Warden Law 2009 Thunderkart – Sodi World Series

Brock, Craig IMG_5137
Series Champion Craig Brock

As licence numbers reduce the costs of karting is put forward as one of the reasons for this, and whilst this could well be a strong factor, another reason could simply be due to the number of new people coming into the sport.  Part of this is the ‘Lewis Hamilton’ factor, with fresh punters thinking they might be the next ‘Lewis’, before finding the hard way that they do not have the ability, and so do not renew for the following year.

Combined with this is the other potential problem, which is where most club meetings these days tend to be of a Super One standard anyway, so a raw novice is going to be literally blown away by the sheer pace of his fellow drivers.  There can be few things more disheartening to a beginner than the thought, as you are lapped for the second time in a 15-lap race, “I will never be able to do that!”  Cue one more inexperienced leaver from the kart ranks.

One alternative though to see if a driver has what it takes ‘to cut the mustard’, as ex-F1 racer Mark Blundell had a tendency to say, is to start small and think big later.  At best the driver can end the year thinking they might have what it takes to do well, and at worst realisation that F1 is always on television on a Sunday, but that a good time was had anyway as those illusions of greatness became a memory.

In 2009, with injury confining me to the fences, I had the opportunity to view up close and personal, the joys and sorrows of the leading drivers in the 10-race Warden Law Sodi Series using 390cc Thunderkarts.  Only three drivers out of the 49 who took part completed all 10 rounds to earn bonus points.  Given the close racing and talent on offer, it was no surprise that those three finished in the top three places, but the reality was that any driver in the top six could have potentially taken the title in 2009.  Most of them showed race-winning pace during the year, as well as taking part in the new RX250 series, for which drivers needed prior race experience before being allowed to do so anyway.

The title went down to the wire, with Craig Brock taking the series ahead of Daniel Laws.  Craig had been consistently quick from the opening race, and is likely to look at moving mainstream in 2010.  “Obviously my biggest competitor was Dan and with a little more luck he would have had this championship. Dan drove extremely well in the heats, but luck did not go his way in the finals. I would say most of his points came from the heats. Apart from that Simon is very fast and difficult to get past, Marino (Pili) was very determined as was James (Hayden).
One of the problems during the year was the luck of the draw in kart allocation, which Craig was all too well aware of.  “In terms of the karts they were very frustrating at times. I found that at the start of the championship, and at the end were the worst. During the middle they seemed to be very similar. I am sure many would have wished for more wet races.  I was glad we only had one and a half otherwise I would have been in the bottom 10!
Forced to settle for the runner-up position, Daniel Laws would have had reason to be dejected, but remained positive.  “I think it goes without saying that my best race had to be the first heat in November; it was wet all day!  I love to race on slicks in these conditions, and feel I have the measure of most people, but that may be due to my ‘extra’ traction.  As for my worst, I have had many!  I’m the first to admit to making a lot mistakes this season, but the pressure of racing against these other guys stretched me beyond my ability. But I have to also say that I was sometimes involved in other peoples incidents.

“As for my fellow drivers last season (2008) I think it would be fair to say there were only 3 or 4 decent drivers, but 2009 has been much tougher.  Marino (Pili) seems to be able to take his driving to a level higher than me.  Dylan (Atkinson), Simon (Marshall), James (Hayden), Simon (Levers), Tony (Little) and his son Paul, have all been very difficult to beat.

“As for the champion… this has been his first full season racing, and I didn’t know what to expect from him early on.  I led the first half of the season and was fully expecting to lose my lead to him, and Marino and James, but the latter two missed a few races each, giving me a little breathing space. But I will hold my hands up and say that I CANNOT match the pace of these guys in the dry, and that had James and Marino done the full season I would not have finished up second!  Craig has been very fast and very consistent all year and fully deserves his title.
“As for my plans for next year I’m not fully convinced the Thunderkart challenge is the way forward the karts are now very tired, and well used!  The November race was shocking to have 3-4 karts at least three seconds a lap faster then the rest of the field. Maybe for 2010 I try the RX250’s or a one off in CLUB 100 – trying new things is maybe the way forward for me.”
James Hayden represented Karting Magazine in his first year of racing.  He missed the opening race and another two besides, but he was soon on the pace, and won his first race by June.  He also tried his hand in the RX250’s, winning the first ever final held in the UK, before setting a new lap record in the RX250 enduro at Whilton Mill later in the season.

“The figures show,” James said, “that no matter what kart I drew I was usually the fastest on that particular kart.  My mistake was not always starting from the front, so I had to put up with a lot of defensive driving in the finals, which was always frustrating.  Had I done a full season I would have been in the top three, which would have been OK for a first year.  I think Marino was probably my closest rival in 2009, but both Dan and Craig were also quick, although RX250 or Daytona Max is the way to go in 2010.”

Simon Marshall: From a personal perspective I have certainly thoroughly enjoyed the season and it has given me a real desire to do something more.
In terms of my best race I guess November would probably have to be the one. Didn’t win the final in the end but put up a pretty good performance all in all, shame it was the last race of the season!
I have to confess to finding the kart disparity quite frustrating at times as I am sure others did. Certainly the early part of the season it was a real problem and even towards the end the races were always a bit of a lottery with the karts generally shaking themselves into order of performance through the heats. This invariably meant that if you had a good kart in the heats then you stood a good chance of being at the front in a good kart in the final, or the opposite of this, as happened to most over the season. Arguably this levelled out over the season but it didn’t always feel that way! The organisation and fairness of the draw wasn’t always spot on but I guess overall not too bad, certainly the staff were both friendly and helpful which is always a bonus!
In terms of the racing I think it was of a very high standard overall. Obviously there were and always will be differences of opinion or “Racing incidents” but on the whole I was very impressed with all the drivers both on and off track.

“Congratulations to Craig for winning,” was Marino Pili’s first comment, although his last race in November “was my worst race definitely, when the kart disparity was horrendous and I finished the championship on foot when I thought I could have been challenging Tony for 3rd or even Dan for 2nd overall.  I feel, however, that all of us up there were a really good bunch and have had a great time racing one another. Perhaps if we all took part in all races we all would have had even a better time.

“Thunderkarts is becoming a proper championship and not just a Sunday race for random punters to give it a go, so better equality of equipment is needed, otherwise I’ll certainly be looking for something more challenging than the frustration of random kart disparity.  So for next year, I would perhaps be interested again with the current karts, but would need to think long and hard.  With a new fleet and the opportunity to race against the same bunch again I would be there with bells on!!
Inevitably in an ‘arrive-and-drive’ series the equipment is going to be used and abused by other corporate events, which would have a knock-on effect to the more serious drivers, but it was clear in 2009 how it served some people rather well.  At least six of the drivers who took part in Warden Law’s Sodi Series, demonstrated the skill to make their presence felt in other classes of the sport.

If they were subsequently able to make a move into RACMSA racing, it is unlikely they would fall into the ranks of one-hit wonders, and that is surely the point of picking up experience at this level, and not making the mistake of taking on the Super One drivers at club level.  That can be left for later…

The front-running competitors