Following our review of Oxford’s success in the 2014 Varsity Karting event, I met with two stars of the show. We chatted to James Lambton (1st) and Callum Hughes (3rd), about their experience in Varsity and in Oxford motorsport in general.
When asked about why they got into karting in Oxford, both drivers pointed towards childhood. Lambton told me, “I got into karting because of my dad. He used to take me down to the local track, and we would mess around like you do. After doing that for a while he felt I should have a go in a proper kart. We went for a few test days and we started racing.”
Hughes said, “When I was 8, for my birthday my dad took me to indoor karting: I loved it so much. Periodically we went, until for my 10th birthday – my dad bought me a proper kart and from there we just kept going.”
On his motivation, Callum confessed to be- ing a bit of a petrolhead. “Since I was young, I was always interested in cars as well. I am interested in motorsport and it went from there.” However Lambton just explained that it was all down to the fun factor, saying, “I wouldn’t say it is anything more than it is really good fun. I do not take it that seriously.”
I then asked whether these Oxford aces had any four-wheeled heroes. James Lambton men- tioned the elephant in the room. “I am not big on heroes, but if I had to say someone at the moment, I’d say Lewis Hamilton was the first good British driver I saw winning.”
His team-mate delved further back into the annals of motorsport history and cited F1 legend Nigel Mansell. He said, “When I started karting I was always interested in Nigel Mansell’s career because he had a really good season and absolutely dominated the field, and now I’d probably say Lewis Hamilton because he is doing the same.”
Karting isn’t the most obvious of sports to pick up at university, so I asked how the two drivers would recommend beginning. Lambton answered, saying, “The first thing I’d do would be to join the Motor Drivers’ Club. They run internal club championship anyone can go along to; you don’t need any prior experience, so it is great for beginners and good fun.”
Representing Oxford at any sport can prove a testing challenge; it’s not always easy to bal- ance work and high-quality extracurriculars. However, these boys seem to find managing it easy. Lambton said, “For me, I find it is not that bad because it is only one day every couple of weeks so you can plan for that and do your work accordingly. It’s not really a problem.”
Last month’s Varsity victory was incredibly impressive, and as the two men in front of me had stood on the podium, it seemed sensible to ask how that had felt to win.
Lambton explained that it’d been pretty overwhelming. “It took a while for it to sink in, to be honest. It was my first proper race win; in all the karting I had done before I never actually won a race, so it was a pretty good feeling!
Hughes laughed as he answered. “Well, I came third actually, but for Oxford it was great to win, we knew we had the stronger team but in motorsport you never know what is going to happen, so to get a win and to do it in our first year is very nice.”
This seemed like a good opportunity to gauge the rivalry within the Oxford ranks. Would they have rathered individual or team glory?
Lambton hesitates slightly but answers, “I was in the lucky position to get both but I would probably say the team win actually because if you get the individual win, yeah it is great you feel good but no one else feels that great. So it is nice to win the race and to win Varsity because everyone is in a good mood.”
His team-mate takes a controversial line though: he’d prefer the personal glory. “I was probably more about the individual win, because I always thought Oxford had a good chance of winning overall. Throughout the whole year we race together, we race for Oxford in the University Championship but we do not actually race against each other because we are on the same team. This was a day to see who was the best, so there was a bit of pride at stake.”
Moving on as the pair laugh, I wonder if there was much of a gameplan.
“What we actually did at the start of the Varsity race was we tried to engineer it so we ended up with three frontrunners. I started on pole and tried to let the guy in second in front of me because it is a disadvantage starting on the outside lane, in the end that didn’t go so well because he jumped the start and got a penalty, but generally we don’t fight each other too hard.
“We obviously do to a certain extent, but at the end of the day if you take someone out who is on the same team that is really silly so we just give each other room, if someone is coming up behind you who is clearly faster there is no point fighting it so we let each other pass.
“Tactics are a bit hard to engineer when you are out on the track, but it is all about being sensible and giving more room to an Oxford rather than a Cambridge rival.”
Our interview concludes as I ask the karters what they would prefer: a British Universities title, or Varsity success.
Lambton answers first, “I would have to say the Uni championship because there are good drivers at Cambridge and the competition was decent but there are some really fast guys at the universities track, so to win at that competition would be amazing,”
Hughes agreed, summing it up by saying, “Some of the other drivers are Ford Super Cup drivers and top level karters so to win that would be zing, and also Cambridge race in that too, and so we would be beating the Tabs at the same time!”