“How To: Bottle Podiums”
So far, I have created 12 episodes about my #RacingGrind, my journey into racing, and yet I haven’t once actually been to the track. And now, with the new UK government regulations surrounding social contact, it’s unlikely that any of us will be racing any time soon. With that in mind, I decided to head down to my local karting track to get some practice in before it was too late.
Daytona Sandown Park, a nice little arrive-and-drive circuit in Surrey, is my “local” outdoor track, despite the fact it’s not really very local at all! Regardless, alongside a friend of mine, I turned up for my first seat time since starting this blog. The challenge: a 40-minute race in their Sodi RT8 karts.
The karts in question were your run-of-the-mill hire karts – 4-stroke single-cylinder engines capable of up to 55mph. With little in terms of low-end torque, it can be very easy for these karts to bog down after slow corners, so it’s vital to carry momentum into corners in order to have the best acceleration on the other side, and therefore the quickest lap times. Naturally, though, due to a complete lack of familiarity (this was only the second time I had driven these karts, and just the third occasion visiting the track), I didn’t do this.
If I was to compare my driving to a professional racer, it would certainly be Jarno Trulli. Very often I’m able to set competitive times quickly, but I’m unable to string a series of fast laps together to make a good race pace, creating a bit of a “Trulli Train” behind. In fact, this pretty much summed up my race.
With just a 10-minute qualifying session to adapt myself to the kart and track conditions, I was able to piece together a 50.266. Good enough for second of 22 on the grid, and three tenths ahead of third, albeit another three tenths down on pole.
From there, though, my day went a bit downhill. The start of the race was fairly unspectacular, as the pole sitter (who was about 14 and weighed 3 stone) just took off, and I settled into second. I struggled, however, to adapt to the tyres, which had cooled off considerably whilst we were sat on the grid. This meant that I was facing a lot of pressure from behind, and on the last corner of the second lap I ran wide, dropping down to third.
After my little grassy excursion, the race settled down. I chased down second and we swapped positions for a while, until the final corner on the 21st lap of 46. At this point I was back into second, and the racer behind me lunged up my inside, clipping the rear of my kart and sending me into a spin. As a result, I dropped from second to fourth, and the race turned from consolidating a comfortable second (as I was clearly quicker than my opponent) into a chase back to the podium. Or so I thought.
Just two laps later I had caught back up to third place, and our small group of three (second, third and I) were running nose-to-tail once more. That was until we encountered a lapped karter heading into turn two. The two racers immediately ahead of me managed to pass the lapped driver fine, however I was not so fortunate. At the last moment the backmarker cut into the corner, tagging the front of my kart, and putting me into a second spin in three laps. This one was more detrimental to my overall race, too, as I dropped from fourth to seventh, putting me firmly out of touch of the podium battle.
The second half of the race was very much a recovery drive, and at least this time round there were no incidents to halt my progress. Whilst simultaneously weaving through traffic, I was able to regain fourth position, and finish a second ahead of fifth, although I crossed the line twelve seconds away from the podium and a resounding 25 behind the race winner.
Interestingly, analysis of each drivers’ lap time improvements from qualifying to the race proved my suspicions that I’m comparatively slower in races. In 46 laps of racing, I completed just one lap quicker than my qualifying time, and the improvement was less than a tenth. In comparison, the average improvement between qualifying time and fastest race lap was more than half a second per driver, meaning I effectively “lost” four tenths of outright pace to my competitors in the race. This is clearly something that I’ll need to address in order to fight more for wins in future races.
In conclusion, I gave an expert account on how to bottle a safe podium. Throughout the first half of the race I was comfortably second-quickest on track, however two spins sent me firmly into the mid-pack. The race was fairly educational for me, too, as I learnt where some aspects of my race-craft were not quite up to scratch after a few months of no racing. For example, I struggled with consistency and outright pace, although I felt my overtaking was a strength of mine during this race, something that historically has not necessarily been true. At least I’ve plenty of time to work on ironing out my flaws before can once more go racing…
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