Written By: Grahame Butterworth
Wow what a Festival! Breathtakingly close racing, stunning overtaking, club drivers taking on the national champs, a massively spectacular crash and lots of smiling faces all round. An event to remember.
Despite the loss of the 4-stroke Senior class this year there were actually more entries than last underlining the continued growth of the TKM 2-stroke classes in both Juniors and Seniors.
Timed qualifying further reinforced the closeness of the classes with literally hundredths of a second separating the first few in each class and in all cases resulted in times within hundredths of a second of the qualifying times from last year. That’s also a good measure of the consistency of the Maxxis slicks of which more later.
The heats were close and the finals gave superb racing. The Junior Elite final produced an incredible race where a train of something like 10 karts swapped places and the lead almost corner by corner, and all without taking each other off. The best race I have seen for a very long time and full marks to Daniel Baybutt who managed to make his way to the front and then give it everything as the others battled behind.
Taking third in the race, and having been one of the front runners for the whole weekend, was Lewis Outten who is a club driver and currently leading the TKM Club Championship with two wins. His skilful drive against the top national names in the class won him the Bernie Turney award for an outstanding performance.
Among the Juniors were four 4-strokes over from the Isle of Man who had a great time racing in with the 2-strokes. Their equal performance really demonstrates how well the two different engine types can race together and I hope will encourage more of those engines back out onto the track.
In TKM Extreme two names appeared at the top of the sheets all weekend – Toby Sowery and Will Van Es. Sowery was fastest in quali and won every race including the final, but not until after the most monumental battle with Van Es. He also pulled the overtake of the century in the pre-final with a clever dummy and switch-back which won him a spontaneous round of applause around the track.
It was good to see a number of females taking part and doing well. Suzanne Gutzold from the Isle of Man came out tops among them with a third place in the Festival Juniors.
One of the other women drivers had a less happy finish to the weekend when one of the last heats for the Juniors saw a frightening crash. A kart spun going onto the TKM straight and a big pack following came out of Dan Wheldon corner unsighted to be faced with a backwards kart. It was like an explosion with karts, wheels, bodywork and bits flying everywhere.
Two karts were destroyed and in one of them was Jodene Newman who sat worrying still after the smash as the medical team raced to the scene. After lots of work she was taken to hospital and kept in overnight with back and neck concerns but released on Monday. Amazingly the rest were walking wounded. A lucky escape for everyone.
Now for anyone who has suggested that the TAG engine is not as fast as direct drive…think again. Shaun Abbott took delivery of a new Tal-Ko Veloce kart with his Extreme TAG engine and went straight out in qualifying to put in a time which put him on the front row for every heat. Partly due to lack of experience he had non finishes in two of his three heats. But…he still came through in the final from way down on the grid to take second place in the Festival. Those TAGs are the way to go and definitely not slow!
Sadly a couple of drivers who earned podium places were disqualified at scrutineering for having the top piston ring entirely coked in. It is one of those items which I hate to see and a good reminder that you must check that your rings are free when racing. It may seem picky – but the rule was introduced to stop the deliberate coking in of rings to give a performance benefit which some clever tuners were using to flaunt the regulations.
Sad too that several drivers were found to be underweight after qualifying and pre-finals. It is good to be as light as possible – but not under the limit of course. An extra kilo is a lot better to have than an exclusion from a race and waste of all that effort.
One other item which came up over the weekend was the engine fiche rule on the exhaust which can be miss-read as meaning the clever flex rings made by Tal-Ko are mandatory. They are not mandatory but are optional and there will be a slight tweak to paperwork to make this clearer.
Finally the Maxxis supported event really allowed the latest slicks used in the class to display their very best. In the Extremes for example after getting on for 100 laps of quali, heats, finals etc, the top drivers were all producing lap times within a hundredth or so of their quali times on new rubber. That’s an exceptional level of consistency.
And in Clubman, where they don’t have to use new control tyres but could if they wished, Daniel Mense who came second was on a set of old tyres discarded by a team from testing and bought for just £20 on Friday night. Oh and the winner started with second hand tyres too. A remarkable performance.
To cap it all off the event used the new Tag-Heuer timing system with drivers all loaned transponders for the weekend. It proved very popular, especially the ability to compare times over the three different splits on the track. It looks like the way forward.