BELLA FRANKLIN is a girl determined to be in the fast lane to motorsport glory.
At the age of 12 she is celebrating winning her first championship – competing against the best young karters in the UK.
Bella, from Selaby, near Gainford, County Durham, steered her Cadet 200cc Extreme kart to victory in the Shennington IKR Championships.
A Year 8 student at Staindrop Academy, Bella dreams of competing as a Formula 1 driver and is already following in the footsteps of the likes of F1 legends Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, who both used karting as a launchpad to glittering careers.
But her role model is another female driver, Jamie Chadwick, now an established star of Formula 3 and W Series, a development driver for the Williams F1 team and who has been announced as a driver in the inaugural series of Extreme E in 2021. Jamie, too, is a graduate of karting.
Motorsport is in Bella’s blood. Her grandfather is Bob Pope, a former motor racing driver and owner of Teesside Autodrome, one of Britain’s premier karting circuits on the outskirts of Middlesbrough. She took up karting aged 8 but only began racing competitively two years ago.
She says: “Motorsport has been a part of my whole life. I was pretty much brought up on it and now it’s all I want to do.”
During her sprint to the championship title, Bella was a model of consistency – finishing on the podium in six of the seven rounds to date, including one win. The final round of the season is at Shennington, in Oxfordshire, on November 7. She is also on track to finish in the top five of the Teesside Karting Owner Sprint at her home track.
Next year she will step up to the heavier, faster karts of the Junior Prokart class, competing against drivers aged up to 17.
“I have started endurance race training to build up my core body strength because, at 12, arguably my biggest challenge is the physical demands of racing. But I’m determined that won’t stop me,” she says.
Bella and her grandfather differ on the schoolgirl’s career path. She is keen to make the jump to cars as soon as she’s legally able at the age of 14… whereas he would prefer to see her continue in karting until she is 16.
The 30-year racing veteran, who has also influenced the motorsport career of Bella’s older cousin, Harry, says: “Bella has all the natural driving skills, the courage and determination to succeed in motorsport. Karting is close-quarter racing and that will better develop her skills in terms of observation, reaction time and the reading of race conditions, and prepare her to realise her ambitions for the sport.”
Says her grandfather: “Karting is the only sport where people are able to compete equally. The karts, with their controlled engines, gear settings and weight handicaps, ensure it is a level playing field for everyone, and success is therefore purely down to skill of the driver.
“Bella is a very tough girl. She’s made very quick progress and she certainly has the determination to become a major figure in motorsport.”
As well as main sponsors Trucks and Tractors, in St Helen Auckland, County Durham, Bella is backed by NRG (Teesside) and is in training to compete in her first Le Mans-style 24-hour endurance race as part of the four-strong Teesside NRG karting team, alongside fellow young karters Lizzie Mentier, Gracie Mitchell and Isabella Stansmore-Wilson. She is even acting as a mentor for emerging young karting star, eight-year-old Isabella , who has been dubbed Tiny Bella.
On Thursday, October 31, Bella will give a demonstration of the karting skills when Teesside Karting hosts a free open day designed to encourage more young girls into the sport and even take a kart for a spin around the circuit. The open day is from 9am until 1pm, is completely free, but youngsters must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 01642 231117 or go to www.teessidekarting.co.uk
Bella’s drive for motoring glory has certainly left the pits, is already thundering down the straight and who knows how quickly she will see the chequered flag of her life’s ambition.