Kiwi karting star Jacob Douglas is set to return to Italy in October to contest a record fourth consecutive ROK Cup SuperFinal event despite the Covid-19 pandemic threatening to derail his ambitions.
The annual SuperFinal will be held at the South Garda Karting complex in Brescia, North Italy where Douglas will be joined with 25-year-old Palmerston North karter Arie Hutton to represent New Zealand.
Douglas originally qualified for the event having finished 20th in the Mini ROK B final in 2017 aged just 12. He then went on to contest his second SuperFinal meeting a year later after triumphing in the New Zealand Vortex Mini ROK title.
Last year saw Douglas step up to the Junior ROK class where he would go on to win the Bridgestone Trophy for be the outright winner of his class, becoming the first Kiwi to win the award.
The high-flier also contested in three rounds of the prestigious FIA Karting Academy Trophy series in Europe where he concluded the year 11th overall.
However, 2020 saw the global motorsport community rocked by the global pandemic, the effects felt from premier level to domestic grassroots racers. Thus, budding Kiwi karters were compelled to rely upon the three-round ROK Cup NZ series to earn a qualifying spot.
Douglas achieved victory in two of the three rounds in the Vortex ROK DVS Junior class earlier in the year to reserve a spot on the grid in Italy, but now finds himself in an unusual scenario as he prepares for a truly unique opportunity to represent New Zealand on a global scale amid a period of uncertainty
“The whole COVID thing has definitely made it a lot more complicated than in previous years,” Douglas said.
“Mainly because of the requirement to isolate when I get [to Italy] and then again when I get back home, I am probably going to go with my Mum Rowena, but work with Matt [Hamilton] and Tiff [Chittenden – Douglas’ mentors] here before I go, and remotely when I am up there.”
The nationwide lockdown also put a lot of strain on Douglas’ training schedule, but he aims to nullify the effect of his prolonged absence from the Kart by making his venture to Italy a few weeks ahead of the event so he can ‘get his eye in’.
“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,” he added.
“[It’s] 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.”
Former UK karting champion Chittenden has been a part of Douglas’ growth since his maiden SuperFinal event four years ago and believes the aspiring Kiwi is a special talent on the karting scene and says his confidence and ability is now at a point where he can be expected to challenge for strong results.
“Jacob has grown a lot [since 2017] in both in his speed as a driver but also more importantly I believe in his racecraft, his ability to overtake and the ability to make smart decisions is well beyond his years during a race,” explained Chittenden.
“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.
“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 of 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.”
This year’s ROK SuperFinal will be the 18th rendition of the event which in recent years has enticed the interest and support of Formula 1 drivers Lance Stroll and Rubens Barrichello in recent years and will be held over September 14-17.