My birthday present that I will never forget
Read on. I know you want to. There is cars, karting and racing all over it!
Two days before my 25th birthday it looks like I will be at home this year, so I will have many opportunities to contemplate the fact that I am yet again a step closer to life's final scene. If you can't be bothered to do the maths, my birthday is on the 20th of May.
But that's enough dark thoughts. Instead I would like to share something which I gave to myself a couple of years a go. A birthday present of sort if you will.
I bought my first race kart at the start of 2018. It was a cheap kart, but it was considered a professional level machine so it was quite a lot faster than the usual rental karts. I had always wanted such a thing and I finally managed to buy myself one. I loved it, but I only ever had the chance to drive it on my own or with two or three other people, but not in a competitive manner. Logically the next step for me was to race it. Unfortunately that is quite expensive at this sort of level. Not to mention my kart was quite old and would not stack up well against the other karts of the same class. To put it in to perspective a professional race weekend at my local track would cost me as much as my kart. That is despite me sleeping at home and having no other expenses to worry about. But anyway I had participated in many rental kart races and had always loved racing. Furthermore it turned out that the race at my local track would be just before my birthday.
My kart back then. It cost me as much as my race weekend.
Then I decided that I would raise the money I needed in order to go racing. I had realised all this when the race calendar came out in February so by March I had gone through everything necessary with my university and had two weeks for which I had covered all my studies. In these two weeks I flew over to the UK, worked for two weeks and went back with just enough left over to cover the cost of the race.
The date of the race came and I applied for a license, which I was granted. So I was in. Next were the entry fee and cost of tyres. After I paid that I was just about broke. But it was never about the money. I just needed it in order to race. Even if it was only one race and I was not going to be competitive at all. I just wanted to feel the thrill of it. I wanted to line up on the grid and I wanted to see the crowd from the track. For once I wanted to be the person, not looking from the stands, I wanted to be the one who was looked at.
Do you spot the tiny license plate? I was feeling confident back then!
A couple of my friends came out to help me out as I was absolutely mechanically inept. I mean we all had no idea what we were doing but at least the bolts would be done up correctly, because I was not allowed to do them up.
Other people were turning up with loads of equipment, brand new karts, spare engines and basically looked like the professionals they were. While we had this...
A fishing tent
Upon the sight of this "tent" we were offered to move in to the awning of others. Which we did immediately as we felt everyone around was embarrassed for us. Being under that awning only increased the pressure on me though, because other people in there were talking strategy and set up. While I could only feel excitement and could not get a word in or out.
I went out and crashed. That had never happened to me before, Not in a rental race, not in this kart in the many times I drove it before I decided to enter a race. It was a new experience for me. It took me a couple of seconds to realise what happened. I just hoped the kart was ok so I could race. I dragged it out from the grass and it coughed in to life. So far so good. I stepped on the throttle and got it moving. Unfortunately it wasn't moving in a straight line and one wheel was barely touching the track. I had to brake for the next corner and as soon as I touched the brake the kart spun around. It was in a worse than bad state. It was absolutely underivable and I feared it was done for.
I got it back to the pits and people who knew what they were doing said it was damaged, but it was fixable. Fortunately we got some help from the same people to get it back to how it was. Unfortunately it took so much time that I missed every practice session.
The track felt completely different, because it had so much more grip now. Furthermore I was out on brand new tyres. I had never driven a kart on brand new tyres up to this point. I was two seconds off the pace compared to my laps on used tyres and I was 3.5 seconds off the pace compared to the kart in first. It is, I believe safe to say that I may have made a complete fool of myself.
Here I should explain that some kart races run qualifying races after the qualifying session. In the qualifying session you run against the clock. Whereas in a qualifying heat you run against the other drivers in order to determine your starting positions for both main races on the next day.
Qualifying heat races
Starting my first heat in ABSOLUTE DEAD LAST position. Never had I done a rolling start before so I had absolutely no ida how to do it. Me being a total idiot I had not once practiced that either. But not much to worry about, because I was last. Nobody could run in to the back of me at least. We do the warm up lap and head to the start-finish straight. The lights go out and I go backwards. I think everybody got on the throttle just as I was trying to figure out what to do next. As a result I lost quite a lot of ground. Fortunately for me someone broke down so I managed to catch on to the back of the queue. I spent about 5 laps trying to not be last with no positive result. Then I thought I was not brave enough and went on the inside at a hairpin. DONE. I WAS NOT LAST ANYMORE.
I think at that point everyone that I had dragged to the tack with me stopped feeling so ashamed. They even got a phone out and started filming. As a result you can see this video of my second ever in race overtake.
By the end of that heat I had managed to hold on and finish two positions from the bottom of the list. Three if you count the guy who broke down.
For the second heat race I was starting three positions up from last. But that rolling start was something I was still afraid of. Warm up lap done. Pedal hard down. YES! I GOT IT! I AM WINNING! Yes, you guessed it, it was a false start. Everyone slowed down, apart from me. I did think for a split second I would be in first place come the first corner. Although as you read there were good reasons for my "ballistic" start. Second time around. Same old story. Lights go out and I go backwards. In last I am again. I took two positions. The most I could hope for as those guys also ran old karts. But two laps from the end my brakes started feeling funny. They would not slow me down properly and I thought they stuck on the straight. When I initially said that, everyone thought that I was just making excuses. Then they saw the brake pads that were entirely consumed by the brake disk. These were new pads that were installed at the start of the day. So I wasn't making excuses, the brakes were odd.
End of that day
The realisation at the end of that day was that I was in no shape to run a 20 lap race. I mean no tub of lard can run 20 laps in a race kart. The situation was such that when I got on the scales after each session nobody though I could cheat. There was no way anyone in the world could take so much weight off the kart that I wouldn't bring back onboard.
Meanwhile a couple of people had a look at my brakes and gave their expert opinion that they needed more fluid. Done. We added more. problem fixed. We then went off to fix the turbo on my VW Golf and to eagerly await race day.
I think that was the only day in my life in which I felt like a morning person. I woke up. Got up. Breakfast. Race track. In the morning warm up session the brakes still felt funny. They did stop me, but had no feel in them and the pedal felt spongy. It was the master cylinder. The seals in it had gone. They picked the best time to do so as well. There were none of those seals available anywhere in the country as well. So there were two options. Either I play it safe and not race. Or on account of me not being able to fund another race weekend for a long time. RACE! You're right I decided to race.
Somehow I was starting in the middle of the grid in 5th. Penalties for the top drivers meant I was starting in front of them. But I had no business being there which was shown to me as the lights went out and I ended up in last. AGAIN. My Mychron 3 timing system from the stone age also decided to stop working. But I bravely soldiered on. Brakes becoming worse by the corner. I caught up to the person in second to last. For 10 laps we were no more than half a second away from each other. Unfortunately I could not overtake, because my bad brakes meant I could not outbreak anyone in to a corner. So a new tactic became a reality. Go on the outside of a flat out corner and end up on the inside for a heavy brake zone. To this day I do not know how I did that as I was scared to just take the corner itself flat out, never mind with another kart on my inside. Have a look and see for yourself. My girlfriend said she did not take more pictures of the overtake, because it seemed like I was out of control and things would end up in a crash.
Well, they didn't I was in front. And somehow and I still don't know how I managed to block for 10 more laps and finish not in last. I must say I was so caught up in blocking that I also may have block the leader once or twice when they were trying to lap me.
Yes, you guessed it. Same old story. A second in to the race and I was in last. This time my brakes were so bad that the brake distance in to the first corner became twice as long. I needed 8 laps to catch on to the person in second to last position who was having some sort of misfire as well. for 5 laps I could not see any way to get past. Then the leaders came by to lap us. Seeng the blue flag /Vettel's favourite/ I thought I could make this situation work in my favour. So I let the leader lap me as I was going in to a corner and had no hope in the world of proper braking and corner entry, because of my shot brakes. Me and the leader both came out of the corner relatively close to each other. The blue flag was shown to the guy in front who was also being lapped, but fighting with me as well and he slowed to let the leader go on the straight. I slipped through behind the leader. I got the position. I was so happy that my plan had worked. That was so good I thought. Let's just finish the thing now.
Apparently my brakes had other ideas. Going in to the fastest corner on track I went for the brakes and NOTHING. How they went from useless to absolutely absent in 5 seconds I do not know. Neither do I know how I managed to take the corner. But I somehow did. After just about half race distance I was left with absolutely no brakes. I tested them again and again but there was no response. I was left with no option but to retire the kart.
I have to say I felt so let down and sad about it. Even if I ended up in last I wanted to try and finish the last race, but I could not. There was no chance that I could manage that with no brakes at all.
To this day that is my one and only top level race. I have not managed to get the funds together to participate in more events. I did however manage to sell my old Rotax Tony Kart and with the cash from that bought myself a KZ kart. Which I use just for fun. I figured that if I was not going to race, then why not have a gearbox kart if only for fun.
But about the race and what it meant to me. It really meant a lot. Ever since I could remember I wanted to race. I had done so in rental races, but as fun as they are they weren't like this one. This race had a sense of occasion to it. There were people in the stands clapping when we lined up. There were people cheering when we racing. I could hear my friends and my girlfriend cheering me on when I went for that overtake around the outside. That is. I don't know if I could really hear them or if they were just in my head. But for me being a part of that race was magical. At the time I did not realise how good this race would stay in my memory and how fond my memories would be. Back then I did not want to let myself down so I wanted to be in front or at least not last when I realised how off the pace I was. I was mad about the brakes. I was mad about not being physically fit enough to give it my all for all the laps.
But now I realise it was my first ever professional race and I had people at my side who matter to me. I experienced the thrill of a proper race. Granted it was not at Spa or Monza, but it was my local track. It was at a track at which I had gone to see many such races and hoped to be in one someday. I had spent 10 years in the stands hoping to participate. I now had done that. Moreover, I had funded the entire thing myself and bought the kart myself. I may be classified as a DNF in the records, but I am glad I did it.
I only hope that one day I can again have the disposable income to go DNF again. It is just a pure happy memory and I had it for my birthday.
On the 20th of May that is.