty.
Once Kai Hunter made his move for the lead on the second lap of the first final he would never look back and clinched another brilliant win extending to a five second lead over Matthew Higgins with third position going to William Walker after a terrific duel with Taylan Babbs, with Tom Adams and Will Jenkins rounding out the top 6. Despite having a tougher fight in the second encounter, Kai Hunter would eventually romp away to the victory again in race two becoming the only driver in the British Kart Championships this season to win 4 finals out of 4 starts. Despite finishing second on the road, William Walker would be declared third behind Taylan Babbs following a front fairing penalty whilst Tom Adams would lead home Will Elswood and Will Jenkins in the top six.
Following a closely fought timed qualifying session that saw Tom Edmunds beat Guy Cunnington to the top spot by just 0.06 seconds, Edmunds would carry that form into the first heat and take a strong victory ahead of Myles Apps, with Guy Cunnington narrowly holding off the charge back through the field from Rhys Hunter as Ben Donkin would finish fifth ahead of Oakley Pryer after a front fairing penalty demoted Lewis Malin out of the top six.
Kieran Gifford began Sunday in flying fashion after a thriller of a race that saw him eclipse Tom Edmunds by less than half a second. Ben Davis was not far away in a balanced third place drive whereas Jason Lockwood was able to pull clear of an intense squabble between James Lowther and Morgan Rose which went down to the finish line being settled in the former’s favour.
But Cunnington wouldn’t take his earlier defeat lying down and set up a brilliant pair of finals by becoming the third different winner in as many heats, being pushed all the way by Ben Davis and Kieran Gifford, with Oakley Pryer only another second behind them at the flag. Lewis Malin would cross the line ahead of James Lowther but after yet another front fairing penalty (this time for Lowther) it would be James Lingard who was given a reprieve for sixth place.
With wet conditions on a changeable track the finals were always going to be very closely matched, and Tom Edmunds had to work incredibly hard to bring himself back to the front end of the field. He held off the challenge from Kieran Gifford coolly and calmly, whilst a brilliant drive to third from Oakley Pryer turned sour post-race after another dreaded dislodged front fairing. He would drop to fifth behind Guy Cunnington and Ben Davis, with Jason Lockwood rounding out the top six behind Pryer.
Despite missing out in the earlier race, Cunnington was back to his best in the second final as he stormed through determinedly for a great victory in the second race snatching the lead at the half distance mark. Kieran Gifford and Rhys Hunter would be the beneficiaries of a disappointing plummet down the order for Edmunds, whilst the top six would be completed by Pryer, Davis and George Holbrook who was glad to salvage a strong end to the weekend after a tricky meeting.
The top 9 drivers in qualifying were covered by a mere half second, so Michael Cheek would be grateful and relieved to start from pole position ahead of Nathan Chafer and Luc Oliver, and he would continue that trend of strong form into the heats. His victory over Jamie Dzyra was the perfect reboot to his 2019 campaign, whilst Luc Oliver would be frustrated to lose his third position for an incorrectly positioned front fairing. Nathan Chafer would suffer the same fate after crossing the line fifth, so behind the two leaders it would be Colin Davis in third ahead of Joe Bleackley, Chris Wright and then Luc Oliver with Chafer demoted to 9th.
Heat two would be much the same for Michael Cheek although it would be a Dan Holland Racing 1-2 finish after Luc Oliver suffered the same fate again in the second heat, and despite finishing second on track he would be declared third behind Cheek and Dzyra. Joe Pfiffner would be fourth ahead of Daniel Tate who would then also find his front fairing out of position as would Chris Wright and so Joe Bleackley and Charlie Whaley were promoted into the top six.
As far as Michael Cheek was concerned, he was not prepared to lose at Rowrah, and although the first final would be a five-way scrap for the victory he was relentless in his pursuit of victory. In a race that saw plenty of battling at the front, he would lead all but 5 laps of the first final after an early challenge from his team-mate Jamie Dzyra. Cheek would however beat Luc Oliver and James Beacroft to the finish line with Dzyra fourth ahead of Bleackley and all five seperated by just over a second and a half.
But that wasn’t good enough for Cheek, and in the second final he dug deep and found even more pace. He extended a lead over the field in the early stages as Darren Whaley, Daniel Tate and Alexander Kirkwood were wiped out at the start. The battles intensified further back and despite leading on lap 5 it would be game over for Jamie Dzyra who retired on lap 9 at the same time as Jamie McGeoghan. The conflict wasn’t done there either as it emerged post race that both Pfiffner and Bleackley had overstepped the marked as they were later disqualified for driving in a manner incompatible with safety.
All this meant that Michael Cheek had a much easier task in the second final to beat James Beacroft to the finish line by 3 seconds. Sadly Beacroft would drop to third behind Nathan Chafer after the front fairing was deemed to be out of position, leaving him ahead of Luc Oliver and the resurgent Matteo Zanetti who had stormed through the pack to the top five in the second heat despite a disastrous qualifying that saw him start the heats from the rear of the field.
The British Kart Championships will return to Rowrah in July for the IAME classes, but the next round of the series will see the X30 brigade head up to the West of Scotland Kart Club at Larkhall in Fife. The Rotax crowd will gather again at the prolific Mansell Raceway at Dunkeswell in Devon on the last weekend in June, where no doubt the drivers will want to emulate the karting and Formula One star behind the name of the brilliant circuit – Nigel Mansell.