Tuesday, 19 April 2011

My Pembrokeshire Karting Championships Debut!

I've loved F1 since I was about 9 years old. Watching Mansell Vs Senna in Grand Prix's throughout 1991 and 1992 alongside my father has made me a fan for life.

I've always loved karting. I guess the two are linked. Ever since I began watching the former, I enjoyed when possible, the latter. Be it on the little go-karts in Oakwood or the slightly larger ones in Heatherton or the real thrill of donning overalls and gloves at the indoor race track in Haverfordwest, the want to be the next Damon Hill, the next Mansell, was always something I craved.

Of course it was never going to happen and I never expected it too but that childhood fantasy could at least in small part be brought to life with those rare glimpses of speed on the karting tracks of Pembrokeshire.

Having done a fair but of karting when I could with my school friends as a teenager, I went nearly a decade without barely touching a kart. Then there was Kevin O'Connor's stag do in Eastbourne a few years back and the 12 or so of us had a Grand Prix session where we did heats, a semi-final and a final. To my surprise, I realised that I still had that aggression behind the karting wheel which I had when I was younger but now, with the contact lenses instead of the old glasses, I had one less thing to be inhibitive about. I did well and got through to the final 6 and finished a podium-shy 4th place. A good result fair play I felt!

So when my old school mate Luke contacted me some 10 days ago asking if I wanted to take part in the up-and-coming 3rd annual Pembrokeshire Karting Championships in Carew, on a Sunday which is my quietest day of the week and for just £35, I was unable to resist.

Pembrokeshire Karting Championships
Now I've never competed in any proper, organised motor racing championships. It's all, as written above, been for fun. But the prospect of at least, on maybe just this one occasion, taking part in a bone-fide competitive racing environment was something that I just had to do.
The Carew Karting Track

The fact that I'd never done something like this before was new. It being in Carew was even newer. For all my years as a child of attending various Carew Sunday Markets on the site of the old WWII air strip, I'd never actually driven around the 500m karting track there.

So Luke and I arrived on Sunday wondering exactly what it was we'd let ourselves into.

But we needn't have worried because what transpired was the well oiled machine of a well organised event now running in its 3rd year. In its first year in 2009 there were 3 race days. Last year in 2010 there were 4. This year, clearly demonstrating a growing interest, there are 5 rounds and this was to be the first of those 5 - with the series concluding 5th round in October.

An all-time record 23 competitors arrived for the day and we were soon all suited out and ready to go. We knew that there was going to be some real tough competition because a number of those who turned up did so with their own karting overalls and helmets! No messing!

So on went the overalls, the gloves, the balaclava (that was a first!) and the helmet and we were ready to go!

We were given a number of laps to acquaint ourselves with the track but I, typically, far too hot headed for the moment found myself instantly in 'race mode'. So instead of testing the limits of my ability on the race track, I found myself going hell for leather and driving far too quickly down the back straight into the final double right-handed turns 8 and 9. Because I was trying too hard too early, I found that I hadn't mastered that final double-hander until much later on in the day and even then I'd have a few to many spins there for my own liking.

After the practise laps, it was time for the real action. This action also required a new skill with which both Luke and I were unaccumstomed - the rolling start!

Across 16 heats, we all ran in 3 each with each heat lasting 10 laps each. Points were awarded for the various placings and those total scores when added up, as well as contributing towards the overall championship standings, also determined the starting places for the 3 (non-scoring) semi-finals with the top 2 in each of those qualifying for the round final where extra points are awarded.

My first heat wasn't great. I started it in 4th and I struggled with my over enthusiasm and inability to keep my foot off the throttle long enough to get around those last two bends. Spinning furiously, I kept losing time and ground on my rivals. Yet, I somehow managed to finish in 4th which must've meant that whoever was behind me was struggling even more than I was!

My second heat was even worse! Far from improving and getting to grips with where my braking points should be, I found myself continuing to make the same mistakes. I began the race in 2nd but after a poorly judged lunge down the inside on the first corner of the rolling start, I found myself well down the positions and more mistakes soon relegated me to a poor and distant 6th and last position for the remainder of the heat. Talk about frustrating! Yet, that frustration must've had some benefit because amidst this poor showing, I managed to clock up what would be my fastest lap of the day in this heat - a lap of 24.57 seconds as opposed tot he quickest of the day of 22.92. The winner of the fastest lap for each round gets additional points and the overall fastest lap winner at the end of the season wins the Fastest Lap Challenge.

The 3rd and final heat saw me competing on much better terms. I began in 3rd and made a decent start before what I presume was a shunt into me from behind which tipped me surprisingly high considering that I was in a kart! But despite being knocked about a fair bit in the collision, I managed to extricate myself from the melee that followed behind us to get back underway having only lost one place. I then dealt with myself in a much more measured way and found that my now 4th place became relatively secure. I finally mastered that final double right-hander and finished what I felt was a very creditable 4th, with a more than reasonable margin over the two who were behind me. What did frustrate me however was that the 3 in front of me slowly drew away and I struggled to keep up with their pace. But in terms of consistency and actually mastering the circuit, this was a good result.

So with the points accumulated, I started my semi-final in 7th out of 8 but thankfully there were no points to be awarded here because my perfomance was abysmal! For all the good work I'd done in the final heat, it was as if I hadn't learned anything come the semi-final! I was spinning into that infernal final double right-hander left, right and centre and I finished a poor last!

The Championship Standings after
Round 1 of 5
I wasn't expecting to make the final of course but performing so lously in what I knew would be my final race of the day did irk me!

Luke meanwhile, scored one point more than me in the heats and finished a very credible 5th in his semi-final. He certainly showed some of that raw aggression that he always had as a teenager.

So overall, I must say that I didn't disgrace myself and that's a good enough start for me! For my first such competitive ride, an overall finish of 19th out of 23 is no bad shakes! Luke finished in 17th and in the Rookie of the Year competition we were placed 10th and 8th respectively out of 14.

Round 2? Bring it on!
So we now have 4 more rounds of the championship to navigate. The next is in June and I'm looking forward to it! Having now given it a go, I can now set myself reasonable targets from which I can judge my progress. I want to be able to prove that I can be more consistent and in doing so, set faster lap times.

No doubt Luke will say the same!

So my debut has been made and though I've still, 2 days later, got the bruises and the aches and pains to prove it, it was bloody good fun!

Michael Schumacher I am not. But Ralf Schumacher? Well, maybe indeed!


  1. A great day! Roll on June 12th! My aim is a top three in one of the heats and an extra 4 or 5 points overall to my total!

    Cant wait!

  2. Welcome aboard Guys.
    Keep pushing and see this year through until the end.

    Regards from Jeff (wannabe Button!)

    Do you feature in any of the following movies taken at the race last Sunday?