Hawke's Bay karter Jackson Whitfield will be on a redemption mission during today's National Schools Championship on his home track.
The 15-year-old Karamu High School Year 11 student will be tackling the champs for the third time and he doesn't have fond memories of his previous two. Whitfield can't even remember the venue for the first champs when he competed in the Vortex Mini Rok class early on in his six-year racing career.
"Last year it was Blenheim and I was in the Rotax Junior class. Our original ferry crossing got cancelled. By the time we got to Blenheim it was time to race and I didn't have time to see the track beforehand ... I didn't do very well," Whitfield recalled.
"It's going to be better here at home. I know the track, I've had plenty of time to rehearse on it and I couldn't be happier with my testing today," Whitfield said after his four test outings on Thursday.
"A podium spot is the first goal. But I've also got a good chance of winning my class," Whitfield, who is one of nine starters in the Rotax Lights class, said.
He hasn't been short of confidence since winning the Hawke's Bay-hosted round of the Wellington Provincial Karting Association's Gold Star Series in May. The 58-year-old series involves three rounds, Taranaki in November, Wellington in March and Hawke's Bay, and attracts most of the country's top drivers in their respective classes.
"That win was the highlight of my career. It was huge for my confidence and I learnt a lot of different things," Whitfield said.
The youngest of four children in his family, Whitfield got his first taste of motorsport as a motocross rider.
"My older siblings were into motocross. But I didn't enjoy two wheels as much as four ... I fell in love with karting," Whitfield recalled.
"I come out here and enjoy the whole vibe. Everyone helps one another and it's a whole lot of fun."
For Whitfield karting also provides an opportunity to spend quality time with his father, company director Ross Whitfield.
"Dad can often be away a lot with work so it's great to have him here as my mechanic. Dad did jetskiing, waterskiing and motocross in the past so karting was a new experience for him too when we got involved."
While grateful for the input from his father Whitfield said the Bay's national senior Rotax Heavy class champion Zach Zaloum and his father Wayne Zaloum pass on plenty of tips to him. New Plymouth-based agent for TonyKart, Maurice Frost, has also been a valuable member of his team.
With points accumulated from all five races to decide the title winner in each class Whitfield will have ample opportunity to utilise all those tips. He was full of praise for this format.
"Your are rewarded for consistency."
A former hockey player, Whitfield said karting is his sporting priority these days.
"I'm in it for the long haul and I want to see where it takes me," he added.
Whitfield will be one of five Hawke's Bay karters in the Furnware-sponsored, Napier Boys' High School-hosted nationals which have attracted 80 competitors to the Roy's Hill venue.
Fellow Rotax Lights class competitor, 16-year-old Napier Boys' High School Year 12 student Zac Stichbury, must be considered the favourite in their class in the wake of his second placing at the Rotorua-hosted national championships in April.
Ten-year-old Te Mata School Year 6 student Tom Bewley will start as favourite in the Vortex Mini Rok class. He finished second in the Cadet Rok class at last year's Nationals Schools Championship and next month the title winner in his class in the Gold Star Series will compete in Australia's City of Melbourne Titles meet.
Napier Intermediate School's Stuart Baker and Hastings Boys' High School's Jamie Van den Berk will tackle the Rotax Junior class.