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).

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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.

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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!).

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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).

 

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