Karting (off) into the sunset

Date: 12th April 2016
Track: Thruxton (National circuit)
My PB at this track (before this session): N/A
Best lap time this session: 52.242s

Welcome to the first instalment of my competitive outdoor karting “career”!

After turning 29 at the weekend, and with the “Karting for Heroes” endurance race on the horizon, I decided to pop over to Thruxton to open my account there and get some time behind the wheel outdoors. I took part in their “Race Night” event, against some very experienced competitors both at this track and in UK outdoor karting championships. The format was quite straightforward; 8 minute practice/qualifying and an 8 lap heat, finishing with a 10 lap final (alternating with the other group).

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It was a glorious evening when I arrived (after I was predicting a wet/greasy track from the weather forecast!) and by the time we took to the track for the practice/qualifying session, the sun was just setting in the distance.

After the safety briefing, I got chatting with three of the drivers in our group, who wanted to remove a visor from a helmet to clean it. As I had removed (and replaced) visors many times before, I gave them a hand with it and instantly built up a rapport with them.

The qualifying session was eye-opening for me; the sheer amount of power from the karts along with the space to accelerate and reach speeds around 60mph was awesome and at the same time, terrifying. In fact, although I’ve driven faster cars, including the Formula Renault, this was really the first time that I thought “Oh sh**!” and feared for my safety after missing a braking point and bouncing over a kerb perilously close to a tyre wall.

I struggled with the circuit layout too in this session (the other drivers had all been around this track before and knew it to varying degrees), but I kept getting confused with the corners after the chicanes; one is a very tight hairpin whereas the other is an open, full-throttle, curve towards the start/finish line – very different entry speeds required! All those things aside, I didn’t disgrace myself in qualifying, finishing 5th out of 8th with a time of 53.455s.

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After qualifying, and whilst the other group went out for their heat, we had a brief period of respite where I carried on chatting to the three drivers that I met earlier. It wasn’t a long break – before we had chance to fully recover, we were out there lined up for our heat and the hard work started again. At this point in the evening, the sun was just above the horizon, so like in the first session, it was time to drop my helmet’s internal sunshield and go for it once again.

I had clearly improved (or I was just a good starter) as I forced my way up into third place briefly at the first corner, before running off line and having to fall back into 5th. Despite a few laps where I was catching 4th place and breaking 60mph top speed, I finished 25s behind the leader and four seconds behind fourth place, whilst being 16s clear of 6th.

I had gained a lot of confidence from this heat and I thought I maybe had an outside chance of a podium in the final. Unfortunately, one of the drivers who I had been talking to and racing, Vicky, had to pull out of the heat at half distance and the final due to a medical issue but, this did have its own advantages for us; we now had a photographer (the featured image and the one below were both brilliantly taken by her during the final – Thanks Vicky!).

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In the lead up to the final, I was buzzing with confidence and I got another fantastic start when the lights changed, mixing it up on the run up to the first corner. However, that was where it all went wrong – my kart was very slippery and as I tried to brake and turn into the first corner on the inside, I spun 180 degrees and just faced the drivers that were behind me (soon to be in front of me!).

Once everyone was clear of me, I turned the kart around, and set off in pursuit of anybody to try to avoid finishing last. I did manage to catch two of the drivers within a couple of laps, but as I hadn’t overtaken anyone on this track before, I was trying to consider where the best places to overtake would be.

I was very pleased that in successive corners, I managed to overtake both of them and from that point on, I was on my own, despite my increasingly desperate attempts to shave as much time as I could from my lap times.

Surprisingly, I finished about the same distance behind the leaders as I had done in the heat, despite my initial mistake and the fact that the final was longer than the heat before! I did improve on my lap times in the final, and I now have a PB of 52.242s for the next time that I return to Thruxton! All in all, I was very satisfied with my first competitive outdoor karting session and I’ve got the bug to do more karting here and at other outdoor tracks (it’s just a shame that the price is quite prohibitive).

 

Let me drive! I won’t make a fool out of you!

Date: 1st April 2016
Track: Teamsport Gosport
My PB at this track (before this session): 29.956s
Best lap time this session: 30.918s

As I wrote in my last blog post, I thought it was time for both me and Mike to go to a new track and so, before Mike travelled halfway across the world for work, I arranged an evening of karting at my old stomping ground of Teamsport Gosport.

I have to say that it was nice to be back and that, whilst there had been changes there, lots of good memories did flood back to me. Mike and I had a little catch up, but it was soon time to get into the karts and compete and, for me, find out if I could continue where I had left off.

As this was a public group, inevitably the sessions were littered with yellow flags and stoppages, alongside the difficulties of completing a fast lap in clear air.

During the first race, I found myself feeling frustrated by one driver, who I felt was considerably slower than me, but was driving very defensively. In my attempts to pass this driver, I fell behind a couple more karters, who opportunistically passed me. Eventually, I made the required overtakes and had one lap to set a good time for this session.

I expected to do well, but I didn’t expect to feel so comfortable so quickly around this track having not raced here for over a year. After all of the yellow flags and overtaking, I was delighted to top the leaderboard with a 30.971s lap – about a second off my fastest laps ever at Gosport.

After the first session, where Mike drove without any advice from me (at his request), we chatted about some visual markers for braking points, some different lines to the corners and methods for overtaking the other drivers on a notoriously difficult track to pass people on.

The second session started with a considerable amount of traffic, which I dispatched fairly easily (apart from one driver who frustrated me for a good few laps). However, once I had overtaken him, I had clear air in which to put in my hot laps. It was during these laps that I managed to put in my fastest lap of the race; fractionally quicker than in the first session, but still in the 30.9’s (30.947s).

After this period out on my own, I quickly caught up to the tail of the field which halted my charge. There were some questionable moves made to defend my attacks, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. Unfortunately, once I had passed the group of drivers (and found myself in space), I couldn’t find my rhythm again to better my laptime.

I did top the timesheets at the end of the session, but with a much smaller advantage than I had in the first race.

Before the third and final session, I asked Mike where he felt he was losing time, but he said that didn’t really know. Once the karts had been selected and it was clear that I would be starting behind Mike, I offered to stay quite closely behind him for a few laps and then we could analyse the footage from my helmet camera later for pointers.

I did exactly as I had promised, following behind Mike, despite a couple of mistakes that I could have capitalised on had I been racing hard. From my position, Mike seemed very aware that I was close behind him, and this appeared to spur him on to lap faster and faster. After I had felt that my “camera work” was done, I launched into “race mode” and tried to reel Mike in and pass him to get some clear air. This didn’t go to plan for me; I naïvely thought that I would be able to jump on any mistake he made and get past. But Mike did not make any mistakes and was actually lapping around the 31s mark, neutralising many of the other tricks up my sleeve.

As we came up to a back marker, Mike managed to squeeze past and I tried to follow him through. There wasn’t enough space for me to get past safely, so I backed off and waited for the next opportunity. At the first corner, the driver in front span and collided with me as I drove past.

Soon afterwards, there was a yellow flag, which bunched myself and Mike back up together. As this was not a race, but a time trial, track position was not important so, with only a few laps to go, I decided to go the other route – drop back by a few seconds and then try to put in a fast lap and catch up with Mike again.

I was really happy to see that Mike had topped the leaderboard in the final session, despite me finishing a couple of tenths behind him with a 30.918s lap (my third 30.9s best lap in the three sessions!) in third place. This session was all about giving Mike the opportunity to analyse some video footage, to see how he could improve his karting in general.

I do need to get a little bit of outdoor practice in before the “Karting for Heroes” race in about a month’s time, but I have the feeling that my next karting session will be indoors too!

A Tale of Two Starts

Date: 23rd March 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time during the race: 24.043s

A month after our victory in the team endurance, Mike and I decided to take part in a member’s event at the Eastleigh track. This was Mike’s first race against this level of competition, but we both thought it would be a worthwhile experiment to see where he would rank after a very short karting career to date.

The Mansell format, although new to Mike, was familiar to me; 10 minutes qualifying before a 45 minute straight race from those grid positions, with “black flag” pit stops happening every 3 minutes.

Qualifying was a bit of a blur; I thought the kart felt good, although there was a bit of lag with the mid-range acceleration. A couple of minutes from the end, there was a red flag stoppage, which also spelled the end of one driver’s participation in the event after a nasty crash into the pit lane entry barrier. This break in qualifying put paid to anyone bettering their lap times in the final few moments, resulting in me starting in sixth place on the grid, and Mike directly behind me on the grid in eighth.

We lined up ready for the race start and I was buzzing in anticipation – I was targeting a podium this time and I knew I had to make some places up as soon as possible after the lights turned green. The start went exactly as I had hoped; I managed to gain a place after the first corner and a few laps later, managed to take advantage of a mistake by the driver in front to move up the order. I believe (although I can’t be sure of this) that I managed to get into second position.

Unfortunately, this is where the race was to come to a premature end for all of the drivers. Due to a technical problem, the chequered flag came down and all of the drivers were directed to the pits (looking quite bewildered). We were told that the race would be restarted from our original grid positions and that the clock would be reset to the full 45 minutes – all of the effort I had put into those few laps was ultimately pointless.

On the grid this time, I was very fidgety, even to the point of still moving in my seat when the lights turned green. The race was restarted and, although I managed to get into fifth place again after the first corner, I wasn’t able to push on from there like I had in the first “non-race”.

My position peaked at third place early on but, whilst I could keep some of the guys behind me for periods of time leading up to my mandatory pit stop, I couldn’t maintain my position afterwards.

My flow was interrupted when I was shunted from behind at the hairpin before the bridge. This incident brought out the red flag and genuinely shook me up. I tried to regroup, but the only thing that I could think of was getting that position back that had been unfairly taken from me.

I tried to wipe this incident from my mind and just drive to the best of my ability, but numerous incidents were happening around the circuit (although they were dealt with by the marshals).

Just before my pit stop, I managed to catch Mike and decided that I wouldn’t be rash and attempt a move that could end both of our races, so would stay behind him for a lap. This didn’t quite work out as planned either, because Mike went into the pits when I was flagged to come in!

I ended the race in fifth place and managed a 24.043s best lap, with Mike a couple of laps down on me in sixth (which is no mean feat in his first members race).

I feel that both myself and Mike need a little bit more variety in our racing, which may mean karting a little less regularly, but hitting different tracks (and maybe a bit of outdoor karting) as often as we can.

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…

You have to learn it, and the best way to learn it is to learn it from other people

Date: 21st February 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time this session: 24.220s

Another quick karting trip with Mike and a couple of his friends, mainly in preparation for the team endurance on Tuesday evening. I was feeling a lot better in myself this week after shaking off the last of the virus that I had since the BRKC.

The first session started really well and the kart felt fantastic; I was very happy with my karts throughout the afternoon (whilst they behaved completely differently, they were great and there was nothing to complain about at all). I went for it straight from the word go and maintained my position at the top of the timing sheets for 21 laps.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite enough to “win” overall. Mike seemed to come out of nowhere to get in front me and exhibit some great defensive driving that I was ‘coaching’ him in last week. These few laps at the end were great fun and really tested my ability to follow closely and attempt to overtake. I finished the session in second place with a best lap of 24.348s, but with the best average lap time out of all of the drivers in that session. Mike finished just behind me in third spot, but having made massive improvements in all aspects of his karting.

Both Mike and I were determined for the second session; I wanted to top the timesheets and Mike wanted to get both a better lap time and to practice his new lines around the track.

From the pit lane, both of us went for it and were inseparable for the first four or five laps and, through our aggressive start, we were pulling away from the pack at pace. It was a brilliant battle, which I only managed to get the upper hand in due to a slight mistake by Mike at the “grandstand” hairpin, slipping off the racing line, and allowing me to squeeze through on the inside.

There wasn’t too much action throughout this session; Mike was held up a little longer than I was behind the back markers, allowing me to just concentrate on my driving (although he was always just about one corner behind!).

We achieved a one-two on the timesheets at the end of the afternoon’s karting; I set my fastest lap of the day, a 24.220, with Mike just fractionally slower than he was in the first session.

I have to also mention that the standard of karting was far higher than last week’s session and the racing was both competitive and fair, which makes it a lot more fun for everyone. I have a lot of confidence and respect for my teammates for Tuesday’s endurance race – now we just need to turn it into a positive result!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Date: 14th February 2016
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time this session: 24.707s

A bit of a fun session with my friend Mike (who has become a GRID member after our NYE session!) and my first outing indoors since the BRKC.

Before I had even started, I suppose that a level of arrogance had crept into my mentality; I expected to be the fastest by quite a long way, having competed at one of the highest levels of indoor karting less than one month previously.

This was soon to be knocked out of me; physically on the track and mentally when the results came out. I didn’t take the first session too seriously, but I tried to turn it on when I couldn’t pull away from Mike – in our last session, I was about a second a lap quicker – this time, he had very good pace and was keeping me honest.

There were a few bashes and even more near-misses out on track due to the unpredictability of some of the drivers. I avoided a few drivers spinning in front of me (even if it did mean losing track position to Mike a couple of times!).

I did, however, top the timesheets with a 24.778s, a little over half a second faster than Mike who managed to finish second in this session.

Maybe because it was Valentines Day, the drivers wanted to get a little closer to one another in the second session, or maybe it was the usual confidence beating ability after one session.

The second session was more competitive and much rougher and the “No Bumping” sign was shown quite a few times (even if some did not agree with it!).

I tried to keep things as clean as possible but, in these sessions, some contact between karts is unavoidable. One incident, which I was involved in, that sticks in my mind started at the hairpin entry to the flyover; having followed the driver in front closely for a couple of laps, I saw them defend the inside line at the hairpin, so I deliberately held my outside line to try to cut up the inside on the exit. This worked well and the slightest of taps opened up the space for me to overtake. Once I was alongside and tried to push on, the driver that I had just overtaken turned in to me and bounced me up the on-ramp. One lap later, the marshals showed him the no bumping sign which he felt very aggrieved about, gesticulating from his kart.

I finished first in this session with a 27.707s lap, far more consistent than the first, with Mike a little closer behind me again in second place.

With all things considered, this was an average session for me – I want to, and need to, do better in the endurance race on the 23rd. Drawing some positives for the endurance race, Mike has improved dramatically and with a little bit of coaching in racecraft, he will be a fantastic team mate on Tuesday evening!

#BRKC2016 Championship Preview and Heat Draw Review

With less than one week to go until the green lights come on at the British Rental Kart Championship, what better way to start the countdown than with a preview of the championship weekend and a review of last night’s heat draw.

For those of you that aren’t aware, the British Rental Kart Championship is a weekend-long event that acts as a qualifier to the Kart World Championship. Many of Europe’s best kart drivers compete at this championship, at a venue that prides itself on kart maintenance and equality, making it one of the highest levels of competition in indoor karting.

100 drivers (a BRKC record) will line up on the morning of Saturday 16th, and by Sunday evening, one driver will be able to take the top step of the podium with the knowledge that he/she has beaten the rest to grab the £1000 top prize.
But to be crowned champion, they will have to navigate four tricky heats (each with single flying lap qualifying followed immediately by a race of 20 minutes including a compulsory pit stop), a semi-final (following the same format as the heats) and the grand final (individual qualifying in the same kart followed by a 30 minute race with two mandatory pit stops).

The entire event will be broadcast live, with full commentary and driver interviews, so if you can’t be there, you can still experience the speed and atmosphere of the championship from your armchair at home.

This year, there are a few rule changes, most notably the new laser activated pit stop system – FLAPS (as a laser engineer, I am particularly excited about this!). To remove the human judgement element of the mandatory pit stop from previous years, a simple laser system has been implemented at the entrance and exit of the pit lane, where the beam must be blocked by the kart for a given amount of time before you are allowed to move off. There are a few different methods of performing the pit stop element during the races; I have been discussing a couple of these methods and have my plan A and B ready for the Friday practice session.

Unlike last year, when I was very inexperienced and went into the championship on the back of an illness (I’m not using the illness as an excuse, I was thoroughly outclassed and would have been either way!), I have been racing for the past year with a clear goal; to go to the BRKC this year and perform better than I did in my debut in 2015. My preparations have gone well; I’ve lost about 35lbs in weight from last year (1st 9lbs since October), bringing me under the 90kg minimum weight for the first time in years, I’m generally fitter than I was and have been very competitive in my kart races around the country against both lighter and more experienced drivers.

 

 

Last night (8th January) the draw for the heats of the BRKC was streamed live from Formula Fast in Milton Keynes, and I watched with baited breath on YouTube alongside a considerable number of competitors. Despite the difficulties with the new automatic heat spreadsheet throughout the evening, there really was an air of excitement from the drivers. Unfortunately, due to the length of the draw and one of the stoppages, I missed my name being drawn (I picked up the stream after three more names after mine had been pulled out of the bag).

Eventually, the draw was completed (see the image below for the complete draw) so I then knew who I would be racing next Saturday and Sunday in the first four rounds of heats.

FullDraw2016

Round one [13:00 Saturday 16th]:

R1H10I’ve got quite a wait from Friday practice to kick my championship off with a bang, and what a line up in this heat!

Ed White (3rd place last year overall, but won every race leading into the grand final), Ramon Pineiro (multiple Spanish rental kart champion), Corne Snoep (masses of experience in the kart world championship amongst others), Lewis Manley (3rd place overall in BRKC 2014, and at his home track where he holds the lap record) and Colin Brown (Formula A World Champion) are formidable competitors and it will very exciting to be racing against these drivers.

I would love to break into the top 5, but I think this is going to be near enough impossible with the standard of drivers there.

Predicted heat winner: Ed White

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 8th

Round two [18:30 Saturday 16th]:

R2H9After my first round race, I have another long wait until my second heat, this time on the alternative layout.
I meet up again with Tyler Mays after our round one heat, but the one name that really stands out for me in this heat is Matt Bartsch, who won three out of four heats last year and finished 7th overall.

From the November practice session, the alternative layout doesn’t suit my driving style, but if I’m to achieve my target of getting in top 50, I will have to make as many points as possible on the second and fourth rounds – there are no easy points to be had in the BRKC.

Predicted heat winner: Matt Bartsch

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 7th

Round three [8:00 Sunday 17th]:

R3H6Back to the traditional circuit layout, provisionally first thing on the Sunday morning, I will be racing David Longman for the second time this championship and meeting Anwar Beroual Smith, as I did last year in the heats.

From the line-up, I think there will be a fight (figuratively not literally) between Anwar and Annelien at the front; I feel that qualifying and track position will play a big part in deciding that place.

As this is the last round on the standard layout, I will be pushing hard for every point here, but I predict there being lots of mini-battles throughout the field from 4th to 10th place and this is where a well-timed pit stop can pay dividends.

Predicted heat winner: Annelien Boutens

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 7th

Round four [15:30 Sunday 17th]:

R4H9The last chance to stake a claim for a semi-final place on the alternative layout and, with only one more heat after this before the semi-finals, things will begin to look clearer for many drivers knowing what finishing result they need to make an impression on the leaderboard.
My BRKC heats will be bookended by racing Lewis Manley again, who I think will be the one to beat in this race.

A lot of new names (to me anyway) in this heat, but I do get to race Alex Vangeen competitively for the for the third time in the past two BRKCs (I was also alongside him for my two practice sessions last year); hopefully it will be closer than the last time, where I remember waving him through to put a lap me on quite a few occasions.

Predicted heat winner: Lewis Manley

My predicted finishing position in this heat: 6th

If I were asked to give some tips for the debutants (having been one myself last year), they would be to:

  1. enjoy the weekend – there’s a lot of things going on throughout the weekend and time can seem to pass by really fast, but try to take a moment to take it in and leave with some good memories
  2. compete hard (without expectations or preconceived ideas)
  3. talk to other people/drivers around the venue – they won’t bite and you might end up getting some hints and tips that you can take forward in your racing careers.

Leaving the blog post and predictions aside for a moment, I’m looking forward to just racing throughout this weekend – this is my chance to see the progress I have made in the past year and see if I can mix it with the big guys.

Never think that success is down to your own performance alone

Date: 31st December 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 23.732s
Best lap time this session: 24.812s

After the previous night’s racing, I decided to have a “warm down” and introduce my friend Mike to the sport that I love and put so much of my spare time into.

After chatting with Mike on the way to the track, it turned out that this was his first time karting in a very long time, but I had a sneaky suspicion that he was going to be pretty good on track, so I was keeping one eye out for him when we were racing.

We arrived very early for our session (I was allowing for traffic that simply wasn’t there!), but this gave Mike the opportunity to take a look at the track and ask for a couple of little pieces of advice from me before we went to our safety briefing.

As always in these open sessions, there was a wide range of abilities; from those who had never stepped foot in a kart before to those who regularly kart. The challenge for me was to weave through the traffic and be as competitive as I could be (without bumping anyone!).

There was a lot of traffic on the track, and unfortunately, there were a few stoppages and yellow flags throughout the first session. I felt like I was doing a good job to get around the other drivers cleanly, even if some of my moves had an air of cockiness about them. One thing that I was very proud of was squeezing through the tiniest gap following a spin by one of the drivers (at ~12:41 in the video below).

I managed a 25.405s lap in this session, about half a second in front of the nearest competitor. Mike finished eight-tenths of a second off my pace, with a 26.212s lap, which is no mean feat considering that it was his first time around the Eastleigh track.

I set Mike a challenge for the second session; to go sub 26s, and he set me a target in return – to put in the fastest lap of the day (at this point in the afternoon it currently stood at 25.003s). Normally a sub 25s lap would be easy for me, but there was a lot of traffic and lines that I would usually take weren’t always there!

If the first session was me having fun (and showboating to an extent), the second was me pushing hard; I wanted that best lap of the day and I was determined to catch up with Mike again (who beneath his laid back exterior, was a force to be reckoned with when he stepped into the kart).

All of the drivers improved massively in the second session; Mike took almost two tenths of a second off his PB in this session, but just missed out on the sub 26s lap. Although the quality of the competition might not have been as strong as the previous night, I was pleased that I managed to get the fastest lap of the day with a 24.812s lap.

After the event, one of the drivers in the session messaged me and began to follow me on my Facebook page – It was great to be able to communicate with a fellow driver and it was a boost to my confidence to be told that he learnt a lot from watching and racing me (he also managed to cut over a second off his PB between the two sessions!).

The countdown to the BRKC continues…

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…