Obviously, you don’t want to peak too early

Date: 23rd November 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time this session: 24.879s

On a bitterly cold Monday evening, I entered my first members unlimited event. The idea was easy; just complete your fastest lap in each of the three 20 minute sessions. The final rankings would be calculated by assigning points to your position (sorted by fastest lap time) in each of the sessions and the driver with the highest total over the three sessions was the winner.

After a fantastic weekend away in the Midlands, eating rich food that I have been purposefully avoiding on my diet, I was feeling tired but really motivated to succeed.

In the first session everything felt brilliant; I was easing past more experienced drivers and swapping places and lap times with possibly the most experienced driver in the field. This leads me on to the best part of this members unlimited session – the drivers. Without doubt, this was the fairest, yet most competitive GRID event that I have ever taken part in. We were all aware of each others positions on track, faster drivers were allowed past the slower drivers (except where we had agreed to race) and the chats in the “locker room” afterwards were friendly and hilarious at times.

Back to the racing, it was a real battle between myself and Ian from the word go right to the end of the race; we traded lap times and positions on track no less than nine times during the session. I’m proud to say that in this race, I finished in second place overall, edging out Ian by two tenths of a second with a 25.022s fastest lap. The winner of the session was immense on track; a graduate from the kart academy, he is surely one to watch in the upcoming events here.

I was surprised to see another experienced driver at the bottom of the pile after the first race; he explained that he didn’t get the luck of the draw (with the kart) in the first race, but he would bounce back in the second.

I was then drawn to have the same kart as he had in the first race… Could I do any better? To cut this section short, the answer was no. I honestly can say that I have never spun a kart through 360 degrees so often as I did in the second race (if you watch the video below, I think I counted 5!). I cannot really blame the kart too much (the eventual winner of the evening, set one of the fastest laps of the entire day with it in the third race!), but it didn’t seem to suit the heavier drivers. Floundering at the bottom of the leaderboard, after my second place in the first race, meant that it was all to race for in the final.

Between the second and final sessions, I tried to work out the permutations; for me to win the event, I would need to finish first with the winner of the first two races finishing last, and myself and driver X would need driver Y to finish between us etcetera etcetera.

All of this complex mathematics was distracting me from the task ahead – ultimately, all I needed to do was go out there and race. I was not in control of anybody else’s lap times, or their finishing positions.

I honestly don’t know what happened in the final race; I couldn’t get into “the zone”. It felt like I was driving on autopilot, which in some cases can be great, but in this case, my mind was elsewhere and I had no urgency in my driving.

Surprisingly, I managed to pull some sub-25s laps out at the end, resulting in a 24.879s best over the entire evening. Unsurprisingly, however, I finished bottom of this heat and only my second place in the first race prevented me from finishing last overall.

Looking back at the evening now, perhaps I was tired from the weekend (driving up to the Midlands and back as well as all of the activities up there), but if this the case, then I will have to look at my next results at Formula Fast with a different viewpoint.

Simplify, then add lightness

Date: 12th November 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 24.407s
Best lap time this session: 23.732s

My return to the track after a couple of weeks, was also the return of the GRID F1 format with a slight format change. On this occasion, whilst there was still the F1 style qualifying, the two 20-minute races had been changed to three races (two 15-minute races followed by a 10-minute “decider”).

As always in the members races, the karts were drawn out randomly for the evening; I was allotted kart 20 and was raring to go when I got down into the pits. After the disaster last month, my aim for the qualifying session was simple; to get into the second session.

I got into the kart and things just felt right; (as a side note, since the last F1 race, I have lost another 4kg in weight in my attempts to trim down before the BRKC) I didn’t know whether it was psychological, but the kart appeared to accelerate better, I could brake later into corners and carry more speed around the hairpins. I managed to beat my all-time PB in Q1, with a 24.274s lap, finishing 7th (which was just enough to get into Q2). Looking at the times now, fifth, sixth and seventh positions were separated by 0.06s, so it was all to play for in Q2.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to maintain the rhythm in the shorter second qualifying session, managing to put in a 24.292s lap, which was still better than my original PB before this evening, but about a quarter of a second from the top four, leaving me with a grid position of 7th for the first race. I was very pleased with my performance, but I was disappointed with the outbursts and bad sportsmanship of some other members after qualifying (and it continued throughout the evening and beyond) – I may moan about the karts that are clearly off the pace, but I see it as a risk when you take part in rental karting; the peformance of the kart isn’t 100% down to you.

The first race started with the usual melee at the first corner; I tried to cut in in front of the driver to my left, but she wasn’t yielding. Only one person really lost out here as I managed to drive around her spin on the inside and I quickly got into my rhythm. As always, the pit stop is both technical and tactical; you must not lose too much time in the pit stop phase, but you have to calculate where you are going to come out of the pits. I have to say that I think I timed it perfectly in this race; after being lapped by the leader and following him for a few laps (trying to stay as close to him as possible), I pitted aggressively and managed to get out in clear air ahead of the battle for 7th. Not to cut this race review short, but sixth place was where I stayed for the rest of the race, despite me closing slightly on the 5th place driver, Whilst the rest of the race wasn’t necessarily packed with action, I did manage to set a sub-24s lap (23.975s on lap 31 of 37), which I was over the moon with – I’m sure that if I hadn’t lost the amount of weight that I have so far, that would have been unachievable.

After more kart complaints (and kart swapping by some drivers), we started the second race with a reverse grid from qualifying. There was a little bit of a rolling start and moving from grid positions from some drivers before the start, but once we started, I couldn’t prevent losing a place after the jostling at the first corner. I was then handed the place back after a premature pit stop from the driver in front and then I made a move on track into fourth position on lap two. After some further pit stops in front, I found myself in the lead for nine laps, but having not pitted, I was aware that I needed to put lap after lap of qualifying pace to try to push my advantage to a point where I could pit and come out in clear air. My pit stop wasn’t the cleanest; I came in to the pit lane too hot, bashed into the barrier and then lost momentum before my stop. I did, however, come back out onto track in fourth place and even managed to grab third a couple of laps later. However, the slide down through the positions inevitably happened; third to fifth in the space of one lap and one more position lost about six laps after that. This initiated quite a battle between myself and an old hand at the track (that I raced a few times at Gosport). It was such a tight competition; I knew if I made even the slightest mistake, Ian would take the position off me. Both myself and Ian have a mutual respect for each other and the others on track (which some drivers don’t!)- if we can’t get past cleanly, then we will back off and try to launch another attack later. We both really enjoyed the contest, this time I came out on top and managed to defend my sixth place resolutely and in doing so, set my all-time PB of 23.732s. One other statistic that I am really proud of, is that I finished less than 15 seconds behind the leader – the closest I have ever finished in a members event.

We headed out for the deciding race (I don’t actually know how the grid positions were decided for this race), but despite the race being significantly shorter, the mandatory pit stop was still a requirement. We did have a long stoppage during this race; one of the karts suffered a mechanical failure and therefore needed to be changed. I tried to pit as soon as I could after this stoppage, hoping that this might give me a little edge on the other drivers. Both myself and Ian battled again during this race, but unfortunately for me, Ian managed to just squeeze past me this time, pushing me down to 7th position. I did set a fastest lap of 23.885s in this race, so whilst it was slightly slower than the last race, it was a sub 24-second lap all the same.

After the points were added together from the three rounds, my finishing position was given as 7th overall, just two points behind 6th place. I was immensely proud of my performance and with a little over two months before the BRKC, I feel that I am bang on track with my preparations this year.

Racing for a great cause, but the charity stops when the visor goes down!

After a brief break, I am now looking to combine two of my great passions; karting and fundraising.

There are a couple of races that have caught my eye in the next six months, both raising money for injured personnel from the armed forces. I will go into a bit more detail of the races and the charities below.

The first race is a three hour endurance race on December 6th, at Capital Karts in London (the longest indoor track in the UK).

This race has been organised by the former F1 driver Johnny Herbert, who will also be taking part with some legends of motorsport. Every year the Johnny Herbert Karting Challenge raises money for charities chosen by Johnny himself; this years charity is Kart Force (http://www.kartforce.org/about-kartforce/) of which he is a patron alongside former F1 world champion, Damon Hill.

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Kart Force is a charity which supports injured members of the armed forces and enables them to take part in kart races and championships around the world. This support includes modifying karts to be used by innovative hand controls along with financial support to assist with their racing careers.

The second race on my list was mentioned in my blog last year after my sister-in-law shared a link with me on Facebook. The race is yet again another three hour team endurance, planned for May 7th 2016, but this time karting outdoors at Buckmore Park. The Karting for Heroes race (http://www.kartingforheroes.com/about-the-event/), unsurprisingly, fundraises for the Help for Heroes charity, which is very well-known for providing practical support directly to ex-service personnel and their families.

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Just to give an idea of the scale of the valuable work that Help the Heroes do, in the past year, the charity has supported over 4000 veterans and their families in a variety of different ways,

Now, where my blog readers (you!) come in to help. These races “cost” a lot to enter (between £120 and £150 per driver) and, whilst I will be making a significant contribution to the entrance fees (which does go to the charity minus the operating costs), I cannot afford to pay for these fees in their entirety (I have no sponsors unlike some other karters and fund all of my karting and racing through my “day-job”).

If you would like to donate to these charities, whilst allowing me to compete against motorsport legends at the same time, please come to see me around the track or at work and donate. Any money that is raised over the “donation” to take part in these races will be split equally between the two charities.

Also, if you would like to take part alongside me in the Karting for Heroes race in May 2016, please let me know in the comments below, or on my Facebook page and I will try to make this a reality for a couple of you!

EDIT: If you would like to contact me privately, please send me a message through my Facebook page.

Racing with rookie drivers just means new people crashing into you

Date: 27th October 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 24.407s
Best lap time this session: 25.547s

After the Formula One event, I arranged another “fun” session with my colleague Nick after work on Tuesday evening. Normally on a Tuesday evening there are between four and six drivers but, on this occasion, being half-term as well, there were 9 drivers on track in each session.

In session one, things on track got very busy, very quickly, and we were soon faced with the need to overtake the back-markers. Now this isn’t normally a big issue; you follow them for a lap or two, judge where you feel you are quickest and study the lines that they take through the corners. However, the drivers that were on track fell into two categories; those that were consistently on the racing line, or those that were so erratic, that you had no idea where they were going next!

In one move, in particular, I decided to move to the outside of the track and then try to cut back in at the hairpin. It was tight, but it worked out in the end. Racing the same drivers, a few minutes later in the session, I took the decision to go out wide  again, towards the pit entry, but this time it didn’t work as it had done earlier – I collided with the barrier dividing the track from the pits (I did consider diving into the pits, but I thought I still had enough room!)

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One of the occasions that I did gain an advantage from another driver was at the opposite hairpin – I was lining up Nick for the pass when we came across another back-marker. I took to the outside, whilst Nick decided to squeeze up the inside. Remarkably, I came out of the corner ahead of both of them and into a little bit of clear air.

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One lap from the end, Nick “decided” to ram me from behind, causing me to jolt suddenly and jarring my lower back quite badly. Fortunately, I could limp back to the pits and rest up for 30 minutes before the second session. Unfortunately for me, it was going to be even worse in the next session!

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I managed to top the lap times in this session with a 25.547s lap, so I was fairly pleased with my performance, but I was still feeling the strain in my back!

The second session started as the first, dodging back markers and trying to get enough clear air to set a fast lap time.

Just about halfway through the second session, I was caught in another incident, whilst rounding the corner into the bridge section. I thought I was fairly well in front of the kart behind me, so took my usual line through the corner in order to maintain the most momentum to get up the ramp. As I was almost through the turn and trying to accelerate away, the driver behind hit me at full speed, lifted my kart into the air and my body bent double sideways (watch the video (starts at about 13:10) below to see what I mean).

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I didn’t know what to do: Do I carry on regardless? Do I get to the pits and check myself out? Do I stop here? I half-stopped, and, fortunately, my decision was made for me with the red flag coming out. This was one of the biggest crashes that I have been in, and it did really shake me up. Although one of my fastest lap times followed the crash, I almost felt like I was on auto-pilot.

I was slightly disappointed to come second, but at least I made it through the evening in one piece! My fastest lap in this session was a 25.584s, so slightly slower than the first session, but still respectable at this time of day.

I have no plans for karting until the end of November at the moment (I’m sure I will find myself a couple of drives in the meantime), but if you have any suggestions, or know of any races, please comment below and I will see what I can do!

Need to pick up the pace…? Give me more power then!

Date: 22nd October 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 24.407s
Best lap time this session: 24.830s

Buoyed by my 3.5lb weight loss in the past week through my new diet and training regime (specifically for the BRKC event in January), I turned up at the track in Eastleigh in a positive frame of mind. This was improved (despite the ~40 minute delay due to overrunning sessions throughout the day) by the banter I now enjoy with the “regulars”. There were, however, some members in this event that I had not raced before, putting a question mark over where I thought I would finish at the end of the evening.

During the briefing, the format was clarified; F1-style qualifying (three rounds with the slowest drivers knocked out at the end of each round), race one (20 minute race, one enforced pit stop, with the starting grid as per qualifying), and race two (20 minute race, another enforced pit stop, but with a reversed grid from qualifying positions). The points would be handed out in the same style as F1 and any tied places would be decided by lap times. Also during the briefing, we had our karts randomly selected for the evening; your name was called out and then the kart number you had been assigned; just to be clear, I have no problem with this way of selecting the karts, it gives everyone an equal chance of getting a good kart or a bad kart and is the only fair way of dealing with the situation. Ideally, there would be minimal differences between the karts, but when the marshal laughs when your kart is drawn out of the pot and states “Haha, you don’t want that one!”, maybe there’s a feeling that this particular kart isn’t the best.

Anyway, I hoped it was “psychological” and that I could drive the kart as well as I could and end up somewhere in midfield. I also thought that I would have an advantage over the others, having raced the the BRKC earlier this year and knowing where I had made mistakes in pit stops there.

I was all too aware that with eleven karts on track, qualifying could come down to leaving enough space between yourself and the drivers in front (the haunting memory of me being the slowest driver and compromising another driver’s qualifying in my first ever BRKC heat ran through my mind again). The kart didn’t feel too bad in the opening laps, but there was a distinct lack of acceleration at any point; I consistently put my foot to the floor and there was a big delay between this and getting any forward movement – something that would come to cause me some discomfort in the race. I thought that I would easily make it through to the second qualifying stage before I got into the kart, whilst I was in the kart, I thought I would scrape into Q2 (I only needed to avoid being in the bottom three), but when I got out of the kart and it was announced that I was dead last, I knew something was wrong.

Looking at the times of everyone in the session, I was really disappointed that, with a best of 25.727s, I was about half a second off the pace I was expecting. I stood around on my own, whilst the other sessions continued, thinking about what could have been.

I was determined that I could climb back up the field as I had done to a certain extent in the top gun event at the start of this month. After all, I was racing some of the same drivers and I managed it then!

It turns out that I couldn’t in kart 24. The race was just painful; both mentally and physically, including some incidents where drivers were expecting me to accelerate away, but due to the kart’s performance, I was just a mobile chicane in the acceleration stage out of corners. There were several violent bumps from behind; on one occasion, my head jolted back so hard that I was looking at the roof of the building for a second.

Strangely, due to the nature of the pit stops, I actually led this race for a lap, before falling to fourth before my pit stop and then to last place immediately after it.

After the first race, the race director called me over and asked me if there was something wrong with the kart, I believe my response to him was “Yes, it’s s****!”. I did go into more detail, saying that there was no power coming out of the corners and no acceleration going up the bridge. I don’t like to blame the kart (I see this as the risk you run racing rental karts) but when your best time after 30 minutes of racing is over half a second slower than the guys in front of you, you start to get disheartened.

Whilst we were told that there would be no kart swapping, the race director told me that my kart was a joke and that I could swap with kart 14. Now this was a double-edged sword; undoubtedly, kart 14 would be better than kart 24, but having sat there for 40 minutes without moving or even having its engine run, I would now be a sitting duck in the first few laps for everyone behind to pick off with their lovely warm karts.

I took the swap anyway and proceeded to the grid (a grid that due to my previous karts failings, meant that I was now on pole position!).

I got a good start, but unlike the BRKC, you were able to pit on the first lap, so I soon got caught up with the traffic coming out of the pits, but a lap down on me. Surprisingly, and unbeknown to me, I actually led the race for a number of laps whilst waiting for my opportunity to pit.

I saw the yellow light come on and I dove into the pits for my mandatory stop. I came back out into 7th position, where I quickly made it up into 6th and stayed there for 3 laps.

As much as I tried to be patient, I went slightly hot into the large hairpin corner and spun around and, in my attempt to turn myself round the right way, found myself in the tyres on the outside, resulting in me dropping down into 9th place.

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Finally, I managed to regain one more place, which I maintained until the finish, despite my attacks on the driver in 7th place. My fastest lap of this race was a respectable 24.830 seconds (almost a second quicker than I had managed all evening!), making it even clearer to me and the other drivers that it was the kart to blame in the first half of this event.

I would love to do this format again, but hopefully next time, there will be more of a level playing field!

Drive intelligently and be patient

Date: 13th October 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 24.407s
Best lap time this session: 25.918s

A week after my endurance race, I returned to Eastleigh with my colleague, Nick, for a “fun” session. We are both, obviously, competitive with each other, but we have different reasons for karting; Nick enjoys karting socially, whilst I am taking it more seriously, entering in competitions and stepping it up looking for suitable championships in 2016.

In our group, we found out that there were two other drivers. This meant that the track wasn’t particularly busy but, unlike the member’s event, there would probably be a considerable difference in lap times, meaning that it was a good opportunity to practice my overtaking on a circuit that doesn’t lend itself to many overtaking opportunities (and after the disaster of the Top Gun event, this was needed).

As our group were the first on the track that day, the karts were very cold, so the first session started with a bit of early braking and drifting round the hairpin corners, before powering on and trying to overtake the other drivers (including Nick!).

Nick did a very good job at keeping me behind for the first few laps,but an incident on the other side of the track helped me to overtake him for the first time; the yellow lights flashed on briefly, but my quicker reactions got me a jump on Nick into the large hairpin and, for once, I managed to make it stick (well for one corner anyway).

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The next few laps consisted of passing a “back marker” and then catching back up to Nick for another attempt at overtaking him. Once I was close enough, I made a daring attempt up the inside of the bridge, but as before, I compromised the next corner and he took the place back.

Eventually, I made a pass that stuck and for this I have to thank the other driver that Nick tangled with at the far hairpin; Nick took the inside line at the hairpin and was blocked, both drivers lost momentum, so I went around the outside, meaning that I could slip up the inside at the on-ramp of the bridge.

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Again, I tried to be patient and not make any rash overtaking manoeuvres when making any attempt on the other driver. Once I had disposed of this driver (another overtake on the inside over the bridge), I at last had some clear air to try to put some consistent lap times in. The only other incident of note, was a big collision between Nick and the other male driver. I didn’t see it as it happened, but did come across the aftermath of it (I’ve now since seen it from Nick’s perspective on his footage, and it’s a nasty one!).

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I managed to set a lap time of 26.441s on my final lap of this session. More importantly, I managed to stay away from any big crashes and came through the session unscathed!

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to capture the first few laps of the second session due to a technical difficulty with my helmet camera (I forgot to switch it on), but all of the interesting footage was still there. You could really split this session up into three parts; in the first half of the session, I had clear air and was catching up to Nick, the next two minutes consisted of me following Nick, with both of us closing on the female driver and after a small collision at the bottom of the bridge and a couple of swaps of positions between myself and Nick, it ended as it began, with myself trailing Nick for the last five minutes.

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I managed to just dip under the 26s barrier, with a 25.935s lap about halfway through the session. This we thought was the end of the evening, but we were about to be made an offer we couldn’t refuse.

After the second session, we were offered a third at a discount price because the track wasn’t busy at all. At first, just myself and Nick decided that we would do it and the other pair said that they couldn’t, but when we got out to the front desk to pay, the other pair decided to go for the third session as well, meaning that it consisted of exactly the same four drivers.

Nick had a big moment early on at the large hairpin, which I did all I could to avoid a big impact with him and his kart. It could have been very dangerous, but I managed to slip around the outside without touching him at all!

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The other drivers had obviously gained confidence from the first two sessions and they weren’t afraid to mix it up in the third. One notable incident in the third session, occurred on the straight under the bridge, where one of the other drivers appeared to turn hard into me in an attempt to block me off. My experience paid off here, as I just backed off a little whilst maintaining my line, sending him into a spin and into the tyres, whilst I just carried on past.

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Despite this incident, I was determined to keep it as clean as possible on the track; I bailed out of several moves when it was 50:50 whether I would make the move stick without contact. Maybe I was a little bit rougher with Nick, but I know that he always gives as good as he gets! Finishing (literally) with a 25.918s lap, put me to the top of the leaderboard again and concluded the evening’s entertainment.

All in all, it was good fun and, at a time where the karts weren’t performing at their best, a sub-26 second lap and to be fastest in every session isn’t terrible. I have lots more karting to come in the next few weeks… Check out the new “Upcoming Events” calendar on this blog to see when and where I’ll be karting in the future!

You can’t win the race on the first lap but you can definitely lose it

Date: 6th October 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 24.732s
Best lap time this session: 24.407s

I was very excited to return to the karting track after my almost eight week break and it just happened to coincide with a member’s “endurance” race, in the “Top Gun” format, at Eastleigh. I had also just received my low profile helmet camera mount, so I was looking forward to checking out the footage from a slightly different angle.

I have never karted for longer than about 45 minutes continuously, so this format of one hour straight was going to be a push of both my physical and mental capabilities.

The race was scheduled for about a 9pm start (almost my bedtime on a weeknight!), but I was feeling very motivated nonetheless, and chatting to some of the members I know well, boosted my determination before the race.

My name was third out of the “hat” (or bright orange plastic bowl, in reality), meaning that I had a great chance to at least finish up the order in this race, if only I could keep the rest behind me for the next 140 or so laps!

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Attack is the best form of defence and, as you all probably know, I don’t have the personality that will allow me to sit back if I am in with a chance of gaining positions or, ultimately, winning the race. This is why it all went wrong for me…

On the grid, I felt relaxed yet switched on and, before the starting sequence had even begun, I was planning my dive into the first corner to take second place. It worked perfectly; I nailed the start, stayed on the left-hand side of the track and hugged the tyre wall around the hairpin and slid (metaphorically, not literally) into second place. I may have got a little over-eager from this point on, trying to push my kart into first position at any slight opening.

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This tactic slowed me down at certain corners for the others to catch me up and make their attempts to overtake me; I slipped down into third and then fourth on lap six, before I made the massive error of fighting back where there wasn’t the space or time. I clipped the back of the kart in front of me, spinning me into the tyre wall, and almost to the back of the field.

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All the hard work and effort that I had put in, mixing it with the front drivers, had been lost in one moment – for the next 55 minutes, I would be playing catch up and having to try to pass back markers on a very difficult circuit to overtake on.

I was gutted, but still determined to do my best with what I had left.

As anyone who has raced in an endurance race will probably say, I can’t remember a great deal about the rest of the race – lap after lap basically blended into themselves. Things I do remember though was getting very angry after constantly being held up by the same two drivers, who seemed to weave across the track in front of me (apologies for the exasperated hand waving at times), getting severe cramp in my accelerator foot on three separate occasions during the race and the pain in my ankle when I got out of the kart at the end (I will have to watch the footage throughout to see if any other details need adding here!)

After 137 laps of the Eastleigh track, I finished ninth out of the eleven drivers who took part (one driver didn’t make it to the track at all after booking on, so I’ll claim that I was ninth out of twelve). I was pleased to set a new PB (24.407s) at this track, but I keep thinking about what might have been.

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This is why I feel that it is important for me to take part in as many races as possible, at as many different tracks as possible, leading up to the BRKC in January; I know how to drive a kart fast, but if I make the wrong “racing decisions” in the championship races, like I did in this race, I will be shown up against the level of competition (if it is anything like last year!).

Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced

Date: 26th September 2015
Track: Drift Limits, Bovingdon
Vehicle driven: Formula Renault 2.0

After my summer hiatus from racing (and blogging), I finally got the chance to cash in my birthday voucher of a Formula Renault experience.

Setting off early to get to the track with plenty of time, myself and my wife cruised up the A3 and around the M25 at a leisurely pace (in comparison with the speeds I was expecting to hit during my first real single seater race car). I say my first ‘real’ experience because on my 18th birthday, I was invited to Donington Park as a Renault VIP and got to sit in a Formula Renault car back then.

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Throwback to my 18th birthday at Donington Park… How young do I look here?!

Having arrived too early to check in at the track, we stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast at the service station on the other side of the dual carriageway. Once I had filled up, we then navigated down this one track road to the venue. I was excited but also slightly disappointed that it was not a “proper” track, but rather some markings and cones on an old runway. Now, I wasn’t expecting to see Brands Hatch, but I did hope to see some kerbs and track limits marked out professionally.

Anyway, I checked in on the customised bus/office before heading out to the track as a spectator. As my wife and I went to watch, one of the guys on track at the time managed to spin the car completely and rolled into the field on the side of the “track”.

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The “track”

Due to the lack of any defining features, it was difficult to see where the racing lines were, or even which way you were meant to go from the “spectator area”, so watching others wasn’t useful at all.

From here, all of the drivers for my session were called into a safety briefing; there were so many do’s and do not’s that it did overload most of us sat there. Basically, the aim was not to crash (big excess to pay) but also to make the most out of the experience. One of the things I did love about the guys there, were how friendly they all were, and also that I was allowed the opportunity to use my helmet and helmet camera during the session.

Purely by chance, I was first up in the stripped out Mazda MX5 for the instructor to drive me around the track for four laps, so I could get used to the circuit, the braking points and general driving style that was required.

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Once that was over, it was my turn to be strapped into the Formula Renault and take it away! One of the first things that struck me was that it was far more open than I remembered from Donington, but yet the pedals seemed to be on top of each other (damn my wide feet!). The other thing that I noticed was that my thighs were in the way if I missed my turning in point and wanted to put a little more steering into the corners. However, my body size and shape aside, I just tried to slowly make my way around the circuit on the first lap to get used to the twists and turns under my own steam.

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A running theme of this blog seems to be the scrapes or near-misses that I find myself in (usually not even my fault!) and this was another one of those occasions. About three-quarters of the way around my first lap, the other driver obviously lost his way after three corners, and came careering across my part of the track just in front of me!

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After this scare, I ramped up the speed for the next 15 minutes, being fairly smooth (but maybe not too fast), only having a couple of wobbles where the back end slipped from under me as I pushed onto the power too early.

I loved the experience of single-seater driving, but I didn’t feel that I pushed the car to its limit or even pushed my driving skill to its limits, which was disappointing. It would be great to do some more single-seater racing in the future, but on a purpose-built track (with a long enough straight to be able to open the throttle up).

My weekend didn’t stop there with the thrills; I went to Thorpe Park the following day to experience massive acceleration on Stealth – 0 to 80mph in 2.8 seconds – the same acceleration as two F1 cars! Now that is truly rapid!

Clash of the Heavyweights

Date: 13th August 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 25.186s
Best lap time this session: 24.732s

Following my three best lap times being set and submitted in May, June and July at Eastleigh, I had the opportunity to race in a Track Attack session (which is basically a semi-final for Teamsport’s Kart Champs competition). The format of the evening mirrored that of the “unlimited” sessions; there were five sessions of ten minutes each, with the fastest lap time in each period (for each driver) being added together to make a total time. It was this total that decided the winner in each weight category.

Going into this session, I was made aware that there were only two “heavyweights” remaining in the competition at Eastleigh, and that myself and Jordan would be going head-to-head in this session, with the winner basically sealing his place in the Grand Final in Reading.

There was definitely a competitive smell in the air, albeit mostly friendly, with all of us chatting away before we started and also in the breaks between sessions. One of the running jokes throughout the evening was Jonluc’s new kart suit being very similar to mine and that he was copying (and cramping) my style.

After the laughing and joking, the racing was taken very seriously; I went for it from the word go, resulting in a spin for me on lap two of the first session. Fortunately, I had managed to get enough of a lead that I could spin it around without causing a yellow flag. I kept on pushing, however, and even got close to beating my all-time PB, with a best lap of 25.253s, despite me not really feeling in control of this particular kart all of the time. I finished 6th out of 7 karts, but what was important here was the time difference between mine and Jordan’s best lap; unfortunately for me, it went in Jordan’s favour by 0.337s.

I felt the pressure building; I thought that taking about a tenth off Jordan in each of the next four sessions was possible, but was still a daunting task. My second session was far more consistent; only four laps were outside of 25.750s and I even managed to break the 24s barrier for the first time at Eastleigh. I finished 5th this time, but Jordan was ahead again, taking another 0.297s out of my best this time around.

Whilst I was still very much in the competition, the uphill struggle was seeming like a sheer vertical ascent at this point.

I did race well in the third session, beating my PB yet again with a 24.811s lap right at the end, placing me sixth this time around. The gap was still widening between myself and Jordan, but this time, there was less than a tenth of a second between us.

I had to take a chance in the final two sessions to get through; if you watch the video below, you can see that I pushed too hard at times! It was unfortunate that, in this session, I let any chance of the win slip away from me.

Whilst I didn’t have the kart I wanted underneath me to challenge Jordan’s lead in this session, what annoyed me more after the session was that I let it get into my mind, and this affected the way I drove for far too many laps; it was only on laps 16 and 17 that I got my head back into the game and became competitive again.

I still managed to pull a sub-25s lap out of the bag, but Jordan finished nearly half a second ahead of me just in this session alone. His lead was now over a second and the chance of me pulling that out in the final round was slim-to-none. Nevertheless, I was not going to be defeated until the chequered flag fell for the final time.

As I started the final round, I was determined to be more positive and try to get my consistency back from the earlier rounds. I managed to achieve this and then some; there were only two ‘bad’ laps throughout the session (i.e. over 25.750s) and I managed to go sub-25s five times in the session, smashing my PB again with a 24.732s.

A little while later, the official results were confirmed on the Teamsport Eastleigh Facebook page; I had finished with a combined time of 124.619s compared with Jordan’s 123.071s total. To put this in context, both of our times would have been competitive in amongst the lighter driver categories, despite some of the other drivers weighing far less than us.

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I could take one more stab at getting into the finals in the last chance saloon on Tuesday, although it’s a difficult decision; I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to race in the Grand Final, but it is yet another expenditure both financially and in terms of my time. Oh well, only time will tell!

Winners train, losers complain?

Date: 26th July 2015
Track: F1K Loughborough
My PB at this track (before this session): N/A
Best lap time this session: 24.872s

Following straight on from my exploits in Birmingham, I had arranged to take part in a 50 lap race at F1K Loughborough, on the following day. I had never been to this venue either, so it was another completely new experience for me. But unfortunately, it is not a track I’ll probably be revisiting.

I turned up an hour early for my race because the weather was terrible, I didn’t really know where I was going and I wanted to make sure that my Grandad was comfortable at the track too. This was my Grandad’s first visit to a karting track and, therefore, the first time he had had the opportunity to watch me kart, despite him being very supportive in my “career” to date.

When we arrived at the front desk, there was nobody in the office and despite ringing the bell three times, it was a long time before anybody came to book me, and the other group who had just arrived, in.

It looked, on paper, like a fast circuit; there were no complicated turns every corner was either at 90 degrees or a hairpin bend and having the bridge and a long straight after the down ramp meant that you could build up a great deal of speed for the second half of the lap.

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Track layout from http://www.f1k.co.uk

The karts seemed to be good from a distance and I was looking forward to it into the safety briefing. One thing that disappointed me from the start (and I know this is at numerous karting venues now) is that chest cameras and helmet cameras were prohibited.

At the end of the safety briefing, there was an off-hand comment that the track on top of the bridge was quite bumpy, so be careful. I wasn’t too bothered by this, I thought that experience would play into my hands.

We were told that we would start in a random kart and the first person to complete 50 laps would be the winner (it was that simple). I started in the fifth kart of eight, so in order to win, I would have to overtake at least four drivers on the circuit. I actually only NEEDED to pass three on the track, although I lapped some of them a lot more times.

It was quite an interesting start; one of the karts in front of me didn’t want to go at all (according to the printout it only managed to complete one lap with a top speed of 6.8mph and took 3 minutes to do it). As a result, the start of the race was littered with yellow flags mainly because of this kart being pushed around part of the track. I should have guessed from this experience not to try to push my kart as much, however, when you’re racing it’s far easier to say that than do it.

There seemed to be a lot of vibrations coming through the steering column in my kart but I thought to just ignore it and to carry on racing, as I was carving through the field and even lapping some drivers within a few laps. However, the harder I pushed the more the vibrations got to me; passing through my arms and bruising the insides of my knees as they continually bounced against the steering column.

It was particularly bad on the bridge where going slow or fast didn’t do anything to reduce the kart doing what it wanted to do; it took a lot of strength to keep the kart from going into the barrier every time I turned into the hairpin on the bridge.

I was there to win and I was not going to let a bad kart stop me so I continued to push from lap 1 to lap 51 (I know it said it was a 50 lap race but they missed me as I crossed the line to complete my 50th lap)

According to the printout, I wasn’t the fastest driver there but I was certainly the most consistent and could take a line into the hairpin at the bottom of the bridge that nobody else could take. During a yellow flag in the middle of the race, another driver pulled alongside me and asked me how I managed to carry so much speed through the hairpin bend at the foot of the bridge. I wasn’t going to give him any tips during the race, but I did tell him afterwards the technique that I was using.

One positive from this venue is that it provides you with a top speed as well as your two best lap times during the race (my stats: I reached 50.7mph and achieved my best lap time of 24.872 seconds on lap 28 of 51).

It was a bitter-sweet experience; I was very pleased to win and, other than the “Fianium Grand Prix”, this is my first real race win (a small trophy is being placed in my “cabinet”), although this has come at a price (I am now paying for it with big bruises on the insides of my knees and strains and shooting pains in my arms).

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There’s clearly potential for this venue, but it just seemed sloppy in comparison with the other places I have been karting over the years. I am tempted to visit a different F1K venue in the future to see if that is any better, but that won’t be for a while.