Thursday, 11 October 2012

Daytona 24 Hours preview

Here we go again.

On 20 September 2009, I won the prokart class in the inaugural Daytona 24 Hours - my first ever 24 hour kart race. As I stood with my team on the top step of the podium and struggled to lift the biggest trophy I'd ever seen, I remember my inner voice needling through the exhausted euphoria.

Remember this moment. Repeating it won't be easy.

Wind forward three years, and I'm still without a repeat 24 Hours podium, let alone a win. Two unlucky attempts at Teesside and one doomed campaign at Daytona in 2011 have yielded nothing better than a ninth place. I've driven well, for quality teams, but the chips have fallen badly.

Daytona 2012 will, I hope, be different.

After our calamitous race in the unreliable D-Max 2-stroke kart last year, we've swapped back to the class that brought us our win. Daytona's fleet of twin engined, 4-stroke prokarts is just a couple of months old; although I've yet to drive them, the feedback from other drivers is overwhelmingly positive. From the equipment, we need pace and reliability. The team can take care of the rest.

After the slightly unwieldy teams of previous D24s, the 2012 team is smaller, tighter. Four Daytona specialists, each of us with at least one D24 podium to our name, all of us with years of endurance racing experience at circuits across the UK and beyond.

Jack Stanley was part of our winning team three years ago, and our beleaguered team last year; I can't imagine starting a 24 hour race at Daytona without him. Alan Arnold put in a superb stint for us last year before having to leave prematurely; with multiple starts at Daytona and Le Mans, he's a great asset. Stuart Shearman is new to our team but is practically part of the furniture at Daytona; he drove for the team that we narrowly beat in 2009. The same team - captained by Daytona stalwart Kam Ho - were dominant winners of the prokart class in 2011, and are likely to be our biggest challengers this weekend.

As usual, we race as part of Race Drivers Inc, which is entering no less than eight teams - four prokart and four D-Max - this weekend. With pride at stake, the battle to be top RDI team will be just as fierce as the battle for class honours.

After the bumpy, warp-speed white knuckle ride of Teesside, Daytona poses a different challenge. With its anticlockwise layout and wide range of corners, it's twisty and technical. Not everyone loves it, but I do. It plays to my strength under braking, rewards patience and precision. And the 180 degree 'big dipper' right-hander at Turn 6 is one of my favourite corners anywhere.

In its fourth year, the UK's 'other' 24 hour kart race is growing in prestige. No less than 45 teams will take the start this weekend - easily the biggest field in its short history. Come Sunday lunchtime, the team with the best blend of preparation, consistency, calm, pace and luck will stand on the top step and buckle under the weight of that coveted trophy.

Fingers crossed.

If you'd like to follow our progress this weekend (and why wouldn't you?!), you'll find regular updates in several places on Facebook:
Daytona Motorsport:
Race Drivers Inc:
as well as my own timeline:

If you're racing this weekend - good luck, and be safe!

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