The Kartmasters MSA British Kart Grand Prix may not have had any local drivers bringing home a coveted ‘GP’ number plate, but nevertheless out of the 233 entrants, Matthew Hirst did manage to collect an armful of silverware at the PFi circuit.
Usually, circuit racer Ben Barnicoat does a brief karting return at Kartmasters to grab a GP-plate, but this year the Euro F3 driver’s team did not want to jeopardise his season by risking him being injured, so the task fell on another local kart racer.
In the X30 Senior GP Sheffield’s Tom Healy looked to be stepping up to the task, adept at scything through traffic, he did well enough in the four heats to start the pre-final race on the front row.
For the blue riband X30 Senior GP itself, Healy lined up 7th out of 36 karts race, and after the rolling start soon moved up to 5th-place.
This became 3rd-place on lap 2 with Healy running wheel-to-wheel with the 2nd-place car as the pair put pressure on the race leader.
Briefly dropping to 7th, Healy spent the middle portion of the 17 lap race dicing around 5th-place.
Then on lap 11 disaster struck, with three minutes to go, when he was side-swiped off the track damaging his kart, Healy retiring on the spot.
Surprisingly calm and philosophical after the event, Healy revealed that he was taken out by a driver who had a gained a reputation for wreaking havoc over the weekend. Was he going to register a protest of the driver’s tactics? “What’s the point?” With his head dipped in resignation Healy explained, “That’s just the way it is – there’s no point in protesting him, as it is not going to re-instate me high in the results or on to the podium”.
Amazingly the cudgel then fell to Doncaster’s Matthew Hirst who lined up on grid slot 22nd for the final, a start position from finishing in 2nd-place in a packed ‘B’ Final that saw him gain 10 places in a very workman-like drive.
Continuing the improvements, he made 6 places at the start, following which Hirst steadily clawed his way through the field.
Within 6 laps Hirst was running on the edge of the top-10, and hungry for more places.
By lap 13 Hirst’s dazzling driving had gained him a stunning 18 places improvement on his start position, taking 5th almost on the finishing line at the flag: when the 4th-placed driver was excluded this meant Hirst became the 4th-place finisher.
Come the podium ceremony, not only did Hirst receive his 4th-place trophy but he was also awarded the Tony Hanley Spirit of Kartmasters Award Trophy – for showing true grit throughout the event having suffered mechanical problems and a catalogue of mishaps over all weekend.
Things had started well-enough for Hirst, but in Heat 2 he was out on lap 3, and in Heat 3 a 10 seconds penalty for a front bumper irregularity dropped him 8 places to 26th.
Things went well in qualifying where he was 10th fastest, while in Heat 4 he finished in 8th place.
But in Heat 5 Hirst dropped down 25 places to 32nd, when he out with 3 laps to go through engine failure in the last race on Saturday.
It meant that Ash (manager of the KR Sport team running Hirst’s kart) - to whom Hirst is very grateful - having to drive back to their Milton Keynes base to rebuild and dyno-test the engine on Saturday evening so that Hirst could take part in the Sunday’s races.
The engine was put to good use by Hirst in Sunday’s B Final where he gained 10 places to finish in 2nd-place.
This placed him starting at the back of the Pre-final in 32nd slot, Hirst putting in a monumental effort making up 22 places to finish in 10th but another 10 seconds bumper penalty dropped him to 22nd-place, hence Hirst’s lowly start position at the back of the Grand Prix final.
Finishing the GP further back were a pair of Rotherham karters; Jordan Baines was pleased to climb 23 places finishing 13th, unfortunately David Sutton was not so lucky having made his way to 16th from 32nd but retired within 7 laps.
While a pair of locals had not progress beyond the B-Final: Barnsley’s Brendan Patterson in 18th “we’ve been chasing it all weekend, but haven’t found it…”; Steven Burdass from Doncaster was a place behind with a 19th-place finish.
Sheffield’s Joshua Rattican started the IAME Cadet GP from the front row in 2nd slot, but did not get the best of starts falling back to 7th-place.
Fourteen laps of intense close combat karting followed where Rattican got back up to 5th on lap 2, slowly falling back to 8th mid-race before battling back to 6th-place with two laps to go.
The Handsworth-based Strawberry Racing, as usual, were running karters who were in the thick of the action.
Jenson Butterfield dominated the weekend, a lights-to-flag victory in the Pre-final race, hence being on pole position for the Minimax GP, looked to have the whole thing sewn up as he led the initial 12 laps with ease.
Only then to lose concentration on lap 13, he was ‘mugged’ at the second hairpin bend, Butterfield dropped down to 4th-place, suddenly ‘waking-up’ he fought back to finish the GP in runners-up spot.
Dean MacDonald gave Strawberry the honour of setting the fastest-ever lap of the PFi circuit, so is now the circuit’s outright lap record holder.
In the Senior OK Vortex GP, MacDonald from 3rd on the grid took 2nd-place on lap 3, only to lose the place on lap 10 and fall back 3rd, holding the place to the flag.
Following him home, one place behind, teammate Luke Knott resolutely made 4th-place his own from start-to-finish in the GP.
Strawberry’s Mark Kimber started the Junior Max GP from 4th slot, holding that position for all but the final lap when he clinched 3rd-place.