Monday, 7 March 2011

BRKC Round 1. Birmingham Wheels, Sunday 6 March 2011

When I got out of my kart at Thruxton in October 2009, having won (with the help of two excellent teammates) the Audi Endurance Cup championship, I already knew I was unlikely to race in 2010. Month-long ski trips don't come cheap, and something had to give.

As the months went by I missed it less; by late 2010 I was unsure about returning at all. Perhaps I'd lost the desire?

Still, when I heard about the British Rental Kart Championship - the first of its kind - I signed up. Arrive-and-drive karting has exploded in the last decade: with many of the bigger circuits running their own championships it now attracts some serious talent. More and more professional racers use it as a low-cost means of staying sharp.

By the time the first round at Birmingham came around, I had serious misgivings. We were just back from Canada, I'd not had time to practise, and I still wasn't sure I could be bothered any more. Also, from the driver profiles on the website (, I would be up against a mix of teenage prodigies, moonlighting car racers and (thank God) the old karting old-timer like myself. When I arrived at the circuit - which I'd never seen before - I felt thoroughly rusty and inadequate.

Then I got in the kart.

I expected it to feel odd, but - strange karts and new circuit aside - it was as if I'd never been away. I'd been told that a 49 second lap was competitive, and anticipated a slow build-up to something approaching a respectable pace. In fact, it took me four laps to set a low 49, and by the end of the 30 minute test session I'd managed a mid 48 - far, far better than I expected.

With a fleet of 15 karts and 40 drivers competing, qualifying and the races were split into three groups: five minutes of qualy followed by A, B and C finals. If you qualified in the top 15, you'd be in the A final, and so on.

The karts were right at the end of their lives, with disappointingly variable performance. I was undoubtedly lucky: drivers who had been stunningly quick in testing were suddenly very ordinary in qualy. Nevertheless, I was delighted to qualify third overall - and for the first time, a touch nervous. Having expected to plod around in the midfield, I suddenly had half a shot at the podium.

But I knew as soon as I left the pits for the race that I'd drawn badly: the kart was far worse than the one I'd driven in qualy. I lost a place off the start and two more in the first ten laps, but held on to finish sixth. A good result: beforehand I had hoped not to disgrace myself, nothing more.

Nothing like lying sixth in a national championship to rekindle the flame... having been unsure about my commitment beyond the first round, I've signed up for the next and will hopefully do the lot. The winner goes to the World Indoor Championships in Belgium in July. It will probably be one of the kids, but you never know...

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