Thursday, 11 April 2013

BRKC round 4. Matchams, 7 April 2013 (part two)

(click here for part one)

…and breathe. I neck half a bottle of water, wolf a handful of nuts, and take stock of the competition.

With half the heats completed I lie 8th on the leaderboard, with 13 points. Not bad at all, but there’s a lot of racing still to come. It strikes me that I’ve been working with minimal information: there’s no list linking names to driver numbers, so I’ve had no advance warning of who I’ll be up against. With some disparity between the karts and no time to feel what’s under you before a race starts, it’s useful to know which are hot and which are not. Others are more clued up than I am; I spend a little time catching up on my general knowledge.

Ignorance is bliss, I soon remember. In my final heat – which I’ll start from pole – is driver number 9. Driver number 9 is Lee Hackett. Again. That’s three pole positions in the last year or so, three races trying to fend off the BRKC champion. I take a little solace from the fact that he’s starting back in sixth.

Out on track, the racing is tough, occasionally lairy and hugely entertaining. We applaud Michael Weddell – blisteringly quick every time he’s taken to the track today – who streaks through from eighth to third, makes a move for second into the risky turn two, and slams facefirst into the tyres. Undaunted, he gets going again, catches the field and works his way back up to third – all in the space of ten laps. Brilliant.

Graham Purcocks looks dour at the sight of his daughter spinning along the unforgiving turn two tyrewall; she’s a little unlucky on this occasion. But having watched her for a while, in my opinion Rhianna needs to dial it back a notch. There’s no question that she can drive a kart very quickly, but a little less wild and a little more calm will bring the results.

Today, the younger Boutens is having a better time of it than her much-vaunted older brother. As Ruben rues a rare mistake that cost him several positions, Annelien sails to a comfortable win in one of her heats, and looks destined for the A final.

The reigning champion might be enduring a torrid day, but his nearest challengers are positively metronomic. Sean Brierley tops the leaderboard with two of his three heats completed, and looks a world away from his crashtastic early days in the BRKC. He's developed a neat, methodical approach to sprint racing, which combined with prodigious speed has seen him emerge as one of the most consistent drivers in the series.

He's being kept honest, though. Sam Spinnael looks dangerously fast, and while Weddell occasionally looks plain dangerous, he's kept it out of the wall since his early crash and is racking up the results. Ryan, too, has added a third place to his fifth and lies at the fringes of the top ten with his final heat - a front row start - still to come.

There are one or two unfamiliar names lurking around the top of the leaderboard. Matthew Curtis is having a fine day, as is Sam Joseph; dare I say it, I'm there or thereabouts, too...

As heat 9 finishes I wait in the pitlane and shut out the world. The marshals have been allocating karts to random grid positions, making sure the competition is as fair and even as possible; Michael rolls to a stop in pole position - having just finished third - and leaps out. He gives me a thumbs up, and hands over the R-clips I need to attach my numberboard.
"It's not bad..."

Good news. I get comfortable, forget about everything behind me, and watch the lights. Red... green. Drive. Like a walk in the park.

My start isn't quite as good as my previous heat. But it's good enough. I'm deliberately cautious into turn 2, feeling the kart, making sure I hold the line - and I feel a light rap from Nathan Bellows behind.

In terms of racing action, that's my lot.

By lap five I've put the length of the start-finish straight between myself and the chasing pack, and it's Hereford all over again. Alex is in the pitlane urging me on, holding his arms this wide to signal a huge gap. I find out later that Nathan did a superb job to hold off Scott Winter and Tom Eastwood for second, and that I had great support from the pitwall. For now, I'm delighted and a little bemused to claim my second heat win.

I buy a cheeseburger which tastes better than it looks, and adrenalin and euphoria are replaced by hope and anxiety. I'm fifth on the leaderboard with 23 points, but there are five heats still to run. I need to be in the top nine to make the coveted A final. My fate now lies in the hands of others.

As the minutes inch by, I'm hardly watching the track. With each finishing race, my name slips a little further down the list, taking my heart with it. By the time heat 15 starts I'm eighth. I can't bear to look, don't dare look away... the flag drops, the computer takes a lifetime to update...

Ninth. I'm in the A final.

"I knew it would happen," declares Sean, shaking my hand. Meanwhile, Michael drops his bottle of water on the ground in mock astonishment. I can't wipe the grin off my face. There's work still to do, but whatever happens I've sealed my best result since round 1 in 2011 - which I don't count, since it had everything to do with appalling kart parity and very little to do with my ability.

After a more or less flawless run, Sean will start the A final from pole, followed by two increasingly familiar names: Spinnael and Marsh. Michael has bagged his second A final of 2013 and starts fourth, followed by Sam Joseph... and I'm pleased to see Ryan in there too. Matthew Curtis, Annelien and I fill the last three spots; the B final winner will start behind me. I tell Annelien that I expect her and the rest to disappear into the distance while I trundle around at the back. I'm not sure she believes me.

There are four finals to watch before it's our turn. The E and D finals rattle entertainingly by, but the C final grid reads like a rogue's gallery of misplaced frontrunners. Allward, Boutens (R), Hackett, McManus, Purcocks... plus a couple of unknown quantities (Monfils and Eastwood) and a couple of heavyweights (Vangeen and Beckingham) to stir it up.

It's cliffhanging stuff from the green light. Ben Allward, on pole, looks to be struggling with his kart; despite a valiant effort, he succumbs to the chasing pack. Having been unlucky in one heat and - by his own admission - driven poorly in another, Lee Hackett finally turns his day around with a storming win from fourth on the grid. He's chased to the flag by Aaron McManus, Ted Monfils, Ruben and Rhianna, with Ben trailing home a disappointed sixth. Alex has made up a place or two and finishes seventh. That puts him 25th overall - not great by his standards, but one better than Hereford.

As the B final gets underway it's time to banish the nerves - but I find I've never been calmer before a sprint final. I'm able to enjoy another excellent race; Scott Winter is on pole, and duly wins. He doesn't grace the BRKC very often, but tends to be mighty quick when he does. He's followed over the line by local hero Tristan Windebank, ahead of a titanic scrap for heavyweight honours between James Fitchew and Anwar. James prevails - no mean feat on Anwar's home track - and is justifiably delighted. Paul Lycett beats multiple heavyweight winner Russell Endean to the final podium slot after holding off a very strong field to win his first heat early on - a great result.

Lee fights his way up to sixth from the back, which puts him 15th overall. It's his worst result this year, but an impressive save nonetheless - he's dragged himself seven places up the leaderboard since the end of the heats.

There's a short wait while the karts are refuelled, then I'm settling myself in for the last time today. Over 100 laps of this bronco of a circuit make themselves felt in bruised elbows and knees... before adrenalin sweeps it all away. I might have nothing to lose, but I've no intention of cruising home last. Only five drivers between me and the podium...

We're away, sweeping down the hill, the leaders two abreast into turn 2. I'm half expecting carnage, but everyone's through; ahead of me Annelien is tardy out of turn 3. I'm alongside, a little sideways... past into eighth. I'd be chuffed if there was time, but I'm expecting her to come back at me at any second.

The front five have pulled a small gap over Ryan in sixth, and I can see why: he's short of straight line speed. Between us, Matthew Curtis - also in his first A final - harries him through turns 2 and 3, and makes an optimistic dive into the apex at turn 4. I'm trying to decide which way to go if they collide, but Ryan manages to give him just enough space while hanging on to his sixth place. Never the most demonstrative driver, he's clearly unhappy, one hand jabbing at his head. No translation needed.

After more barging from Matthew - excessive in my view, and ultimately unnecessary - he gets alongside Ryan on the straight, and disappears into the distance. I close up to Ryan - vaguely wondering where Scott and Annelien are, but afraid to look - and set about trying to find a way past.

My kart's a bit like a washing machine on spin cycle - slow to get going, but rapid once it does. It's more lively over the bumps than the best I've driven today, too. I catch Ryan just before turn 2 and get my nose alongside... but run out of road. Ryan is, as befits a BRKC frontrunner, pretty handy through the twisty infield. I hang on by my fingernails, but lose a metre or so into the final corner. I experiment with a couple of different lines, trying to gain an advantage, but Ryan's defending is flawless. Having inadvertently clouted him twice at Hereford last month, I'm keen to avoid a repeat.

And there we stay, nose to tail as if joined by elastic... until the nearest miss I've had in quite a while.

We exit turn 2 flat out, Ryan jinks right... and not five metres away is Sam Spinnael, frozen in position half out of his seat, his kart nose first in the tyrewall. I lift and swerve, missing him by an inch, already past before the chill of shock clutches my chest. No harm done, but that was close.

It's given Ryan breathing space; as we start the last lap I'm aware of a presence at my right corner. It's Scott; I let Ryan go, concentrate on defending my position, and take the flag seventh.

Back in the pitlane, poor Sam is devastated, having crashed trying to defend his second place from Connor Marsh. But it could have been a lot worse: he's still in one piece. Sean's become the BRKC's second double winner, followed by Connor - his second podium on the trot - and Michael. Matthew Curtis clawed his way up to fourth ahead of Sam Joseph.

I'm quietly content to have moved forward from my starting position, capping off my strongest ever BRKC performance. Part of me is disappointed not to have passed Ryan, but he never put a wheel wrong and thoroughly deserves his sixth place.

As at Hereford, people are quick to congratulate me, which I really appreciate, along with the enthusiasm for this blog. "It's what I look forward to most after a race," Ben Allward tells me.

The podiums are expecially messy today; Michael ends up with at least a litre of Value bubbly down his overalls. To the winners go the spoils: sticky clothes for a 450 mile drive home...

The Smiths and I say our goodbyes, and shoehorn ourselves into the Fiesta. Home for me, Winchester station for them. It's been a pleasure to have them, and they've kindly offered to reciprocate for round 5.

Excitement for which is already building. It's the BRKC's Big Trip North, our first foray outside England. For the regulars, it could be the biggest challenge yet. A fast, physical circuit, fickle weather, talented locals determined to show us Southern Jessies who's boss.

I can hardly wait. To paraphrase Paul Simon:

"We're going to Raceland..."

I don't write these posts in a vacuum. Every month, I use a variety of sources to bolster my memory. Many thanks to Alexandru Damian for sending me his video of heat 4 ( and Nathan Bellows for his video of heat 10 ( And if you haven't checked out Ryan Smith's blog yet, it's well worth it:

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