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!

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