Being as Ive never been to Ellough Park before, every lap I do is valuable information to me. This is not the day to have mechanical hiccups or problems of the sort. This day is all about learning the track and adjusting the set up accordingly.
The day started off dry but it began to rain making track conditions extremely difficult. After bending both my side pods in a spectacular display of complete lack of control, I made sure that mechanics Steve and Marlon had plenty of work to do between sessions. The constant switch between slicks and wets just added to the stress and strain of the day.
With one more session to go and with the track sufficiently dry, I bolted on a brand new set of slicks to at least give myself the confidence that I could do reasonable times. The defending champion Pittingale is in devastating form and he is setting times within the high 45s mark. The rest of the field are posting times within 46-48s. Time to get serious. Head down, right foot planted and on my final lap I post a time of 46.8. Relief doesnt quite express my emotions after posting that time after the day I had.
Back at the hotel and I’m exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open and my body has taken a beating throughout the day. The right side of my neck and my forearms are aching too from the sheer physical force of driving the kart. I need to get fitter. Physical fitness is as important to the karter as it is to a F1 driver and although Ive been concentrating on losing weight, I havent been focusing on stamina and endurance…
Signing on and the drivers briefing gets underway on Sunday and I’m feeling different today. No longer do I feel stressed and under pressure. I feel like the one with nothing to lose. Its my first season and in reality theres no expectation. Only that which I put on myself. Due to the number of drivers involved (34 drivers to be exact) the organisers informed us that there would be an A Final and a B Final, decided by times in Qualifying. First objective, get into the A!
With the very real and present danger of not qualifying for the As I’m back under pressure as I desperately dont want to drop to the Bs. I stay out for the entire 12 minutes and I’m pushing every lap. My times are high 47s Surely thats not good enough. I then remember advice from the Team Chief Carson…
Dont over drive it I start to brake a little earlier. Turn a little smoother and on my final lap, yes, my final lap, I post a time of 47.05s. Ive made it into the A by the skin of my teeth! Ill start my first ever race in 21st position out of 23 drivers in the A. Apart from Barney Pittingale and William Smith the rest of the A field is only separated by 1s This is going to be a competitive championship.
In my heat and prefinal I has some good battles with the regular drivers and I was able to claw myself into 14th position for the A Final. But then all those things which were bothering me had gone away. I feel focused. I’m imagining the start inside my head. I’m visualising other drivers manoeuvres at the start and what I can do to capitalise on it. I’m imagining making a great start and where I’m going to go should this happen. Im planning for the worst and start thinking about what I’m going to do if everyone gets a better start than me.
The rolling up lap for the final is faster than I anticipated. The engines sound like growing lions waiting to pounce. We roll up to the start finish line, the Union Jack is waved and all 25 engines roar into life. The sound is deafening as we power our way towards turn 1. I can barely see a thing with blue smoke pouring out of everyones exhaust as the oil burns off. Bits of karts fly up in front of my visor as I negotiate the turn.
Once around turn 1 we gaggle our way into turn 2. Were 3, 4 abreast heading into 2. I attack a driver on the inside and I hold it going into 3. Accelerate! Now back on brakes and turn left into the long left hander which has been the vain of my entire weekend. This is turn 4. It feels so slow Temptation to slam the accelerator back on is the worst addiction any driver can have. Plant the pedal too quickly and my kart will oversteer and will lose me speed heading into the fast left right complex. I allow my kart to drift a little wide onto the red concrete for better momentum into the fast left right section.
My kart grips like it hasnt done all weekend and I fly into the heavy braking section that is turn 7. I’m stamping on the brakes attempting to slow my machine down. Rear wheels locking and I throw it into the chicane for the short straight. Paranoid that there must be someone close behind, I defend into turn 9 and keep it tight. Back on the accelerator just in time to slam on the brakes as I try to carry plenty of speed through turn 10 for the run up back to the start finish line. Being as gentle as I can be with the steering wheel my right foot is hard down as I power my way along the straight.
With my data logging equipment failing I had no idea what times I was posting and how many laps I had completed, but I had actually got into 9th! Then, with two laps to go, David Jarvis slipped past me which caught me by surprise. I tried to retaliate and in doing so left the door open for Jim Rainbird to follow him through.
Id like to think that my kart had gone off, but, when you set your fastest time of the race on your final lap the truth sets in. I need to be fitter. With the shock and adrenaline of losing two positions in quick succession, I was able to pick my pace back up. However, as the highest placed Novice I did earn myself a trophy, which gave me something to smile about on the long journey home!