Sunday 19 January 2014

BRKC 2014, day two. 19 January 2014

(Read the preview of BRKC 2014.)
(Read the race report from Day One of BRKC 2014.)

Every older sibling has a wicked streak. So, back on Wednesday when the heats for BRKC 2014 were drawn, I was tempted to tell him then. But I elected not to. He'd know soon enough.

It's 8.30am on Day Two. Jonathan, my brother, has been drawn for Heat 13. The first heat. The Death Heat. The entry list includes Boutens (R), Philpot, Endean, Zuercher... and those are just the headlines.

By Saturday evening the full significance of those names had hit home; he's looking a little green around the gills this morning. But to his great credit, his first concern is for his fellow competitors. Several are serious championship contenders; anxious not to impede them in qualifying, he seeks out each in turn and warns them to give him plenty of space if they find themselves exiting the pits behind him. Great sportsmanship.

I join commentator James Auld in the VIP box and predictably have the microphone thrust under my nose. As they roll out of the pits to get Day Two underway, Jonathan is the topic of conversation; I manage to turn Evil Big Brother off and say some nice things.

Three minutes later, he lines up seventh, having outqualified Tyler Mays and gained two places from a no-show and a kart substitution: Ruben Boutens has elected to change karts, but under BRKC rules must start from the back. It's a risky move, and also means that Jonathan has a former World Champion starting behind him.

As the marshal waves them away for the rolling start, I hope he'll put up a fight. And so he does - but inevitably Ruben is soon past, streaking through to an eventual second place behind the hugely impressive Russell Endean. Even Brad can only manage third - ahead of Ryan Smith, who has done very well to get amongst the serious heavy-hitters and beat local expert Crispin Zuercher.

Jonathan brings up the rear, but keeps the field in sight and again, does a creditable job with minimal experience against world-class competition. He ends his weekend thoroughly satisfied, having achieved his goal of not finishing last and enjoying himself on track. 

And I'll take this opportunity to thank the BRKC regulars - drivers and supporters alike - for making him feel so welcome. He was understandably nervous about taking part, but the experience has rekindled his karting passion and earned me some much-needed brownie points.

After a nailbiting start, the excitement just keeps ratcheting up, as Annelien Boutens puts the unloved number 10 kart on pole position for heat 14. It's been improved since yesterday by the tireless Formula Fast mechanics, but is still a few tenths away from the best. Annelien slips to third in the race, but it's an impressive save in what could have been a disastrous heat. She's beaten by Ed 'Lightning' White and Michael Weddell - who is having a storming weekend considering he wasn't on the entry list this time last week.

As I start to turn inward, preparing for my third heat, the next two races are a bit of a blur. I'm pleased to see Connor Marsh and Alex Vangeen top heat 15, especially after Alex's nightmare end to day 1. They're ahead of the mightily talented Sam Spinnael. After a poor (by his standards) sixth place in his first heat, Sam has notched up a win and a third place; business as usual.

Today, the now-familiar pitlane routine of drawing kart numbers (via a numbered ping-pong ball from a helmet sack, no sniggering at the back) is comforting somehow. The cement mixer in my belly seems to have taken the day off; as I stand on the scales holding my 12.5kg of ballast, I'm so calm I start to worry about being too calm.

I chat to Luke Hornsby - whom I know by reputation but haven't met before - and survey the other opposition. There are some fast people about, as always: no easy heats this weekend. I've drawn kart 9, which has just won the previous heat in the hands of local specialist Lewis Manley. A good omen, I hope - though Lewis Manley could probably win on a unicycle around here.

Helmet on, engage tunnel vision, and away we go. The circuit feels very slippery; I put in what feels like a slightly lairy lap, and am pleasantly surprised to line up fourth, around three tenths away from the pole time. As we've seen all weekend, subtle changes in temperature have a marked effect on laptimes: nobody has broken into the 33 second bracket.

Ted Monfils is on pole, followed by my new friend Luke and James Martin. As we get underway I'm still eerily calm - unlike James, who is looking a little tentative. Two laps in, his kart snaps sideways into the corkscrew; I get alongside, he gives me just enough room... there's a light tap on my left bargeboard, but I'm through into third. Life is looking up.

While James and I have been squabbling, Luke and Ted have opened up a gap. I keep them in sight, but manage only to spectate on their battle for the lead. The circuit's not getting any grippier, and I'm having to work harder than I'd like to keep the kart's front and rear tyres in harmony. Ted takes the flag by a kart length from Luke; I'm six seconds back and more than happy to bag another third place. That should be enough to book me a semi-final spot, but there's one more heat to come.

Back in the pits, controversy is rearing its head: someone has managed to drop a 5kg weight onto the glass scales. Amazingly, they're intact - but have thrown a strop and refuse to read accurately. A replacement has been found, but it reads a couple of kilos lower than the original set - meaning that we could potentially find ourselves classed underweight. But allowances are made, and Ted, Luke and I are declared legal.

My wife Marianne has put in an appearance for the first time this weekend, arriving just before my heat. It's great to have her here, and I'm convinced she brings me luck. I join her and two other karting widows - Alex's wife Lauren and Brad's other half Becca - and switch off the racing half of my brain for an hour. I realise that last time I saw Becca was at a windswept circuit near Edinburgh last May. Too long; it is, as always, lovely to catch up with her.

And while we're on the subject of loved ones, let's hear it for the parents. I've long admired the likes of Geoff White, Anthony Mays, Neil and Diane Smith, Lawrence Hackett, the Marshes, the Weddells, a half-dozen others - for their dedication and their contribution. Aside from the hours and money they put in, they suffer the strain of competition every bit as much as their offspring. They're as much a part of the BRKC as we are.

It's a pleasure, also, to chat to a couple of new faces: a lady whose name I missed at the time, but who will always be 'Jenson Button's Mum' on account of her son's replica helmet. Jo Healey, I think (please correct me if I'm wrong). Earlier, one of the international parents was so complimentary about my Day One scribblings that my day was made before I'd turned a wheel.

1.30pm. Actual sunlight is streaming through the open shutters; for the first time all weekend, it almost feels warm. And, with faces stuffed and hot drinks gulped, it's time for the final two chapters of BRKC 2014.

The semi-final lists are posted, and I'm comfortably in. For me, that's mission accomplished; anything else is a bonus. The semi-final is effectively a fourth heat, with the four scores added together. Even if I win, I won't make the final, but I'm delighted to have another race on this tricky, technical circuit against such an incredible field of drivers.

Marianne and I watch the first semi-final from the VIP area, with James booming over the microphone beside us. It's one of the most dramatic races on a weekend of drama; Ed White holds off Brad, while Michael Weddell beats the great Ruben Boutens to third place; all four of them score enough points to go wheel-to-wheel again in the final. It's both entertaining and disquieting to see Alex and Kam Ho - quality drivers both - squabbling over ninth place. I'm going to battle to scrape myself away from the tail end of this one.

By the time the second semi-final finishes - Anwar chasing home Lewis Manley - I'm focusing inward, trying to concentrate everything I've learned in my limited experience of indoor karting. I've little hope of fighting near the sharp end, but have every intention of ending on a high.

And that's exactly what I do. Eighth on the grid is perhaps a place lower than I could have been; the kart is fine, and I'm a little too careful under braking for the hairpin. That aside, I turn in the best race of my weekend, quicker, more precise and more consistent than I've ever been here. It's processional, but incredibly intense; I bring up the rear of a four kart chain, chasing the Titan Motorsports-branded helmet of Andy O'neill. Fifth-placed Russell Endean is tantalisingly within sight less than three seconds up the road. But nobody cracks, and I bring it home eighth.

In the process, I set my fastest lap ever around here (33.442), which will put me 27th on the laptime leaderboard. In the final reckoning, I am classed 24th out of 60 in BRKC 2014. I have given my best and am happy with that.

As ever in an event like this, there are a few familiar names in unlikely places on the leaderboard. Sean Brierley has been searingly fast all weekend and got off to a brilliant start, but a ropey third heat and a premature pitstop in his semi-final have consigned him to the lower reaches of the top 20.

Having been drawn in two of the toughest heats on a weekend of tough heats, Ryan Smith has driven impeccably. But his nightmare second heat - baulked in qualifying by a slower driver, then stuck behind Junior World Champion Jake Campbell-Mills for the entire race - has consigned him to 33rd overall. Just ahead of him is Tyler Mays, who put in a storming drive to second in his first heat, but was dogged by bad luck after that.

Potential finalist Sam Spinnael has had a mixed time - his frontrunning speed blotted by a black flag in his semi-final. He finishes 21st overall.

At the other end of the scale, Connor Marsh - always quick, often unlucky - has sailed through the weekend. His win and second place from four races puts him a superb 11th overall, narrowly missing out on the coveted final.

And then there were ten.

Bradley Philpot, Russell Endean, Michael Weddell, Annelien Boutens, Ruben Boutens, Ted Monfils, Anwar Beroual Smith, Lewis Manley, Ed White and Crispin Zuercher.

They will qualify in Superpole format: each driver does a single flying lap on their own, in the same kart. No pressure... it's rare that I'd rather be spectating, but this time I'm quite happy to sip tea on the VIP gantry and watch the action unfold.

As Michael gets underway I'm fully appreciating the recording wizardry for the first time this weekend. The live feed which is streaming over the Web is shown on a screen beside James, and I'm hugely impressed at the professional quality produced by multiple cameras all around the circuit. A DVD of the event will be produced soon, and I look forward to that.

Michael is disappointed with his time, shaking his head as he passes under the timing screen on the back straight. He pits and hands the kart to Annelien, who cements her reputation as a qualifying specialist with a sublime lap - a full half-second faster than Michael. And try as they might, nobody can match it. Crispin gets closest, third (Anwar) to eighth (Russell) is covered by seven hundredths of a second. But BRKC 2014's only female driver will start the final from pole position. Lauren and Becca - sharing the VIP gantry with James and I - are beside themselves with excitement.

To begin with, it looks as if she might run away with it as the others squabble over position behind her - Anwar losing several places early on, Ed making a couple, Brad unable to make much of an impression in what looks like a difficult kart, Weddell and Monfils bringing up the rear... but as drivers start to pit, Ruben Boutens begins to wind it up. With half of the 30 minutes gone, he's taking a couple of tenths per lap out of his sister's lead. She responds, but he's relentless; we're holding our breath as he breaks the 33 second barrier and just keeps going faster and faster. It seems inevitable that he'll find a way past and when he does - with a millimetre-perfect move into the hairpin - it caps off a supreme display of precision from both of them.

Ruben takes the flag, Annelien makes it a Boutens one-two, and Lewis Manley holds off Ed White for the final podium position. Crispin is an excellent fifth followed by Anwar, Brad, Russell, Ted and Michael. We're sad to see it end, but I'm not sure anyone in the building could have taken much more.

We gather on the viewing gantry as James orchestrates the presentation down on the circuit, cheer Ruben, Annelien and Lewis onto the podium - Lewis needing some coaching on how to open a bottle of bubbly - before reluctantly saying our goodbyes. I've never seen spirits so high at the end of a karting event, and with good reason. We've all had a weekend to remember, and then some.

And that's it. Fat Lady sings.

I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that Ollie and all the staff at Formula Fast deserve a medal. And probably a few extra hours of sleep. We really appreciated the huge amount of work that went into organising and running such a complex event so efficiently. The effort that went into keeping the karts as equal as possible - testing late into the night on Friday and Saturday - was hugely impressive and (despite the odd moan) deeply appreciated. No other venue we've visited has ever worked so hard for us. I've certainly never been to a friendlier kart circuit - from front desk to pitlane, every single member of staff was a pleasure to deal with.

James Auld is a legend and I'll not hear a word to the contrary. His commentary added a veneer of excitement and occasion - and information - that made BRKC 2014 the great spectacle it was.

Having seen the odd snippet of the footage Darren Cook and his team have produced, I can't wait to see the finished article. We've immortalised every BRKC event in video and photographs, but this is a whole new league.

And once again, Brad seems to have pulled off the impossible (with Becca's help) - he's made the BRKC even better.

Downside? We have to wait a whole year before we can do it all again!

For final results and videos, visit

(Read the preview of BRKC 2014.)
(Read the race report from Day One of BRKC 2014.)


  1. It's a real joy to read your writings :) I could and should be even more lyrical but I won't :p Keep it up man!
    greets from Belgium

  2. Your Karting Odyssey is always a pleasure to read!

  3. Brilliant read.... wow... forgot how exciting this was...