Friday, 27 January 2012

Daytona Milton Keynes. 22 January 2012

It's 98 days since I sat in a kart. Fourteen weeks. 2352 hours. Last time I sat in a seat like this one, Earth had fewer than seven billion inhabitants. The 2011 Formula One season still had three races to run.

Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli were still alive.

It's a raw, blustery Sunday on what is held to be the most depressing weekend of the year, and I've fallen behind. A good Christmas followed by a wonderful ten days in South Africa has left me relaxed but out of shape. The 2012 British Rental Kart Championship has started without me; by the time I get to Round 2, everyone else will be race sharp.

Today is an attempt to redress the situation - one of Daytona's twice-weekly 'D40' races. Ten minutes of qualifying followed by a 40 minute race. Events like this are the bedrock of my karting experience; I can't wait to get going.

But by the time the flag falls at the end of qualy, I'm distinctly out of sorts. The circuit is mostly dry but sorely lacking in grip; my kart has all the balance of a shopping trolley. It's reluctant to turn in, then snap-oversteers when I do manage to aim the nose at an apex. And I have to admit that last night's double whisky isn't helping matters.

We're called out of the pits in grid order to form up for the parade lap. I'm fifth, of 21. Qualy was heavily disrupted by incidents, ruining a couple of good laps, but I expected better. My fellow racers are mostly occasional karters and newbies (a less charitable term would be 'Billys') with just a smattering of experienced racers.

But from the moment we cross the finish line to start the race, things begin to look up. I dispatch the two karts in front of me within two laps and set off after the leaders, who have opened a lead of a couple of seconds. The kart isn't getting any better, but the driver is beginning to dial in; when the leaders trip over each other and a backmarker, I'm there to pick up the pieces. On lucky lap 13, I take the lead.

Then I drive off into the distance and reap the spoils.

In my dreams.

It's a funny thing, race-rustiness. In three months I haven't forgotten how to drive, but I have lost the edge in close-quarters driving - the ability to make a split-second decision on whether or not to dive into a narrowing gap. A couple of hapless backmarkers are innocent victims of my ineptitude. I wave in apology and hope they won't take it personally.

In my defence, they're a little more unpredictable than the competition I'm used to, and I still can't get the kart to turn in. A couple of close calls and one particularly clumsy move sees me lose the lead on lap 23.

But I stay calm - one of the few aspects of my performance that is solid today - and take it back after a couple of laps with a neat, backmarker-assisted move into turn 9.

I take the flag two seconds in the lead, am clapped onto the podium to receive my trophy and - bonus! - a 25% off voucher for a DMax race. That equates to around £40 in savings and almost negates the cost of today's race. In man maths terms, at least.

A win is a win, and I'm pleased. But it was hardly a crushing victory. More importantly, it's kicked my 2012 season off, reawakened the tingle, highlighted areas for improvement.

For in three weeks' time I'll be back in the lion's den: learning a new circuit while going wheel-to-wheel with the best drivers in the country.

BRKC 2012 goes to PFI in Lincolnshire on 12 February. As always, watch this space...

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