James Hedley’s domination
The Ginetta Junior championship is known to be incredibly close. Last year, Adam Smalley won by just eight points. The year before, the gap at the top of the order was 27 points. In 2016, it was 40, and in 2015 it was 0.
James Hedley won the title with 89 points more than Zak O’Sullivan.
The last time any driver achieved a greater points advantage was in 2013, when Harry Woodhead won with 134 points back to Keith Donegan.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Hedley dominated the championship.
What was missing from Hedley’s season was that string of victories. The Elite Motorsport driver never won more than two races back-to-back, and that only happened once. Looking down the order to Will Martin, who took five wins on the bounce, it makes you wonder how Hedley was able to achieve that domination.
It’s simple. Consistency.
Even in the first few rounds, it became clear Hedley’s consistency was going to play to his advantage. In the first three rounds, there were four winners (five if you include the disqualified Roman Bilinski), and five other podium finishers. But, by the end of the first Thruxton weekend, Hedley was already 43 points ahead of O’Sullivan.
Hedley’s consistency was unmatched throughout the season. Only twice did he fail to finish inside the top 6 – once in Thruxton when he retired with a mechanical failure and again at Silverstone when he span on the opening lap.
It’s that consistency – and the lack of it from his rivals – that won Hedley the championship.
Of course, that consistency didn’t happen by magic, and much should be said for Hedley’s mindset throughout the championship.
When the Ginetta Junior Championship returned to Thruxton, Hedley hadn’t won since the last time the series visited the Hampshire track. But, when Hedley returned to the top step at the end of race one, we weren’t greeted with a driver celebrating the end of “dry” spell.
“It’s good to be back on the top step but, at the end of the day, I’m here to win the championship, not to win races,” he told Ginetta Junior Update at the time.
And that is important. While some champions take a race-by-race approach, Hedley had the “bigger picture” in mind. Not to criticise the race-by-race approach (it works for the likes of Zane Maloney and Lewis Hamilton), but looking at the bigger picture meant Hedley knew the importance of getting the points where he could, and not trying any kamikaze moves to get fifth place.
Of course, Hedley’s experience in the championship probably helped. Having already raced for a little over a year in the series – and with a very experienced team – Hedley knew how important that consistency would be. In a championship as chaotic as Ginetta Juniors can be, “playing it safe” can be the winning way.
Rise of R Racing
Elite Motorsport may have been the team to beat at the start of the year, but a new team that emerged over the course of the season could well be one to watch in 2020.
R Racing joined the grid at the start of the season, working with Porsche specialists In2Racing to run Josh Rattican. The team had not long been set up, though had run both Rattican and Aston Millar in a series of preseason tests. But after only a few rounds, the R Racing squad decided to split and go it alone, a brave and, it would turn out, wise decision.
In a championship with giants like Elite Motorsport, Douglas Motorsport, and Total Control Racing, not much was expected from the new team, but they more than exceeded expectations.
R Racing quickly attracted attention from other drivers in the field and, ahead of round six, it brought onboard Zak O’Sullivan.
After just three races, O’Sullivan took his first victory in Ginetta Juniors.
R Racing rose from strength to strength. It ended the season with four drivers, with Joel Pearson joining O’Sullivan, Rattican, and Millar, with all three of the drivers that completed the full season finished inside the top 10 in the championship.
That growth only continued into the post-season Winter Series.
Running Millar, Pearson, and Bailey Voisin for the two-day event, R Racing emerged as giant-killers. Though James Taylor proved unbeatable across the four races, it was Millar, Voisin, and Pearson constantly pushing him. Millar managed to take pole for the third race of the weekend – the only driver other than Taylor to top a session over the two days – and went on to be crowned rookie champion, while Pearson was consistently at the sharp end of the field.
It’s too early to say where anybody stands in 2020 but, no matter who R Racing signs for the upcoming season, they should definitely not be ruled out.
Zak O’Sullivan’s valiant fight-back
The history books may remember 2019 as Hedley’s domination, but the story of the driver who finished second is just as important, and R Racing played a crucial part in that.
O’Sullivan’s championship challenge wouldn’t have happened without R Racing, according to the teenager, and the numbers back him up.
Midway through the championship, O’Sullivan was almost 100 points behind Hedley in the title fight. Then, he switched to R Racing.
O’Sullivan already had some strong results. He had five second place finishes and was second in the championship. But, from Snetterton onwards, he ate away at Hedley’s championship advantage, starting with his first victory at Snetterton.
If the championship had begun when O’Sullivan moved to R Racing, the title fight would have been much closer. He took nine consecutive podium finishes, more than any other driver, which included three victories.
Hedley scored only seven more points than O’Sullivan in the second half of the season, and the R Racing driver would have led the championship at various points if everyone arrived at Snetterton with nil points.
O’Sullivan will probably move up to British F4 in 2020. It’s a loss for Ginetta Juniors, as he would undoubtedly have been one to watch with the developing R Racing.
James Taylor’s turn around
Another strong driver that will be leaving the Junior fold this season is James Taylor.
Taylor started strong. Victory at Brands Hatch. Victory at Donington Park. Four top five finishes in the first five races.
But, after Donington, Taylor began to fall away from the front of the field and became stuck in the back end of the top 10. He still put in a number of strong drives, but his championship challenge was definitely slipping away.
Like O’Sullivan, a change in scenary was just what Taylor needed.
The Yesss Electricals backed driver switched to Elite Motorsport for the final third of the year. There, he turned around his season. At Knockhill, Taylor finished inside the top five for the first time since Donington Park. It wasn’t a spark of performance, either, and he finished inside the top five in seven of the final nine rounds.
For the first time since Donington Park, he took a win at Silverstone.
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Taylor’s relationship with Elite continued into the Winter Series, where he completely dominated proceedings, winning every race and starting on pole in all but one.
Unfortunately for Junior fans, Taylor will also not be returning to the championship in 2020. He is currently wieghing up his options, with the SuperCup and Porsche both possibilities.
So, who can we expect to be fighting for the title next year? It all depends on who comes back, of course.
Lorcan Hanafin hasn’t ruled out a return to the series in 2020. After his first full year in the championship, he finished fourth overall. Now, he’s assessing his options for the upcoming year but, if he does return, he should be one to watch.
Further down the order, rookies Ethan Brooks and Ben Kasperczak showed solid improvements throughout the year. Brooks was forced to miss a handful of races due to budget concerns, while Kasperczak spent most of the year as a privateer. If either can get the team (and budget) behind them for 2020, they’ll likely be at the sharp end of the field.
And, of course, there is the 2020 Scholarship winner Tom Lebbon. Lebbon made his Ginetta debut in the Winter Series, and won the Hard Charger award for the most places made up over the course of the weekend.
Scholarship winners tend to do well, though not necessarily always in their first year, so it’s worth keeping an eye on Lebbon in his maiden season.
Image Credit: Caroline Rhea
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