Last weekend (9th & 10th September) saw 17 year Ben Jelf of Harrietsham, Kent travel to the 2017 UIM F4 European Championships in Rendsburg, Germany. The youngster who already boasts an impressive list of accolades in his powerboat racing career has spent the 2017 season competing in the World, British and European F4 Championships in his first full season in the class.
Currently third in the British Championship with two events still to go and ranked 6th in the World, Ben and the Jelf Racing team made the 600 mile journey to compete against some of the World’s top racers in A bid to become European Champion.
Coming from a powerboat racing dynasty with grandfather Ted, father Colin, uncle Owen and mother Jeni, who is powerboat racing manager of the RYA, it would come as a surprise if young Ben did not follow in the family footsteps. However, at just 17 years old, Master Jelf has put himself firmly at the top of the tree and is without doubt, a future world F1 champion.
RENDSBURG, HERE WE COME
32 teams made the journey to compete for the European crown meaning that qualifying would see each competitor with just two laps of the course to determine which boats would make the cut to battle for the crown. With water approvals set for 15 boats the fastest 11 boats would automatically qualify for the main race with the remaining boats then battling it out in a race for the final 4 places on the grid.
With his work cut out for him the British hopeful took to the water for free practice and as the team kept a close eye on his competitors’ times, Ben managed to secure the fastest lap time in free practice with over half a second quicker than the reigning World Champion, Juno Matti-Manninen of Finland.
Next up was qualifying, and just two laps stood between Ben and the race for the European Crown. The youngster remained focussed and with clean water on the course shaved another two seconds off his fastest lap time in free practice on his second lap with a time of 52.84 seconds. Happy with his time Ben had done all he could and was left watching as the remaining fleet took to the water to see who would clock the fastest time and secure pole position. As the times flew in and the water settled World Champion Juho Matti-Manninen secured pole position by just 0.31 of a second behind a jubilant Jelf.
Less than a second separated the top 5 boats in qualifying so it was now down to 4 heats with the best three results to count. Heading into the first heat tensions were high as the drivers remained focussed and spectators waited with baited breath to see who could get the best start off the grid to take lead position.
The lights went out and the fleet powered away from the start pontoon with all eyes on the first turn to make sure all the boats came round clean and to see who had got the best start. As the spray settled and the light began to fade the familiar blue and white colours of the Jelf Racing Team boat were in the lead, but with the current World Champion hot on his wake. Ben managed to hold Juno Matti-Manninen off, but unfortunately, due to the setting sun causing problems with visibility, he clipped a turn buoy and was docked a lap forcing him to take 7th and everything to do in the three remaining heats the next day.
Heat 2 got underway and from his start position of 7th on the grid Ben’s blistering pace saw him quickly move his way into second position, but a dislodged buoy meant the race was stopped and a full 18 lap restart would take place. This time Ben started from his 2nd place on the grid, and once more as the spray settled and the boats rounded the mark Ben was in the lead. Manninen pushed Ben every inch of the course, but there was no way Ben was going to give up his lead and he secured the heat win in style.
Heat 3 and it was back down to business for Ben and from Pole position he got a fantastic start ahead of the fleet to take the lead. However, disaster struck once more whilst leading the 7th lap of the 18 lap race when Ben’s engine died and wouldn’t restart. The youngster was forced to sit and watch the remaining race laps dwindle away in front of him along with his European Championship dreams.
The team worked quickly to find the problem to make sure Ben could still make the final heat, and disappointed but evermore determined, the youngster remained focussed and as the lights went out for the start of the race he shot away from last place on the grid to find himself right in the middle of the action. From 15th on the grid Ben managed to work his way up to 3rd place where he held off Hungary’s Attila Horvath whilst trying to find a way around Latvia’s Nikita Lijcs in a bid to chase down race leader Rudy Revert of France. Jelf finished in third and then had to play the waiting game as scores were calculated to finalise the podium positions.
So after an eventful first international season for the British youngster Ben Jelf stepped up on the European podium to claim a well deserved European Bronze Medal for Britain, behind European Champion Rudy Revert and silver medallist Juho Matti-Manninen.
Catching up with the youngster after the race a jubilant Jelf had this to say, “This season without a doubt has been the toughest season for me to date both on and off the water. At the beginning of the weekend we knew we had the speed to be up there with the leading boats, but to actually be leading a couple of the races was a dream come true for me and the team. Then things started to go wrong, the sun was really low and I clipped a buoy and then in the third heat my engine died and wouldn’t restart I just had to sit and wait as the race continued.”
“I know things like this happen all the time in racing, but my team, family and sponsors have put so much hard work into getting us here that it was really disappointing, but we came together to find and fix the problem and I made it back on to the water for the final heat. There was some really strong performances throughout the weekend making the racing tough, so I knew I had to finish well in the final heat to reward the team’s efforts. Finishing third I still wasn’t sure it was enough and it was actually a message from one of the team back in the UK that had done the math to work out we’d secured the European Bronze. I couldn’t be happier, of course I’d have liked the title but this was an achievement for the whole of Jelf Racing we’ve had a tough year and without the support hard work and dedication from all the team I wouldn’t have stood a chance.