As mentioned in my blog about this year’s Autosport Show, good friend of mine Nick Underwood of Tin Tops Uk took part in the Charity Kart race. I thought this would be a great opportunity for Nick to share his experience and invited him to write a guest blog for Trackside Views. He duly obliged and here it is:
As I came into the final corner I lifted, turned in and then got back on the power. After advice from my team mates and watching members of Alastair Rushforth Motorsport I was assured this was the quickest way through the corner. The kart behind me (which happened to be ex-Stig Ben Collins) had clearly decided that he was going to be using me as his brakes this lap. The resulting shunt sent me through the barriers and meant than any lingering hopes of a podium where well and truly gone. But there was so much more to my karting adventure which had started a couple of hours before.
The Autosport International show is the start of the UK motorsport year and one of its highlights is the charity kart race run by racing4charity in support of race2recovery. This year tintops.co.uk was lucky enough to have entered Team Tin Tops featuring top BTCC drivers Gordon Sheddon, Dave Newsham, Andy Neate, Ali Rushforth and Neb Bursac. We were competing against 20 other teams with drivers of the calibre of David Brabham, Andy Jordan and Michael Lyons. But we were up for the fight and fancied our chances of success. After meeting the team we gathered for the drivers briefing partly done by my soon to be ‘friend’ Ben Collins. When he had taken the drivers briefing he had said it was a ‘no-holds barred’ race and I felt the full force of those words later on. We were called for a team photo, lining up with the BTCC guys was a happy if awkward moment! I’ve never been that comfortable in front of a camera so having 20 odd photographers taking the team photo was the most frightening part of the day! However, with that nonsense over and done with it was onto the serious business of racing.
We had 20 minutes of practice followed by 5 minutes of qualifying. The biggest problem was working out who should do the qualifying! Dave Newsham went out first and was quickly lapping in the low 25s. When he came back in he confirmed what we already thought, there wasn’t much grip on the indoor circuit. I went out in the middle of the session hoping to get a feel for the track and quickly find a rhythm. That plan was quickly deemed useless by a pack of karts coming right up behind me as I left the pits. I lifted for a corner I quickly found out was flat as two karts passed me – thank goodness it was only practice. I blindly found my way round the rest of the track and on the longest straight I allowed the pack to pass, hoping to hang onto their exhaust pipes. I did my best to keep up then peeled into the pits to end my practice. We decided that Gordon should go last, doing our qualifying laps. At one point we were up to third and the team was rocking, although rather like a bad movie plot at this point the public timing screen went down. When the screen eventually came back up where in 11th, there was talk of us being punished for some ‘unknown reason’. Whatever – we were happy in the middle of the grid and with ‘Flash’ in the driving seat we knew things could only get better. Or so we thought.
21 karts on a small indoor circuit sounds like a recipe for carnage and it was. Considering touring car drivers have a reputation for panel bashing and general aggression our boys where very clean, quick and well behaved. One thing that struck me was how fast our BTCC stars were. Karts strip away all the BS with no driver aids, turbos or other nonsense. A lot of the other racers were single seater racers and the BTCC drivers where more than a match for them. Despite the race being for charity racing drivers are massively competitive and sometimes the mark was over stepped. The turn into the pit straight was a possible flat, possible lift corner. Many people decided to go with the flat option early in the race not taking into account the lack of grip. The pit wall was hit on practically every lap, on some occasions harder than others. The biggest incident came when 5 karts decided they all wanted the apex at the same time. How no racers or karts where damaged is beyond me. Watching all this was an interesting way to prepare for my turn, as if I wasn’t nervous enough about being quick there were people trying to remodel the circuit!
But my turn did come, the rest of the team had done a great job and before the kart was brought in for my time we were running in 5th. Straight from the off I was in the thick of it and battling with karts in front for position. Every lap felt quicker and I was growing in confidence, I’m told my lap times where around 25/26s. Then came the fateful moment, coming into the final bend I lifted, turned into the apex and felt a huge shunt from behind. There was no life flashing before my eyes moment, all I can remember is breaking through the barriers on the inside of the corner and seeing all the karts behind me overtaking me. That was it – podium chance gone. It felt like an eternity until the marshals pointed me back in the right direction, I must have been overtaken by every kart in the race whilst I was stranded and screaming and shouting inside my helmet at the marshals didn’t help.
When I was put back on the track I think I was actually quicker than before I was shunted off, I overtook a few people and had a good battle with those who were trying to get round me. I was flagged in as my time was up and swapped for Ali Rushforth. Ali brought Team Tin Tops home in 10th.
I didn’t do anything to give the pro’s sleepless nights but I didn’t embarrass myself either. Something that struck me after I’d gotten out of the kart was how easy the pro’s make it look. When I was out on the track I felt like I was constantly battling to keep it pointing in the right direction, the pro’s always looked in control. That’s the difference between an enthusiastic amateur and a true racer – making it look easy and still being quick.
Team Tin Tops was by far the best supported team in the race and so I’d like to thank Matt Rushforth, Jay Mooney, Simon Wilson, Tony Rushforth, Pam + Keith Underwood, my wife Gina, Tony Hurcombe and tracksideviews main man Chris Gurton.