Thursday, 17 May 2012

BRKC round 5. Teesside, 12-13 May 2012 (part two)

(Scroll down for part one)

Now it's real.

8.15am on Sunday. It's a beautiful spring morning at Teesside, and the adrenalin is beginning to flow. The circuit is quiet, the chatter a little less boisterous than yesterday. The atmosphere itself seems to hum with purpose.

I've slept briefly but well, and half a pint of Premier Inn coffee is doing its thing. After yesterday's practice debacle I seriously considered going to bed in my kneepads, but I've settled for arriving early and making sure all my ducks are in a row. Yesterday's 28-strong grid has swelled to 46 for the main event, and I catch up with some of the regulars: reigning champion Chris Hackworth, whom I've not seen since Round two at PFI, and Alex Vangeen (who watched but didn't compete on Saturday) among others.

Bob and Bradley conduct the briefing which runs us through the format for the day: we've been split into two groups, each of which will do a 15 minute qualifying session followed by a 15 lap race. The top 11 finishers from each group will form the grid of the 15 lap A final, with the rest in the B final; as a bonus, the top eight B final finishers will progress to the back of the A final grid.

I'm in group two, which suits me fine: having used the fast chicane in front of the pits on Saturday, we're bypassing it today, which significantly changes the entry to turn one. As qualifying gets underway I'm at the pitwall, watching intently. It's quickly obvious that this corner shows up driving styles in minute detail: Chris Hackworth is turning in on the nose, letting the rear of his kart slip wide as he tries to manhandle it through without lifting. Andrew Bayliss and Lee Jones are marble-smooth, hardly seeming to steer at all. Rhianna Purcocks' hands are a blur of steering correction but she looks very quick, keeping both the front and rear tyres nibbling on the ragged edge.

After their allotted fifteen minutes they line up on the grid, three abreast, with most of the usual suspects - Chris, Rhianna, Hereford winner Lee Hackett - near the front. And almost from the moment the flag drops, it's clear that today's winners and losers will be separated by the tiniest of margins. After fifteen breathless laps, Chris wins by the skin of his teeth - the top five covered by less than three quarters of a second.

Our turn. I've been allocated kart 65, which has just finished 19th in the hands of Chris Bate. I'm praying that it's the driver rather than the kart that's off the pace, but sense as soon as I reach the infield that the power delivery is flatter than the kart I drove on Saturday. It's not disastrous, and the handling is fine; I could change it, but risk ending up worse off.

I qualify 16th of 23, exactly a second away from pole. Some of that is down to weight - I'm nearly 80kg kitted up today - but it's not good. At least I've got the inside line for turn 1.

The flag lifts, drops, and we're away. I gain a place in turn 1 but am hung out to dry in the traffic jam at the hairpin and lose at least two places. Years of experience have taught me not to lose heart at times like these, but I face a battle to keep my race from going down the toilet. Matters aren't helped when, squeezed three abreast into the right hander at the end of the banking, I run out of room and tap the driver to my left into a spin. I raise a hand in apology and race on, half expecting to be black-flagged - but nothing happens.

I knuckle down and focus on the electric-blue suit of Alex Vangeen, two places and five metres ahead. The driver in between is a little slow out of the last corner and I catch him as we reach the start-finish straight. Right on his bumper, I lift a fraction to avoid hitting him - and am passed into turn one by the two drivers behind. Momentum is everything at Teesside, and I've just been reminded the hard way.

But I'm still in touch with Alex; over the remaining twelve laps the gap waxes and wanes as we both fight our way through the field - but although I get close, I can't pass him and take the flag 14th. After a terrible start it's not too bad: I'll be 6th on the grid for the B final.

Bob announces a breather before the finals; I chat briefly to Stuart Lindsay and the Hacketts. Lee is having another strong day, despite suffering from an upset stomach, and his father Lawrence confesses to having printed out every post of this blog. I'm impressed at his commitment - even I've never done that - and am delighted to hear that people enjoy my ramblings.

As I roll into my grid slot - on the far left of the second row - I notice that Alex is directly in front of me again, his kart angled aggressively towards the right. The inside line for turn one is vital; we'll be at a slight disadvantage at the start.

As the flag drops I rocket away - this kart (no 18) far stronger off the line than the last one - and slot into fifth position as we sweep into turn one. Alex is a little wide into the infield hairpin; I close up to his bumper and dispatch him as we exit the right-hander onto the back straight. This is more like it.

Round two winner Aaron McManus is just ahead with Chris Brookshaw and Ben Allward fighting tooth and nail for the lead in front of him. They draw slowly away - but I'm keeping Aaron honest while steadily dropping the chasing pack. There's half a chance of a coveted BRKC podium, and I drive the most inch-perfect race of my season in pursuit of it - but it's not to be. Aaron makes no mistakes, the front two hold it together and I cross the line a still-satisfied fourth.

But there's no time to rest - we're allocated new karts and sent straight out for the A final. Along with the three that finished ahead of me, Alex and Lee have scraped in as well. Our karts are the leftovers from the 30-strong fleet, and have been sitting in the pitlane all day. I'm praying for a rocketship but am not hugely optimistic. That's a good thing, because having lined up 26th, I'm stone last by the end of the first lap. Alex is just ahead: clearly we've both drawn badly. Although it's probably only 5-6 tenths of a second slower than my B final kart, this one feels horrible: gripless and gutless. 

I drag it round to 27th, ahead of only Alex and two very unlucky front runners: Rhianna Purcocks and Daniel Truman. A little disappointing - mid to high teens would have been representative - but the BRKC's clever scoring system means I've come away with ten points. Although I'm disappointed with my raw pace, my consistency has been very good, often enabling me to beat faster drivers. T'was ever thus...

Back in the pitlane, it's mayhem as usual, and it takes a little while to get to the heart of the story at the front. The big - nay, huge - news is that Sean Brierley has won, having kept his head under huge pressure from Chris Hackworth, among others. And Ben Allward has surely produced one of the drives of the weekend to finish third overall, having finished second in the B final and streaked through from 24th on the grid.

A little more digging reveals that poor Rhianna has been desperately unlucky again. Having led for several laps, she was tagged in turn 1 by Chris, who sportingly let her repass him and almost certainly cost himself a win in the process. But shortly afterwards she suffered a puncture and had to pit, dropping to 29th overall. She is understandably upset - but I know I'm not alone in believing that her time will come, and soon.

For now, it's time to cheer the podiums; as Sean takes the top step, someone nearby is heard to mutter, "Oh God, Facebook is going to be a nightmare now..."

Andrew Bayliss has, on the quiet, done an excellent job to win the heavyweights ahead of Lee, while Alex notches up another podium despite his A-final woes.

We leave Alex and Sean chasing each other around the paddock armed with their bottles of bubbly, and begin to disperse. It's been another epic BRKC weekend - and incredibly, deep into our second season, we still don't have a repeat overall winner. Bob and the Teesside crew have done us proud and I look forward to returning.

I say my goodbyes and while away a pleasant afternoon on the North York moors before heading back to Leeds for my flight. Flybe eventually did come up with the goods, and I arrived home to a mountain of food, courtesy of my lovely wife. Exhausted though I was, sleep had to wait, for there was a Grand Prix to catch up on. It was 2am before I crawled into bed, still buzzing from a day which had seen two new winners crowned. And a welcome return to the top step for one of F1's great teams.

I can't wait to get going again, and mercifully the wait is short: the BRKC finale is just 17 days away. Birmingham here we come...

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