Yesterday I got back on the real race track for the first time this year with a run out in the Club 100 national kart series Winter event.
Running at Bayford Meadows kart raceway in temperatures just nudging 3 degrees celcius is not some people’s idea of fun, but as I have not raced since September 2010 I felt it was time to blow away a few cobwebs and push away the stressful dark winter times with a bit of two stroke karting.
Alas, the winter series is open to all categories, leaving me trailing the back of the field behind the Premier class racers. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the pace and talent of these guys, but their experience is huge, these chaps leave and breathe karting and probably spend every spare moment on a kart track somewhere. Turning up with their shiny new 2011 race suits and reliveried helmets gave no surprises as most of us in the clubman class hung around the bottom end of the grid.
It was no worry for me, on the whole I just wanted to run out on track and was not interested in placing that highly or racing hard. I just wanted to feel the track under me and work the tyres. It’s an odd thing to explain, but the feeling of focussing your brain on nothing else but that relationship between your tyres and the track surface is something I get very “zen” about.
The circuit was cold, very cold, and wasn’t until the third lap out that you could really push and rely on the grip coming from the tyres. Of course, during those treacherous early laps the kart is all over the place, but only by pushing the tyres can you get the heat you need to generate some grip, it’s a catch 22, you don’t want to end up spinning or going off when it feels like you are on ice on that first lap out, but at the same time you know that unless you push you won’t get any heat into the tyres. It was still almost five or six laps on the tyres before there enough grip to really push through the very fast turn eleven. This right hander towards the end of the lap being “almost flat” is very difficult to judge, and getting out of shape on the entry can easily see you bouncing across the serrated exit kerb at over 60mph, or worse, having a “bucking bronco” ride over the grass.
Luckily, I did neither, and as the twenty minutes of the first practice session ticked away the biggest concern I seemed to have was the growing numbness in my fingers and feet. Upon releasing one hand from the wheel on the start/finish straight I found that my fingers only moved in an icy, skeletor-like way! All part of the fun, as a result the brief gaps between races saw us all huddled over the exhaust of our respective Birel steeds.
One positive aspect of the cooler temperatures was that the TKM BT82 motor was heaving out much more mid range torque, giving much improved pull out of turn three and a generally wider power band to play with through turns five, six and seven. Acceleration felt much more punchy, and made the aforementioned cold tyre laps all the more exciting!
On the whole the races went okay, the sun came out which saved my fingers somewhat, by this stage my feet were just blocks of ice on the end of my legs. In the first race I was off at turn one, a start of the year error repeated by many as I was caught out by cold tyres and a faster approach speed.
Race two had me coming up the order and racing with another Clubman driver who had left his brain at home. I am not the biggest proponent of blocking in any racing category, but this guy was clearly a fan, and despite being up to a second a lap slower than me, and very prone to missing apexes, he defended his position as if the race director had threatened to cut one of his limbs off should he fail. Eventually I got a very clean run up the inside into the long turn eight, and was completely alongside, wheel for wheel, as we entered the corner. At this point his position on the outside was very difficult to deal with, as we neared the apex at fifty odd mph. Off-line the track was much less grippy in these temperatures, really anyone being in the position of being “hung out to dry” like this should have dropped back and conceded the place so as not to potentially lose the kart on the slippery outer edges of the track. Instead of course, old Captain brainfade just decided to launch his kart into the corner as if I wasn’t there. Not being keen on launching into the air after wheel to wheel contact, I braked to drop back, by this time the front of his kart was pushing me into the kerbs, I spun, the resultant speed sent me to the edge of the track backwards where my motor stalled and I was left to wait for the doozer kart to come and start me up again. Ho hum.
In the final I ran behind another Clubman driver as we both tried to pass the very same blocker, I hung back time and time again as our man missed apex after apex, then pushed the resultant overtaking attempt into a near accident. In the end I entered my zen state and just concentrated on perfect apexes and exits, dropping back and then drawing up to the duelling pair in front. These final laps of the 15 minute final race allowed me to concentrate on lines and work out better ways around the circuit. It was telling that my qualifying lap of 55.620s compared with a fastest race lap in the final of 56.170s.
I believe that if I may not be able to take anything more from this event it is that I have a better understanding of Bayford Meadows. Of course, I also have the lovely stress relief afforded by a nice run out on a cold but sunny day. My personal best here, set in scorching weather last summer is a 55.127, which could not be beaten in such icy temperatures, but getting within half a second gave me the feeling that I have found a bit more speed around here on the whole.
All a bit of fun anyway, the season starts properly at the end of next month, I will only be doing a handful of races through the year, it’s a worthwhile diversion.