Wednesday, 22 August 2012

British 24 Hours, Teesside. Preview

To most people, mention of Teesside conjures images of smokestacks and toil, of heavy industry and docklands. But to people in our sport it's something else entirely.

It's nearly a mile and a half of hallowed racing tarmac, a huge, challenging, white-knuckle ride of a circuit. It's the longest and fastest of its kind in the world - and for many, the best. And on the last weekend in August, it hosts the Godfather of endurance kart races: the British 24 Hours.

Eighty teams featuring the cream of Europe's kart racers will go head to head in four classes - two flavours each of owner driver karts and hire karts. The owner teams supply, run and maintain their own karts; the hire teams run karts which are supplied and prepared by the circuit. Four races - each a sizeable event in its own right - run simultaneously through a day and a night of controlled mayhem; the teams with the best blend of stamina, cool heads, raw speed and luck will reap the spoils.

Needless to say, we don't take it lightly. Our team - the Corporate Chauffeurs BRKC Team - has been preparing since February. Even for a hire kart crew like ours the planning and logistics are significant. And even for experienced drivers like us, the physical and mental demands are enormous.

Years ago, while chatting to a colleague at work about karting, I mentioned that I trained for it.
"What do you need to train for?" she asked. "Surely you just sit there and drive..."

During a two-hour stint on an outdoor circuit, most drivers will lose around two litres of water, and burn 1,200 calories. That's about the same as an average runner - like me - burns during a 10 mile run. Over the course of the British 24 Hours, each of our four drivers will do three stints. You can do the maths. When I call it a marathon, I'm not exaggerating.

My training schedule hasn't been without its pitfalls. Having decided to ramp up my strength and stamina while simultaneously losing as much weight as I safely could, I pushed my body hard. Perhaps too hard. On three occasions I've been forced to halt training, felled by a virus, a nasty bout of food poisoning, and downright exhaustion. Hopefully, the battle against adversity has toughened me up.

Two great motivators have spurred me on. The first is the memory of last year's race, which was thrilling and magical and brutal and heartbreaking in equal measure. I'm determined to do better.

The second is the Olympics. As a keen sportsman I was excited about London 2012. But even I couldn't have predicted the extent to which it gripped and inspired not just me, but the nation. Whenever I face tough moments in training or worry about the race, I remember the Olympians. I remember that my battle is a walk in the park compared to theirs.

After months of anticipation we're almost down to the wire. Training complete, kit triple-checked, packing started for the long trip north.

The entry list is packed with familiar names: friends and rivals from the British Rental Kart Championship and across the karting community; drivers of national and international standard. I look forward to meeting them on and off track.

Sadly, one name will be absent: Lewis Tindall, who joined our team back in February, has injured himself while trying - heroically but unwisely - to catch a falling car gearbox. We'll miss him, and wish him a speedy recovery. He's found us an excellent replacement who will remain a secret for now.

You need luck as well as talent to win a race like this and we will all, as ever, be in the lap of the gods. But the Corporate Chauffeurs BRKC Team - Alex Vangeen (captain), Lee Jones, myself, our mystery guest, and our brilliant support crew - is as ready as it can be. The Olympians had their time to shine. The Paralympians will have theirs from 29 August.

Now, it's ours. To everyone competing this weekend: good luck, and stay safe.

To everyone else: watch for regular Facebook updates from Friday 24 August onwards.

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