Pittard takes top Surtees prize

University kart champ beats several fancied rivals... and sets his sights on a career in sports cars | by Alex Harmer

John Surtees’s opinions about racing’s convoluted nursery slopes are well known by now, but the Henry Surtees Foundation’s annual karting challenge at Buckmore Park offers young drivers some great prizes to put their careers on the right path.

This year’s winner had a decidedly old-fashioned start to his racing life and has the attitude to go with it, having started racing with his dad and worked his way through club championships. In the ’50s that approach could eventually have landed you in Formula 1, but without financial backing many drivers’ careers tend to stall nowadays.

When I sat down next to 21-year-old David Pittard at lunch – for no other reason, I must admit, than the lack of seating elsewhere – he was friendly and didn’t laugh too hard when I told him the extent of my own karting experience. I asked what racing he’d been doing and he mentioned the British Universities Karting Championship, but not the fact that he’d won it in 2012, nor anything of his exploits in much more advanced machinery. I’d seen his name near the top of the timesheets during practice and qualifying earlier in the day, but as I wished him good luck before the race he didn’t strike me as a potential winner. He was quick, but too ‘normal’ in a room full of confident young racers who looked and acted the part. Perhaps that should have been the first clue...

David started karting when he was eight, winning club and national championships before moving on. “My dad’s been heavily into motor sport as a spectator,” he says, “and it’s just something I’ve picked up from him. The older I got, the more I wanted to be part of it and I’ve been very lucky that my family has supported me.

“I’ve been car racing since 2009, when I did a part-season in the Toyota MR2 series with Montana Motorsport, where I had a couple of top-three results and scored my first win at the end of the year. We came back for a second year and took six wins from six races. At the same time I was doing the Sports 2000 series. A couple of mechanical failures didn’t help us in the championship fight, but the pace was there.”

“After MR2s and Sports 2000 we stepped up to the Britcar Endurance series, with the Strata 21 team. I got my hands on a Porsche Carrera Cup car, which was fantastic, and won the Class 4 championship with my team-mate Adam Sharp. This year we’ve done the Ginetta GT5 Challenge and really hit the ground running, winning races and – even though we didn’t complete the season – coming fifth in the championship. From here we’re looking at British GTs or the Blancpain Endurance series.”

David comes across as a young man who’s got his priorities straight, studying motor sport engineering at Brunel University. “I enjoy it and, I if want to become a professional driver, then speaking the language of the engineers will help,” he says, with some enthusiasm. David’s setting himself up to succeed and appears to be one of many young drivers for whom Formula 1 is no longer the end goal.

“Recently,” he says, “my big hero was Sean Edwards, someone to whom I looked up to massively. I should dedicate this win to him, really, because in the past couple of years I’ve followed his career avidly. Allan Simonsen was another who was talented and fortunate enough to be out there every weekend in all corners of the globe. That’s what I want to do.”

For these kids the opportunity to win races and championships, competing as often as possible, is the name of the game. Pragmatism beats the big bucks and a rich racing life is better than fame. “My dream is to be a Porsche factory driver,” says David. “Being Porsche Supercup Champion sounds pretty good. It’s arguably one of the most competitive one-make series in the world. Those guys are flying all over the world, racing for Porsche.

“I’ve always enjoyed F1, but getting there just never appealed to me. There’s a whole lot of money and people involved and it’s difficult to forge a career. You see a lot of drivers coming out of the lower formulae into sports cars. The GP3 test [with Carlin] I won through the Henry Surtees Foundation is a fantastic prize, though.”

Speaking only a couple of hours after what might be the biggest victory of his career so far, the excitement of the day hasn’t yet evaporated. In his heat David finished with a lead of five seconds, untouched beyond the first corner. In the final he eked out a similar lead before cruising home while Paul Janes and last year’s winner Jack Aitken scrapped behind him.

“It’s definitely not sunk in yet,” he says. “I haven’t stopped grinning since the finish. I had a fantastic start that gave me a comfortable gap over the second and third drivers. I knew they were quick and I could see them out the corner of my eye as I exited the hairpin, so I just kept my head down and my lines clean and brought it home.

“It didn’t really feel like I was going to win it until I was coming through the last corner and I thought ‘Oh my god!’, so I was quite emotional. There are some big names here and I was able to mix it with them and beat them so I’m over the moon.” This is David’s third try at the HSF Challenge; he previously finished third and 10th. As far as he can remember he’s only visited the Kent circuit five times before.

“I did the MSA club championship here in 2005, but didn’t come back until 2011 in the British Karting Championship and for the Henry Surtees Foundation event. It’s not really a local track for me, coming from Hertfordshire.”

Karting hero Bill Sisley, who has run Buckmore Park since 1985, points out that recent experience is essential for this type of event. A number of F3 drivers were out there, getting blown away by the kids. “The ones that are karting now have an advantage because they’re used to it,” he says. “Even someone like Ben Barnicoat – who is a brilliant driver, no question about it, he’ll be a Formula 1 driver if he has the chance – is doing international karts with very soft tyres. It takes you a day just to adapt to something with no power and no grip.”

“You can’t help but come back to your roots in karting,” David says. “It’s a very pure form of motor sport. Everybody’s been there and it gives you a nice level playing field. I want to make motor sport my living and this has capped off a good year. I’m looking forward to the future, hopefully to becoming a professional driver.”

He was unable to match high-calibre rivals such as Dean Stoneman and Oliver Rowland during the GP3 test, but there’s no shame in that. The lesson will be used and stored as he continues to pursue his dreams.