Thirteen-year-old Naomi Garcia from Trinidad & Tobago is the new Caribbean Junior Karting Champion. Throughout three days and 12 hard-fought races at the Palisadoes International Raceway in Jamaica at the weekend (July 21-23), she fought a thrilling duel with local racer Zander Williams, the outcome uncertain until the final race, which Garcia won by a margin of just eight-hundredths of a second and, with it, the title by 11 points.
They could hardly have been more evenly matched: while Garcia claimed two pole positions to Williams’s one, the 17-year-old Jamaican won six races to her five, and each claimed five further podium finishes and five fastest laps. Garcia was the top points-scorer on Friday, Williams on Saturday and they reached Sunday’s Final with Garcia ahead by just five points; whichever of them won the race would claim the crown.
An elated Garcia said: “It was the best feeling! After all the hard work to have my goals become reality. I am really proud of myself; proud to be a girl, proud to be a Trinidadian. I am so grateful for the support of my family and friends, my dad especially who has always guided me. Also my coaches and mechanics, especially Juan Valderrama, who was in Jamaica with me. And a big thank you to all those who watched and cheered me on. The victory was sweet.”
Williams added: “I am kinda disappointed that I didn’t win, but Naomi was a fierce competitor and it was a great weekend of racing. I want to thank my team and everyone for all the support and I know this is just a part of racing.”
With five podium finishes apiece, Jamaica’s Matthew Warmington and Eddie Upstone finished third and fifth, sandwiching T&T’s Aran Sharma, who had been the weekend’s only other race-winner, also claiming a further podium finish. Jamaica’s Luke Spencer and Justin Donaldson had also finished on the podium, while Raizer Stoute finished seventh overall and highest of the Barbadian trio, with a brace of fifth places in the Finals on Saturday and Sunday his best results.
Funded by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA) Sport Grant Programme and administered by the Barbados Motoring Federation (BMF), the Caribbean Junior Karting Academy Trophy (CJKAT) was first run in 2019 at Bushy Park Barbados. After being delayed by the pandemic, the second CJKAT ran last November, again at Bushy Park, with this year’s event hosted by the Jamaica Karting Association (JKA) at its 1.2-kilometre purpose-built circuit, which sits alongside Kingston Harbour.
Each day of racing was run to the same format: Free Practice, 15 minutes of Qualifying, then three nine-lap Qualifying Heats and a 13-lap Final, with everyone racing identical Vortex-engined Exprit OK-Junior karts. The first grid is based on Qualifying, the second on Qualifying reversed (only the top 10 switch) and the third on each driver’s best lap time from the first two events, with the fastest on pole. Points scored so far settle the grid for the Final. Garcia, who had finished fifth overall and top scorer aged 14 and under in CJKAT22, set the pace, fastest in Friday’s two practice sessions and in Qualifying, six-tenths up on Williams, with Warmington and Daniel Ullyett of Barbados also within 1sec.
Williams and Garcia were first and second throughout Race 1, the winning margin just over 2secs, but there was a lively battle for third place in which Warmington eventually prevailed over Sharma and Ullyett. Sharma made smooth progress in the first three laps of the reversed grid Race 2, to assume a lead he was not to lose; there was still some shuffling to be done behind, however, Warmington and Williams coming through to complete the podium, with Garcia fourth, collecting her first fastest lap in the way.
Her first win of the weekend and a second fastest lap followed in Race 3, although Warmington led until half distance, before finishing second, with Williams, Sharma and Ullyett completing the top five. Garcia repeated the win and fastest lap double in the higher points-scoring Final building up an 8secs lead while a tussle developed in the closing stages between Sharma, Warmington and Williams, the first two nabbing the podium places. Williams was disqualified after his left side pod came off during the race which, combined with a 5sec penalty for Donaldson, promoted Ullyett to fourth, which would prove to be his best result of a shortened weekend.
With 83 points, Garcia led Warmington by 15 after Day 1, with Sharma another point adrift, Williams fourth (51pts) and Ullyett fifth (47pts). While Garcia and Upstone topped one practice session each, Williams was fastest in Qualifying, ahead of Upstone and Warmington, with Garcia fourth. And Williams carried that pace through the entire day, winning all four races, claiming three out of four fastest laps (Garcia did so in the Final) and leading every lap of the day, apart from the first few in the reverse grid race.
The maximum 96 points catapulted Williams into the lead by three points, 147 to 144; facing some tyre issues, Garcia finished third once and second twice, including in the higher-scoring Final, but also ended up in the sand early in Race 3, recording her lowest result of the weekend, 10th. Warmington was now third in the standings (107pts) and Sharma fourth (99pts), while podium finishes for Spencer and Upstone had moved them up the order, the latter climbing from 12th to sixth. There was less positive news for the highest-placed Barbadian Ullyett, who would take no further part in the weekend after suffering a few aches and pains following an accident in Saturday’s Final.
The Championship lead changed three times in a thrilling final day. Fastest in both practice sessions, Garcia narrowed the gap to two points by topping the Qualifying time sheets, then retook the lead – by two points – with victory in Race 1 ahead Williams while Upstone claimed fastest lap in third place. The tables were turned in Race 2: with a win over Garcia, Williams regained the CJKAT lead by the same two points, with Warmington completing the podium this time, having ceded second place to Garcia on the last lap.
Upstone led the early stages of Race 3, while a lively battle was fought behind, involving Garcia, Spencer, Williams, Sharma and Warmington. Garcia passed Upstone three laps from home, but Williams could not find a way past, all three crossing the line within six-tenths. So Garcia led again, this time by five points and, with a six-point differential between first and second place in the Final, either could still win.
The top three remained static on the lap chart for the Final, Garcia ahead of Williams and Upstone, but that does not reflect the effort made, particularly by the championship rivals, who were separated by 0.086s at the flag; Williams set the fastest lap on the penultimate lap of the race in his efforts to catch and pass Garcia.