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.

He Who Dares Whines

Date: 23rd April 2015
Track: Teamsport Southampton (Eastleigh)
My PB at this track (before this session): 25.698s
Best lap time this session: 25.270s

Tonight, at the Grid members event, was a new format of race for me (and the others) to experience – The Mansell. The basic format was that, following 15 minutes of practice/qualifying, was a 45 minute endurance race. The twist was that all drivers were black-flagged in 3 minute intervals, starting with the pole-sitter and continuing through the grid until everyone had made a stop-go pit stop.
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Without blaming the kart too much, I qualified badly and ended up in last place (9th) on the grid. The other drivers and I had discussed kart #24 before the qualifying session and how it seemed to struggle with acceleration, but I will not let the kart take all of the blame… I set a fastest lap of 26.277s in this session; just over a second behind the pole-sitter, and just under half a second from 8th place!
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I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t impressed with my own performance in qualifying, but I was definitely glad not to have the same kart for the race.

As we lined up on the grid, and I looked at the eight karts in front of me, there was a certain inevitability of what was about to happen. I was the heaviest in the field by far, so as the five lights came on and extinguished to signal the start of the race, the other eight karts sped away from me. Fortunately for me, my driving skill (and some squabbling between the lower half of the field) meant that after five laps, I was right back on the tail of a group of four drivers battling for 6th position. Then the enforced pit stops started!

I was briefly promoted to 8th place, without overtaking anyone as first place pitted and came back out into last place. I was overtaken by the former leader of the race after a couple of laps, but used this to close up again on the karts in front of me.

There were some heavy (but generally fair) overtaking manoeuvres between myself and the driver in 8th place, some which came off and some which didn’t stick. One manoeuvre that did stick was mine at the top of the bridge, positioning my kart, on the exit, in the centre of the track so a counter-attack was not on the cards. Two laps later, I slid wide at the hairpin under the bridge, undoing all of my hard work in one corner!

At half distance, I was still battling away for 8th place and neither of us had taken our compulsory pit stop. I was determined to take the place on the track, not leave it to chance and to take the position through the pit stop. I made a move, made it stick, and accelerated away, to attempt to make as much of the clear air as possible. By this point, 7th place seemed a long way away, so my aim was to consolidate 8th position.

It was coming up to my turn to pit, so I tried to put in a series of quick laps, and managed 5 laps in the 25s and one 26.0 before I was shown the black flag for my compulsory pit stop. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but when I came out of the pits, I had no idea where the kart was that I had been chasing and had overtaken about 20 laps before. It was only after the race had ended that I was informed that I had finished in last place (according to the print out, I was overtaken during my pit stop).
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102 laps later my right ankle was really sore and weak when I got out of the kart and I had blisters all over my hands. But what hurt me more this evening was the result, and I still can’t quite believe not only that I lost the position but also how far behind I was following the pit stop.
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Taking the positives from the race, I did end up with a new PB at the track and finished with the eighth best lap time of the race and of the week. I don’t mind being beaten by better drivers, but I really do need to slim down to be competitive in these races where some of the drivers are racing at half of my bodyweight (I am currently at my heaviest that I have ever raced at and this needs to change!).