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)

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

You have to get the teamwork going and then you get something back

Date: 23rd February 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time this session: 25.356s

The day of the Steel and Metal Industry Team Karting Challenge had arrived and the gauntlet had been laid down; both between the two teams of my colleagues and to aim for the top step of the podium out of the seven teams taking part.

The two teams that I helped to organise and enter were; “The Broad Band” consisting of myself, my colleague, Nick, and friend, Mike (both featuring on this website/blog fairly heavily in the past) and “Team Lightspeed” made up from my colleagues Jonathan, Ruud, Lucy and Tom (three of whom took part in the unofficial company karting event that I ran last year). Jonathan was the “unknown” member of that team, but I knew that he was a part of the University of Birmingham karting team whilst I studied there, so he was going to be a man to watch.

I have to say that it was also fantastic to have Ian (a friend of mine that I met through the Teamsport #Grid events) come to spectate, offer some of his expert advice and boost my confidence by commenting about my weight loss (I’m now dwarfed by the race suit that I struggled to squeeze into six months ago).

The track was only opened for us just before we were due to arrive; the karts were stone-cold and I wanted to get out there to see how slippery it was going to be. But before we could get out on track we all had to attend the briefing (and learn the rules of this endurance race).

To sum the rules of this race up as quickly as possible: 90 minutes. Most laps wins. Random grid start. Minimum of three pit stops/driver changes. Penalty points awarded for bad driving that could lead to various lengths of stop-go penalties or disqualifications.

Before the race, we each had a chance to check out the track with the kart that we would be driving for the event. Mike went first, then I stepped up to take my short stint in the practice session. I didn’t even make it out of the pit lane before I slipped into the tyre wall – yes, it was that slippery! I managed to coax the kart around the kart for about four and half minutes (pulling off some overtakes on the way), before I handed over to Nick for our last five minutes. Nick finished off the session well, but unfortunately, was the last over the line, meaning that we started at the back of the grid for the race.

Whilst I wasn’t happy with my driving/lap times in this session, I was the second fastest out of everyone in practice (Jonathan was less than two-hundredths of a second quicker than me over one lap).

We (I) thought a lot about team tactics; in the race, we wanted to minimize Nick’s movement in and out of the kart, so he would start our race and thirty minutes later, Mike would take over for his part of the race, with myself taking us home and also performing a “solo pit stop” (running around the kart whilst stationary in the pits).

I’m not going to lie here, but I didn’t have a great deal of confidence that Nick would be able to make an impression on the other teams after starting in last place, but I was confident that we wouldn’t get more than a couple of laps behind as he is incredibly difficult to pass. I’m pleased to say that I was completely wrong (as you can see from his helmet camera footage below). An audacious move from the start, took our team up to fifth place and one corner later, we were fourth!

Team Lightspeed started in second place and moved into the lead by the end of the first lap, where Jonathan pushed hard and moved clear of the rest of the field within a few laps. Nick then found himself in the middle of a battle between two other teams, causing a fair bit of contact between the three of them. Fortunately, Nick managed to escape from them quickly and set off, hunting down second place!

However, Nick’s biggest battle was yet to come; Jonathan coming around to lap us very early in the race. As there were no blue flags, Nick was well within his rights to block Jonathan any (legal) way he could and boy did he use every inch of the track to do so! It was incredible to watch lap after lap of Nick driving defensive lines and bunching the whole field together. Eventually, Jonathan did get past, but enough time of Jonathan’s stint had been lost behind Nick to set us up with a chance of the win later on. Jonathan also helped us by making a trip through the pit lane when he mistakenly thought his pit board had been held up for a mandatory stop.

At the changeover, we were the slowest kart out there in terms of fastest lap times, but amazingly, we found ourselves in second place overall, just over one lap behind Team Lightspeed and the same distance in front of third place.

If Nick’s stint was summarised by his defensive driving and consistent (but slow) lap times, then Mike’s was all about eating into the lead that Team Lightspeed had built up on us and despite his lack of experience, he drove like a pro. Consistency was the key after Jonathan’s stint – we knew that he was the strongest driver in Team Lightspeed and we could then reel them in through the next hour.

For a driver who had only done three open timed sessions everyone, including myself, was really impressed with Mike’s head-down no-nonsense approach to overtaking. Tom from Team Lightspeed came off track and said that he found it nearly impossible to pass anybody out on track, but Mike was calculated and ruthless when he approached drivers in front of him. Towards the end of his stint, Mike was one of the fastest on track and was lapping a full five seconds faster than Team Lightspeed’s drivers.

Mike brought us into the pits well in the lead (about two laps ahead of second place) and it was my responsibility to bring us home in that position. I wanted to get my solo pit stop out of the way as soon as possible in my stint and had planned to come in on my second lap, but whilst I was out on track, I changed my mind and thought the best time to do that would be under a yellow flag, so I decided to pit the next time there was an incident on track. This turned out to work brilliantly for us, although the running around did take more out of me than I had accounted for.

I was generally disappointed with my performance at the beginning of my stint; I felt uncomfortable, not able to hook up a good lap (compared with my usual standards) and I felt a lot of pressure after some fantastic performances on track by my teammates. I was making steady progress through the field until I was five laps ahead of second place (although I wasn’t aware of it) when I was blatantly taken out at the far hairpin. I went ballistic – this one incident could have ruined the last 80 minutes of racing and the immense efforts that both Nick and Mike had put in. I carried on and tried to catch up with the kart that had hit me before the end of the race.

My attempt to regain the position on track was ultimately in vain, but I did manage to cross the line in first place, over four laps ahead of the team in second place. I also managed to set the fastest lap of the entire race in my stint, so I was quite pleased with that personal achievement. Once I had finished, I looked for where our other team had finished. Unfortunately, Team Lightspeed finished outside of the podium positions after their fantastic start.

We all decided that we had had so much fun and the win was a true team effort; we wouldn’t have been in the position to win if anyone of us had made a mistake or hadn’t given 100%.

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One thing is for sure, the Broad Band will be back to race another day…