SNR is Saturday Night Racing. It's a racing tournament organized by GP Karting Nairobi at their track in Langata. My friend was racing and I'd told him I'd come watch him take on the track. I wasn't going to race anyway. When I got there it was still daytime and from experience I knew it would be a while before the race started. The first thing I noticed was the Monster Energy banners. That was something encouraging. Corporates getting on board any racing platform is a good sign and a means to organise even more events.
What's better than racing at night and seeing the exhaust of the guy in front glow and pop? Well, being in front of him.
Around 40 minutes before the start of the race, an opportunity to race came up and as any self-respecting gearhead would do, I suited up. I'd carried my driving gloves as my buddy wanted to use them but no shoes. The dailies would have to do. Immediately I was ready, I started speaking to a group of guys. I asked if they had done any karting before, No. They hadn't. They didn't even know this was a tournament, they thought it was an ordinary race that happens every Saturday night. They were wrong. I offered to walk them around the track and share some of what I knew. In the end, the more fun people around you have, the more fun you have.
People go for it
The karts here are not top karts, they'e not powerful and they're underwhelming to look at. They are rental karts that have engines changed from 160cc to 200cc for the race. To me, that's everything. The fact that there isn't much power means you not only carry speed to be fast but also to avoid getting bogged down. Any time that happens, you lose a lot. They make you a much better driver.
The entrants are not easy either. You go against former champions, people with even a decade of experience and people who although inexperienced have enough pace to cause an upset, there was even a KNRC driver. They don't come there to drive around. No prize money but pride alone is a great driving force. Puntastic.
This race was so tough in fact that my wrist is sprained, ribs bruised, hip bruised and my right knee feels off. Like I said, it's war.
The best part is, whether you're have the killer race instinct and want to win or just having fun, one race is a lot of track time for the money. 3k for around 40 laps. It's a bargain.
Qualifying and Heats
We started out as 16 drivers, the moment the first group went for qualifying, was hours before just 10 make it to the final. I was in the third group and by the time I went out, the fastest time was just under 35s. My qualifying kart felt good and after the three warm up laps, I was ready to go for it. You get three laps to crack a good time. The first lap didn't go too well, I touched a tyre just after turn one. I put my head down and decided to be as clean and fast as I could. It was a good call, I was fastest of the first three groups, basically 12 drivers.
That didn't last however. A driver in the last group did a laptime under 35s and the writing was on the wall. This was goin to be tough. the gaps were under a second between the top 7.
My first heat was not good at all. I had qualified first in the group of 8 but when my kart was tested, it took the driver into the tyres at turn three. Another way to say it couldn't go round left handers. The problem is, Turn three is a long corner with a late apex, normally I don't lift, now I had to lift and brake and fight understeer. Damage limitation. I finished second. Losing a position was guaranteed but managing to hang on for second was placating.
Drivers started going under 35 seconds regularly and Sam Karangatha even hit 33 in his second heat. I was stuck at 35. This did not look good.
The second heat was even worse and this would come to bite me. My kart felt fine but my pace didn't. I was hit by another driver in what was his third incident in one heat. Pushed to the tyres and dropped to third. I didn't have the pace to catch up after that. They were doing under 35 while I was still stuck with my crappy pace.
That means I qualified 5th. Not a problem if you get a good start. The flag dropped and we were off. My kart wasn't that good at the start but once it got going, it was a joy to drive. The grip was almost absolute, at least it felt like it. There was a crash at turn two which slowed me down a bit and the leading trio disappeared. I was chasing the entire time and managed to take down one of the guys ahead. The turn two incindent had brought the first person to do a 34 in the race in contention for the podium. He went on to win thee race with 34.789 average. Average!
I finished 4th in what I had hoped would be my first podium and in the process did three under 35s times. I guess we'll just have to see what happens next time. I might even make a video out of it.
Karting is fun and anyone who can, should try it. It's intense and you really have to fight to make positions. The feeling of the tail losing it and correcting on something so underpowered and still carrying the momentum is a thing of joy. I highly doubt I'll ever drive anything as exciting as a kart, in rental or race spec. It's just everything.