The poor man’s F1 car

What a sensational Spanish GP we saw on Sunday. I almost flipped my lunch into my lap when Alonso pulled off that overtake on the outside of turn two. As a lifetime Ferrari fan, I’ve been into Formula One from a young age. The closest I’ll ever get to Alonso’s office, however, is through a race at my local karting track.

A few weeks back, my good friend Greig turned 21. To mark the occasion, he invited us all to a 100 – lap endurance race of the Kartstart circuit. To say that it would be competitive was an understatement; all six of us would battle for the fastest lap, Time Attack style, in identical 40mph go-karts.

Upon arrival, the track was nicely rubbered-in, with the racing line clearly defined and marbles scattered well off the apexes of each corner. The long straight leading to two sweeping left-handers brought to mind a scaled-down imitation of Monza’s long, high speed curves. Our evening would be split into one 40 – lap session, and two 30 – lappers to close. In a break from traditional F1 qualifying (simply because we couldn’t afford the extortionate costs to do it), qualifying consisted of picking the kart you were nearest to instead of setting a hot lap. Madly dashing to the kart you wanted à la 1960s Le Mans certainly got you in the spirit of things.

Fatties will come last!

Once you’d chosen your weapon via karting musical chairs, then came the agonising wait whilst seats and pedals were adjusted and engines started. Once your helmet is on and you’re sitting legs akimbo, it is about this time that you notice that your kart’s steering wheel is off-centre, your seat is cracked and that there is an alarming amount of toe-in on the offside front wheel. Nevertheless, you’re waved out into a petrolly fug of cold engines and burnt clutch odour.

Your first lap is under an amber light, which means that you swerve around in a desperate attempt to warm up the tyres for when you drop the hammer. Raikkonen, Alonso and Vettel make it look easy; our band of amateurs nearly ran into each other on the opening lap doing this.

40mph in a car is nothing to write home about. 40mph in a kart with no power steering, over bumpy tarmac and with your ass millimetres from a cheese-gratered demise, however, definitely focuses your mind. As the laps pass all you begin to see are braking points, apexes and the racing line in a way that no PlayStation game can teach you. As the karts are braked only on the rear wheels, stamping on the left pedal will only send you sideways or – worse – spin you round into tightly-bunched traffic. Cold tyres and overexuberance on the part of another driver left me swerving around a spin very early on in the race.

Andrew (of Integra fame) and birthday boy Greig were my real targets for this session, and my kart (no. 6) was absolutely asthmatic on the straights. Few things are worse than your friend – who you know is slower than you – surging past you on the straights when you’ve spent the whole of the lap before driving defensively and keeping him behind. Grr. Those 40 laps passed quickly, with my fastest lap being a 24.6. I definitely had room to improve.

Our second session started smokily. Greig’s kart was burning its clutch and continually crept forward, so naturally we assumed he was just cheating on his birthday. I took kart 12 and saw an immediate change in my fortunes. I was now challenging for fastest lap and hustling those in front of me. My attempts to make use of the slipstream, however, landed me with two warnings for some unintentionally-forceful taps and bumps ‘encouraging’ the guy in front of me to get out of my way.

My BMW driver mentality definately had an effect. This kart was so much quicker on the straights! I slalomed past two slower drivers on the straight, putting me in contention with the lanky Mr. Forbes who shot through the corners. We had an epic battle through the tight hairpins at the end of the track. Smelling an opportunity, I went for an ever-diminishing gap in the braking zone for the penultimate hairpin, T – boning Andrew’s kart in the process. Oops.

This may be an exaggeration of my ‘racing incident’

After two hours of racing my ass was numb, my wrists ached and my face was peppered with bits of rubber as I had left my visor up. What an absolute blast, though. My fastest lap dropped from 24.6 to 22.2 by perfecting my lines and switching karts.

I’ll be back there soon; just not in kart no. 6.


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