Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Individual endurance. Thruxton. 4 August 2013

The world is pain.

I can't decide which part of me hurts the most. Shoulders, ankle, ribs, neck... rivers of fire seem to ebb from limb to weakening limb. As I turn into the flat-out left-hander which ends the lap, the kart straining against its overloaded right front tyre, the chequered flag is waving. I pass it and lift off with a mix of relief and apprehension.

That was only practice.

I have not driven every kart circuit in the UK. So I can't conclusively state which exacts the heaviest physical toll on drivers. But I'd like to offer Thruxton's national circuit as a contender. Certainly, nowhere in my experience comes close.

Back in the pitlane, there's a much-appreciated breather before the start of our 45 minute race. One of Thruxton's occasional Individual Endurance events, it's turned into a BRKC mini-meet. I'm joined by BRKC regulars Alex Vangeen, Anwar Beroual-Smith, Matt Curtis, Jordan Donegan and Martin Cleaver. Oli Nitch-Smith - whose idea this was - is sadly absent, having broken his heel the evening before. It's disastrous news - he'll be in plaster for six weeks and will miss the British 24 Hours as a result.

Alex, Anwar, Jordan, Matt and I will all, Fate willing, be competing at Teesside, and today is a chance to sharpen our technique and assess our fitness ahead of the big race. After seventeen laps of practice, the general consensus on fitness is 'must try harder'.

Aside from the six of us the rest of the field consists of a family party; we've locked out the front few rows of the grid, as expected. But the polesitter is a surprise. Jordan Donegan has a weight advantage and has undoubtedly drawn a good kart. But you've still got to go out there and put in the laptime, and he's taken full advantage: his pole lap is over half a second clear of everyone else's. I'm second, a few hundredths clear of Anwar, with Matt and Alex behind.

Kart parity is poor today, and Alex has taken the brunt of the bad luck. Having swapped karts in practice, he's forced to do so again during the race. When we raced together at Milton Keynes last month, I was lumbered with dire machinery while he won; it looks like our fortunes are reversed today.

Rehydrated and rejuvenated, we take to the track for the standing start. I'm on the right and know from experience that even numbered grid slots can be tricky here, with a high risk of being hung out to dry around the outside of turn 1. And although I've managed to outqualify Club100 and F6 superstar Anwar, I'm under no illusions about the task of keeping him behind.

I manage about five metres. At the green light, my kart goes nowhere - I noticed as soon as I left the pits that it was slow away from a standstill - and Anwar is immediately alongside, with Matt glued to his bumper. Both are through into turn 1 and I'm cursing, chopping across a driver in Thruxton overalls as we stream down the hill.

The first of the two infield left handers is difficult at the best of times, and carnage often ensues on the opening lap: Jordan and Matt both slide wide. I nip inside and regain third place; Anwar scrapes ahead of Jordan and leads us under the bridge for the first time. But nobody's out of the woods. Matt comes right back at me, and Jordan is alongside Anwar as we rocket along the gently curving back 'straight'.

With a big spread of experience across the field, backmarkers have a starring role today. We're upon the first of them within four laps; I catch her in the worst possible place - just before the pit entrance - and lose crucial momentum: Matt is alongside on the pit straight and past into turn 1. I harry him all the way through the infield until we come upon another straggler, coasting along in the middle of the track. We're exiting the left hander onto the back straight; Matt goes right, around the outside; I squeeze through on the left, brushing the rubber bollard, past the pair of them. This time, it sticks: I don't see Matt again.

Up ahead, Jordan and Anwar are still squabbling over the lead; Anwar's left tyres kick up a pall of dust as Jordan tries to squeeze him into the fast chicane. Anwar is using all of his considerable skills to stay in touch, but after some early lairiness, Jordan is getting it together and exerting his significant straight line speed advantage. Once back in the lead, he begins to pull inexorably away. As is so often the case in rental karting, today the best driver will not win.

I'm doing what I can to make sure he doesn't finish second, either. My 8kg weight advantage more or less cancels out the talent deficit; kart differences notwithstanding, our raw pace is virtually identical. But while my consistency is good, his is outstanding. While I lose crucial fractions of a second lapping backmarkers, he cuts through like a scalpel through jelly. Both of us have one 'incident' with the stragglers - I'm forced almost to a stop by two particularly blinkered backmarkers early on, and Anwar's knocked into a half-spin in the closing stages.

By which time everybody's hanging on by the tips of their fingernails. The workrate here is simply huge, the anti-clockwise layout and abundance of high-speed left handers sapping the strength in our arms and necks. I'm in good physical condition, but racing here is a stern reminder that you can never be fit enough.

After a brutal 53 laps I take the flag in third place, seven seconds behind Anwar and a whopping twenty behind Jordan. It's a solid morning's work. I love this circuit, and with competition of this calibre, you always learn something. I've identified some areas for improvement, and we've all had plenty of opportunities to practice cutting cleanly through backmarker traffic - skills which will stand us in good stead at Teesside.

With a little over two weeks to go, the British 24 Hours looms large, and excitement is building across our online community. As has happened every year, we've had a late driver substitution. Sadly, George Lovell has had to withdraw and leaves big shoes to fill. But Anwar has stepped in; we're delighted (and more than a little relieved) to have found such an excellent driver so easily.

A proper preview of the big race will follow nearer the time. For now, we train, and we wait. The clock is ticking.

No comments:

Post a Comment