We crowd the railings, waving to the crane camera on demand as the engines clatter into life again and the drivers for semi final 1 begin to filter onto the circuit. This is the most Brit-heavy of the three semis, so it's not a surprise to see one on pole. But it's fair to suggest that Dean Hale wouldn't have been the obvious choice. He's squeaked ahead of Logan Sougné and Sean Brierley; former champion Lee Hackett is a shocking ninth - still less than 0.3 seconds away from pole.
Dean holds Logan in the early laps, slowing the pace as he takes the inside line into the Snail and hairpin, and drivers behind them begin to pit in the hope of clear air. Dan Healey comes in first, from sixth place, as karts scatter across the track at the exit of the final corner. Dante Dhillon and Brandon Williams are the beneficiaries, as Ryan Smith and Mariusz Nowicki lose places.
Sean Brierley pits at the end of lap 4, the black-and-yellow striped helmet followed in by Lee Hackett. Upstairs, we're intent on the big screen as Sean creeps forward at the second light... which blinks yellow! He's banging the steering wheel in fury as he exits shot, the camera showing Lee completing a perfect stop... but after scintillating speed all weekend - and a thousand or more practice laps - Sean's podium dream is gone in the blink of an eye. I'm devastated for him.
Logan is released when Dean Hale decides he's had enough of the pressure from behind and pits, elevating Dante Dhillon and Brandon Williams into the podium positions. But there's a threat further back: Dan Healey is flying and has already done enough to jump the pair of them. Once the pitstops shake themselves out, and poor Sean has taken his penalty stop, Logan has a clear lead from Dan - who has put in a stunning drive to rise from sixth on the grid and will narrowly miss out on a spot in the final. Polesitter Dean Hale is third ahead of Brandon Williams (waved past by his teammate Dhillon in the closing stages) and Ryan, who barges past Lee Hackett for sixth on the penultimate lap.
Up on the gantry, we take a breath, try and stamp feeling back into our feet, and get ready for the second semi-final. The lineup has collectively lifted enough trophies to fill this warehouse; we have two-thirds of last year's podium and eight of the ten drivers have won races this weekend. Yoan Medart takes pole ahead of Polish Junior Champion Mateusz Matys and - whisper it - Ruben Boutens. Only third. As commentators Spanners and Auld point out, this is a mouthwatering prospect.
They get off to a quiet start by recent standards, nose to tail, no barging... until Connor Marsh pits from eighth place. The second pitstop light stays blank. He hesitates, throws up his arms and exits as the pit marshals run over to the stricken light. After a couple of minutes of head scratching, during which (thankfully) nobody else pits, the race is red flagged. It's a problem with the laser trigger system.
It's fixed in minutes; Yoan gains a couple of kart lengths on the restart as Matys defends from Ruben - but it's all in vain as Ruben lunges past into the hairpin. Matys is pushed wide and narrowly holds on to his place as they go two-wide into the final corner; Chris Daines elbows his way past Patryk Nieroda. Meanwhile George Lovell has cleverly pitted from last place while the others were getting up to speed, and jumps the unlucky Connor Marsh.
For several minutes the race is locked in tense stalemate, the two Bluestar suits slowly pulling away from Matys, until Matej Vrana emerges from the pits in front of Connor Marsh, who gets the bit between his teeth and pulls a lovely move into the hairpin. But he's too wide on the exit and Vrana is back alongside... and Connor makes a rare mistake at the risky final corner, aiming his kart into a narrowing gap and hitting Vrana broadside. Connor drops to last as George Lovell and Vrana barrel side-by-side into the Snail... and it all ends in tears on the exit, with George buried in the wall and Vrana facing the wrong way. Red flag.
The marshals shuffle Vrana back in front, and as the lights go green, Lovell is all over the bumper of the red-suited driver. There's more drama in the pits as both Nieroda and Matys suffer brief engine cutouts at the first light; Nieroda scrapes ahead on the exit. Yoan Medart takes the flag ahead of Ruben Boutens, Patryk Nieroda, Mateusz Matys, Chris Daines, Lukáš Englický. Opnithi Puyato and Connor Marsh. George Lovell is penalised for his spat with Matej Vrana and drops to tenth. For all but the top three, that's game over for BRKC 2019.
After recent delays the third semi is underway in the blink of an eye, the final pieces of the puzzle beginning to fall into place. Onscreen, founder BRKCer Alex Vangeen is down in the pits urging Michael Weddell on as the commentators abuse him for not racing this year. Joining Weddell on track are Lewis Manley, Ed White, the Grzyb brothers, Guillermo van Pamelen, Sam Spinnael, Adrian Ziejewski, Christophe Verhoeven... and some joker called Findley Plantpot. Something like that, anyway.
After a lot of bump 'n grind in the first two semi-finals, this is poetry in motion, as drivers reel off lap after scintillating lap. Guillermo van Pamelen executes possibly the fastest pitstop of the weekend and squeaks ahead of a charging Lewis Manley. As it begins to shake out with the clock ticking past three minutes, Ed retains a comfortable (2.5 second) lead ahead of Michal Grzyb (or Grzyb the Greater, as the commentators delight in calling him) who has jumped Sam Spinnael - a costly half second lost in the pits by the former finalist.
At the flag, Ed takes a flawless win ahead of Grzyb and Spinnael. Brad ends his up-and-down weekend with a strong fourth place ahead of Guillermo van Pamelen, who possibly looks a little less youthful having somehow held off Lewis Manley for the last ten laps. Christophe Verhoeven is under the radar in seventh ahead of Michael Weddell, who's pleased to have held off Grzyb the Lesser (©BRKC commentary team) for eighth place. Adrian Ziejewski is tenth, a low-key finish to a superb debut BRKC for the last-minute entry. Ed and Michal are safely through, Lewis also making the cut courtesy of his superb run through the heats; for the rest, it's time to take a breath and reflect on what might have been.
The break before action resumes for the last time is a chance to catch up with some old friends. Brad's long suffering other half Becca has made my evening by a) turning up and b) buying me tea. Arnaud Tinet, knocked out in the heats like me, has also stayed on; the three of us colonise the sofa in front of the big screen on the viewing gantry as the final ten prepare to go for glory.
Qualifying is a more protracted affair, as the format switches to a one-by-one Superpole format. There are raised eyebrows all round when Lewis Manley fails to beat first qualifier Dean Hale. Brandon Williams is visibly disappointed to be a couple of tenths further back before Lee Hackett - only just making the final after a seventh place in the semis - blows them all out of the water. He rushes back to the pits to keep the kart as warm as possible for his friend and teammate Ed White. But Ed can't get within a tenth, and nor can Logan Sougné.
There's a great roar from the gantry as Michal Grzyb snatches pole away by 0.016 seconds, then further gasping as Patryk Nieroda slots into third - the top three now covered by 0.024 seconds. Or, by my calculation, 26 centimetres. And there's a chorus of groans as Yoan Medart pushes a little too hard and drops a couple of tenths, which puts him seventh with one to go. He leaves the pitlane without removing his helmet, presumably to have a quiet word with himself.
Last to go is Ruben, of course. He looks as unflustered as ever, the kart pivoting neatly around its centre line and beautifully flicked into the last corner... but it's not enough! Incredibly, he's slotted into third, between Hackett and Nieroda, which means four drivers covered by that 0.024 second gap. Michal Grzyb has pole for the Grand Final.
As they line up on the back straight and wait for the signal, somehow the tension ratchets up still higher. Somehow the commentators find new superlatives. And as the wheels start turning, we wonder who has it in them. Who is best able to shake off the fatigue of a gruelling weekend and give everything they have, one last time. Who wants it most?
Grzyb leads them away and holds a tiny lead over Lee, who has possibly the most difficult job in karting right now - keeping Ruben Boutens behind him. I find myself talking under my breath, urging Lee to watch for the lunge... but he doesn't need to be told, of course. Yoan Medart is the only casualty of these early laps - hung out to dry on the exit of the Snail, he drops to last place and immediately pits.
Ed White is in too, on consecutive laps, getting both of his pitstops (two mandatory in the final) out of the way. Out of sync with the others and in clear air, he puts the hammer down. But Grzyb is mighty quick in the lead, Lee coming under ever-increasing pressure from Ruben... and the world champion is through at the hairpin. Lee fights hard but begins to lose ground to Ruben, coming under yet more pressure from Patryk Nieroda and Logan Sougné. Nieroda pits in the hope of jumping them, but can't find any more pace. Lewis Manley is now up to fifth from ninth on the grid and starting to light up the timing screens. He's only four seconds behind the lead battle... but our attention is drawn away as at the bottom of the screen, the driver in last place sets a purple (fastest) lap.
I turn away and murmur to Arnaud, "Ed can win this..."
The gap to Grzyb - still leading but being hunted down by Ruben - is 23.5 seconds. Lap by lap, tenth by tenth, it's coming down. By lap 25 it's down to 22.8 as elsewhere in the field, Dean Hale pulls a questionable move on Yoan Medart and gives the place back; Logan Sougné and Patryk Nieroda are nose to tail again in reverse order, Sougné having jumped ahead in the first pitstops. Brandon Williams is out on his own in fifth while Hackett and Manley cling to the tail of the lead battle in third and fourth.
On lap 29, unseen by the cameras, Ruben catches Grzyb by surprise at the final corner and takes the lead. Knowing that Grzyb has his favoured spot - the hairpin - covered, he's spent a few laps sizing up his rival and takes a calculated risk at a corner where it so often goes wrong. He's through, but has lost time - suddenly, the gap to Ed is less than 22 seconds. I'm having to remind myself to breathe; I can't imagine what his father Geoff is going through right now.
Over the next ten laps the gap slowly drifts up again as we will Ed to dig still deeper... and it steadies as Ruben is briefly delayed by the Sougné/Nieroda battle, then pits. It's clean, but not the fastest... and the gap is under 12 seconds. On lap 50, he's back in again for the last time in BRKC 2019, no hint in his body language that his championship rests on the next 11 seconds... two green lights and he exits less than a second ahead of Ed as James Auld finds another octave over the commentary.
With a minute to go there's eight tenths between them and we're screaming from the viewing gantry; Ed responds by setting the fastest lap of the weekend - 31.562, including two purple sectors - on the penultimate lap. But Ruben is only three thousandths slower... and the flag is out. After 55 breathtaking laps, Ruben takes his sixth BRKC title by 0.813 seconds from Ed White, with Michal Grzyb a further three seconds back. Lee Hackett is fourth ahead of Lewis Manley - a stunning recovery from ninth on the grid. Yoan Medart, Logan Sougné, Patryk Nieroda, Dean Hale and Brandon Williams complete the final order.
It's nearly 37 hours since Sam Spinnael led the round 1, heat 1 field out of the pits. It was hard then to believe that BRKC 2019 had finally begun; now, it's tough to come to terms with the fact that it's over, that soon we must return to normal life.
But the Fat Lady has sung. I'm sure Ruben's been called many things, and I'm also sure that's not one of them. Congratulations, again. Six BRKC titles. There are no more words. I've watched and raced against - and sometimes got in the way of - Ed White since 2012, and I'm delighted to see him on the podium. He's been flawless this weekend, as usual, and put the World Champion under extreme pressure when it really counted. Michal Grzyb is a new name for BRKC, but a glance at the KWC 2018 results will instantly reveal his pedigree. A fantastic debut for him, and worth the trip from Poland I hope. Lee and Lewis make up the top five, which contains three Brits for the first time; like Ed, they've dragged themselves up the final leaderboard after some bad luck in earlier races: triumph in adversity. Lee is rewarded with the Genevieve Reason Trophy for his efforts: congratulations to him, thoroughly well deserved.
Richard Jute wins a tight battle for the Kam Ho Masters trophy - pushed hard all the way by Gary Llewellyn and Slawek Piskorz. I'm delighted for him and his devoted other half Belinda, who is rarely to be seen far from the viewing gantry - and never without her camera.
The general consensus seems to be that this is the best BRKC yet and I agree. After a thoroughly miserable championship in 2018 I arrived better prepared and determined to improve - but beset with self doubt. 57th is nothing to shout about, but still represents my best result since 2015; I've thoroughly enjoyed myself on and off track. In darker moments I wonder why I put myself through it, whether I should call it a day; but mostly I simply can't imagine not doing it.
To the people that make BRKC happen - Brad, Phil and Ollie and the amazing Formula Fast team, Darren Cook and the film crew, James and Spanners, Luke Austin and the Alpha Timing team: heartfelt thanks for another incredible championship.
Of course, it's nothing without the drivers and supporters from across the UK, from Belgium, The Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, France and Spain. Thanks, again, for making it awesome.
BRKC 2020: 354 days and counting!
Click here to read the BRKC 2019 preview
Click here to read part 1.
Click here to read part 2.
|Photo by Tim Andrew|