Monday, 17 June 2013

BRKC round 6. Ellough Park Raceway, 9 June 2013 (part 2)

(click here for part one)

Third heat. Third on the grid. Last chance saloon.

I have only Nathan Bellows and a red-clad driver I don't recognise ahead of me. I have no idea who's behind. It doesn't matter. Grip the wheel, watch the lights, wait.

It's a long wait - so long, in fact, than when the lights blink red my foot twitches on the throttle. I slam on the brakes to stop the kart moving - just as the lights go green. Not my finest start... but the kart pulls away well, and I hold position through turn one, already hassling Nathan as he gets a little wide of the double apexes at turn two. I'm half alongside as we approach the slow left-hander at turn three; Nathan isn't expecting me, turns in, bounces off my right front bumper and disappears.

I'm through into second and wondering if my pass was too marginal, if the marshals will decide that I pushed Nathan out of the way... but as I approach the start/finish line, there are no flags or warning boards. A glance behind reveals Nathan still in third. I breathe, and focus forward again.

After two tough, combative heats I'm hoping for a nice boring points-banker to finish. And I get it. The red-clad local pulls slowly away, and I maintain a three-second gap to the chasing pack. The kart livens things up by snapping sideways over anything resembling a bump; it's by far the most difficult I've driven today. It's so twitchy that I make a rare unforced error into turn six, sliding well wide of the apex.

But I keep it pointing in the right direction, and take the flag in second place. It caps off a strong run through the heats: I've gained places from my grid slot in all three qualifying races, which should set me up well for the final.

There's a lull while the numbers are crunched. With three finals split roughly evenly across 41 drivers, I'm expecting to be somewhere around the A/B-final split. When Sian lays out the list on the reception desk, there's a scrum as people crane their necks to read it.

At first, I can't find my name - because I'm looking in the wrong place. I'm 9th overall, at least five places higher than I expected, and pleasantly gobsmacked. A-final it is, then. With the championship still up for grabs, all of the main protagonists for the top three places - Lee Hackett, Sean Brierley, Sam Spinnael, Connor Marsh, Ryan Smith - will be present and correct at the sharp end. Continuing his physics-defying crusade, Anwar will start from pole and has a real shot at embarrassing the lightweights.

"Yeah! C-final is where it's at!" Weddell does a celebratory jig after possibly his worst day ever in the BRKC; he seems to have an enviable ability to put disappointments behind him. I wish I had such a positive outlook.

As the C-finalists roll out of the pits and we crowd the pitwall to watch, I'm excited and nervous and tired, as usual. But there's a touch of end-of-term sadness, too. These are the final races of an amazing season which has taken most of us from one end of the country to the other, and a very large part of me doesn't want it to end.

I'm not sure that Michael would agree with me at this moment. The story of his C-final is the story of his day: strong start, blistering pace, places gained hand over fist... BANG! Hit from behind and spun to the back. Square one. He ends up a resigned - and wholly unrepresentative - 33rd overall.

Back in the pitlane, there's a bit of gesticulating between Jamie Harrison and Daryl Warren, which blows over very quickly and ends with a handshake... possibly expedited by the formidable presence of Mr Harrison (Senior).

The B-final grid contains some quick names. Endean, Mays, Fitchew, Vangeen, Sam Joseph, David 'Brickwall' Whitehouse... BRKC debutant Ashley Higham has had a solid run through the heats, too. It's often the most exciting of the finals and doesn't disappoint; today, in a minor change to the format, the top two will progress to the A-final. It's fun to watch heavyweight rivals Alex, James and David duking it out - with David the winner of that particular battle. I'm a little hazy on the frontrunners, but seem to remember Chris Brookshaw and Lee Henderson taking the honours and the last two grid slots for the A-final.

And then, suddenly, it's my turn. It's the final race of the 2013 championship, and I'm proud to be taking part. In my second A-final of the season, I can't quite match the devil-may-care attitude of the first one. The benchmark has changed; I'll be disappointed not to make the top ten.

Aiming to disappoint me will be the likes of Rhianna Purcocks, Ben Allward, Ed White, Chris Brookshaw... as I take my grid slot, I daren't look back. I concentrate on the unfamiliar suit of Alex Ready in seventh; he splits Ryan and Dan Truman. Anwar, on pole, is only twenty metres up the road. Anything's possible...

Green light. I rocket off the line and claw back at least two metres on the three in front; Dan jinks smartly right to cut me off on the dash down to turn 1. We run line astern through turns two and three; Dan's a little slow out of three and I get my nose alongside, but run out of room and settle for harrying him all the way through the flat-out left and right. He's early on the brakes into six and catches me unawares; I rap his rear bumper and earn myself an irritable hand-flick. I'd have waved in apology if he could see me, and if I wasn't hanging on for dear life.

Across the start/finish line for the second time, Dan moves to the inside again; I try the Wall of Death but run out of room; suddenly Ed White is almost alongside and I'm forced to defend hard into turn three.

Again we concertina into six; I go right on the exit, trying to scoot down the inside into turn seven, but Dan anticipates. I lift - and this time Ed makes it stick, barrelling past to my left. I take the wide line into turn 7, aiming for a quicker exit - and very nearly lose another place to a red-helmeted driver. I made exactly the same mistake at Raceland last month. If my feet weren't separated by the steering column I'd be kicking myself.

It's all a bit too lairy; I tell myself to calm down and regroup. My pace is good, and there are plenty of laps left.

Over the next lap I close back up to Ed and pass him in a straightforward move into turn one. He comes right back at me, getting his nose alongside as we approach the flat-out left-hander at turn four... but I scrape through in front. While I've been tussling, Dan has opened up a two second gap; I focus on reeling him in.

As we exit the final turn to start lap 5, I notice that it's Ryan, not Alex Ready, in front of Dan; he looks to be struggling a little. After ducking left and right for a couple of corners, Dan squeezes through; I try to follow but am not quite close enough. Ryan slams the door, and it's like the Matchams A-final all over again.

I'm fractionally quicker over the whole lap, but Ryan is a model of precision as usual: there are no mistakes, no chinks to dive into. I'm carrying a small weight penalty - 5kg or so - which, lack of talent notwithstanding, is probably just enough to prevent me getting alongside down the start/finish straight.

I get close though. Oh, so tantalisingly close... time and time again, Ryan takes the inside line and forces me to go the long way round, but three laps from home he's a little tardy shutting the door and I get half the kart alongside. We turn in as one, two inches apart, my right wheels up on the kerb...  I have the line, but his momentum is better; I can't make it stick. It's great racing, great driving, and I'm sad to see the chequered flag.

I take it a metre behind Ryan with a mix of emotions. I've driven well, held onto my starting position... but I so nearly had him.

Needless to say I haven't had much chance to follow progress at the front; back in the pitlane I learn that the laws of physics eventually caught up with Anwar, who finished a still-superb fourth - annihilating the heavyweight field in the process. The ever-impressive Ed White finished a couple of places behind me to take the second heavyweight spot; they're joined on the podium by local expert Lee Henderson.

The overall race podium mirrors the championship top three. Which makes Lee Hackett the double BRKC champion, with Sean Brierley and Sam Spinnael the runners-up. Brilliant drivers, all - they thoroughly deserve their accolades and the prizes that come with them.

My ninth place moves me up to a finishing score of 69 points and 13th in the championship. It's easily the best of my three seasons in the BRKC. I worked hard to raise my game in 2013, and am delighted to see my efforts bearing fruit.

With the champagne showers over, it's usually time to say our goodbyes and go our separate ways. But Brad has an announcement that throws new significance on today's event.

In 2014, the BRKC is to change from a six round, multiple-venue championship to a single, weekend-long, tournament-style event modelled on the Kart World Championships. Much as we love the current format, it rests on the shoulders of Brad alone and is unsustainable without a major injection of cash or manpower or both.

The 2014 venue is to be a new state-of-the-art indoor circuit currently under construction in Milton Keynes. I'll be there of course, along with the usual suspects, but I will shed a tear or two for the current format which took me to places I never dreamed I'd be.

The racing has been sensational. But just as special to me are the friends I've made, and the huge support for my post-race scribblings. They'll continue of course: the big race at Teesside is only ten weeks away, and the BRKC will reconvene for the 0-plate at Whilton Mill in October. Graduating from heavy, wheezy four-stroke karts to the scalpel-like Club 100 two-stroke machines will be a baptism of fire for some of us. Can't wait... I think.

Before that, there are exciting times for several of the regulars: Sean Brierley, Anwar Beroual-Smith and Michael Weddell leave shortly for California to compete at the Sport Kart Grand Nationals. I've no doubt they'll wipe the floor with the Yanks.

And the countdown to the Kart World Championships is well and truly on. Both champions will be there along with Team GB stalwarts Bradley Philpot, James Auld and Jonny Elliott. Denmark won't know what hit it...

For BRKC mark 1, that's all she wrote. I'm doubly chuffed to have competed in the last A-final of the current era.

Roll on mark 2!

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