Calm down, don’t give up and fight back!

Date: 30th December 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time this session: 24.043s

After the Christmas excesses (and a small gain of just over a kilogram in weight), it was great to be back at the track for a competitive race with the other members. This was another race in the F1 format; although there was another change to the format – this time the pit stop element was removed. I was disappointed at this because the GRID F1 format is the closest to BRKC race format, and whilst this was a stand-alone race, I was hoping to practice some new tactics regarding the timings of my stops.

My aim for the knockout qualifying sessions, although it was very ambitious, was to get into the final session. I did feel relaxed in the kart at the start of the first qualifying session (despite me not knowing exactly what was going on with the grid start!).

I managed to get into the second knockout stage fairly easily, putting in a 24.619s lap, but for some reason, I felt that I had tensed up a little bit in the next round and things didn’t feel the same with the kart, leading to my big mistake a few laps in. I never quite recovered from this, leaving me with the seventh fastest time (24.986s) and out of qualifying.

Something that I did prefer from this event were the kart changes between qualifying and the first two races and then a further change before the final sprint race; although it may not have worked out perfectly for me, I prefer not sticking with the same karts all the way through the evening as it leads to a more even playing field (nobody gets a good kart all evening, and conversely, nobody is stuck with a slow kart throughout the event).

In the first race, I managed to stay out of a lot of the trouble at the start by staying to the outside of the first corner and did my best to still defend from others trying to get up the inside of me.

In terms of positions, not much happened for me during the race; I went from 8th, to 6th and finally slipped back to 7th. I almost grabbed 6th place back right at the end as Ian was caught behind a back marker and, as I saw the finish line, I lunged up the outside and was fractions of a second from regaining that position. I finished with a 24.443s best lap and a better average than Ian (who pipped me to the chequered flag), so I was very pleased with my performance so far in the evening.

We were straight back out for the second race, and with a reverse grid from qualifying, this put me towards the front of the pack. However, that didn’t last long.

The start was an absolute disaster; I found myself sandwiched in all directions and just being taken for a ride around the first corner and then again at the hairpin at foot of the bridge; I fell from fourth to eleventh in the space of two corners and I was not happy.

However, unlike other occasions, I regrouped and set out to regain some of the places I had lost with a sense of determination that I hadn’t really experienced in my racing to date. From 11th position, I managed to move up into 9th within the next lap, then into 7th and by lap 6, I was into 5th place.

Unfortunately, due to a nasty incident at the pit entrance (requiring the barrier to be rebuilt), the race was red flagged and my momentum was halted.

After the stoppage, I realised that breaking into the top four was going to be an enormous task, and not losing my 5th place from a new member, Ricky, was going to be tough too! I could feel the pressure coming from behind – I tried to drive defensively to protect my position but still try to make an impact on the lead that Ian had made over me in fourth. Amy said after the event that the fight between myself and Ricky was intense; he was breathing down my neck lap after lap and I was pulling some great defensive lines to give me a break for a lap or two.

All of the time, we were closing on Ian, giving me a chance to take 4th place right at the end, but Ian’s experience paid off, offering me no chances to put in the overtake which would have capped off my comeback in this race. I finished with a best lap of 24.043s in this race, closing in on a sub 24s lap yet again.

If the second race was all about making my way through the pack, so was the third race – but only this time it was in reverse. We started in the same order that we had finished the second race, so for the first time, I was starting close to Ian and should have had the opportunity to have a full race to overtake him on this track. As it happened, I only needed the first corner to pull the overtake that I had been waiting for all evening; I got a great start and, as I stayed on the inside at the hairpin, I managed to move myself into 4th position.

However, one lap later, I made a slight mistake and the kart slipped away from underneath me; a gentle tap from Ian (I know that this wasn’t intentional) and I had lost two places. After the next corner, I had lost a further two places. Languishing down in 8th place, I did manage to make it back into 7th which I managed to hold on to for four laps whilst challenging for 6th place.

Unfortunately, I had no defence (and no grip) this time with the kart I was given, and became a sitting duck for the drivers behind me. Once I had fallen into ninth place, and Robin started to pull away from me, that was my race over, so I started to experiment and generally have fun. My quickest lap time in this sprint race was 24.217s; whilst racing, I didn’t even believe that I had put in a 25s lap!

At the trophy presentation, it was announced that I had finished in joint seventh place out of twelve after the three races – I thought how different it could have been if I had been competitive in the third race (mathematically, there was a real possibility of me finishing 5th/6th overall).

I was really pleased with how the evening had gone, especially my performance in the second race and it confirmed to me that racing is made up of three things; natural ability, good practice and a decisive mind.

Now, only 16 days remain until the BRKC…

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.

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.

F1 Event 221015-00-48-48-861

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!

Picking up the scraps from the big table

The day after my endurance race (see below), I travelled north to the former headquarters of the Caterham F1 team to collect a pair of brand new Sparco racing boots that I had won during the auction of their assets.
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I found it really quite emotional that the buildings that once housed state-of-the-art workshops, design suites and some of the fastest cars in the world were being emptied, item by item, and I was one of the people benefiting from Caterham’s demise.
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Admittedly, some of the items went for silly money (as was mentioned in my chat with the gentleman in the auction office whilst waiting for my goods to arrive from the kit store), but I think that I saved about 25% off the retail price of the racing boots after taking the auctioneer’s commission into consideration.

As I now have two pairs of racing boots, I might be willing to part with my OMP KS-3 kart boots (in blue) should my colleague want them (as he was considering buying some before I left for annual leave).