While he would be the first to agree that the COVID-19 Coronavirus and pandemic have made his quest infinitely harder this year, young Christchurch karter Jacob Douglas is set to return to Italy in October to contest a record fourth consecutive ROK Cup Superfinal event.
Now 15-years-of-age, Douglas first attended Italian engine maker Vortex’s annual ROK Cup Superfinal event in 2017 at the tender age of 12, having earned the right to an entry and use of a kart and engine package after winning the NZ Sprint title in the Vortex Mini ROK class earlier that year.
The annual Superfinal meeting (where representatives from ROK Cup national and/or regional series around the globe gather at the South Garda Karting complex in Italy’s north-east in October each year to decide a set of class Superfinal titles) is one of the biggest on Italy’s annual karting calendar, last year’s event attracting 435 entrants across 7 classes.
After finishing 20th in the Mini ROK B final in 2017, Douglas qualified to attend his second Superfinal meeting in October 2018 by again winning the New Zealand Vortex Mini ROK title. He then went on to qualify 4th, finish in the top 5 in 3 of the 4 heats and finish 10th in the A Final.
It was a case, meanwhile, of 3rd time lucky last year, the 14-year-old stepping up to the Junior ROK class and finishing in the top 3 in 3 of his heats before going on to win the class’s Bridgestone Trophy B main race outright.
With no KartSport New Zealand National Sprint title meeting (The Easter event at his home track in Christchurch was one of the first casualties of New Zealand’s COVID-19 Level 4 Lockdown) to earn him a trip to this year’s Superfinal event in Italy Douglas had to rely on this year’s three-round ROK Cup NZL series to claim a qualifying spot.
Claim one he did though, driving his WKS Kartstore-prepared/Matt Hamilton-run Aluminos kart to victory in the Vortex ROK DVS Junior class at two of the three rounds to lead home fellow internationals Liam Sceats from Auckland and Tom Bewley from the Hawke’s Bay.
So far Douglas is one of only two ROK Cup NZL series trip winners to confirm their intention of travelling to Italy for this year’s Superfinal. And he says that even now things like who is going to travel with him and issues of isolating himself when he gets there and returns home, are still being worked out.
For the past three years Douglas has been accompanied by mentor (and multi-time former NZ kart champion) Matthew Hamilton and driver coach (former UK kart champ and international representative) Tiffany Chittenden.
“The whole COVID thing has definitely made it a lot more complicated than in previous years,” the 15-year-old said this week. “ Mainly because of the requirement to isolate when I get there and again when I get back home, I am probably going to go with my Mum Rowena, but work with Matt and Tiff here before I go, and remotely when I am up there.”
As he has the three other times he has qualified for, and travelled to the ROK Cup Superfinal event, Douglas will ‘go up early’ so that he can contest the final round of Italy’s annual Trofeo D’Autunno (Autumn Trophy) series which is being held at the South Garda Karting facility the weekend before the ROK Cup Superfinal meeting.
The importance, he believes, of being able to ‘get his eye in’ at the track will be even greater this year, given his lack of international competition.
“With our mixed grid formats here I got to have lots of battle practise at the ROK Cup NZL rounds but racing in Italy is just so much different – much more aggressive and with way bigger fields – so doing the Autumn Trophy meeting will again be a good way to get back into the groove, with the kart and the team I am again running with as much as the track and how hard everyone drives up there.”
Having raced herself at this level before emigrating here Tiffany Chittenden knows full well how hard it is just to qualify to compete at an event like the ROK Cup Superfinal and says she has enjoyed both watching and being part of Jacob’s progress since she accompanied him to Italy for this first trip back in 2017.
“Jacob has grown a lot in that time both in his speed as a driver but also more importantly I believe in his racecraft, his ability to overtake, and make smart decisions well beyond his years during a race.
“When you first work with a driver it is all about the fundamentals. Relatively quickly though it becomes a lot more, and you have to teach them how to give good feedback on the kart and engine set-up.
“Jacob is lucky that since he was 11-years-old he has worked closely with Matt Hamilton and has grown as a driver both on and off the track as a result.
“So many drivers are fast, and can produce a lap time, but especially in Europe, it is all about the racing, The fastest driver doesn’t always win. The driver who does is also able to keep calm and cope with a lot or pressure – which is what I have been working on with Jacob since we first started going up there with him.
“Racing karts in Europe is a lot more professional and serious than anywhere else in the world and it’s hard for someone like me to get across to people back here in New Zealand just how big a deal an event like the ROK Cup Superfinal is.
“It’s easy, for instance, to watch a final, look at the results and think, yep, 38 drivers, that’s a tough field. But to have even got to that final was a huge challenge in itself. Then you have hundreds of drivers, all the very best from their own countries, and used to winning at home, all fighting to make the same final.
“There really isn’t room for any mistakes and this is a lot for a teenager who only gets to practise at this level once a year.”
At the moment the only other Kiwi karter confirmed to be representing New Zealand at this year’s ROK Cup Superfinal at South Garda in October is 25-year-old Palmerston North driver Arie Hutton.
Jacob Douglas’s 2020 ROK Cup Supercup campaign is supported by K.N.Xtra, DP Homes, Racer Products, OMP and Bell Helmets. Jacob would also like to acknowledge the support of Matt and John Hamilton of Christchurch’s WKS KartStore and of Tiffany Chittenden of TC Performance.
2020 ROK Cup NZL – Final results & points after Rnd 3 of 3
Vortex ROK DVS
1. Rianna O’Meara-Hunt 141 points; 2. Arie Hutton 141; 3. Jamie van den Berk 137.
Vortex ROK DVS Junior
1. Jacob Douglas 147 points; 2. Liam Sceats 144; 3. Tom Bewley 133.
Vortex Mini ROK
1. Izaak Fletcher 142 points; 2. Arthur Broughan 142; 3. Jacob Bellamy 136.
1. Zach Tucker 150 points; 2. Jackson Culver 136; 3. Grayson Stowe 135.