The 2022 season yielded a new approach for Rob Welham, with the specific aim of sealing a first overall championship victory. Going into the title-deciding final round at Snetterton with only five points separating the top three drivers, it was a high pressure weekend with all to play for in the notoriously competitive one-make series. We caught up with Rob to find out the key factors for success throughout his title winning campaign this year.
Back in April and on the eve of a fourth season in the F1000 UK series, Rob was keen to translate his multiple race winning pace in the Jedi race car into an elusive championship challenge. With previous campaigns hampered by both reliability issues and pandemic schedule disruption in 2020, the Rob Welham Racing camp went into this season with a feeling that now was the time to step up and mount a consistent title assault across the course of the year. You can catch up on events from the first half of the season, and more on the rationale behind Rob’s new approach for 2022 in our summer break review of the first three rounds here.
Central to this renewed focus was Rob continuing to develop his effective working relationship with number one mechanic Darren Boorman. The two worked closely together, building the mutual trust inherent in any effective driver/engineer (or indeed coach/athlete) dyad. The pair approached each event in the same manner, using Friday to work on strategies in both driving style and car set up to maximise the package for the specific demands of that weekend’s circuit; and their relative pace to who they considered to be other key championship contenders.
The season started badly at Silverstone when the clutch went while in the lead of race one but since then, other than a massive accident at Donington in August when I was collected by a Championship rival whilst in the lead of the final race of the weekend, the car has been spot on and we have always been prepared and had a plan for each race; which is then my job to execute. It’s been a real team effort all year long.
It’s worth noting that aside from the Silverstone and Donington Park DNFs, Rob hasn’t finished outside the top six in any of the fifteen races this year, taking an impressive two overall wins and 11 podiums in a season that has seen record grid sizes and a high standard of competitiveness throughout the field.
That sizable crash at Donington Park could have easily derailed the season, not only from a financial point of view but also in terms of Rob letting it affect the momentum of consistency he had built up over the year. Up until then however, the event had been another strong one in terms of results, and Rob still saw the weekend as successful with being taken out of the lead on the final lap a factor that was considered out of his immediate control. This year we’ve seen a notable difference in how Rob approaches every round, and crucially the responses to challenges or unplanned events that may (and do!) happen within race weekends. Alongside Darren, the pair continued to follow their overall plan; not allowing any external factors to distract or disrupt from the process of executing the fundamentals well to achieve wider success at the end of the weekend.
Going into the final round at Snetterton Welham was leading the series standings by only five points, with 90 available over the weekend. Though the championship allows for two dropped scores over the course of the season, these had been accounted for with previous DNFs from each of the three title contenders. Therefore it all came down to a simple shootout across the final three races of the Snetterton weekend to decide the title.
Prior to this final round of the season, Rob had expressed that he only wanted to know the championship points calculations if it was absolutely necessary, preferring instead to go out and treat the races how he would at any other event. There was an aim to prepare in exactly the same way as usual, changing nothing and bringing home the maximum points haul from each race (while carrying a natural aversion to stay out of trouble, particularly in race two’s top ten reverse grid starting format).
After a Friday experimenting with set-up to give performance down the Norfolk circuits long straights, Rob qualified in P5 on Saturday morning. Over the course of the season he had always tended to go faster in race set up over the course of the 15 minute sprint races, so was happy with this qualifying position. In race one Rob managed to finish in 2nd place with limited laps due to a safety car but importantly ahead of his two key rivals, Tom Gadd and Matthew Booth. Though the safety car had limited the amount of opportunity to progress to the lead it had given the advantage of limiting tyre wear, meaning that there was more life remaining in the Avon control tyre for the two crucial races still to come.
Race two runs with a top 10 reverse grid from the result of the first race, so this time Rob started down in P9 and managed to move his way up to P3 at the flag. Crucially again he was ahead of both key title rivals, which meant he now stood at 339 points, Matt Booth in 2nd was on 329 points and Tom Gadd in 3rd was on 319 points. So it all came down to the final race with 30 points available for a win.
The grid for race three is based on fastest lap times from race two, which meant that Rob started P4 with Tom Gadd in P3 and Matt Booth P6. Darren and Rob had discussed a plan in the assembly area, emphasising the need to maximise effort on the first couple of laps and get into a position where Rob was either ahead of or close to the two key rivals. By the end of lap one Rob had launched himself into P2 ahead of both Tom and Matt, a position from where he then carefully managed his race to make sure that he brought the car home safely for a well deserved title win.
To win the Championship at Snetterton, which is really my home circuit, was fantastic. Crossing the line I was obviously elated but also relieved that everything had worked out, all the sacrifices and hard work had paid off and to be able to have family, friends and sponsors there to witness it too made it all the better. I had also had my first ever win in a Jedi at Snetterton back in 2019 so it was fitting that I achieved my first Championship there too.
The culmination of a seasons efforts for Rob took on much greater meaning in the context of those well documented tough debut years in the sport, and reflects a wider effort from both the immediate family support network and also that of the Jedi Racing Cars team. We asked Rob about the significance of backing up the race winning speed and talent that we've all witnessed over the past few years with a first car racing title.
We have never really had the money for motorsport, but my parents have always supported me. We struggle a lot for funding and have sold our car previously to pay for an engine rebuild. I suffer from dyslexia and when I was young and felt that I was rubbish at everything which didn’t do much for my self esteem. However, when I found racing, I found something I was good at and that gave me confidence in myself. I also learned all about the mechanics of the karts and now the Jedi racing car.
Looking to the future, we are planning another season in F1000, I am looking forward to running the number 1 and defending the title again. To be honest we don’t have the budget for anything further up the ladder, although I feel I have the ability to be competitive at that level. My goal is to become a professional racing driver and instructor in whatever form that takes. It’s what I love more than anything, where I feel at home and I’m good at it!
Stay up to date with Rob’s plans for the 2023 season by following his social media, and check back for a special feature on how we’re working with him to stay mentally and physically sharp over the off-season to ensure he’s fully prepared to go for the double next year.
All photos courtesy of William St. James, unless otherwise credited