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