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)

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