Following last month’s first instalment of the Easykart Driver Programme Diaries – in which Cadet stars Ronan McKenzie and William Stowell noted their experiences of life as part of Birel’s ladder of talent – this issue sees 2009 Cadet champion (and now Junior star) James DeHavillande describe his visit to the Castelletto circuit near Milan. James also competed in a round of the Italian Easykart Championship and tested a works Birel/BMB KF3 kart.
Friday 23 July 2010
We arrived at the track at about 8.30am and found the Birel race truck and awning. Whilst the Birel staff were getting organised I went for a track walk – and the first thing I noticed, was just how sticky the racing line was. If you stood still for a couple of minutes, your shoes started sticking to the track – far more grip than we experience in UK racing.
Even this early in the day the heat was building and I was glad to get back into the shade. As a spectator, just walking around the paddock was quite draining – so as a driver it was going to be a physically testing day, when lots of fluids would be essential. Consequently, I drank about 4 litres of water each day. The track was also beside a lake, so mosquitoes were another issue to contend with – I was covered in bites.
The testing sessions were for 40 minutes per hour, so I had plenty of track time to fine tune my set-up.
Saturday 24th July 2010
First day of official practice. We checked out the opposition with our stopwatch and I seemed to be on the pace, so looked forward to the Sunday racing.
Sunday 25th July 2010
We changed to new tyres ready for the timed qualifying session. With 42 drivers entered for the junior class, qualifying was split into two groups. In the first session Dario Orsini recorded the fastest lap of 52.056 seconds, but as the second session got under way I found it difficult to find some clear air on the circuit and my best time was a tenth off Orsini’s. However, as I approached the start/finish line for my last lap, I dropped back to get some space and then put in a 50.047, which had the commentator screaming into his microphone. I had taken pole. The Birel management considered it to be an exceptional performance for my first race at the track and against the top drivers from the Easykart Driver Programme, who’d had previous experience at Castelletto.
I started from pole in the Pre-Final and led to the chequered flag. Unfortunately I was called up before the stewards. In Italy they use a speed camera and I had taken the pack across the line too fast. The stewards explained that as the pole man, it was my responsibility to control the starting pace and then gave me a 5 second penalty!
This put me on grid six for the Final. When we lined up, seven of the top eight drivers were from the EDP – I had some serious opposition.
As the lights went out for the start, I leapt up to 2nd place at the first corner but only held this position briefly before being smashed from behind and sent across the grass. A large bump in the ground sent me airborne before I crash-landed, nose first.
I was strapped onto a stretcher with a full, head-restraint and carried to the side of the track. It was too dangerous for the paramedics to cross the track whilst the race continued, but eventually they took me to the ambulance and doctor. From there, I was transferred to the local hospital for an X-ray.
With no broken bones, but feeling very battered and bruised, although otherwise OK, I was discharged.
Monday 26th July 2010
After a hot bath and a good breakfast, I declared myself ready for the KF3 test.
For the first session, I just had to do a few laps to ensure the engine reached the correct temperature and then came in to have some tape put over the radiator. After a couple more though, I had to pit because my back was causing a lot of pain. The Birel managers offered to re-schedule the test, but I said that I would rather carry on.
Gradually my lap times improved as I got to grips with the different driving style needed for the KF3 kart and the set-up moved towards the optimum. Unfortunately, the track closed before I could try one of the team’s full race engines.
Overall, I think they were pleased with my performances in the Easykart races and the KF3 test. Consequently, I’m now hopeful that I have done enough to justify a place in the factory Birel team.