Tuesday, 5 April 2011

BRKC Round 2. Herefordshire Raceway, Sunday 3 April 2011

This time around we made a weekend of it: Marianne joined me for the trip up to Hereford. After a pleasant dinner in town on Saturday night, I left her exploring while I drove across country through intermittent showers to the tiny village of Weobley.

I've never seen a karting venue like it: up a single track road in the middle of nowhere, behind a farmhouse, and bounded on two sides by fields full of sheep. As I drive into the courtyard and park in front of an open barn, I watch a kart being driven across to the circuit pursued by a pair of Jack Russells.

During the day, I hear the circuit referred to as 'the track you'd build in your back garden'. It's run by three blokes and two dogs, is just 600m long and the laptime is a piffling 32 seconds. If, like me, you're used to the corporate monoliths of Daytona and Buckmore Park, it's a bit of an eye-opener.

But the karts are tidy and expertly maintained and an airy new clubhouse is nearing completion. And those three blokes (and two dogs) know their stuff. Between them they run a tricky multiple heat sprint event for 40 drivers without missing a beat or wasting a minute - something that Birmingham Wheels signally failed to do last month.

Short the circuit may be, but it's a real challenge. Narrow, twisty, and (today) intermittently wet, it includes the most difficult corner I have ever encountered, in a decade and a bit of karting: a ludicrously off-camber right-hander, down a steep drop, with no run-off. Take it too slowly and you'll be passed down the following straight; too fast, and the kart will hop, skip and hurl you broadside into the tyrewall.

The racing is not for the fainthearted. Drivers have flown in from Germany and Denmark. Moonlighting touring car racers rub shoulders with 16 year old prodigies and single seater racers.

I neatly sidestepped my race-rustiness last month, by virtue of a fairly straightforward circuit and familiar format. But there's no avoiding it in round 2. Of my 150 or so karting starts, three have been sprint races. I'm just not used to having only seven laps to get the job done, and it shows: unforced errors and dulled wheel-to-wheel skills leave me languishing in the bottom half of the table after three heats.

My points score puts me in the D final (there are five in all), and finally my day starts to turn around: I keep it on the road in soaking conditions, and win, which gives me another go from the back of the C final grid. Despite some on-track argy-bargy I make up a couple of places and finish sixth out of eight.

With my racing done for the day, I join the others to watch the A final. We watch in awe as F2 driver Ben Bailly makes mincemeat of a very strong field, demonstrating phenomenal kart control on a wet track. I've fallen far short of my best today, but I have to admit that my best wouldn't have been good enough.

In the end I was classified 20th out of 37 and scored a point. Not as bad as I first thought, and the experience has highlighted a large chink in my armour. The frontrunners are more than gifted. They're race-sharp, because they're racing every weekend. If I want to get among them, I can't simply turn up once a month and rely on my experience - especially since most of the events are sprints.

Ergo, I need some sprint practice. This might call for a return to Thruxton before the next round on May 8...

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