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Being asked to go and race at Whilton Mill felt like going back in time for me. Okay so it wouldn’t’ be in the Rotax karts I was used to, instead it would be in the Sodi RT8’s powered by a single 390cc engine. And we would be racing on a wet Monday evening in what is a very slickly run event with races coming at you thick and fast.
On my arrival to Whilton the rain had just started to fall and as we parked up the car there were no awnings to be seen around the usual paddock. Instead there were 30-40 cars and drivers were making their way down towards race control.
Walking into race control it felt like a trophy presentation was about to start with drivers gathered round. Everyone was taking the chance to have a catch up so I went over and signed in and waited for the drivers briefing. The briefing itself was very laid back, but the organisers explained everything in detail and took no assumptions that everyone knew what they were doing.
They asked first timers to stay back for a few extra words whilst everyone else waited for the grids.
NKL is quite a simple format to be honest. You have five minutes of practice before you go straight into your first heat. There are four heats in total with each driver taking part in two each and once the points are collated there is an A and B Final. The top sixteen qualify straight through to the A, with two drivers coming through from the B.
A sheet posted up told me which kart I’d be in for practice and where I’d start for the first heat which would follow immediately afterwards.
As I got into the kart for the first time the rain was now starting to come down pretty heavily and on slick tyres I knew just five laps was going to be a challenge! Before all that I adjusted my pedals and sit to make sure I was sitting comfortably, all of which was explained in the briefing. I had done my research before coming to compete and knew some of the names who’d be at the sharp end so I immediately let some quick drivers through to try and pick up some lines and braking points.
Now the things I immediately picked up were that you need to stay completely off the racing line (using kerbs is not allowed!) and you can’t brake too heavy as it’ll unsettle the kart. Instead use your weight and front tyres to slow you down for the corner. Turn five is one place you can use the racing line, just come off the power and let the kart slide through the corner.
Hitting the brakes too hard will see the kart thrown completely sideways and by the time you’ve gathered back together you’ve missed the turn in point. One thing you also have to remember is you down not have the torque or power a Rotax / X30 engine has. So don’t slow the kart down too much, it wasn’t until the final I realised that was where I was losing pace to the others.
So back to practice, despite only five minutes I managed to finish 3rd in the times which I was really happy with! However, I knew the race would be a whole new challenge as I had done no overtaking in practice.
The start of the first heat was definitely a tad messy with karts sliding into each other but from what I saw everyone got through and I managed to hold onto my 9th place. From there I never overtook one kart but ended up in 4th.
Yes, it’s very strange but believe me overtaking is very difficult in the wet so as others tried and failed I picked up the pieces and rolled home in a solid 4th place.
Next up was heat two and going off the same grid spot the start this time was not so successful. Coming down the hill towards turn six a collision left the road blocked and I had nowhere to go except the grass which dropped me right to the back. From there I made a few places back and thankfully that combined with a 4th was enough to see me through to the A Final.
After my second heat I had a bit of rest time before the final with heat four and the B final to be run first.
What the competitors think
This gave me some time to speak to drivers about the championship and pick up some tips for the final. I spoke to some veterans of the championship along with some newbies and the general feedback was very positive.
It seems the championship have worked very closely with the competitors to make it enjoyable and competitive. The grids are very good so no matter how experienced you are I wouldn’t expect to walk in and clean up. You have the likes of Ronan McKenzie who is a former Whilton Mill club champion in the Junior Max class competing along with top DMAX, Club100 and CovKartSport racers.
When asking for tips the main response I got was that going fast, especially in the wet, takes practice. For me, it’s a whole new style of driving that I’ve never experienced before and it’d certainly take me a couple rounds to be right up the sharp end.
But the fact everyone was so open and friendly and having a laugh about on track action really strips back everything that has become attached to racing. It certainly didn’t have a ‘stag do’ feel, but you could tell as much as everyone wanted to win they were also enjoying it and enjoying each others company.
However, before too long it was time to get ready for the final and I had lots of drivers wishing me luck along with fellow competitors.
I was going off the outside of row seven and just set myself a target of hanging with the peleton and setting a new PB.
Don’t use a tinted visor!
One tip for all drivers going is bring a clear visor with you. It started to get a dark as the final started and towards the end I was struggling to see. Especially through the boot where some clever person decided to blast their head lights into the drivers’ vision. So for all drivers heading to NKL definitely bring a clear one with you just in case!
The Final part two
Starting towards the back the start of the race wasn’t very frantic with most drivers roughly where they should be. There were a couple of quick drivers who came through via the B final so I didn’t decide to fight drivers too hard, instead I tried everything I could to improve on times.
For the first few laps I remained very much in touch, but I have to take my hat off to those drivers at the front as they were setting some astonishing pace! Making no mistakes they made everything just look so easy, I had some good battles for 13th and 14th place but in the end had to settle for 14th.
It was a shame the chequered flag came when it did as I felt I was really starting to find my feet, but then again the rain was falling again and no wetsuit was really starting to take it’s toll!
Between races I got a chance to and see behind the scenes of how the NKL live stream is made.
Every NKL round is filmed live on YouTube from practice 1, to the trophy presentation. It’s by no means a Sky Sports F1 setup, but NKL have been very clever in finding an affordable way to stream all the races live. They use three cameras with lots of graphics and live commentary to keep everyone informed of what’s happening at all times.
The quality of the videos themselves are good and Whilton is a perfect venue as it is a very open circuit so they can capture literally every corner. The views they get are quite impressive and they’re finding new ways to improve it every time. I popped in to commentate on one of the heats as it is something I do quite often and really enjoyed it.
I think it’s great NKL consider that to be very important. I think it can be easy to forget about videos, but the World we live in now means people can and want to watch things instantly!
NKL also post all the streams to YouTube meaning the drivers can watch them back and share them on their social media platforms.
For the last round NKL added in grid walks too!
Watch all my races from round six in the video below!
The competition is tough!
I was very impressed by the level of competition in the NKL series. There are some former MSA racers in there who had great success but also lots of top A&D drivers who were familiar names to me too.
I then had names who I hadn’t come across before passing me in the final so overall I must say you’re guaranteed a good race if you go no matter what your ability is like!
Overall I really enjoyed my experience at the NKL series. Okay the weather was terrible but I still had great fun and had some good races throughout the day. The karts all seemed even to me, the racing was clean and was run very slickly.
It would be good if there was a third heat, but running it on a Monday night means time is limited of course. However, importantly you get a good length final meaning if you are down the order you have time to work your way through the pack.
I’d definitely race NKL again and hopefully when I do it’s a dry evening.
Written by Chris McCarthy
Images courtesy of Slawek “zuzel” Piskorz