The Paul Fletcher international circuit was not a happy hunting ground for local karters and teams at the CIK-FIA OK and OK Junior Kart World Championship.
Attracting 187 competitors from around the world - including 12 current or former international karting champions - the single-event shoot-out would result in an over-15 year-old karter being crowed OK World Champion and an under-15 year-old the OK Junior Champion.
Various qualifying sessions and five heats whittled the competitors down to 34 starters for the final, taking place in front of the largest UK kart meeting crowd since the 1970s.
With prior knowledge of the PFi circuit, British competitors should have benefitted from home advantage and it certainly helped Danny Keirle win the OK title, and Dexter Pattison the OK Junior crown.
However, things did not run so smoothly for local karters and our local team.
Ben Barnicoat, the Chesterfield sportscar ace, who in preparation for the event, had returned to karting, winning the OK category race in the Super 1 Series finals a few weeks prior, said: “Things were not going well from the beginning of the weekend. We struggled with set-up during Thursday testing and were unable to unlock the potential. It was going to be a hard weekend. I would have to get into the top 10 in each heat to make it to the final,” bemoaned Barnicoat.
“I had two bad heats on Saturday, in the first one of the tyre valves failed, then in the second one I suffered a nose-cone penalty”, Barnicoat continued the tales of woe. “As we were already struggling, this compounded the problems, so we decided not to bother with the Sunday heats”.
“I am gutted as I beat the winners at Kartmasters, so I have the pace, but you have to be on right equipment and the team chose the wrong engine supplier: it is a lost opportunity, but we could not predict how it would go, the only difference was the engine. Barnicoat concluded expressing his disappointment, “I want to be successful in all I do”.
Having been a rookie in the 2017 X30 Junior Super 1 series, 15 year-old Cole Kilner, from Barnsley, made a brave decision to try his hand at the OK category races, taking advantage of the international OK Senior series being open to karters a year earlier than in the UK.
“Practice was good, but qualifying was shocking, I was only 18th fastest”, remarked Kilner
“In the heats I had two non-finishes, a chain snapped in one, and in another I suffered a racing incident in colliding with another kart. “We changed the set up on the kart I then managed a 15th place and a 19th to 10th-place.” but it was too late”, Kilner had accrued more than the maximum points required to get him through to the final.
“It has been an experience, it has been tough but I have enjoyed it”, Kilner summed-up his weekend with a smile, in the Rookie of the Year ranking he was classified 40th best out of 51 rookies.
Guy Cunnington, normally a ‘Dad and lad’ competitor in Junior Rotax Championships, the 15 year-old had impressed in the Super 1 Series OK Junior races and won one of five ‘Golden Ticket’ entries to the OK World Championship with the use of a Tonykart chassis, Vortex motor, being run by the top-flight, Handsworth-based Strawberry Racing.
Despite being unfamiliar with the class, Cunnington gave a terrific account of himself: faring the best of the Golden Ticket five.
Qualifying for the final alongside former World Champion, Flavio Camponeschi, in 22nd place, Cunnington had problems before the off, “On the grid, it would not start, then we got it going, and I moved through the field to be 16th by the end of the first lap, then on the second the engine failed”.
Cunnington, who finished 27th out 51 in the Rookie of the Year ranking, explained, “I got within a 10th of the ‘big boys’, while it was disappointing, as I am normally a junior club racer, we had a 7th, 5th, two 14ths, and 9th plus fastest lap, so I am happy with my performance – it has been a great experience”.
Strawberry Racing Team Manager, Paul Spencer praised his efforts too, saying, “He did really well. Particularly when you consider that they were ‘lad-and-dad’ privateers taking on works drivers, or youngsters competing with established teams that have won World titles before. They enjoyed a great experience and we certainly enjoyed sharing it with them”.
Also making the transition from domestic racing to the world stage was Strawberry Racing’s newly-crowned MSA British Senior Karting Champion, Mark Kimber. He too stepped up to the challenge admirably.
Kimber qualified on the 7th row of the grid for the final, incident-packed race – nine drivers were given time penalties for ‘dropped bumpers’.
By lap 8 Kimber was far from happy to be suffering from a lack of power and had fallen back to 23rd-place, nevertheless he fought his way past seven karts to take the chequered flag in 17th position.