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UNDERDOG GRAHAM TURNS THE TABLES FOR STUNNING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TRIUMPH

CIK-FIA U18 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Rd 3) + CIK-FIA ACADEMY TROPHY (Rd 3)

Matty Graham overcame both the odds and a fiercely competitive adversary to claim, what he justifiably described as the greatest achievement of his burgeoning career at Sarno, to clinch the coveted CIK-FIA Under-18 World Championship crown.¬†Defying his pre event status as “underdog”,

In a season where, despite battling back brilliantly from adversity to victory in the 2011 Under-18 curtain-raiser at Ortona and coverted a lowly grid position into podium finish in round two at Essay, a variety of mechanical misfortunes meant Matty entered the season final at Sarno in southern Italy needing to overturn a sizable deficit to arch-rival Pyry Ovaska to have any hope of lifting the ultimate laurels.

“Going into the weekend, we were the underdogs,” he candidly reflected. ” We were 29 points behind Ovaska in the standings, which was definitely a disadvantage – but I knew it was possible to pull that back, so I was feeling quite positive, I’d raced around Sarno several times before and had always been fast, whereas Pyry had revealed in the post-race press conference at Essay that he had never been there – so that was a little bit of a psychological boots.”

With 25 points available from the heat races alone, the highly-rated young speed demon was only too aware of just how important they would be – after a carburettor failure in the third heat at Ortona had cost him dear, denying him a maximum score despite utterly dominating the meeting with commanding triumphs in the other three encounters as well as the grand final.

At Sarno, though, Matty’s optimism was buoyed by scintillating form throughout practice, enabling him to confidently complete just the bare minimum of laps in qualifying and still secure pole positing¬† in the 64-strong field – one composed of the indisputable creme de la creme of global karting talent at that level.

Acknowledging that his pace was ‘another good boost’ and that he ‘could probably have pushed a little bit more if i’d needed to – there was definitely still some in reserve’. the prime spot on the starting grid would nevertheless transpire to be something of a poisoned chalice.

Unjustly paying a high price for his qualifying prowess, the MSport Zanardi ace was forced to play it cautious when the lights went out, allowing the drivers behind him to pick up momentum and steal a march into the first corner. On the only two occasions on which he actually led into turn one, he was handed down a seven-second penalty for an adjudged ‘jump-start’.

That frustration aside, however, Matty was outstanding during the heats, sprinting away from his pursuers to annex a flawless clean sweep of on-the-road victories on Saturday – to the tune of more than three seconds in one of them. Lying second overall, the 15-year-old was determined to snatch the 25 points that came with topping the intermediate ranking, and despite waking up to a thunderstorm on Sunday and confessing that ‘after being fastest by quite a margin and feeling quite secure in the dry, that was a bit of a worry’. in truth, he needn’t have worried at all.

Comfortably outclassing his rivals on the newly sodden track surface and fairly scampering away into the distance in heat four, Matty duly wound up at the head of the table come the conclusion of the heats – and better yet, with an off-colour Ovaska struggling to find his form, the gap between them was suddenly reduced to just six points. having proven to be much the quicker of the pair, the Ponteland Community High School pupil entered the pre-final with his tail up – but after a mega opening lap in the first of them, things would rapidly unravel.

“On lap two, the bolt on the steering wheel snapped, which left it moving about in my hands for the rest of the race,” he explained. “That was a little disconcerting, to say the least! At times, I would turn the wheel and nothing happened, it was a big distraction and made it difficult to just concentrate on driving, and the conditions being like they were only made matters even worse!”

Taking the chequered flag sixth, the second of Matty’s controversial jump-start penalties over the weekend dropped him to tenth, but in the circumstances, that still represented damage limitation. Despite beginning the second, reverse-grid pre-final plum last, he swiftly indicated that he was in no mood to lie down without a fight.

“There was a crash ahead at that start, which helped, and after that, I was able to work my way through the field,” recounted the Co. Durham-based hotshot. “The rain didn’t make it easy again – there were times when it was actually quite tricky even to control the kart because it was just that slippery – but to finish fourth was really good result.”

Spoken with characteristic understatement, with the stakes at their absolute highest, Matty remained as cool as the proverbial cucumber – and if he had nerves, he hid them magnificently. Admitting to feeling ‘surprisingly relaxed’ as he prepared for the all-important grand final – which he would begin fifth, three spots behind Ovaska – he handled the pressure superbly, and as the Finn tumbled down the timing screen, the reigning CIK-FIA Asia-Pacific Champion maturely retained his composure and went on to defeat his rival by 14 points.

“I got a good start and managed to get up alongside Ovaska on the first lap,” he recalled, “I went to out-brake him into the corner and he tried to hang on around the outside, but because it was so slippery, we both skidded out wide. Luckily for us, he lost most ground, and after that, i got faster-and-faster and caught the two drivers in front, i got as high as seconds, but then over the last few laps, Martin Mortensen was closing in quickly and passed me – with Pyry being that much further down the order, it wasn’t worth trying to fight Martin and risking a collision or mistake.”

“When I crossed the finish line to see everyone in the team hanging over the pit wall, I knew we had done it and all the other drivers gave me the thumbs-up on the slowing-down lap. it was just such an amazing feeling – being World Champion really is pretty special, it’s good to keep the title in Britain, too, after Jake Dennis won it last year – and it’s definitely the biggest achievement of my career so far. “