This weekend, the Ginetta Junior drivers will be back out for another season of one of the UK’s top series for karting graduates.
Coming into the year, Adam Smalley will arguably enter as the favourite for the title, The Checkered Flag caught up with him at the recent Ginetta Media Day to discuss Juniors, 2018 and … Blackpool Zoo car park.
“The track was greasy so I’ve been playing it safe.” he said when discussing his Media Day running. “We then went on a new tyre, going P1 by half a second, so I’m quite impressed with that. We did 10 laps and called it for that session. Next session we got new tyres and finished P1, by a tenth, again in that third session.”
Smalley’s time in the second session had been enough for him to top the day at Brands Hatch, also recording the best time in three of the four sessions.
Last year, Smalley ended the year with a single podium and seventh overall, as best of the rest behind the breakaway championship leaders. The 17-year-old though goes into this season with a new team, Elite Motorsport with a real shot of securing the title.
During the recent Ginetta Junior Winter Series, he began his campaign with an incredibly consistent run that eventually saw him come away with the title.
“First two races I finished second, on the second day I was second again and I thought ‘not again!’ But then I got Kiern Jewiss with a lap to go. I started on pole for the last race and just drove away with it, led all 20 laps.”
While Jewiss, who beat him to the rookie cup last year, has progressed to the F4 British Championship, Smalley remained confident he was in enough form to take on the bigger names from 2017.
“We won the winter series recently so that was also a big confidence boost and I’m pleased the boys at Elite are doing a very good job,” he continued. “More confident this year, I’ve got a bit more experience behind me. I won the scholarship last time so I’m confident coming into this year, ready for the title challenge.”
Even when questioned who he considered major rivals, Smalley seemed adamant that he’d barely have to look past his own garage.
“All the Elite boys, Fin Green, Greg Johnson, Hedley, Wilkinson all those lot. Ruben Del Sarthe in TCR he’s looking fast, but there’s a few out there are also.” He made it clear there was no animosity within the Elite team though, claiming it was like “One big family”.
Like many drivers Smalley chose to make the leap into Ginetta Juniors rather than spend another year in karting. Though unlike many who have their careers mapped out from an early age, he said it was a last-minute affair, based around the Ginetta Junior Scholarship.
“Well we entered the Ginetta scholarship as a laugh really, because we didn’t come from a big money background. So we bought a Mazda MX-5 the day before the test and we went round the back of Blackpool Zoo car park.
“It was my first time ever driving a car and we won the scholarship the day afterwards. I couldn’t believe it.”
Crash-course driving lessons may be nothing new, but going from no experience to scholarship winner in 24 hours, was proof that Smalley was destined for cars.
“I learned about clutch control the day before as well, I was like a kangaroo to begin with, but I learned quite quickly in the end.
“Setting up in cars is hard to get used to but I did a couple of days [testing] and with the right tuition I was on the right track and on the pace after a few races.”
He noted Oulton Park as the one round he was most looking forward to. Being his local track family and sponsors would be out in force, with most recently Madame Tussauds Blackpool being added to the list.
Under the guidance of former-BTCC driver Stefan Hodgetts, Adam has been on course for a breakthrough year, but with testing finally complete and the season starting on Saturday, can he take the title that so many are expecting.