Arnside based kart racer Josh Smith celebrated his first Junior X30 world title in dramatic fashion at the globally renowned Le Mans kart circuit in France to complete a season that has seen the talented 15 year-old mix it with the very best.
Entering his GSCE year at Dallam High School, Smith has spent 2014 adding to his impressive resume with victory in the MSA British Kartmasters Grand Prix and the world title ensures he remains one of the hottest properties in karting.
Selected to join the prestigious Racing Steps Foundation talent programme at the start of the 2013 Josh has spent a busy year running with the factory ART Grand Prix team in the KF Junior class. Splitting his time between schoolwork in Cumbria and helping to develop the ART chassis for the Italian based team Smith established himself as the undisputed ART pacesetter and when time allowed also competed domestically in the Junior X30 class, enjoying unrivalled success.
Driving with the ZIP Young Guns, the RSF’s long-term karting partner; Smith claimed three wins from four starts in the Junior X30 Tour and Kartmasters glory gave him one of only 60 entries in the X30 International Final.
Against rivals representing 15 different nations, Smith’s prior experience of the Le Mans circuit, situated inside the famous car circuit, amounted to half a day's testing but that didn’t prevent him from setting third fastest time in Thursday night's rain-affected qualifying session.
“Qualifying was quite exciting,” commented Josh, whose best time was three-tenths slower than Maxime Drion (Belgium) and Fabio Scherer (Switzerland). “Driving at night was a new experience and it was amazing to be racing at Le Mans. You could see the main track from our track and it is a massive buzz to be racing at a place with so much history.”
Thankfully Friday’s rain was not to be seen again for the remainder of the weekend and Josh would start from the front row of the grid for his three heats, after which the field would be trimmed to 34 for Sunday’s all important finals.
Knowing that just one bad result could spell disaster Josh had to temper his natural speed with a degree of caution.
“I got a good start from pole position in heat one and wasn’t too worried when Kenny Roosens (Belgium) got past me for the lead,” recounted Josh. “I sat in behind him and we pulled away from the rest. But just as I was in a position to make my move the chequered flag came out so I had to settle for second.”
Eager to put the record straight in heat two, Josh made another strong start from the front row of the grid and repeated his heat one tactic, slotting into P2 and pushing leader Ulysse De Pauw (Belgium) away from the chasing horde. Josh calmly waited until the final lap before making his move for victory in turn three.
“I was glad that I got to do in heat two what I never got the chance to do in heat one so I feel there was a bit of justice done,” said Josh, who went on to complete a carbon copy manoeuvre on Tom Lledo (France) on the last lap of his third heat to take another win and secure a front row starting spot for Sunday’s pre-final.
From the outside of the front row Josh slipped to third at the start of the pre final but quickly moved back into second. With heat rivals De Pauw, Roosens and Lledo all surrounding him Josh picked off De Pauw for the lead and then watched his rivals battle over second, taking the chequered flag to secure the win and pole position for the grand final.
“There was such a good atmosphere that it helped to keep me relaxed,” said Josh. “ My dad and the team just kept talking normally to me to keep me calm and it worked.”
If the pre-race build up was calm, the final itself was anything but as Josh lost his initial advantage to Roosens on lap two before an accident further down the order brought out a full course yellow flag and bunched the entire pack together.
When the field restarted Josh picked his moment and grabbed the lead on the start/finish straight and managed to pull away. But fate had one more card to play and no sooner had Josh got a decent lead, a problem developed with his right front stub axle, causing a major vibration and costing Josh valuable time.
“The bearings in the right front stub axle collapsed and the whole stub started to work loose. Every time the kart turned left there was a massive vibration and I was worried the front wheel would fall off. I could see the guys behind catching me and I was worried they would slipstream past me on the start/finish straight.
With anxiety levels reaching fever pitch, Smith’s hobbled kart came out of the final corner with Gilles Magnus (Belgium) and Oscar Piastri (Australia) bearing down on him and as the leaders flashed across the line Smith’s winning margin was recorded as a mere five hundredths of a second.
“It was so nerve-wracking,” said Josh. “The gap was half a kart length, if the race had been one more lap I wouldn’t have won but it was such a great relief to see the chequered flag and it’s a massive weight off my shoulders after a tough year.”
Understandably for someone so young, the title of World Champion hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“It’s a totally different feeling to winning any other race of even another championship. I know that this year I am the best in the world in Junior X30 and it’s a good way to repay my family, ZIP Kart and the RSF for their faith and support.”
News of Josh’s World Finals success was given an even greater boost by confirmation that he will remain on the Racing Steps Foundation roster for a third year in 2015, something that Josh feels admirably humble about.
“The RSF has seen something in me they like and it's great to still be on the programme even though my results on the track this year haven’t always been as good as I would like. I’d like to thank Grant Munro and Jamie Allen from ZIP but most of all the RSF, as without their funding and support none of this would have been possible. Who knows what future holds but I will always be able to say that I was a World Champion.”