#BRKC2017 Preview – Round Four (Heat One)

slide4My final heat is, on paper, the hardest of them all.

Back on the standard circuit (just two hours after I finish my third round race), I meet Mathias Grooten and Annelien Boutens for the second time this championship.

I will also be racing Matt Bartsch, fourth place overall in the championship last year, and Sebastian Raikkonen for the second time in two years but I had very different fortunes with both of these drivers last year… Arnaud Tinet also returns to BRKC; I last raced him in round two in 2015 and I’m hoping, with my added experience, I may be able to challenge him for position this time around.

Writing this, I am having difficulty making my prediction for the heat winner; with the level of competitors in this field, it will come down to who qualifies best and manages to hold their nerve through the twenty minutes of racing and the all-important pit stop!

Predicted heat winner: Matt Bartsch (but could be any one from five!)

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 8th

#BRKC2017 Preview – Round Three (Heat Seven)

slide3On Sunday, I will be up early for the second race of the day, again on the alternate circuit. I will be racing four of the same drivers that I lined up against in 2016; David Longman, Ramon Pineiro, Ben Churchill and Tyler Mays.

I seem to remember being in a close battle with Ben Churchill in round three last year; that time he got the better of me, but I’m determined to put that right this time around!

There are some very good drivers in this heat; Ryan Smith made it through to the semi finals last year and David and Ramon just missed out, but in my eyes, the one to watch in his return to BRKC is Mathias Grooten, who won all of his heats in BRKC 2015 and narrowly missed out on a podium position in the final.

Predicted heat winner: Mathias Grooten

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 6th

#BRKC2017 Preview – Round Two (Heat Six)

slide2On to round two, and the brand new alternate circuit, which we will have to watch the first five heats and get as much information as possible from the drivers in those races to try to get the upper hand here.

In this heat, I meet the one driver that I have raced in both of my previous two championships, Robin Kassam. Both of the two previous occasions have been in round three and on the standard circuit. Robin currently leads 2-0 in this battle, but I am determined to at least make a fight of it this time! Also in this heat are Regis Gosselin (a finalist in last year’s BRKC), Jacob Lewis and Chris Machell, all of whom I raced last year. Last year, I managed to do the double over Chris, but I’m sure it won’t be easy to do the same this year!

I’ll be the first to admit that I have had problems with alternate circuits in previous years, but hopefully this year will be different with more experience and hopefully a clearer mind.

Predicted heat winner: Regis Gosselin

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 6th

#BRKC2017 Preview – Round One (Heat Six)

slide1My BRKC2017 championship begins with an interesting heat including three drivers who I have raced in previous championships; Kyle Power from round three of 2015, Annelien Boutens from round three of 2016 and Mason Bates from round four (also last year).

I have never beaten these particular drivers in the championship before; in 2015, Kyle finished three places ahead of me, Annelien won our heat in 2016, whilst I finished in seventh position, and in my final heat last year, I finished three places behind Mason. It’s not all doom and gloom though; last year, I finished just one point behind Mason overall in the championship.

There are also some very good drivers that I haven’t met in my BRKC journey yet: Sander De Baets (who finished 24th overall last year), Craig McCallister (39th), Steve Gray (43rd) and Anne d’Hondt (51st) as well as a couple of unknown entities in this heat.

Predicted heat winner: Annelien Boutens

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 7th

Happy New Year and #BRKC2017 Heat Draw

Happy New Year to all of my readers! First, an apology. Due to life being so hectic in the second half of 2016, I have somewhat neglected this site, but I will be backfilling the posts that I have missed over the next few months – there’s another trophy in my cabinet to tell you all about!

Secondly, and seemingly out of nowhere, came the #BRKC2017 draw on the evening of Saturday 14th January. This, like the previous two years, was my first opportunity to find out who I would be facing in the first four rounds of this year’s championship. I waited patiently for my name to be called and eventually (I was the 53rd driver pulled out of the bowl) I could see how my heats were lining up. However, with the heat dispersal system, only after the last driver was drawn were all of the heats finalised.

The image below shows the full draw (with my races highlighted). Each day this week, I will focus on one of my races, starting with Round One, Heat Six tomorrow!heat-grids-2017-drawn-v1-3-page-001-1

Third time lucky

Date: 7th October 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 22.695s
Best lap time this session: 23.591s

A spur of the moment decision to go karting in the member’s 3-4-2 session on a Friday evening (whilst my wife was away), took me back to Eastleigh with my friend Mike. I couldn’t believe that this was my first time karting since my 9th place finish in the KartChamps grand final (I had spent some time in Germany and Denmark with work immediately afterwards, so didn’t have the time to take part in any of the sessions that I would normally participate in).

There were only three of us in the members’ session (myself, Mike and Connor), meaning that there was a lot of space out on track (if you wanted it). I did want a bit of space at first, so allowed Mike to get away and then I planned to chase him down in the laps to come.

I’m not going to lie, but the kart I had been given didn’t feel great from the first corner; slipping and sliding around underneath me, but I persevered with it and a few laps later, a little bit of grip did appear in places and I set out in pursuit of Mike. Unfortunately, although I did close the gap slightly, I didn’t quite have enough time to catch and overtake him before the end of the session.

After the first session, the three of us decided that we would rotate the three karts used in that session, so that by the end of the evening, each driver would get the opportunity to drive each kart once.

The second session went pretty much the same way as the first; Connor was able to pull away from myself and Mike, whilst we “battled” it out for position on track. Again, I wasn’t thrilled with the kart’s performance, but I did all that I could to be competitive in it, knowing that I would have an opportunity to deliver a fast lap time in the last session.

With all of that taken into account, both myself and Mike came off at the end of the session having enjoyed every minute of it, especially the sportsmanship between the two of us swapping track positions at the end.

I finally got myself chance to drive kart 14 in the last session, which I was very happy about (although it was freshly refuelled just before the session). Compared with the other two karts I had used this evening, it was far easier to drive and be aggressive through the corners.

I tried to manage the gap between myself and Connor in the early part of the session, but eventually he broke free and then I had to just concentrate on putting clean laps in to better my lap times and attempt to get on the best time of the day/week/month lists!

I was really pleased with my performance in the final session, which also placed me (at this very early stage) as holding the third best lap time of the month.

I do have a strange feeling (and maybe a little bit of a lack of direction) after the KartChamps finals. This isn’t a new feeling for me; I usually feel some emptiness after the BRKC, because it is so physically and emotionally demanding over those three days. I really have the urge to try something new, whether that be a new track, a new championship/event or something completely different in motorsport (maybe going for my full racing licence). One thing that I know that I definitely will be putting my efforts into is trying to acquire sponsorship to help to fund whatever step I take next.
Onwards and upwards…

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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Belated Birthday Bumps

Date: 24th April 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 22.695s
Best lap time this session:  23.504s

As soon as Mike and I had recovered from the endurance race, we returned to the track for our own birthday freebies.

It was a lovely day outside and the lighting was really good for my helmet camera footage (and Mike’s if he hadn’t put the microSD card in the wrong way round!).

Anyway, this afternoon’s racing had a completely different mindset for me; whilst I wanted to blow everyone away with a super-fast lap time, I also wanted to have fun and overtake in a more relaxed environment. I was fortunate to achieve both in the first session.

Although there were a lot of us out on the circuit, the track seemed pretty open and there was ample opportunity to get clear air and set good lap times. I topped the leaderboard from start to finish, and managed to achieve a 23.547s lap (which would have been a new PB before Thursday) on lap 22. Mike finished in second place a little over six-tenths behind me.

I was expecting more of the same in the next session and, this time, Mike was recording!

Unfortunately for me, in this session, the other drivers seemed to be far more aggressive with defending their position on track and, therefore, there was a lot more traffic to deal with. My lap times were very consistent, with all of them around or under the 24s mark but, after Mike’s spin left him in space, this was where he took full advantage of me being stuck in the middle of several big battles.

There was a lot of “squeezing” going on, where I was at least halfway alongside in an overtake and I was pushed into the barriers. This got me psychologically involved in the scraps, and rather than backing off and putting in a faster lap, I was determined to get past. In the last few laps, there were a number of yellow and red flags, which also prevented me from pushing on to better lap times.

At the end of the race, Mike achieved the fastest lap of the session with a 23.466s lap, whereas I only managed a 23.504s lap, leaving me third.

I had a lot of fun this afternoon, even if my competitive side was disappointed with the third place finish at the end. Looking forward, I can’t wait to go outdoors again soon and also to kart in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in May!

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).