Fierce rivals and firm friends
Regardless of how often the chequered flag changes hands between Ashley Horseman and Jorja Thomas, the victor's celebration remains the same: a high five between the two Tag Junior drivers.
Horseman and Thomas have thoroughly dominated their class this season, with Thomas holding a narrow lead in the standings as they head into the eighth race day of the Bermuda Karting Club season.
The pair have long shattered gender stereotypes by proving they are just as fast, if not quicker, than the male karters during the past few seasons after piling up a slew of podium finishes.
Despite their fierce rivalry, however, they remain firm friends and are relishing their elevation as the drivers to beat in the absence of Ryan Burgess, last season's runaway leader, who now races in the Tag Seniors.
“There's been a good mix of wins and losses so far this season,” said 14-year-old Horseman, a Mount St Agnes pupil.
“You never know what to expect when we race against each other. Once we put the helmets on we don't even think about [our friendship]. After every race, though, we drive next to each other and share a high five and tell each other, ‘Good job!'
“There was always a chance of winning last season, but usually it was the same old Ryan winning. It was always the fight for second whereas now it's the first for first.”
Thomas, who turns 14 next month, has set her sights in joining Burgess in the Tag Seniors next season before blazing a trail for female drivers at the BKC.
“I want to go to the Seniors for one year and then the Shifters,” said Thomas, a Saltus Grammar School pupil.
“My dad says the Seniors are like freight trains! I think I'll be the first girl in the history of the karting club to race Shifters.”
Thomas's mother Hildegarde, who has been the club's head scorer for the past two seasons, is slightly less enthusiastic about her daughter's racing ambitions. “I don't think I can handle that! I'm going to do everything it takes to keep her in the juniors,” she joked.
Horseman's father, Reggie, knows only too well about the challenges facing youngsters who make the leap to the Seniors; Ashley's brother, Blake, is among the standout drivers in the “more aggressive and unforgiving” class.
“There's a lot more competition in the Seniors and [the other drivers] don't like young people beating them,” he said.
“They can get an attitude sometimes. My wife and I can't even watch [Blake's] races; we go to the back of the trailer once they start. After they've done a couple of laps I go and have a peak around the corner.”
With so little separating Horseman and Thomas, Reggie believes their tuners David Brewster and Mikey Lopes can often prove the difference between finishing first and second. Indeed, he believes the tuners are the unsung heroes of local karting.
“The tuners are a big part of it,” he said. “They do a lot of homework behind the scenes.
“If something doesn't work one race day, you can bet those two guys are working on something different for the next race day. That's what makes it interesting.”
Thomas's tuner Lopes has even greater incentive to ensure his driver has the best possible chance of victory
“Jorja takes her tuner candy every race day,” Hildegarde added. “I ask her every Sunday before the races, ‘Have you given Mikey his candies? And she's like, ‘No'. Then I ask Mikey and he says, ‘No, she always waits depending on how we do.”
n Canadian karter Austin Riley will be returning to the island to race at the Rubis Southside Raceway this weekend.
Since his previous visit in 2017, the 19-year-old has become the first professional driver with autism.
Riley, who had autism diagnosed at 14, has raced in England and Australia. His tours include presentations to schools about his condition which affects social interaction and communication