2013 Henry Surtees karting event

by Ed Foster on 10th October 2013

Jack Aitken, usually a very conscientious young racer, has asked to delay our chat by 24 hours. He’s in his final year of school, but something’s up, it’s not like him to postpone.

This morning it all becomes clear – he’s been selected as one of the finalists for the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award. “I couldn’t say anything until this morning,” he says after excusing himself from a noisy schoolroom.

The Award has been going since 1989, when David Coulthard won it, and since then the winners have gone on to race in Formula 1, DTM, sports cars and IndyCar. To be a finalist is recognition that you should have a bright future ahead.

Aitken has been racing in the Formula Renault North European Cup with Fortec this year and, even though he’s had to miss a few test days because of school, he’s lying second in the standings behind fellow award finalist Matt Parry. The final round is at Zandvoort this weekend and 10 days after that, on October 23, Aitken will race in the Henry Surtees Challenge at Buckmore Park. The rules are simple – each young racer drives a standard CLUB100 Birel kart and the top 10 at the end of the day get to choose from a list of prizes that range from a GP3 test to a fully funded race drive in the Michelin Clio Cup Series. All proceeds go to the Henry Surtees Foundation and funds have so far provided the Kent/Surrey/Sussex Air Ambulance with blood transfusion equipment and created a new centre at the head injury unit of Headway Tunbridge Wells.

Henry Surtees very sadly died of injuries he sustained when a wheel from another car hit him on his head in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch in 2009. Since then his father John has worked tirelessly to make sure no one else suffers the same fate. As part of this he launched the Henry Surtees Foundation in 2010.

Aitken won the Challenge last year, beating the likes of GP3 racer Alexander Sims and member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme Ben Barnicoat. As a prize he chose a GP3 test with Carlin Motorsport.

“I haven’t actually done it yet,” he admits, “I’m going to do it next year in Abu Dhabi. We decided that I didn’t have much experience in cars and the GP3 machine is quite quick so we’d be better to wait 12 months. The GP3 test is huge; it will be invaluable when it happens. I won’t get a drive off the back of winning the Challenge last year, but the GP3 test means that next year I can present myself to Carlin in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

“It’s difficult to get a seat at a team like Carlin so it’s important to make the most of these opportunities. You can’t just rely on your normal championship to raise awareness, it’s not enough these days.

“Winning the Challenge last year did help get my name out there as there were some great drivers racing. There are plenty this year as well with Alexander [Sims] and [GP3 front runner] Jack Harvey. It’s quite intense competition, but it’ll be a fun day out. We have to remember, though, that while we’re racing, we’re there for John and the charity. It’s important to remember that and not get too wrapped up in the competition – it’s not easy for us drivers, but since we’re going there to support the Henry Surtees Foundation the pressure’s off a bit.”

It’s rare that young drivers get a chance to race each other in (relatively) equal equipment so it’s hard to gauge exactly where some stand in the pecking order. The Henry Surtees Challenge provides that, but it also offers prizes that every aspiring racer dreams of. Good luck to all taking part this year.

Click here to visit the Henry Surtees Foundation website

Click here for more from Ed Foster

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