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On the podium at Wessex Raceway

By Nick Baumber

The British Grand Prix and the Grand Depart of the Tour de France have not been the only big races recently as a group of us, revved up to Wessex Raceway to participate in an open endurance kart race.

Located on the Wiltshire border, Wessex Raceway is a leading member of the National Karting Association - the body that oversees the industry's quality and safety standards and is the largest and best equipped indoor karting centre in the South of England.

The new 270cc BIZ karts offer visitors the latest safety and comfort innovations, lower emissions and top speeds of 50mph around the 700-metre long indoor kart track.

On arrival, the group checked in ahead of our assigned time and were directed through to the changing rooms, having picked up our karting suits on the way. We then made our way to the team race briefing room, along with other 10 teams participating in our race. Our race director clearly explained the safety rules and regulations (with the help of a DVD), the consequences for breaching these (including time/lap penalties) and briefed us on the format of the race.

We split ourselves into 11 teams of 3 or 4 and were given our balaclavas, ready to head into the main karting arena and track where we collected our gloves and helmets. All 11 teams were going to compete in an open endurance race racing across a 20 minute qualifying session, with a 15 minute debrief before the 80 minute main race (with a minimum of 7 pit stops). This would enable everyone who races to have at least 25 minutes on the track over the course of the event.

During the qualifying session, each of my teammates had the opportunity to try and put in the fastest lap whilst also getting used to the track and kart. For someone who hasn’t been karting (or not for a good few years), this is ideal and allows you to familiarise yourself with the best racing lines, pit lane and various braking zones around the track.

The pit-side timing, scoring and circuit management system  helps teammates to determine lap times, race position, fastest laps and penalties awarded (e.g. for a dangerous pit exit for example).
The screens display helps to measure performance and ultimately increases the level of competitiveness amongst the racing teams.

After the qualifying session, I was completed surprised to find our team were on pole position for the main race, having achieved the fastest lap. The bar had been set, the pressure was on and the adrenalin had kicked in.

Having talked strategy and race tactics, our team member Paul headed to take up pole position on the grid ready for the green lights. After the final kart had taken up their position at the back of the pack, the green lights came on and - as Murray Walker would say it was “go go go!!”

The karts sped down the grid heading towards the first corner. All the karts made it round, but unfortunately we had dropped to 2nd by the end of the first lap. Our team’s determination was rewarded when Paul managed to overtake the kart in front following a flying lap of sub 36 seconds.

Our first pit stop was on lap 14, when I took over the helm aiming to protect our advantage. I exited the pit lane into free space and managed to make up a little time, however this was lost after 3 laps as I got caught up in traffic. Luckily for me, I was able to pass a couple of the back markers and still maintain our pole position.

After another quick pit stop, Russ made great progress and put in some very quick laps. By the end of our first round of pit stops, our team was about a lap (37 seconds) ahead of our nearest rivals. In terms of the race, this lead wasn’t huge, a spin or penalty could make all the difference and rob us of a victory.

Russ pitted early on lap 45 (having thought he had seen our board) and we weren’t prepared. This cost us some valuable time, but we managed to get back out on track ahead of our competitors.

We were flying, with our laps averaging around 36.4 seconds (current lap record was 30.72 seconds), maintaining an albeit narrow lead. After a couple of relatively quick pit stops, Paul put in the fastest lap of the race on lap 94 (35.28 seconds). We were in touching distance of taking the chequered flag and it was over to me to bring the kart home. I re-joined the race on lap 107 in second place, expecting the kart in front to have to pit for a final time.

So determined was I not to let the team down, I raced hard and recorded my best lap time of 35.51 seconds, which would have been the fastest lap of 9 of the other teams. However, unbeknown to me my teammates learned that the kart in front did not have to make another pit stop (they had already done their 7 driver changes) and so the race was really on to win. Meanwhile I was on track, believing I was in the lead.

On lap 119, I was shown the “1 lap to go” sign and pushed hard to ensure team 10 were the winners. As I came round the penultimate corner, the 2 karts in front of me made contact with each other and hit the barriers. Narrowly avoiding the collision, I overtook the carts involved and went full throttle round the final corner and took the chequered flag and punched the air in celebration.

I believed I had won the race, and so this could have been embarrassing for me, however my teammates filled me in when I got back to the pits, and lucky for me, it turned out that the leading kart was involved in that collision and actually cost them the race.

After heading to the changing rooms and showers we went upstairs to the bar and restaurant for a cool drink, debrief and presentation. We mounted the podium and collected our winners’ medals, basking in the glory of snatching victory on the final lap.

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