In his first ever race meeting, young Mount Gambier star Kai Allen took the motorsport world by storm with a dream debut at Townsville last weekend.
Having missed out on the opening round of the 2021 Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia 86 Series in Bathurst because he was too young, 16-year- old Allen cut his first laps in a racing car on the Reid Park street circuit and steered all the way to the podium.
With the Toyota series on the support card of the Supercars’ NTI Townsville 500, there was plenty of attention throughout the weekend and Allen said he could not be happier with how his first appearance in the TekworkX Motorsport/Norwell Toyota panned out.
“It was awesome,” he said.
“I did not have any expectations, so I learnt a lot and improved from the first practice session to the final race.
“I was very happy with how it all went and loved the entire weekend.” Being thrown into a field which contained 621 Supercars race starts, seven wins and two Bathurst 1000 podiums through Lee Holdsworth and Jonathan Webb, Allen showed no fear on the challenging street circuit.
He was on the pace early to finish seventh in both practice sessions, less than half a second behind the leaders.
Allen admitted the first lap behind the wheel took his breath away.
“The first lap was unreal and it was crazy seeing how close the walls are,” he said.
“It was very different to what you see on TV, brushing the walls and finding the limits.
“A big eye opener was also the track walk seeing how big the curbs are, especially turn three because if you do not get it right, you are in the concrete wall.
“I just learnt so much and progressed a lot in my driving.” However, the two practice sessions did not quite go to plan with Allen bending a shock absorber in the second and final segment before qualifying.
He hit a curb too hard, but was lucky to get one of the final spare shock absorbers at the track and bounced back well in qualifying.
Allen was composed during the intense 15-minute session to plant his car fifth on the grid.
His time of 1:29.4400 was just three tenths of poleman Zach Bates, who was untouchable all weekend.
Allen said his stomach was full of nerves as he lined up on the grid ahead of his first race, but he kept a cool head in the heat of battle to avoid the chaos behind him.
“There were a lot of butterflies and I was very nervous on the warm up lap, but as soon as the lights went out I switched into race mode,” he said.
“I did not quite do a good enough job off the start and fell back a little bit, but we only got three laps of racing because of all the carnage behind us, so we were quite happy to finish where we did.” After nine cars failed to complete the first two laps due to a couple of incidents which brought the safety car out, the race turned into a one-lap dash to the chequered flag.
During the weekend Allen was being supported over the radio by Kiwi Supercars and Toyota 86 veteran Chris Pither and the pair was not aware it was the last lap until the Mount Gambier driver entered the final section of the lap.
But that did not stop Allen from making a nice move at the final corner to steal fourth place on debut.
“I had to put the pedal to the metal to catch Kane (Baxter- Smith) in front of me and he made a little mistake, so I showed my nose and just out-braked him, so we went side by side through the last corner,” he said.
“It was a drag race to the line and I got him by half a car length which was very cool.” After being full of nerves on Saturday, Allen had a very different feeling in his stomach on Sunday.
Over night he suffered a bout of food poisoning and was not in great shape for a huge day of racing which began at 8am.
However, Allen did not let the sickness hold him back with the helmet on as he raced his way to a podium in just his second race.
He nailed the start to sit under the bumper of Holdsworth in the run down to turn one before the Norwell Motorplex protégée got his shoulders out to win some thrilling side-by-side battles and snatched third with a nice late-breaking manoeuvre on Cameron Crick.
Over the last five laps Allen silenced the challenge by Crick and stormed to the podium two seconds down the road.
“I was quite crook in the morning and woke up around 4.30am, so I just tried to put that aside and the adrenaline blocked it out,” Allen said.
“We got a good start and it was cool to be close with a V8Supercar driver and then we had a good battle with James Wilkins passing him a few times.
“Chris and I worked hard on the last corner to get the power down the straight to have a go at my favourite passing opportunity (turn two) but I had to be very gentle on the brakes to get it done.
“When I went across the line I had a big sigh of relief and it was just such a cool feeling being on the podium.” Unfortunately, Allen did not get the greatest start in the final race of the weekend and gave up third place to Crick.
During the final three laps he closed in on Crick, but could not get close enough to make a move and had to settle for fourth.
But the debut weekend could not have gone any better for the rookie, who is full of confidence to take on the next round whenever it may be.