In the spotlight – Jonny Wilkinson

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The name might be familiar, but his story won’t be. A rising kart star chatted to Jack Phillips

There’s only one Jonny Wilkinson. But the gentleman of rugby might not have a monopoly on that name for too many years. There’s a new Jonny Wilkinson on the block, and he wasn’t even born when the original model dropped that goal against Australia to win the World Cup. 

Born in the fertile motor sport breeding ground of Banbury, Oxfordshire, 12-year-old Wilkinson is still making his way through the schooling system. “They’re quite good with the racing and they give me the time off I need.”

He’s been using that time off school well, recently retaining his Welsh title and racing in Super One and LGM, having started almost by chance.

“I got into karting after my dad organised a birthday party at an indoor track, Formula Fast. I was quite good at it so they asked if I would be interested in trying some racing outdoors. We did that and then they said, ‘We can’t take you any further, we think you need to go to a team.’ So I joined BKC Racing and did quite well, then moved to KMS for 2016.”

His performances soon caught the eye of Steve Hutchinson, academy director of Arden’s The Business of Sport, and Wilkinson was enrolled into the Young Racing Driver Academy. Alumni include Euro F3 racer Raoul Hyman and British GT GT4 drivers Ross Gunn and Sandy Mitchell. 

Such is YRDA’s talent-spotting prowess that Wilkinson secured his spot during a difficult weekend. A lost entry for a round at Buckmore Park meant he had to start at the back, and repeatedly worked through the field and into the top eight. 

Given his age it’s sim-only work with Arden, and he’s one of the youngest they’ve let loose in it. They’ve been impressed, and will be moving him into the cockpit of a Formula 4 car almost as soon as he’s old enough.

“There are about 15 of us in the YRDA,” explains Wilkinson. “We do a fitness test every year and media training with Louise Goodman. I think that’s made me quite comfortable, but I prefer just to focus on my driving. I am really proud to be part of it.

“In the sim it’s much more complicated, so when I get back into my kart it feels a lot more basic. I’m looking forward to testing cars next year.”

Pencilled by Arden to move into the top 10 of Super One this season, he shattered their expectations by taking his maiden win at Buckmore Park in late June, exactly 12 months after joining the Academy. The cool head that impressed Arden was key, and his was cooler than those around him at the front. It wasn’t a one-off; he had shown the same calmness in the pre-final after slipping as far back as 14th before recovering to fifth place.

His team, KMS, backs up the assessment from Arden. He’s intelligent, and is analytical in his approach. They’re sure he’s on his way up the single-seater ladder, and it’s up to him how far he goes.

“My dream is Formula 1,” Wilkinson says without hesitation, adding: “I look up to Max Verstappen most, because he’s so young.”  

He was lying third in the IAME Cadet Super One standings at the time of writing. “This season has gone quite well,” he says with modesty. “We had a little bit of a glitch at Llandow but we still got good points. It would be amazing if I could win Super One – it’s hard to believe but hopefully I can do it.” Europe’s karting scene beckons, but there are no fears about stepping up – “It’s just another race weekend,” he says.

Intelligent and obviously cool, he might not be just another Jonny Wilkinson.