Monday, 20 June 2011

BRKC round 5. Brentwood, Essex, 19 June 2011

Over the weeks and months, the BRKC has evolved, and me with it. From reticent outsider (or Johnny No Mates) at round 1, I've gradually become integrated, part of the core. This is due in no small part to its excellent Facebook page, where drivers, followers and organisers come together between races.

Most of the drivers compete in other series beside the BRKC, and my interest is piqued one evening when the subject of the British 24 Hours is raised. I've mentioned elsewhere that I won the 24 Hours at Daytona Milton Keynes in 2009; I'll be returning with part of the same team later this year. The British 24 Hours, at Teesside, is the UK's other big 24 hour kart race. Like Daytona it attracts a huge entry and serious talent. Fellow BRKC driver Alex Vangeen is putting a team together under the BRKC banner; before I know it I'm signed up, paid up and looking into hotels. I'm home alone while Marianne is away sailing. Clearly I can't be trusted.

So, to Brentwood. My first visit to Essex has been a pleasant surprise: I wasn't expecting forested lanes and pretty little villages so close to the M25. As I park at Brentwood Raceway - a wide, smooth 800m circuit surrounded by the forest of Thorndon Country Park - I'm praying for rain. That may come as a surprise given the disaster that was round 4, but again, I've attempted to glean a little circuit knowledge before race day.

On Saturday evening, I met five of my fellow drivers - including Alex, my British 24 Hours team captain - for a pre-race test session. Which happened to take place on a sodden track. But unlike Matchams last month, this circuit retains a fraction of grip when it's wet. I enjoyed myself and set some quick times. Though not as quick as Alex, who appears to be something of a Rainmaster. This bodes well for our big race in the Frozen North.

Race day is cloudy and blustery. After a comfortable (if lonely) night in a nearby Holiday Inn, and a relaxed morning, I'm ready for anything. Alex and I and the other Saturday drivers stop one step short of a rain dance. But to no avail.

After just five laps of dry practice I feel more or less dialled in. The circuit is fairly simple, with a long straight followed by a flat-out 180 degree right hander which leads into a slower, more technical infield section. The final corner, in front of the pits, is the trickiest: a fast chicane with a wide, flat kerb which needs to be driven over. But hit it wrong and it bounces the kart: the loss of traction loses you time all the way down the following straight. I'm not sure I get it 100% right all day.

I've drawn a 10th place (out of 11) grid slot for my first heat and have a fleeting five and a half laps to make up places. Five and a half, because on this circuit, the start and finish lines are on opposite sides of the track. Nobody can think of a similar layout elsewhere.

I make my best start of the season and somehow find myself sixth after the first lap. Good pace and some neat passing sees me fourth at the flag, thoroughly pleased with myself. This is more like it. My delight redoubles when I realise I've managed to beat none other than the great Bradley Philpot, despite having started behind him.

There are rumbles of discontent in the ranks, though. This race has a significant injection of one-off local entries - ten or so of our total of 35. They all appear to be about eleven years old and there's talk of dirty driving, although I've yet to experience it.

In my next heat, though, I'm tagged into a spin at the second corner. I never see the culprit, but it tumbles me down the order. I recover to finish eighth.

Two more heats. In one I'm hobbled by a slow kart and hold station to finish eighth again; in the other I start third but lose two places to a pair of youngsters whose combined weight adds up to a box of Rice Krispies. But I'm driving solidly and making the best of what I have; I'm happy with tenth on the grid for the B final.

Today, tenth seems to be working for me: I blast up the inside into the first hairpin on lap 1, and people magically fall out of the way. For the second time today, I'm sixth at the end of lap 1.

And there I encounter BRKC stalwart and racing instructor James Auld. James is in the heavyweight class and carrying at least 10kg more weight, but for the next nine laps I'm alternately grinding my teeth in frustration and shaking my head in admiration. I'm quicker, and 4th placed driver Harry Wicks is tantalisingly within view, but James puts on a brilliant display of defensive driving. It's hard but absolutely fair: no weaving or bumping (aside from when I get clumsy on the brakes) - he just places his kart just so and keeps me at bay.

It's a valuable lesson and the most fun I've had in a kart all year. I'm sixth at the flag, 17th overall. It's been a good day: the result still isn't stellar, but no less than 7 of the local lads make the A final, so I'm effectively 10th.

With only 4 of our regular drivers in the A final, the BRKC are predominantly spectators. And we're not impressed. There is some shoddy driving, a subsequent stewards' enquiry, and tears from a couple of the local littl'uns afterwards. It's all a bit School Sports Day and in my opinion, not up to the high standards of the BRKC. If you want to play with the adults, you need to behave like one - as all of our excellent under-16 regulars do.

Still, a good event at a friendly circuit and for me, a solid result. And just two weeks to wait until the season finale...

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