Easy does it for Tom Thickpenny

On top at Teesside Dave Brand

I have to admit that it was his mother who first caught my attention as she carried out last minute adjustments with the practiced skill of an experienced mechanic. The occasion was an Easykart round at Rowrah and Tom’s mum, Anne, had been busy getting everything in perfect working order.  “It’s a bit of bluff, really,” she modestly confessed. “I fiddle about with the kart without always knowing exactly what I’m doing.  Fortunately, Tom has accumulated a fair degree of mechanical nous since he first started racing three years ago and he usually keeps me straight.  He is able to set up his kart just as well, if not better, than I can!  Sometimes things go wrong that we can’t put right and we have to call upon the services of Andy Cox.  He’s always available at Easykart events to provide help for anyone that needs it. “

At this particular round Anne was getting help from Andrew Fairley who runs Clan Racing.  “Andrew rescued us at a Larkhall Club event two years ago when we were having problems with the (then new) Tryton carburettor and he’s mentored us ever since,” she pointed out.  “He’s never been to an Easykart meeting before and unfortunately for us this is the only one he can attend.  Last year, when we were running ourselves in Formula Kart Stars, Tom bent an axle at the PFI round.  Luckily for us, Andrew had been looking after some drivers competing at Fulbeck and a quick phone call saw him hiking across the adjoining fields to help us out!. Having seen how it’s done, both Tom and I are now able to change axles ourselves!.”

Anne is a former schoolteacher who now makes a living training dogs rather than children. Tom’s dad, Andrew, is a Geologist by profession who admits to being fairly clueless about all things mechanical. “Ever since Tom first became interested in karts, his Mum has been the one who looks after him. I know where the wheels, engine and exhaust are”, he joked, “but that’s about the limit of my knowledge. Obviously, we both take great pride in Tom’s achievements but I generally keep well out of the way when any mechanical work needs doing.”

Anne attributes her husband’s reticence on this score to shrewd judgement. “I think Andrew realised almost straight away that karting would be a huge drain on our financial resources and the closer his involvement, the more we’d end up spending,” she rationalises. “I certainly got the ‘Monopoly’ mentality, especially last year when Tom was competing in both Super One and Formula Kart Stars.  We were warned not to try doing both and the expense was pretty crippling.  It was a great experience for Tom, however, even though we didn’t have the equipment or mechanical ability to be competitive.”

Tom and Anne at Clay Pigeon

Tom rounded off 2009 with a day’s tuition from Dan Hazelwood of Fusion Motorsport.  “It was a super experience and Dan offered Tom a place in his 2010 squad, but unfortunately the associated costs were well outside our budget,” says Anne.  “A friend had just joined Easykart and suggested that we give it a try.  After trying out his kart at Larkhall, Tom warmed to the idea and so here we are today. I only wish we’d heard about the Class a year earlier.  To my mind it is a much fairer Championship based on driver ability rather than available funds and mechanical wizardry. I can see it growing exponentially in today’s economical climate.  I felt my mechanical inability and our limited funds were really letting Tom down and I wanted to give him the opportunity to show his full potential. The Easykart Driver Programme can really open doors for talented young drivers and, as such, is the icing on the EK cake.  I just hope Tom’s achievement this year is enough to merit consideration for a coveted place.”

After establishing himself as championship leader ahead of Ronan McKenzie, Tom approached the final round at Forest Edge in high spirits. Unfortunately, mechanical problems plagued him all weekend and he failed to get his kart started in the Pre-Final. In the main race he fought back from last place to eventually finish 11th. McKenzie’s 2nd spot gave him the title and Tom had to settle for runner up. Nevertheless it guaranteed him a place in the UK squad that will travel to Italy for the World Finals later this year. “That was one of my targets when we first went into Easykart,” he acknowledges. “Obviously, it would have been better to go there as the UK champion. For one thing, it would have meant getting all my expenses paid.  My main goal is to follow James DeHavillande, Ronan McKenzie and Will Stowell in winning a place on the Easykart Driver Development Programme as that would greatly assist my future progress.”

Whether that happens or not, Tom is adamant that he’ll be doing Easykart as a Junior next year. “I’ll also be racing TKM whenever I can at my local circuits to keep me focused for EK,” he adds. “I love everything about Easykart.  It’s much fairer than all the other classes because you are only allowed to race the one engine all season. The Vega tyres have a lot more grip than Dunlops, which I quite like. Unfortunately, they wear out much faster and that’s something that my mum is not so keen on. I’ve also been impressed by the Easykart Videos produced by Chris Simpson of Cool Thinking Media which are really excellent.”

There’s not a lot about Easykart that Tom would want to change. “If the rules allowed it then I’d remove the restrictor for Cadets.,” he suggests. “I know that’s a non starter because the MSA has insisted that we have to be half a second slower than Comers. We’ll be racing unrestricted motors over in Italy and I expect they’ll be awesome. I’m a bit concerned about the weight limits which are lower over there. I’m already three kilos over the limit in Britain which really shows coming out of hairpins.  Weight limits are another thing I’d probably change, but for purely selfish reasons!!  Over here, my two favourite circuits are Glan-Y-Gors and Rowrah.  I especially like the fast sweeps at Glan-Y-Gors as they seem to suit my driving style.”

It all began for Tom when his 8th Birthday Party was held at the Scotkart indoor circuit in Clydebank.  He took to karting straight away and began planning more visits.  Soon he was visiting Larkhall circuit and looking forward to the day when he’d acquire a kart of his own. “I should have known it wouldn’t end there,” says Andrew. “Tom has always been an avid Formula One fan and used to drive us crazy once he’d learnt to operate the TV remote!  Michael Schumacher made a big impression upon him and he still remains his all time favourite. Because of Michael, he started to take a close interest in the Ferrari team.”

Apart from karting and F1, Tom plays golf, runs for his school, ferrets for his Mum’s hawk and is quite musically minded,  playing both Piano and Saxophone. According to his parents he doesn’t practice these instruments quite as often as he should. Tom insists that motor sport is the only activity he’s really interested in pursuing. “I dream of getting into F1, of course, but I know how high the odds are stacked against achieving such an ambition. So for now, I’m happy to follow F1 on television – and I went to Silverstone this year.”  I wasn’t a great fan of Alonso before he joined Ferrari but now I like him a lot – although I’d like to see Massa win.  I also really like Jenson Button.”

Three years ago Tom’s parents finally succumbed to his repeated requests and bought him a second-hand Comer powered Zip Blade. His first competitive outing was at Larkhall in August 2007 where he finished 6th out of 12 runners. It was an exceptionally damp day and the race meeting was almost abandoned but Tom has always performed well in wet conditions. Anne admits that she really struggled in getting to grips with the mechanical side of things at this stage .

“Fortunately, Larkhall has some brilliant ‘Cadet Dads’ prepared to offer advice and assistance and Keith Seager of KMS Racing was really encouraging, “ she acknowledges.  Both Tom and I were at the bottom of a very steep learning curve and, as per most things, the more I learn about this sport, the more I realise how little I know!  Fortunately, though, Tom has been a very quick learner. Apart from picking up racing techniques he’s also become adept at sussing out the kart. One thing I have learned is to trust his instincts. Whenever we’ve disagreed about things like tyre pressures, he’s always turned out to be right.”

In three of his five meetings on novice plates, at Larkhall, Golspie and Rowrah, Tom finished as the top rookie His subsequent performances at Club level were sufficiently encouraging to persuade him that he might aim a little higher the following season. With mum’s support, Tom entered the NKRA Championships for Comer Cadet in 2008 and travelled down to Clay Pigeon for the final. To say that he won the title standing on his head wouldn’t have been an idle boast.

“I was leading the Final when another driver tried to pass me in a difficult place” Tom recalls.  “My kart flipped and I was sent sliding upside down for 10 metres or more.  It cost me a new helmet and a few bits for the kart, including a steering wheel, but things weren’t quite as black as they looked. The race was red flagged and my immediate thoughts were to get things back in working order for the restart. However, sufficient laps had been completed to declare a result.  Because I’d been leading it a lap earlier, I won the Final and, on accumulated points, finished up winning the title. We had a happy journey back up to Scotland and counted the cost later.”

There were other notable successes in Comer Cadets. In his first full season of racing he’d established a new lap record at Larkhall and finished as runner up in the Club Championships there. Competing in Super One and Formula Kart Stars as a Mum & Son Team kept him busy throughout 2009, but he still managed to win club meetings at Larkhall and Rowrah.  In August he claimed 3rd place in the Lakeland Challenge at Rowrah out of 29 runners. All this was achieved on a flying one day visit without the benefit of any practice.

Since switching to Easykart in March this year, his results have been exceptional. Despite never having raced previously at Ellough Park Tom dominated proceedings during the opening round. Having topped the Timed Qualifying list, he won all three of his subsequent races. The next round was at Teesside, another totally new circuit for Tom. Once again, he returned home victorious after a breathtakingly close finish involving Kieran Wragg. On a very hot day at Clay Pigeon he finished 3rd behind his main Championship rivals Ronan McKenzie and Will Stowell.

The following round at Llandow (another new circuit to Tom) produced quite a few incidents from his point of view. He spun off in his Heat then suffered a flat tyre in the Pre Final. However, he overcame these early difficulties to take 3rd place in the actual Final behind Stowell and McKenzie. Carburettor problems at Whilton Mill meant that Tom failed to finish his Pre-Final and started off grid 23 in the main event. He still managed to fight his way up to 4th place before overcooking a manoeuvre relegated him to 8th. Then came the double header at Rowrah.  By winning Saturday’s event and finishing 2nd on Sunday, he regained the Championship lead with one round remaining.

Although his parents are English by birth, they have lived in Scotland for 25 years making Tom a first generation Scot!  Anne retains her maiden name of Moss which, she reminds Tom, is still revered in Formula One circles. Tom’s dad might not be very handy with a spanner but he knows his way around a computer.  Andrew has created a very informative web-site for Tom and, as a bit of fun he also designed a TOMINATOR T-shirt for Mum & Son to wear during the final round at Forest Edge.

“Like any parents we’re anxious to help Tom do the best he can in karting but we’re careful not to exert any undue pressure on him,” says Anne. “Enjoying his chosen sport is the most important part for us as parents, although I really would have liked to see him win the championships, Even though we’ve run ourselves for all of the Rounds except Rowrah, Andrew Fairley of Clan Racing continues to be a tremendous help and I can’t thank him enough for his support, without which Tom certainly wouldn’t be where he’s at today.”

Within minutes of first talking to Tom Thickpenny and his family it became apparent that  they are  full of enthusiasm for karting in general and  the Easykart concept in particular. Easy does it for Tom.  How about you?

You can follow Tom’s progress at www.tom-karting.com.