tseastleigh071016_0127-00-10-21-400

Third time lucky

Date: 7th October 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 22.695s
Best lap time this session: 23.591s

A spur of the moment decision to go karting in the member’s 3-4-2 session on a Friday evening (whilst my wife was away), took me back to Eastleigh with my friend Mike. I couldn’t believe that this was my first time karting since my 9th place finish in the KartChamps grand final (I had spent some time in Germany and Denmark with work immediately afterwards, so didn’t have the time to take part in any of the sessions that I would normally participate in).

There were only three of us in the members’ session (myself, Mike and Connor), meaning that there was a lot of space out on track (if you wanted it). I did want a bit of space at first, so allowed Mike to get away and then I planned to chase him down in the laps to come.

I’m not going to lie, but the kart I had been given didn’t feel great from the first corner; slipping and sliding around underneath me, but I persevered with it and a few laps later, a little bit of grip did appear in places and I set out in pursuit of Mike. Unfortunately, although I did close the gap slightly, I didn’t quite have enough time to catch and overtake him before the end of the session.

After the first session, the three of us decided that we would rotate the three karts used in that session, so that by the end of the evening, each driver would get the opportunity to drive each kart once.

The second session went pretty much the same way as the first; Connor was able to pull away from myself and Mike, whilst we “battled” it out for position on track. Again, I wasn’t thrilled with the kart’s performance, but I did all that I could to be competitive in it, knowing that I would have an opportunity to deliver a fast lap time in the last session.

With all of that taken into account, both myself and Mike came off at the end of the session having enjoyed every minute of it, especially the sportsmanship between the two of us swapping track positions at the end.

I finally got myself chance to drive kart 14 in the last session, which I was very happy about (although it was freshly refuelled just before the session). Compared with the other two karts I had used this evening, it was far easier to drive and be aggressive through the corners.

I tried to manage the gap between myself and Connor in the early part of the session, but eventually he broke free and then I had to just concentrate on putting clean laps in to better my lap times and attempt to get on the best time of the day/week/month lists!

I was really pleased with my performance in the final session, which also placed me (at this very early stage) as holding the third best lap time of the month.

I do have a strange feeling (and maybe a little bit of a lack of direction) after the KartChamps finals. This isn’t a new feeling for me; I usually feel some emptiness after the BRKC, because it is so physically and emotionally demanding over those three days. I really have the urge to try something new, whether that be a new track, a new championship/event or something completely different in motorsport (maybe going for my full racing licence). One thing that I know that I definitely will be putting my efforts into is trying to acquire sponsorship to help to fund whatever step I take next.
Onwards and upwards…

my-video-00-06-31-480

KartChamps2016 – The Grand Final

Date: 19th September 2016
Track: Teamsport Reading (International Circuit)
My PB at this track (before this session): 55.184s
Best lap time this session: 55.612s

After the two evenings of practicing this circuit in the week preceding, this was the day of the KartChamps Heavyweights Grand Final. 16 of the best karters in the southern region had qualified for this event out of many drivers at each of the ten Teamsport tracks in this region.

The out-and-out favourite for the title had to be Ian, my friend and rival from Eastleigh and Gosport, but the competition seemed very open for all of the other drivers to make a play for the other podium positions.

Heading to Reading straight from work, I arrived early and tried to relax a little but I could feel the adrenaline building in anticipation. I still can’t seem to manage to get myself in the right place mentally before these type of events; sometimes I get too worked up before a race and then struggle to maintain the level of focus required by the time I get into the kart and on a couple of occasions I have been so successful at chilling out that it has been a real effort to get the energy up during the race.

Anyway, after a briefing by the race director, we were split into two groups for practice and qualifying. My group consisted of the karters from Gosport, Eastleigh and Reading. The practice session was quite short, but I tried to use it as an opportunity to test as many possible scenarios as I could, including trying to work out which line was defensive enough that I could ensure that I didn’t lose any positions if I found myself leading the races at any point, and also trying to learn from Ian (who I could tell was in imperious form right from the start).

I finished with the fifth fastest time in the opening group with a 58.496s lap right at the end of the practice session.

With the single flying lap qualifying coming up, I knew that I would have to improve and hold my nerve to give me a chance in the heats. I was glad to have the “formation lap” as this did settle my nerves a little and give me an opportunity to test the kart’s braking, steering and acceleration (as much as it was said that the karts were equal, each kart I had raced here had very different handling).

You can see in the video below that I did get twitchy before I was released for my flying lap; flexing my throttle foot, fiddling with my gloves and stretching my neck. At the time (and even looking back at the footage), I knew that it wasn’t a very clean lap and I was amazed to have posted a 58.326s time, which put me third within my group.

After all of the qualifying times were in from both groups, two further groups were formed for the heats and, yet again, I found myself with Ian but all of the other drivers in our heats were from the second group.

In the first heat, I started 6th out of the seven drivers, but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that; after driving out of the pits, the brakes on kart 12 didn’t appear to be stopping the kart and this only seemed to get worse in the heaviest braking points on the circuit. A quick kart change on track  and another formation lap and we were ready to go.

On a track that known not to be the easiest to overtake on, I did attempt a couple of lunges in the first few corners, but none of them paid off. The top floor of the track has always been my strongest due to its similarities to the “snail” at Formula Fast in Milton Keynes. However, this also proved to be my undoing – travelling too fast and colliding with the kart in front (who had got caught behind the driver in front of him) on the apex of the corner.

I desperately tried to catch up to the back of the pack, but the damage had been done and I finished in the same position that I had started (despite putting in a 57.447s lap during the chase).

I knew that winning the next heat was imperative to stand any chance of qualifying for the “A” final directly (and even then, that might not be enough!). The chances of me doing this were helped by the fact that it was a reverse grid and that the driver who should have been starting on pole had pulled out.

I found myself in a position I had dreamt about for many years, but never really achieved it at this level; leading out a heat with a field of very good drivers. I had planned for this exact eventuality; I was going to hit every apex of every single corner, every lap for the 7 laps of the race, not giving anyone the chance to slip underneath or over the top of me.

And that is exactly what I did (bar one minor mistake) for the first three and a half/four laps. I could see that I had Ian charging behind me, so I made a tactical decision to allow him to slip past me and then I would follow, hoping that he could also pull me away from the rest of the pack a little. I was, however, fuming when I was taken out at the next real corner by a very aggressive lunge up the inside whilst I was turning in. I went absolutely ballistic; I was gesticulating to the marshals and wanted to catch up with him just to knock him of the track. Reviewing the footage back at the track after the race proved what I thought had happened at the time; the driver didn’t even really turn in until he had collided with my kart.

After the race, and having spoken to some of the supporters that had come from Eastleigh and Gosport, they recommended that I spoke to the race director and show him the footage. I wasn’t sure whether it would make any difference and I, personally, don’t want to be known as someone who complains when things aren’t going my way (I’ve experienced a number of those kind of karters during the past few years). Eventually, I did and the race director agreed and said that I would receive the points for second place for that heat.

My points tally wasn’t enough for me to make the “A” final, so I lined up right in the middle of the “B” final (the tiebreaker for equal points being our initial qualifying times), needing to win to have a shot at the title.

From my point of view, this was the most enjoyable race overall (although I loved leading for three laps of the last heat). There was always something to keep each driver interested despite there being no overtaking at all in the race. I pulled alongside the driver in front of me a few times during the race, but always found myself on the wrong side going into the next corner. I loved the challenge, and although I didn’t manage to improve from my grid position, the challenge was enough of a reward.

I put in my fastest time of the evening toward the end of this final, a 55.612s lap, which was another positive that I took from the race.

After my final was over, it was time to support Ian in his efforts to continue with his 100% record during the evening and win the big one; the KartChamps2016 title. From the start, Ian pulled away and there was nobody on track who could even come close to him. There was still a little bit of tension amongst his supporters, because one mistake could have cost him the title. But as the laps counted down, the tension turned into celebrations as Ian brought the title (and the trophy) back to the south coast!

I was immensely proud to have finished 9th overall against this level of competition, but next year, I will be aiming for the podium!

CpKz68xXYAEIsKV

Six Hours in the Sun

Date: 6th August 2016
Track: Whilton Mill (National Circuit [RT8s])
My PB at this track (before this race): N/A
Best lap time during the race: 47.725s

Having read about this event on the British Kart Driving Group, wanting to test myself with the longest endurance race I had ever participated in (so far) and managing to form a team consisting of myself, Ian, Allen and Mike, we entered the Rugby Kart Club’s “Six hours of Whilton Mill” as “The Southsiders”. Unfortunately, due to circumstances out of his control, Ian was unable to attend, but he arranged for us to be ably assisted by Dave.

An early start ensued as we made our way up to Northamptonshire ready for the race, in mixed weather conditions. As none of our team had ever driven at Whilton Mill, I was half hoping that there might be a little shower (or two) during the race to level the playing field somewhat, but by the time we had arrived at the track, we were bathed in glorious sunshine which lasted the entire day.

After we had signed in, we walked the track, looking for braking and turning in points (and trying to spot some of the pointers that Clark had given to us as we checked in with him).

At the briefing, we realised that we were really up against it as every other team had drivers who had experience here (I think we counted one other driver who had held his hand up for never driven the track before). The short practice session was our only opportunity for us to gain what little experience we could get.

I went out first and actually felt really relaxed out in the kart. It was only in the last couple of laps, where I tried to push my braking points to the limit that I started to ride the kerbs a little (and sometimes the grass). I can’t blame anyone else for my big spin on my last lap… I thought I heard another kart behind me, so I turned around to look only to see no-one. I couldn’t believe it, so looked again (for a second too long), and found myself heading for the grass at one of the fastest parts of the track. I tried to hold on, but the grip just wasn’t there and I spun around. And again.

My teammates had no such excursions on their laps, and thanks to Dave, we qualified 10th on the grid for our six hours.

By the time the race came around, we had all compared notes on the corners that we had had issues with and talked strategy. We had to make a minimum of four driver changes and three refuelling stops and, knowing the exertion, speed and G-forces that you experience with karting outdoors (compared with indoors), I said that I wanted to split my stint into two 45 minute sessions, rather than a straight hour and a half. My teammates were fine with doing long stints, so I took to the grid to lead us out, with my second stint to come sometime later (maybe between Mike and Allen). Despite this plan, we all had a signal should anything unusual happen or we needed to come in to swap.

I had a good start in the race, making it up a couple of positions, before I pushed a little too hard with a cluster of drivers just in front of me. I had to take evasive action, taking me offline, over the kerb and onto the plastic/grass strip. This incident inevitably ended with me spinning to the back of the field and trying to fight my way back into the pack.

Positively (and unlike previous races), I regrouped, wiped the spin out of my mind and set off in pursuit of 13th place.  I made good progress and, as 12th and 13th place were battling with each other, I stealthily tagged on to the back of this pair. About 15 minutes into the race, I had made it back into 13th place after the dramas of the first lap. I continued to press on and closed up the gap to 12th.

After three of the leaders came through, I lost a bit of contact with the driver in front of me. Unfortunately, I lost a little bit of my forward momentum at this stage and needed to restart the chase a few laps later when I regained a visual on 12th place. But, whilst I was concentrating on the driver in front, the driver behind capitalised on my mistake at the hairpin and overtook me.

After another excursion across the plastic/grass, he was away from me. I needed to get the focus again to at least hold on, keep putting consistent laps in and stay as close as possible for the changeover to Dave. At this point, other teams were making their first driver changes, so the placings were changing all the time. The last bit of action during my first stint was the double waved yellow flags at the top end of the circuit after what I believe was a kart failure.

I brought the kart in safely for Dave to do his hour and a half stint and I had time to sit on the sidelines, support our drivers and try to rest for the next few hours until I was back out on track.

Dave expertly took on the field and made massive inroads into the drivers ahead of him. After his refuelling stop, you could see that he was a man on a mission. He charged through the drivers in front and brought us into the driver change with Mike in a very healthy position.

Mike, although making a few silly mistakes by his own admission, drove solidly for the first part of his stint. After about half an hour, however, Mike was getting visibly fatigued and we had discussed on the sidelines about calling him in if his lap times started to suffer, so he could take a break before doing another stint at the end. Shortly after the discussion on the pit wall, Mike gave the signal that he wanted to make an unscheduled driver change, so I had to run around to the pits to grab my helmet and gloves, knowing that I had about two minutes to get into the pits to swap into the kart.

After I jumped into the kart, one of the marshals held me for a couple of seconds (as it turns out, it was an infringement for Mike speeding in the pit lane. Once I was allowed to go, I was pumped up and on it from lap one.

Despite our position in the race, I was able to keep in contact with some of the top drivers (for a while at least). It was pretty uneventful (as far as I remember); I was far more consistent with my lines and my braking and, ultimately, my lap times came down.

I had to take a refuelling stop in my stint, which was a welcome break with only 10 minutes or so left of my stint remaining

I passed the metaphorical baton on to Allen with just over two hours remaining, in the knowledge that I had completed my part of this race (although I was still worried about how Mike was and whether he was going to be able to complete his final 45 minutes).

During Allen’s stint, he was called into the pits for an unscheduled stop. Apparently our exhaust was blowing and triggered the noise monitoring station which forced us into a kart change late on. Allen completed his stint and Mike had recovered somewhat to take the wheel and bring us home.

We finished 14th, but took a lot of positives from the event; we all really enjoyed the clean and fair racing and it was a good experience on a new track to hone our skills.

(Featured image taken with thanks from Whilton Mill’s Twitter account)

wp-1463209507442.jpg

We can be heroes (just for one race)

Date: 7th May 2016
Track: Buckmore Park (National Circuit [RT8s])
My PB at this track (before this session): N/A
Best lap time this race: 51.551s

After a long wait, I finally managed to get around to taking part in this Karting for Heroes event with a couple of drivers that I’ve got to know through the BRKC.

This race was going to be completely out of my comfort zone; I have not done a lot of outdoor karting (in fact, I had only ever driven a kart outside twice before the day of the race) and I had also only ever driven in a race this long once before and, even then, we had twice the number of people in our team! However, with Mike and Lee, I knew we had a strong team and we were aiming high.

It was quite an enjoyable drive to Buckmore Park, and we all met up at a service station on the M25 around lunchtime to get the important team tactics sorted before arriving at the track. As some of you will know, I am a stickler for organisation and would usually have started on the planning well before the day of the race, but due to this being my first outdoor endurance, we left the driver order to fate (or, more precisely, three different length twigs from a hedge at Clacket Lane).

image

As we all had a long drive to get to Buckmore, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to get there and as a result, arrived about an hour too early for the race. We were glad that we had got there in plenty of time, but then became impatient to get out on track and race!

After the mandatory safety briefing and the secret donations for our grid positions were handed in, it was time for a short practice session – it was to be Mike’s and my first chance to drive on the circuit and our only opportunity to learn as much about the braking points and the flow of the track before the race started.

image

I was second into the kart, after Lee, and I have to admit that I struggled; getting to top speed wasn’t an issue, but the braking points and kart stability was a big problem. I was hitting around the 52-53 second mark, so I wasn’t massively off the pace, but it didn’t feel right.

I also had an issue with my helmet camera (which couldn’t be a helmet camera, but had to be a shoulder camera instead!). I like to be able to turn and lean my head, to be aware of drivers around me and to move with the kart. One incident that highlighted my lack of visibility was at turn one, where a driver tried to go around the outside of me as I was moving towards the racing line. Fortunately, I just managed to notice him in time, and avoid making contact. Having the camera on my shoulder just didn’t work for me and consequently went into my bag for the race.

I knew that there was a lot of work to do, but we were looking quite consistent as a team, even if we only had the 10th quickest time after practice.

Our donation put us 14th on the grid, so Lee had all it to do to keep it clean into the first corner and to cut through the field in the first 15 minutes. The atmosphere at Buckmore was fantastic and I decided, as a spectator, to record the start of the race and the fanfare from the Royal Engineers at the start.

It was all too quickly my turn in the driving seat and, after Lee had taken us well inside the top ten, I was concerned that I was going to lose us the places that Lee had gained. I started shakily, probably being too cautious, but at the same time, I was knocked around on the second hairpin a couple of times and ended up facing the wrong way after clashes with back markers.

At the end of my first stint, I handed over to Mike in 11th place, having lost a few places on track. I was really disappointed with myself – at the bare minimum, I wanted to hand the kart back in the same position that I got it in.

There was a lot going on throughout the event; I took the opportunity to have a caricature done of me between my first and second stints (see below), but there were also photographers, music and food and drink in the clubhouse if you could tear yourself away from the karting action for a few minutes.

image

After taking some advice from Lee before my second stint, I felt more at ease in the kart and on the track (although it was still far from perfect). I did improve in lap times, position and consistency during this stint and handed the kart back in fifth, albeit slightly further behind fourth place than we were before.

We had to refuel during the race, and it was a difficult decision; do we aim to run the tank dry and then refill, do we play it safe and refuel at halfway, or do we refuel early, hoping that we judge it so that the kart is the lightest at the end? We played it safe and filled up after each of us had completed half of our race distance, partly because I had seen a couple of teams have to wait for refuelling after pulling in behind another kart.

The longer that the race went on, the more confident we were of finishing fifth; in neither of my two remaining stints did I truly trouble the karts in front, but I was pleased to only have lost one place in my third stint, and held on to fifth in my final stint despite me having a couple of big “offs” over the course of my final 30 minutes.

Lee and Mike did a fantastic job of bringing us home without any more drama in the last half hour and we did very well as a team to avoid any penalties at all throughout the whole three hours.

image

In the end, although we were all exhausted, we were really pleased to have finished 5th against some very competitive and professional teams – it was truly a team effort with all of us offering advice to each other throughout the course of the day, however, we have already agreed that next year, we will be back and aiming for at least a podium!

image

TSEastleigh240416_0080-00-27-09-840

Belated Birthday Bumps

Date: 24th April 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 22.695s
Best lap time this session:  23.504s

As soon as Mike and I had recovered from the endurance race, we returned to the track for our own birthday freebies.

It was a lovely day outside and the lighting was really good for my helmet camera footage (and Mike’s if he hadn’t put the microSD card in the wrong way round!).

Anyway, this afternoon’s racing had a completely different mindset for me; whilst I wanted to blow everyone away with a super-fast lap time, I also wanted to have fun and overtake in a more relaxed environment. I was fortunate to achieve both in the first session.

Although there were a lot of us out on the circuit, the track seemed pretty open and there was ample opportunity to get clear air and set good lap times. I topped the leaderboard from start to finish, and managed to achieve a 23.547s lap (which would have been a new PB before Thursday) on lap 22. Mike finished in second place a little over six-tenths behind me.

I was expecting more of the same in the next session and, this time, Mike was recording!

Unfortunately for me, in this session, the other drivers seemed to be far more aggressive with defending their position on track and, therefore, there was a lot more traffic to deal with. My lap times were very consistent, with all of them around or under the 24s mark but, after Mike’s spin left him in space, this was where he took full advantage of me being stuck in the middle of several big battles.

There was a lot of “squeezing” going on, where I was at least halfway alongside in an overtake and I was pushed into the barriers. This got me psychologically involved in the scraps, and rather than backing off and putting in a faster lap, I was determined to get past. In the last few laps, there were a number of yellow and red flags, which also prevented me from pushing on to better lap times.

At the end of the race, Mike achieved the fastest lap of the session with a 23.466s lap, whereas I only managed a 23.504s lap, leaving me third.

I had a lot of fun this afternoon, even if my competitive side was disappointed with the third place finish at the end. Looking forward, I can’t wait to go outdoors again soon and also to kart in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in May!

ibfenduro-00-23-51-000

Blood, sweat, but no tears

Date: 21st April 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time during the race: 22.695s

In celebration of Ian Burnell-Fraser’s 51st birthday, 36 of the best karters in the south descended on Eastleigh for a team endurance race.

Myself and Mike lined up again as “The Broad Band”, but with a change in personnel on the track as Nick is now excluded from taking part due to medical reasons. Originally, we were due to be joined by my work colleague, Jonathan (who competed in the opposing team last time out), but unfortunately, he also had to pull out at the last minute due to illness. But, fortunately, we were ably assisted by another member, Steve, to share the 130 minutes of karting between us.

Although there was a party feeling when we arrived and a lot of reunions with people who we hadn’t seen for a while, the pleasantries tailed off the further into the evening that we found ourselves and once the karts were started (even in the practice session), the atmosphere was intense.

Steve took the baton first in our practice session and set some very quick times in his 6 minutes of practice, getting us into second place briefly. I followed and took to the kart after Steve. Whilst I felt that there were some minor issues with the acceleration of the kart, I was happy and feeling that we could be competitive in the race. The practice session was fairly uneventful for me; I kept it clean, pulled off a couple of on-track overtakes on others and was only overtaken myself once.

Mike took the reins for the remainder of the practice session and looked really smooth out on track. Footage of Mike’s practice stint can be found at https://youtu.be/Je6v3rh6to0

I decided that after the practice session that our running order should be myself, followed by Mike, leaving Steve to bring us home. As with our last endurance race we, unfortunately, had to line up towards the back of the grid.

I made a decent start, but I didn’t make up any places into the first corner, or as many as I would have liked in the first few laps, to springboard forward in the field.

What I did do, however, was to keep in contact with the drivers in front and reel them in as they were battling with each other. I apparently made it up to fifth place before dropping back down the order, over my 36 minute spell, to eighth position.

I’m reluctant to blame the kart, but when at a full stop or slow section with drivers in front, the kart simply did not accelerate away, which at times made it impossible to defend my position.

I was desperate to communicate with my team mates during my stint, and you can see me in the video waving my hands trying to get Nick (who had come to spectate anyway) and Mike’s attention to firstly see how long I had left in my stint, and secondly, if I had a lot of time left to let them know about how I was feeling – towards the end of my stint, I could feel that my right hand was getting blistered and my left hand felt wet, rather like a blister had formed and then popped (after taking my gloves off, it turned out that I had actually drawn a little blood).

They didn’t see me (or chose to ignore me!) so I had no idea what was happening. As I’ve said before, once you put your helmet on, you are left with only your own thoughts because it isn’t easy to communicate with anyone else whilst racing!

I nursed the kart (and my hands) through the next few laps (especially after the red flag) and brought it in for the changeover at the end of my stint. I was delighted when I found out that I had annihilated my PB by over a second with a 22.695s lap during my stint in the race, but in the same moment, I was disappointed not to have handed over in a better position.

My complaint seemed to be justified as a couple of laps after my handover to Mike, he came into the pits to swap karts as it had completely given up (as you can see about a minute into Mike’s footage, again on YouTube, (https://youtu.be/_4akpYPQdUg)).

Mike did a great job in the new kart and, although he didn’t make up any positions, he did cement our position, pulling away from the ninth place team and staying in contact with 5th, 6th and 7th positions.

Once Mike’s gruelling stint was over, Steve (on paper, our fastest driver here based on previous PBs) had the unenviable task of trying to pull us back into contention.

Alas, after an hour and fifty minutes of flat-out racing, this was a challenge too far, and an eighth place finish was always on the cards for us. Given the level of competition on this night, we had all entered into it as “entertainment” rather than thinking we would get anywhere near the win – I think we all agreed, this was an intense, exciting and ultimately enjoyable evening.

I would like to add my thanks to Ian, Sara and Amy-Louise for organising and running a fantastic event and thank Ian again for his donation to my charity appeal (collecting enough pennies to stretch the 1.1 miles between two churches in my local area).

20160412_201551_edit

Karting (off) into the sunset

Date: 12th April 2016
Track: Thruxton (National circuit)
My PB at this track (before this session): N/A
Best lap time this session: 52.242s

Welcome to the first instalment of my competitive outdoor karting “career”!

After turning 29 at the weekend, and with the “Karting for Heroes” endurance race on the horizon, I decided to pop over to Thruxton to open my account there and get some time behind the wheel outdoors. I took part in their “Race Night” event, against some very experienced competitors both at this track and in UK outdoor karting championships. The format was quite straightforward; 8 minute practice/qualifying and an 8 lap heat, finishing with a 10 lap final (alternating with the other group).

image

It was a glorious evening when I arrived (after I was predicting a wet/greasy track from the weather forecast!) and by the time we took to the track for the practice/qualifying session, the sun was just setting in the distance.

After the safety briefing, I got chatting with three of the drivers in our group, who wanted to remove a visor from a helmet to clean it. As I had removed (and replaced) visors many times before, I gave them a hand with it and instantly built up a rapport with them.

The qualifying session was eye-opening for me; the sheer amount of power from the karts along with the space to accelerate and reach speeds around 60mph was awesome and at the same time, terrifying. In fact, although I’ve driven faster cars, including the Formula Renault, this was really the first time that I thought “Oh sh**!” and feared for my safety after missing a braking point and bouncing over a kerb perilously close to a tyre wall.

I struggled with the circuit layout too in this session (the other drivers had all been around this track before and knew it to varying degrees), but I kept getting confused with the corners after the chicanes; one is a very tight hairpin whereas the other is an open, full-throttle, curve towards the start/finish line – very different entry speeds required! All those things aside, I didn’t disgrace myself in qualifying, finishing 5th out of 8th with a time of 53.455s.

image

After qualifying, and whilst the other group went out for their heat, we had a brief period of respite where I carried on chatting to the three drivers that I met earlier. It wasn’t a long break – before we had chance to fully recover, we were out there lined up for our heat and the hard work started again. At this point in the evening, the sun was just above the horizon, so like in the first session, it was time to drop my helmet’s internal sunshield and go for it once again.

I had clearly improved (or I was just a good starter) as I forced my way up into third place briefly at the first corner, before running off line and having to fall back into 5th. Despite a few laps where I was catching 4th place and breaking 60mph top speed, I finished 25s behind the leader and four seconds behind fourth place, whilst being 16s clear of 6th.

I had gained a lot of confidence from this heat and I thought I maybe had an outside chance of a podium in the final. Unfortunately, one of the drivers who I had been talking to and racing, Vicky, had to pull out of the heat at half distance and the final due to a medical issue but, this did have its own advantages for us; we now had a photographer (the featured image and the one below were both brilliantly taken by her during the final – Thanks Vicky!).

image

In the lead up to the final, I was buzzing with confidence and I got another fantastic start when the lights changed, mixing it up on the run up to the first corner. However, that was where it all went wrong – my kart was very slippery and as I tried to brake and turn into the first corner on the inside, I spun 180 degrees and just faced the drivers that were behind me (soon to be in front of me!).

Once everyone was clear of me, I turned the kart around, and set off in pursuit of anybody to try to avoid finishing last. I did manage to catch two of the drivers within a couple of laps, but as I hadn’t overtaken anyone on this track before, I was trying to consider where the best places to overtake would be.

I was very pleased that in successive corners, I managed to overtake both of them and from that point on, I was on my own, despite my increasingly desperate attempts to shave as much time as I could from my lap times.

Surprisingly, I finished about the same distance behind the leaders as I had done in the heat, despite my initial mistake and the fact that the final was longer than the heat before! I did improve on my lap times in the final, and I now have a PB of 52.242s for the next time that I return to Thruxton! All in all, I was very satisfied with my first competitive outdoor karting session and I’ve got the bug to do more karting here and at other outdoor tracks (it’s just a shame that the price is quite prohibitive).

 

My Video-00-05-14-840

Let me drive! I won’t make a fool out of you!

Date: 1st April 2016
Track: Teamsport Gosport
My PB at this track (before this session): 29.956s
Best lap time this session: 30.918s

As I wrote in my last blog post, I thought it was time for both me and Mike to go to a new track and so, before Mike travelled halfway across the world for work, I arranged an evening of karting at my old stomping ground of Teamsport Gosport.

I have to say that it was nice to be back and that, whilst there had been changes there, lots of good memories did flood back to me. Mike and I had a little catch up, but it was soon time to get into the karts and compete and, for me, find out if I could continue where I had left off.

As this was a public group, inevitably the sessions were littered with yellow flags and stoppages, alongside the difficulties of completing a fast lap in clear air.

During the first race, I found myself feeling frustrated by one driver, who I felt was considerably slower than me, but was driving very defensively. In my attempts to pass this driver, I fell behind a couple more karters, who opportunistically passed me. Eventually, I made the required overtakes and had one lap to set a good time for this session.

I expected to do well, but I didn’t expect to feel so comfortable so quickly around this track having not raced here for over a year. After all of the yellow flags and overtaking, I was delighted to top the leaderboard with a 30.971s lap – about a second off my fastest laps ever at Gosport.

After the first session, where Mike drove without any advice from me (at his request), we chatted about some visual markers for braking points, some different lines to the corners and methods for overtaking the other drivers on a notoriously difficult track to pass people on.

The second session started with a considerable amount of traffic, which I dispatched fairly easily (apart from one driver who frustrated me for a good few laps). However, once I had overtaken him, I had clear air in which to put in my hot laps. It was during these laps that I managed to put in my fastest lap of the race; fractionally quicker than in the first session, but still in the 30.9’s (30.947s).

After this period out on my own, I quickly caught up to the tail of the field which halted my charge. There were some questionable moves made to defend my attacks, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. Unfortunately, once I had passed the group of drivers (and found myself in space), I couldn’t find my rhythm again to better my laptime.

I did top the timesheets at the end of the session, but with a much smaller advantage than I had in the first race.

Before the third and final session, I asked Mike where he felt he was losing time, but he said that didn’t really know. Once the karts had been selected and it was clear that I would be starting behind Mike, I offered to stay quite closely behind him for a few laps and then we could analyse the footage from my helmet camera later for pointers.

I did exactly as I had promised, following behind Mike, despite a couple of mistakes that I could have capitalised on had I been racing hard. From my position, Mike seemed very aware that I was close behind him, and this appeared to spur him on to lap faster and faster. After I had felt that my “camera work” was done, I launched into “race mode” and tried to reel Mike in and pass him to get some clear air. This didn’t go to plan for me; I naïvely thought that I would be able to jump on any mistake he made and get past. But Mike did not make any mistakes and was actually lapping around the 31s mark, neutralising many of the other tricks up my sleeve.

As we came up to a back marker, Mike managed to squeeze past and I tried to follow him through. There wasn’t enough space for me to get past safely, so I backed off and waited for the next opportunity. At the first corner, the driver in front span and collided with me as I drove past.

Soon afterwards, there was a yellow flag, which bunched myself and Mike back up together. As this was not a race, but a time trial, track position was not important so, with only a few laps to go, I decided to go the other route – drop back by a few seconds and then try to put in a fast lap and catch up with Mike again.

I was really happy to see that Mike had topped the leaderboard in the final session, despite me finishing a couple of tenths behind him with a 30.918s lap (my third 30.9s best lap in the three sessions!) in third place. This session was all about giving Mike the opportunity to analyse some video footage, to see how he could improve his karting in general.

I do need to get a little bit of outdoor practice in before the “Karting for Heroes” race in about a month’s time, but I have the feeling that my next karting session will be indoors too!

CombinedTwoStarts

A Tale of Two Starts

Date: 23rd March 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time during the race: 24.043s

A month after our victory in the team endurance, Mike and I decided to take part in a member’s event at the Eastleigh track. This was Mike’s first race against this level of competition, but we both thought it would be a worthwhile experiment to see where he would rank after a very short karting career to date.

The Mansell format, although new to Mike, was familiar to me; 10 minutes qualifying before a 45 minute straight race from those grid positions, with “black flag” pit stops happening every 3 minutes.

Qualifying was a bit of a blur; I thought the kart felt good, although there was a bit of lag with the mid-range acceleration. A couple of minutes from the end, there was a red flag stoppage, which also spelled the end of one driver’s participation in the event after a nasty crash into the pit lane entry barrier. This break in qualifying put paid to anyone bettering their lap times in the final few moments, resulting in me starting in sixth place on the grid, and Mike directly behind me on the grid in eighth.

We lined up ready for the race start and I was buzzing in anticipation – I was targeting a podium this time and I knew I had to make some places up as soon as possible after the lights turned green. The start went exactly as I had hoped; I managed to gain a place after the first corner and a few laps later, managed to take advantage of a mistake by the driver in front to move up the order. I believe (although I can’t be sure of this) that I managed to get into second position.

Unfortunately, this is where the race was to come to a premature end for all of the drivers. Due to a technical problem, the chequered flag came down and all of the drivers were directed to the pits (looking quite bewildered). We were told that the race would be restarted from our original grid positions and that the clock would be reset to the full 45 minutes – all of the effort I had put into those few laps was ultimately pointless.

On the grid this time, I was very fidgety, even to the point of still moving in my seat when the lights turned green. The race was restarted and, although I managed to get into fifth place again after the first corner, I wasn’t able to push on from there like I had in the first “non-race”.

My position peaked at third place early on but, whilst I could keep some of the guys behind me for periods of time leading up to my mandatory pit stop, I couldn’t maintain my position afterwards.

My flow was interrupted when I was shunted from behind at the hairpin before the bridge. This incident brought out the red flag and genuinely shook me up. I tried to regroup, but the only thing that I could think of was getting that position back that had been unfairly taken from me.

I tried to wipe this incident from my mind and just drive to the best of my ability, but numerous incidents were happening around the circuit (although they were dealt with by the marshals).

Just before my pit stop, I managed to catch Mike and decided that I wouldn’t be rash and attempt a move that could end both of our races, so would stay behind him for a lap. This didn’t quite work out as planned either, because Mike went into the pits when I was flagged to come in!

I ended the race in fifth place and managed a 24.043s best lap, with Mike a couple of laps down on me in sixth (which is no mean feat in his first members race).

I feel that both myself and Mike need a little bit more variety in our racing, which may mean karting a little less regularly, but hitting different tracks (and maybe a bit of outdoor karting) as often as we can.