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Earlier this year I was invited to the British Universities Karting Championship finale at Clay Pigeon. It was of course the last round, the party, awards and on Sunday the annual Drivers Championships. What followed can only be described as a ‘unique karting experience’.
Arriving on Friday morning the first thing that hit me was the effort that had gone into presentation. The Clay Pigeon circuit had been covered with BUKC banners, there was a huge marquee that had been put up to host the party and the rest was tents and caravans. There were more tents than I have seen at any other kart meeting which gave it a sort of festival feeling.
Music was already going in the marquee, but on track it was business as the teams’ event was in full swing with the last round of the heats taking place.
As the third heat finished I got to see the first ever turnaround which is really where the Club100 staff, headed by John Vigor, came into their own. Now typically at the end of the heat you’d come into the pits but in BUKC (and I assume Club100) you stop on the start/finish straight all in an effort to shave a couple of minutes off the turnaround between races.
Drivers for the next heat, all ready to go, then came out onto the circuit and jump in the karts. Before getting into a kart all you need is some weights (to make sure your all on the same weight) and the correct transponder. With those on each driver it’s then made sure two people are ready to bump start the kart, the race does not go ahead until that happens.
That really did impress me on first view, but when I started racing myself I was even more impressed but we’ll come onto that a bit later.
So as we’ve touched on the karts used are Club100 karts. The karts are all exactly the same and use a Birel N35 chassis with a TKM BT82 115cc ‘Extreme’ 2 stroke engine. They use a Tillotson HL334b carburettor and Vega RH8 slick tyres (even in the wet!). This together gives them 18hp and they top out at around 15,000 rpm.
With the heats now coming to an end I was offered the chance to go out in the last one to get my first impressions of the kart so I suited up and headed onto the grid.
As I touched on earlier this was when I really was impresses with the organisation. I didn’t know too many people around but as I found my kart at the back of the gird two people I had never met before offered to give me a push at the start.
It was great as I didn’t even have to ask and being my first go in a TKM I had no idea what I was doing!
My first racing experience was well, hectic! It was everything you’d expect from a single make championship. Very close racing and lots of overtaking!
One thing that was especially hard was trying to come through the pack. In owner driver racing you can spot the front runners from team liveries so if they come past your usually reluctant to try a move straight back past. But in BUKC it is dog eat dog, you make a move on someone they’ll come straight back past.
In my first ever, perhaps helped by an incident or two, I managed to came through to 9th place from 35th on the grid!
The awards and party
With the main championship racing finished for the season the drivers did not wait around to start the end of season celebrations.
The marquee looked fantastic and you would’ve never guessed you were at a kart circuit. They had two DJ’s and a bar serving beers at just £2 a pint, what more do you need!
But before the party got underway it was time for the awards. BUKC had brought in sponsors to dish out some great prizes with Club100 being especially generous.
They had awards for Driver of the year, Female driver, Rookie, Most Improved, Team, crash, overtake (if you haven’t watched go and watch it now!) the list goes on.
But the one they all wanted to win was the BUKC Bandit of the Year, an award which has come more prestigious as years have gone by. There were certainly some entertaining entries but in the end the honours went to Andy Grant from University West of Scotland.
After that it was time for the legendary BUKC party where the students well and truly let their hair down. I must admit I can’t remember too much about the night except for lots of drinking, music and laughs!
On Saturday it was the final round of the Rookie Championship. Before the season starts there is a qualifiers event that takes place over the space of three days. The top 54 teams at the end go through to the main championships and the rest go into the Rookie’s. So not all teams in the rookies are complete novices to BUKC racing.
The rookie’s championship is run slightly different to the mains. Rather than having randomly drawn grids there is qualifying in the morning to set the grids for the day. This is to really prevent from any incidents as all the experienced people will be at the front and not so experienced people at the back.
However, the racing was no less entertaining. There were some really cracking races and more importantly not too many incidents.
I went out for one of the rookie’s races off the back of the grid in 35th. Everything was going great and I was quickly through to the top 10 before getting it all wrong at the hairpin and ending up in the tyres. Seems I was noticed by at least one team…
— UCLU Karting Club (@uclu_karting) April 2, 2016
But overall it was still a great chance for me to get more experience under my belt for the annual driver championships the next day.
If you spin or crash in BUKC you can not get out and try and restart the kart yourself! You have to wait until one of the pusher karts comes over and gets you going (always two pusher karts running.) A very good and safe system!
So Sunday came and the waiting was finally over, it was time for 2016 Drivers Championships!
What is the drivers championships?
The drivers championships is a one day event run at the end of every BUKC season which gives the chance for drivers to win on their own rather than as part of a team.
There are three classes for the day and they are: lights, heavy’s and graduates. Now the graduates, also referred to as grads, is a very interesting class as it see’s old BUKC drivers return to race old rivals. This year everyone was especially excited to see how ‘BUKC legend’ Will van Es was going to fare against the likes of Miles Murphy, Championship organiser Will Tew among many others!
The format is very traditional with two heats (randomly drawn grids) and a final. The really exciting bit comes later in the shape of the Super Final.
The Super Final
The Super Final is a brilliant concept which takes the top 10 from each class after the finals and puts them together for a one off 10 minute sprint. Grids are formed on finishing positions in the final with lights winner getting pole, grads winner 2nd and heavy’s winner 3rd. The grid then works it’s way down like so.
All grads and lights are forced to increase their weight to reach the heavy category which makes it a fully level playing field.
How I got on
I had a very mixed day in the drivers championships to say the least! Heat one did not go well. Off row three I could not quite find my rhythm in this intense competition and dropped down the order a bit. A post race penalty for contact didn’t help my case either.
Heat two was the polar opposite and I really managed to get some pace together! I came through from 24th to 3rd place and got the second fastest lap, it was the most fun I have had karting in years and I came off the circuit with a beaming smile on my face. A post race penalty for track limits dropped me to 8th but I wasn’t too bothered.
The real BUKC experience
I managed to qualify 19th for the A Final and knew there would be a lot of work to do but this was the race where I got what was described to me later as the ‘real BUKC experience’
After a bad start I ended up spending the race fighting with the same group of drivers and it took me a good 10 minutes to properly escape it. I had two or three incidents and a fairly big shunt with a driver spinning ahead of me.
It was manic but such good fun. I lost count of how many times I overtook but at the same time I was quite disappointed with my result. Later someone said to me “That’s the real BUKC experience.” It’s tough racing and takes some getting used to for some people.
The Super Final
What this did mean however was I could watch the Super Final which I was happy about. As the karts gridded up the atmosphere was almost like being at a World Finals. This was a one off race people have been waiting for all year and the feeling from the drivers was that it was going to be a do or die first lap!
What happened next was hugely entertaining and one that had the crowd cheering for lots of different reasons. Imagine mixing a boxing crowd and karting crowd together, well that’s what it was like!
You had all the uni’s cheering on their drivers and just generally hoping for some sort of drama.
The Final really did deliver and the full race report can be found here –
Club100 Karts review
Overall I thought the Club100 karts were really good. They are quick, light and not so grippy which makes it tricky at times but also means you can fun with it.
Certainly with the tyres the first few laps are where you have to be careful. I remember having a few big moments where I was perhaps being a bit too cocky so try not to let that catch you out. The Birel chassis felt very well balanced and I never had any problems with it and the engines are felt pretty equal to me too!
I think this is particularly impressive given the strain that’s put on the karts over the year with Club100 among other championships.
The best thing is that they are proper karts which can provide very close racing on a level playing field.
Would I go again?
Most definitely! There was something about BUKC which is something you’d struggle to find at any other kart meeting. Everyone is just there to have fun and it’s not taken too seriously. Some people certainly make a weekend of it off the track which I think also makes it a really laid back atmosphere.
After watching some of the racing Sunday I have already put my name down to race in the graduate’s class next year.
It was the whole weekend with the awards and party on Friday which has made it an event I certainly won’t be missing out on. I’d strongly advise anyone at Uni to do BUKC!
Written by Chris McCarthy
Images courtesy of Stu Stretton