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).

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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!

image

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).