We Won!

I’m hoping to post a little more frequently from now on, especially with the 2007 F1 season just a couple of weeks away.

Meanwhile, here’s the story of our race on 20th January 2007. It’s a long story (and a long race) but I hope you find it interesting, and it’s good for me to have a record of days like these. I’ve actually had this ready to post for some weeks, but a problem with Blogger.com prevented me from including the lap-times and photos, so I put off posting it until now.

On Saturday 20th January, Colin, Kaz and I won the Open Team Enduro kart race held at a 900m local kart circuit, helped to some extent by my wife Blanche (Race Director, let’s say). It was our first race together. This post covers the race in detail, as I remember it a few weeks later.

We hadn’t really expected to win. I know that’s a bad attitude, but Colin has never raced before, and although Kaz has raced at this circuit before, it was years ago and he only had one practice session when we met here a few months ago.

I’ve had plenty of practice on this circuit, but never raced here, and I don’t have much experience passing other cars; something a hoped this race would put right – and it did.

[Sorry, media missing] Before I go into the race in detail, I thought it would help to show you the post-race classification. You already know we won from the title of this post, but this list shows just how much overtaking and lapping we did.

There were 14 teams of three or four drivers each. We finished first (position 01), in car 12 (Team 12), on lap 115, after 1 hour 30 minutes. On the same lap were car Team 4 and Team 14. Next, and 4 laps down was Team 8.

We lapped the other cars between 4 and 38 times – 38! We lapped cars a total of 219 times in the 115 lap race, on a circuit nearly a kilometre long.

We decided to go for two stints each of 15 minutes to keep us fresh, although it would cost us time in extra stops.

Colin wanted to go out second, Kaz third (to get the glory of the chequered flag, we joked), so I would start the race. For safety, and to make the starting positions randon (and fairer), the race would start immediately after the practice.

For practice Kaz went out for the first five minutes, then Colin, then me.

Race control would run practice until the 15 minutes were finished, then waive Union Flags to start the race. I was trying to keep plenty of space in front of me for the start of the race, but in hindsight I should have just gone as quick as possible. I first saw the union flags about half way through a lap.

[Sorry, media missing] These are lap-by-lap charts showing the lap number, lap-time, and position at the end of the lap (in square brackets). The ^ symbol indicates a slow lap.

I crossed the line to start the race in 10th position. My wife Blanche has said that I’m not aggresive enough when overtaking, so in this race I had decided to go for every opportunity. It was great, I had never passed so many cars so often.

The plan was that when it was time for a driver change, the next driver would go to the pits, and the spare driver would go to the hairpin by the pit entry and hold out a board with the car number on. The problem was that that’s the most important corner on the circuit. It’s at the end of the technical part of the circuit, it’s an overtaking place, and you need to get it right for the long straight after it. Add to that the fact that most of the other teams were standing there too, and it was very difficult to see your board when it was time to come in.

Colin was ready in the pits and Kaz waving the board for a few laps before I saw him. After that, I did one more lap and pitted. Out I got, grabbed the seat liner, and Colin got in. Kaz adjusted the pedals (Colin’s a bit taller that I am), and Colin was off. Pretty slick!

“Are we winning?” I said confidently, having passed many cars. “No, we’re 4th” said Kaz. As you can see, I pitted after 18 laps, and we were leading, but when Kaz and Colin last looked at the monitor before calling me in, we were fourth (or third). I didn’t realise until posting this that I was leading at that point.

Let me clarify; my name is Colin, and my freind and fellow driver’s name is Colin. The other driver was Kaz. Confusing, I know.

[Sorry, media missing] So ‘other’ Colin went out for his first stint. Pit-stops take about 30 seconds in total, partly because the pit exit is partway down the longest straight and you lose a lot of time accelerating.

Colin was doing great! He was going past car after car. It doesn’t look like it from this lap list because he was lapping cars rather than making up places until lap 26.

This is when I made the first of three mistakes that day. “I’m going to give him some encouragement” I said to Blanche. “Don’t do anything to put him off” she said. I walked up the barrier and gave him two thumbs-up as he went round passed at the hairpin. I walked down to race control to see the race-position screen, then I heard Blanche shout “Colin (me)! (Other) Colin’s in the pits!” He’d seen my signal and thought it was time to come in. I ran back towards the pits and waved him out again. It cost us a place and 30 seconds. Sorry guys! As usual, Blanche was right.

Colin continued to lap many cars and made back the place I had lost us too. He missed the pit-board a couple of times too. When he came into the pits after 40 laps, we were 3rd.

It was a quick pitstop. We had got the hang of it now. I didn’t know before the day that they would have pit-boards, so I had made up a sign to hold out to bring the driver in. We ended up using this sign on the start-finish straight, and the pit-board at the hairpin, but it’s still hard to see them when you’re concentrating on passing other cars.

[Sorry, media missing] Kaz seemed very quick to me, especially into the right-left at the end of the start-finish straight. I’m sure the slow laps from 46 to 49 were not his fault. The marshalls did a great job with the yellow flags, and there were quite a few during the race. You can see from lap 45 that Kaz is no slouch.

By now, there were three teams clearly ahead of the rest; us (car 12), car 14 and Car 4.

Although he seemed fast, he seemed to have quite a clear track a lot of the time. He was making short work of overtaking back-markers. It wasn’t until his last flying lap (61) that he made up two race positions to put us in the lead.

[Sorry, media missing] I was up next for my second and final stint.

I’m a little shorter than Kaz and Colin, so in addition to the seat liner (booster cushion as Blanche calls it), I flip the pedal extensions over when I drive. I didn’t know it at the time, but there are three settings (or more) on the pedals; regular (no extensions), short-arse (that’s me), and dwarf! As I went out of the pits, I realised something was wrong because my left pedal was too close.

Going down the back straight I reached forwards to flip the pedal extension out of the way; I’d rather have to stretch than have my leg in that bent position. Doing this I must have moved the steering wheel because when I looked up I was about to drive off the track at over 50 mph.

I carried on for again for a lap. At the end of the back straight, the fastest part of the circuit, there’s a dip called Devil’s Drop where you almost (or maybe actually) take off. As soon as you land, you dab the brake for the fast right hander. I went to hit the brake but forgot it was about 2 inches (5 cm) further away than normal. That amount of extra travel for my foot makes a lot of difference when you’re already braking at the last moment, and I was heading off the track.

Braking harder to slow myself, and turning right into the corner put me into a 180 degree spin and I ended up going backwards into the barrier. That’s unusual for me. I think it only cost me about 4 seconds though (lap 65). That was mistake number two for the day.

A few laps later, I was using my new-found ‘take-every-opportunity-to-pass attitude’ when patience would have been better. Taking a late lunge into a slow corner, the car to to my right couldn’t see me and turned in. To avoid him, I went up on the kirb and spun 180 degrees again. Cars were now passing me on the apex, and I couldn’t get going again until they passed or I would have cause an accident. Mistake three for the day cost me 4-5 seconds on that lap, but another lesson had been learned. It actually cost me time on the next couple of laps too, as I re-took the cars that had passed me.

A few laps later though, I’m pleased to see three consecutive laps where my times were very good and consistent. I got the fasted lap of the race on lap 73 with a time of 41.64 seconds, then 41.76 and 42.13. That’s the sort of consistency I like to acheive in practice sessions. Then, unfortunately, it was time to pit. I had made up one race place, but we lost that again in the pits.

[Sorry, media missing] Colin had another good stint. He immediately gained a place and a few laps later took the lead. I’m sure he didn’t know it at the time, and I wasn’t going to give him any more hand gestures!

I think Colin had more than his fair share of traffic. He had a couple of laps in the 43s (his fastest of the race), but was slowed by traffic most of the time.

It was early in Colin’s session that I began to think “We could win this”.

We had perfected out pit-stops by now. The next driver would go to the pits and the spare driver would walk (run) down the start/finish straigt and hold out my sign, waving it like a lunatic to try to get the attention of the driver. Blanche (the only one not in a race-suit) would be at the hairpin with the pit-board to double our chances of the driver seeing a signal to pit. On lap 93, Colin came in and Kaz went out for the last time.

[Sorry, media missing] Team 14 and Team 4 had been our main competition all day. Still lapping slower cars, Kaz soon picked off Team 14 to put us in second place. A few laps later he passed Team 4 and we were winning. He was flying. His lap-times, as you can see, were quick and consistent.

Consistent was good, but quick was worring me. He had no way of knowing he was in the lead, so he was still going flat out. I didn’t know how many much time was left in the race either, but Kaz had a good margin over the second place team. I wished we had pit-to-car radio or proper pit-boards so I could tell him to ease off and not risk a spin. But, he didn’t make any mistakes, and he took the chequed flag.

We had won, on our first outing as a team. Hand-shaking and back-slapping all round.

[Sorry, media missing] Race control came out to hold the podium ceromony. “Team two, you were crap” said the MC, and the lap sheets were handed out. Then the third place team took to the podium (polite applause all round), then the second place team (more polite applause), then us on the top step.

I don’t remember much polite applause for us, and people started backing away as Colin shook the champagne bottle. Even crap champagne tastes good when you’re a winner.

[Sorry, media missing] Here are a few more figures to wrap things up. This shows the fastest lap of the race, by me, on lap 73. It shows the average lap time of all the teams, so we should be pleased with the times above.

It also shows the Top Average Speed, and Average Speed. I thought the Top Average Speed would be the speed at which the fastest car crossed the line, but it’s not. I’ve done the maths, and the Top Average Speed represents the average speed I was travelling for the whole fastest lap, including corners. This track has a series of slow corners, yet the average speed for the fastest lap is 48.4 mph! The speed of an average lap is 42.7 mph.

The Average Laptime of 47.16 seconds is all the laps completed by all the teams, averaged out. Comparing this with our lap-by-lap times, and the whole team did well.

[Sorry, media missing] Thanks to Colin, Kaz and Blanche for being such great team-mates, and thanks to you for reading.

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