In the spotlight: Piers Prior

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This year’s Henry Surtees Foundation karting challenge winner hopes to graduate to single-seaters, as he explained to Alex Harmer

ith all the good work the Henry Surtees Foundation has been doing around the country with its ‘blood bike’ initiative, it’s fitting that a driver who has thrown his support behind the charity should have won its fifth annual karting challenge at Buckmore Park. 

To do so, Piers Prior had to beat the stiffest competition he’s faced in his fledgling career. Up until now he’s been racing primarily in the rental kart Sodi World Series, in which he was junior champion in 2010 before stepping up successfully to the senior class. But at Buckmore his main challenger was European F3 front-runner Jake Dennis. The two engaged in a close battle for the entire race.

“It feels amazing to me,” he says. “I was sitting on the grid, looking at all the drivers around me and thinking, ‘I shouldn’t really be here, what am I doing?’ It’s genuinely some of the best racing around. You get a lot of the top young and not-so-young drivers in the same place, in the same karts – I’d probably do it even without the prizes.

“It was a really good race – I know Jake and I’m aware of what he’s been doing in F3. He’s a quality driver. It’s just so much fun to race against people like that, because you know that to beat them you’re going to have to go some. I managed to do enough by about a tenth.”

His prize for winning is a Formula Renault 2.0 test “somewhere on the continent”. But despite his modest experience so far, it won’t be his first time in a single-seater.

Piers won simulator company Let’s Race’s first annual Let’s Race 2 Reality competition in 2014, which meant beating more than 200 other drivers on the company’s machines, then finishing in the top five in a kart race at Buckmore. Those five were then vetted by Carlin, spending time in the simulator and making a presentation in front of the team’s management. Piers was chosen as the winner.

“I got a test in one of Carlin’s F3 cars at Pembrey. It was the first car I’d ever driven and it was a bit of a baptism of fire. It took me a long time to get used to it and by the end of the day I was about a second off their benchmark. I was pretty happy, but I still didn’t feel comfortable in the car. 

“It was just so alien to me. Karts move around a lot, but the F3 car just turns and sticks. The speed you carry through the corners is unreal.”

Sixth place in last year’s HSF karting challenge netted him a test in one of Falcon Motorsport’s MSA Formula cars at Rockingham. Piers was instantly more at home in the intermediate machinery. “It had less downforce than an F3 car and felt more natural. By the end of the day I was setting mid-grid times. Hopefully I can find the budget to do a full season next year.

“I’ve been fortunate that my family’s been able to fund me through karting, but they can’t afford to put me into cars. I’m looking for sponsorship. I had a film crew following me after winning the Let’s Race prize, so hopefully I can make good use of the contacts they gave me.”

Piers wants to race single-seaters, but is not setting his sights on any particular goal. “I’d just like to race in a decent championship and be competitive, whether it’s in sports cars, single-seaters or touring cars. I just like driving things as fast as they’ll go and racing against the best.”

No matter where he might find it, Piers’ thirst for competition is obvious; he’s the sort of young driver the sport needs. And thanks to the Henry Surtees Foundation, he’ll be getting his chance soon enough.