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Stepping onto the ladder – My first motorsport event of the year

A soaking wet night at Buckmore Park

Part of the journey towards my goal of racing cars in 2018 is to get my head back into competing again. It’s all very well going on track days in one of my road cars and learning better vehicle control, but when the lights go out in my first race one day, how ready am I going to be for the cut and thrust of racing?

Go karting is the perfect proving ground for exactly this – close competition. As you may have read in my “Who is James Wilson?” blog post, I talked about when I last raced a Rotax Max kart back in 2010. Not only was this a bloody long time ago, it was also a pretty expensive way to go karting as well. I won’t bore you with the endless list of things needed to go owner driver karting, but take it from me, you will need thousands of pounds spare just to get on the grid somewhere.

On the basis I didn’t fancy remortgaging my flat, I needed to find an Arrive & Drive series to keep costs at a minimum. I didn’t have to look any further than Buckmore Park Kart Circuit in Kent for the solution. Buckmore Park offer a whole host of one-off and championship events to cater for all needs. From sprint racing, all the way up to multi-driver team endurance events. All you needed to be able to compete  was a £49+ entry fee (that is their cheapest event but the prices shoot up from there) – and that is it! All equipment can be supplied, including helmets, race suits, gloves and even rib protectors.

Event selected – International Sprint

The next available event in February was known as an International Sprint and costs £69 per driver. The format of the event was as follows:

  • 18:45 Arrival, sign in and suit up
  • 19:15 Safety Briefing
  • 19:45 Practice (1 x 10 min of up to 12 karts)
  • 20:30 Heats (Each driver competes in 3)
  • 22:15 Final(s)
  • 23:00 Presentation of awards

The International Sprint events are held on the last Wednesday of each month and one thing to note was this month was not a championship event. That begins in March.

Making it all the more fun was having my pal Barry Hobart also racing that evening. We’ve karted together numerous times over the years and are generally very close on pace so it was good to be able to benchmark against each other. Unfortunately, with 36 drivers entered in the event, it meant there were 3 randomly selected groups which meant Barry and I were never to race on the track at the same time! It didn’t stop us comparing times of course…

Drivers getting ready to race at Buckmore Park

Drivers briefing at Buckmore Park

Night racing, heavy rain and slick tyres

What a combination those 3 factors made! I have driven a kart on slicks in the rain a couple of years ago and remembered it be outrageously challenging. However, I hadn’t raced at night before and despite some floodlights at the Buckmore Park circuit, it’s not quite on par with the Singapore Grand Prix! By that I mean there were plenty of dark patches around the circuit and with a constantly dirty visor, it made for an interesting start to the night.

After a quick look at the schedule, I saw that I was in the first practice session of the night. Out we went! Despite not having a bad first couple of tippy-toe corners and overtaking some karts, I quite quickly had my first spin. No problem, other karts were spinning too. Then I spun again a few corners later and everyone went past. I then started to panic and tried to catch them back up – and spun again. I was getting quite embarrassed and instead of the penny dropping and calming down, I continued to completely and utterly overdrive the kart – and kept spinning! After 3 or 4 laps, I still hadn’t completed a clean lap and was starting to think how rusty I was at all of this! I finished the practice session with a shake of the head but there was no time to dwell – we had to immediately form up on the grid for Heat 1!

Here’s how the 3 heats went. Note: The grids are random and are meant to give each driver an equal average starting position over the the 3 heats. I hope I explained that well enough?!

Heat 1 (Full result)

Grid: 12th (out of 12)

Finished: 7th

Best Lap: 71.80

I made a cracking start to this race after really focussing on the lights when it was clear that many drivers hadn’t! Turn 3 was a really low grip, slow hairpin and an accident hotspot at Buckmore Park. I was punted into the hairpin so my good start was undone there and then. A few other tangles in the opening laps meant I had to settle down and just go for consistency whilst others had their issues up front. That’s how I got up to 7th. Not bad after how poor the practice session went!

Heat 2 (Full result)

Grid: 1st

Finished: 6th

Best Lap: 69.347

Well on paper you may think 1st to 6th is a shocker of a race – I however look at it differently. The majority of the drivers at the event were experienced racers at Buckmore Park. I knew from the outset that I wasn’t going to win the event, so my target was to get as many points from each heat to get the best possible position in the final. On that basis, I made a good start from from the front and was running in the top 3 for the first lap – no accidents or spins! After a glance over my shoulder, I knew I had some much faster guys behind me trying to get past. There were two options. One, fight as hard as you can to block them getting past with a huge chance of being knocked into a spin (and dropping even further down), or two, hold my lines and if they’re quicker they’ll find a way past. I chose the latter and it paid off in the final result. I dropped to 4th by the end of lap 1, and then 2 more places a couple of laps later and came home 6th.

I finished 10 seconds clear of 7th and just a second behind 5th. I didn’t have any spins and you’ll see I found over 2 seconds compared to my fastest lap from heat 1. There were lots of positives and I was actually buzzing after that one. Everything was improving!

Heat 3 (Full result)

Grid: 6th

Finished: 2nd

Best Lap: 68.46

That was more like it! On lap 1 I spun off towards the end of the lap and dropped to 7th place! I then battled to 2nd with no more mistakes and finished 6 seconds clear of 3rd place. I had no chance of winning of winning the heat as we had a young teenager in our group who would go on to win the event (and I saw he won last month too). So this was a great result. I also knocked another second off my best lap time so plenty of progress!

I got a great photo of Barry on the pit straight during one of his heats:

Barry Hobart racing at Buckmore Park

Event cut short

Barry managed some very similar results in his 3 heats and it was highly likely we would go head to head in the ‘B’ final. But it wasn’t to be after we were told they would only be running the ‘A’ final due to time limits on the floodlights going off at 10pm (don’t get me started!). That was a great a shame and very disappointing not to be able to race against each other.

I really enjoyed the whole evening and it was great to be competing again. As I said before, it wasn’t a championship event, they start in March and I think it’s highly likely I’ll be entering that!

The foot is now on the ladder!


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