Wednesday, 18 April 2012

BRKC round 4. Herefordshire Raceway, 14-15 April 2012

Today has the makings of a good day.

It's a perfect spring morning in the Herefordshire countryside, and many of us have just watched Nico Rosberg take his first Formula One win in a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix. It's day two of my racing weekend: yesterday, I joined a core group of BRKC regulars for a warm-up sprint race. Having not sat in a kart since the slither-fest that was round 2, it took more than fresh air to blow the cobwebs away. A combination of mediocre driving and a little bad luck left me way down the order. But crucially, I've shaken awake the relevant bits of my brain.

Now it's 11am on Sunday, and after one practice session my name lies fifth on the timing screen. I've found four tenths of a second since Saturday afternoon, and am starting to connect up the dots of this deceptively difficult circuit. A second session cements my confidence; I'm able to lap consistently in the low 33 second band. At 79kg, that marks me as average by the stellar standards of the BRKC.

The turnout, again, is huge: no less than 55 of us will be gunning for glory at this tiny (yet perfectly formed) venue amongst the fields of sheep. Chris Powell's operation sets standards for kart parity and efficiency that most circuits can only dream of. During the day I take to the track seven times; it's possible that I drive the same kart more than once. But I can't tell, because they all feel the same, and my laptimes in clear air bear that out. It's rental kart nirvana.

With nineteen heats and six finals to get through, it's a marathon of a day. The format is BRKC standard: each of us competes in three heats, and our combined points score places us in one of finals A to F. If you win your final, you progress up to the back of the grid for the next. After a short briefing, Chris and his small team begin rattling through the packed schedule at lightning speed.

My first race is heat 2, and I'm starting 8th out of 9. Making up ground is the aim of the game, and as the light on the bridge gantry blinks green, I'm off to a good start: the driver to my left is slow to react, and I'm already past by the time we sweep into the big-dipper left hander under the bridge. By lap three it's turned into the perfect heat: I'm the fastest of this group of drivers, and pull several neat passes to move up to third position. I'm right on the tail of the leading pair, but can't find a way past: the second placed driver is defending well, and I run out of laps.

Many of the usual suspects are doing well, too. Lee Jones has, ominously, slimmed down almost to the heavyweight limit of 90kg. Having completed a mammoth 90 minutes (over 150 laps) of practice this morning, he's scorching through his heats. Sean Brierley has brought his rookie younger brother Liam along for a BRKC baptism of fire; both are the subject of much hilarity after visiting the tyres simultaneously yesterday.

But Liam is beginning to find his feet, and Sean - always quick here - has ironed out the mistakes for the big day. I'm on pole for my second heat, with him beside me. My start is good, but his is better; I'm a little wide into the bridge hairpin and he's through cleanly. With a couple of tenths in hand, he pulls out a small gap; I peg him at a second but can make up no ground - and in the last couple of laps, come under serious pressure from a lightning-fast, red clad driver.

I take the flag a satisfied second, and identify my pursuer as none other than local expert Lee Hackett. I've done well to keep him at bay - during our heat he set a new lap record: an astonishing 32.501 seconds. Nobody else gets within three tenths of it all day.

With a longer break until my final heat I grab a burger and do the rounds. BRKC regular Alex Vangeen is also enjoying his day, and although not racing must irk organiser Bradley Philpot, he's as sunny as ever. Their respective other halves (Lauren and Becca) are on hand to help with admin; if they're bored, they're not showing it. Last night, after the warmup race, we all met up for a pizza - and what a pleasure it was to chat to them away from the pressure-cooker environment of a kart circuit.

I'm beginning to put some faces to new names, and chat briefly to Matt Hamilton (part of an impressively committed Scottish contingent), Nick Powell, and Mark Jaggard among others. They're enjoying varying degrees of success, but all seem to be having a fine day out. As usual, the racing is tough, the standard stratospheric - but it's the sense of occasion that makes it all worthwhile.

For my third heat, I'm sixth on the grid, and feeling pretty confident after a strong couple of races. But it all goes downhill: after a strong start I'm shunted hard into the tyres at the Bridge hairpin and drop to the back, fifty metres behind. I get it together and make up two places, but cross the line a disgruntled seventh. It happens - and the driver in question is penalised for the incident.

One of the many unique aspects of this event is that, if you need cheering up after a bad race, you can find a dog to play with. The two Jack Russells we met last year are in attendance, usually to be found gazing adoringly at anyone with a bacon buttie.

At four o'clock the circuit falls silent as Chris and his team work out the grids for the six finals. All day, I've been locked in battle with a tight upper-midfield group; despite my mediocre third heat I've made the B-final, along with a string of familiar names: Alex Vangeen, Harry Wicks, Anwar Beroual-Smith, Ryan Smith and others.

After four hugely competitive finals it's our turn; I line up 9th, just ahead of C final winner James Fitchew. This time it's carnage almost from the word go - Harry Wicks is pushed into the wall in the tunnel. With nowhere to go I hit him from behind and stop dead. James sweeps through and once again I'm stone last with ground to make up.

But the tables turn in a flash: a crash up ahead gifts me two places and I'm reeling in the seventh-placed driver when he, too, has a coming-together at the infield hairpin. I pick through the wreckage and gain a place - but I'm slowed, and James passes me with a couple of laps to go. I chase him all the way to the flag and take it eighth. It's a place ahead of my grid slot. Less than I hoped for, but not bad.

Up front, Anwar has won and progresses into the A final, where he narrowly loses out to Lee in a nailbiting finish for the heavyweights. They're eighth and ninth overall; up front, Lee Hackett is largely untroubled on the way to a convincing win. But the three-way battle for second has us holding our breath. All day, local heroine (and youngest BRKC driver) Rhianna Purcocks has set a blistering pace - and now holds third position. She's right behind Matt Hamilton, and shadowed closely by Sean Brierley. But with two laps to go, Matt gets a little wide out of turn one. Both Rhianna and Sean are caught by surprise; she's pushed wide, onto the grass - putting Sean into a podium position.

Rhianna rejoins as James Kimbley sweeps past into fourth. Both push hard, but Sean looks assured, and duly takes the flag a delighted third. It's his first BRKC podium, and thoroughly well deserved.

We cheer the two podiums - Alex sharing the heavyweight spoils with Anwar and Lee - avoid the champagne shower, and go our separate ways. I'm moderately satisfied with my 17th placing overall and feel limited, as always, by a shortage of seat time.

But it's been another great BRKC event, and we'll have thousands of pictures and hours of video to remember it by. Hereford is a fantastic circuit and I look forward to returning.

But already we're turning our attention forward. Round 5's venue is legendary in karting circles, its rental fleet renowned as one of the best in the world.

To Teesside, then. 24 days and counting...


  1. Great post. However Rhianna never tangled with me. I came around the first corner looked up and Rhianna was on the grass rejoining, so I gained a place from 5th to 4th. Rhianna dropped from 3rd to 5th.

    Apparently, according to Sean - Rhianna tried a moved on 2nd place and ended up going wide. Rhianna folks told me Sean had nugged her after she tried the move which caused her to end up on the grass. Which version is true I don't know.

    1. Thanks James - I've had a look at the video and amended accordingly.