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.
The Autosport International Show is the first sign that the motorsport season is heading towards us. With driver announcements, new car unveilings and teams setting out their plans for the year ahead, it is a good place for media to get the inside track on what to expect this year and the public’s chance to see new cars and drivers and to get excited about the 2012 season.
I headed to the NEC in Birmingham on Thursday to catch up with friends, colleagues and acquaintances and to set out plans for the coming season. There was certainly plenty to see and keep me busy so much so that I didn’t get a chance to see everything. After signing in and chatting to a few good friends from BTCCCrazy and BTCCBlogs it was time to head to the JRM stand for the unveiling of their new car.
The car that was to be announced was their new Nissan GT-R GT3 car which had already been seen in action as a three race development programme had seen it compete last year including at the Blancpain race at Silverstone in October. Sporting a new Red and Black paint job and a few slight aerodynamic tweaks, the car looked fantastic. With the announcement that the Nissan GT-R will be available to buy I hope to see a few on track this season.
The next announcement came in the form of a new Driver. The AMD Milltek BTCC team had lined up their new driver announcement for the show and Shaun Hollamby unveiled Ollie Jackson as their new driver to mount a charge on this seasons British Touring Car Championship. Ollie drove last season in the British GT Championship in the Lotus Evora GT4 alongside Phil Glew as well as a couple of races in the BTCC at the end of last year so it seems like a good acquisition for a team who are targeting top 10 finishes this year.
After taking a few photos of Ollie on the Pipercross stand, it was off to the Sunoco press conference to hear about the Sunoco Challenge and how Felipe Nasr and Aaron Steele were getting on with their preparations for the Daytona 24 hour race and Grand Am Challenge respectively. It seemed that the pair were taking to it like a Duck to water during the practice days recently, especially Nasr who was setting some incredibly fast times which had regular Daytona 24 hour drivers slightly nervous. It was also good to hear from Mark Blundell during the conference and his take on it all. The challenge, setup by Sunoco, offers a great opportunity for the winning drivers to experience racing in America and help them gain exposure. We all know it is hard for racing drivers to secure drives and sponsorship deals and by being given the opportunity to race at Daytona can open up new avenues in their career’s so it is great to see Sunoco provide this.
Before a meeting to discuss plans with the guys at Britcar, there was time to have a look around the show for a bit. There is certainly plenty to see, from classic rally and race cars, the Ayrton Senna display with a collection of his race cars on show, the new Drayson Racing electric powered LMP car and a number of trade stands to keep everyone busy and entertained. Again this year Ian Cook (Pop Bang Colour) was there on his hands and knees painting some more incredible cars in his unique style. It was good to catch up with him and to see him paint the 1982 Jacky Ickx & Derek Bell Porsche 956. It is one of my favourite ever race cars and the car that won Le Mans the year I was born so I think I will be treating myself to a copy for my 30th birthday later this year. The finished painting is stunning and would look great on my wall.
Having had a productive meeting with Britcar, myself and James were invited for a coffee at the Sunoco stand where it was nice to catch up with Louise who does a lot of their PR during race weekends. Whilst I was sitting down I glanced over to the Corbeau Race Seats stand next to us and my attention was grabbed by an image of the Team Lotus GT4 Evora from the British GT on the back wall. I instantly recognised it as my photo. This was somewhat surprising as it was the first time I knew of it being used. Despite this, it was good to see it up there.
Before heading over to the Charity Karting Race, I bumped into Becki Mitchell who was there working for Radio Silverstone and Kevin McGlone of Red Square Images. It was great to catch up with them both and hopefully will be able to catch up with them again at various times this season. If all goes to plan I’ll be off to the Nurburgring in May for the British GT and 24hr race with Kevin.
As it got late in the afternoon, the Karting Race was due to start and with my friend Nick from Tin Tops UK in a team with Alistair Rushforth, Dave Newsham, Andy Neate & Gordon Sheddon, I went to watch and give him some support. There was a lot of driver talent on show and it was good to see them all fighting it out in the karts. Nick will be writing a guest blog for Trackside Views about his experience so look out for that soon.
As the race came to an end and the NEC started to close its doors, it was time to head home with renewed optimism and excitement for the oncoming season. I can’t wait to back out with my camera and for all the motorsport championships to start up again. However, it will be sooner than I expected for me this year as I will be at Brands Hatch for the Brands Hatch Stages Rally next weekend. I will of course be bringing you news and photos from that in due course.
This week I went karting once again with Nick from Tin Tops UK as we had entered into a 2 hour endurance race at Lakeside kart track. Unlike last time in Brentwood, it was just the two of us to the Kart, but we went along with a couple of others who had entered into the race as well. Twitter friend Juliette Kilbey’s son Stephen was to drive along side Michael Lyons in the second Kart. To some of you that name may ring a bell. I am of course referring to the British GT and Historic racing driver. Having spent a lot of time photographing Michael in action at various race circuits this year it was nice to actually get to meet him properly.
Having signed in and been kitted with overalls, it wasn’t until everyone was in the drivers briefing that it was clear there were a lot of drivers there. 24 karts in total with team numbers varying from one to four drivers per kart and all of differing abilities. With 20 minutes practice before the race I took the opportunity to get used to the track. I’d never been on it before and it was considerably longer and more complex than the one at Brentwood. Also, conditions were not easy. It was cold and the air was damp, leaving the surface slippery. It didn’t take me long to push the limit of the kart two far and a couple of spins, although annoying, taught me where I could push and where I couldn’t. I wasn’t the only one having to learn the hard way though and on handing over to Nick was informed at the time had set the 12th fastest lap. Not too shabby for someone who rarely goes Karting amongst many who clearly do it often and were highly competitive. Although all unaware of the Professional GT racer in their midst.
The race was to start straight from the end of the practice signalled by a waved Union Jack, so no grid start or no rolling start. So if you were to cross the line just after the 20 minutes practice was up, you were leading the race. Unfortunate for some, crossing the line just before the race start meant you were going to be almost a lap down from the start. Needless to say neither of our karts were near the front at the start. The timing screen only showed the top 13 karts and with mine and Nicks kart number 8 nowhere to be seen on screen, Michael and Stephen’s number 24 kart had appeared in 12th place. As the first half hour passed, Michael was visibly quick and was making his way through the field up to 5th place on hand over. Nick was doing a great job too, but had not made an appearance on the time screens and with handover to me imminent, that was going to be unlikely.
There had already been a red flag during the first half hour due to too many people ignoring yellow flags. It was obvious there were some guys out there who were happy to get past at all costs. As I took over I was keen not to disgrace myself and put in two steady laps before being shown a black flag. Not know what I had done wrong, I headed to the pit lane to receive my punishment. I was told that I had been cutting kerbs too much and was handed a 15 second stop go penalty. I was pretty miffed by this as I could only think of one kerb I cut a bit too much after running a bit wide on the previous corner. I also noticed that other drivers were getting warning boards about kerb cutting and I hadn’t. It was only after the race I found out that Nick had received the warning before swapping and having spotted my one mistake, I suffered the punishment. At the time I hadn’t known this and spent the rest of my stint being extra cautious not to cut too much. I kept my head down and tried to stay out of too much trouble, staying aware of the other drivers, especially those who were keen to barge you out of the way, giving room to those who were visibly quicker and battling with those who were slower or of similar pace.
There were many spins and yellow flags out all night and I did have a couple of spins after taking avoiding action of those who span in front. This was not uncommon as a number of multiple spinners could be seen together throughout the race as one person span and everyone behind took avoiding action. I was to be involved in quite a large accident about two thirds of the way through my first stint as on exiting the long double apex corner at the bottom of the circuit I was a bit too keen on the accelerator on exit and span out leaving me facing 3 oncoming karts. The first two , split either way and just missed me but the third hit me almost head on lifting my kart up which then came to rest on the side of his. Neither of us able to go anywhere we lost time waiting for a Marshall to free us. On resumption there was something from my kart scraping the tarmac which I decided to pi in to check out. A quick once over from a marshal showed no visible damage so out I went and the scraping noise had soon stopped. I had lost a lot of time and after handing over was feeling pretty annoyed.
However, my woes were nothing compared to Michael’s whilst he and Nick were out on their second stints. A kart had clouted Michael’s with enough force to break the steering arm. This lost them a lot of time which proved impossible to recover. Other drivers were also having problems too, as we witnessed one hit a kerb with enough force to rip the wheel off and send it bouncing over the tyre wall. It was soon time for my last session on track and I was keen to try and improve on the last. I seemed to be doing ok and managing to overtake some of the others out their despite their lack of awareness. It was one of these drivers who were to cost me towards the end. With a few laps left another Red Flag was out as yet again too many drivers were ignoring the waved yellows. On resumption I was behind a slower kart with Stephen right behind me and a bunch of others behind him. Having lined him up on the back straight, through the sweeping chicanes and devils drop I made my move at the same double apex corner before the start finish straight where my previous incident occurred. I got up the inside on the first apex only for the other driver to cut back straight across the front of me and hit me into a spin. The numerous Karts behind all streamed through as I had to pick up speed on the straight feeling pretty annoyed. I did manage to catch said driver back up a couple of laps later and get past him before the chequered flag came out.
With neither Kart 8 or 24 on the timing screens it was on inspection of the print outs we found out our final placing. Stephen and Michael finished 14th after the costly damage and it was 17th place for myself and Nick. A bit disappointing but at least it wasn’t last place and there were some good Karters out there. I was never going to be able to compete with the likes of Michael. Despite the total mayhem it seemed to be, a great night was had and I’m sure I’ll be writing about my next crack at the whip in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’ll stick to tacking photos of top race drivers as they can be safe in the knowledge they won’t be facing any competition from me.
Those who can, do, and those who can’t, talk about it. Or in my case, photograph it. That phrase was quite apt last night as thanks to Nick at Tin Tops UK, I was taking part in a two hour into the night endurance Karting race in Brentwood. It was my chance to be a racing driver rather than photographing and talking about them.
It’s been many years since I last went Karting and I have never done it on an outside circuit. I was hoping not to disgrace myself and upon finding out during the signing in process there was to be 10 teams, I was hopeful we weren’t going to finish last. However, as other divers turned up carrying their own helmets, race suits and racing shoe’s all hope quickly turned to despair. These guys must have done it before! Some were even entered as a single competitor. I was hoping they would tire before myself, Nick and Rich the third member of our team.
With a 15 minute warm up/qualifying session before heading straight into the race, it was decided Nick would warm up last and start the race for us. The plan was to do two 20 minute stints each to keep us fresh. Well, like I said, that was the plan! After my initial five minutes I came in fearing the worst. Although it felt I was going quite fast, the karts that overtook me told a different story. I looked at the time screen with Rich. 41.5 seconds. We were last. How far off the pace was that I wondered. About 3-4 seconds that’s how far off. Oh dear, it was not looking good. Thankfully Nick was out there getting quicker and a lap in the 37 second area meant we weren’t going to start last. We started Eighth.
A good start took Nick up a place on the first lap and a couple of drive through penalties meant fifth place was looking respectable. One of the guys with his own gear was hitting Nick from behind and getting cross, this upset our WAGS and left them wondering how loud they needed to shout for him to hear their torrent of abuse. With this irate 40 something year old let through, Nick proceeded to tail him proving he was no faster. After the first driver change I asked Nick where his braking points were. ‘What braking points?’ he responded. ‘Its flat out all the way around except the hairpin, but you only need to lift off for it.’ It was clear I had a lot to do to set a respectable lap time.
Before long I was out on track. It took me a while to learn the circuit and at times it was hard to ignore my brain telling me to brake. The first of my 20 minute stints was spent trying to work out if it was better to let the car run wide exiting certain corners or keep it in tight, where the limits of the Kart were and which is the best line to take. All this whilst trying not to be a mobile chicane for those lapping me. I was beginning to feel like Takuma Sato. After handing over to Nick for his second stint I was told my best lap was about 38.9s however we were in ninth place. I wondered if I could actually go any faster or was I on my limits.
After slurping on energy drink, looking at the timing screens and hoping Hispania Racing don’t call, it wasn’t long before I was getting ready for the final handover and my last go. By then we were running close to the team in eighth place. A few laps into my last run was beginning to get into the grove. I’d changed my line into the long sweeping corner before the straight which was helping and I was beginning to master the tricky sections. I even managed to overtake someone turning into the hairpin. I was beginning to hold my own out there and if it wasn’t for sliding occasionally here, or running a little wide there then perhaps I could have caught one or two others.
The Chequered Flag drop and the two hours was up. We finished ninth but the eighth placed team were apparently worried as I was catching them and with a few more minutes, I could have snatched an extra place. Never mind, I had got my best time down to 38 seconds dead and was lapping quite consistently. Our best lap as a team was set by Nick which was 36.800s. The fastest of all was a 35.950 We were told by one of the other teams who go there often that they had never seen such a fast race and hadn’t seen every team set a lap time below 37 seconds. I guess we could take some crumbs comfort from that.
It was a great evening and I loved every bit of it, I’d like to thank Nick and Tin Tops UK for inviting me along to take part and hopefully I will be back to set a 37 something lap time soon. In the mean time, I’m off to Snetterton to photograph the British F3 & GT Championship’s at the weekend to see the real racers at work. After racing a Kart you certainly gain a lot of respect for those guys. It was hard enough to consistently set good lap times in a 20 stint at 40mph and not tire, but to keep your concentration for over an hour at more than four times the speed is something I am in awe of.
Yesterday was my first visit to the Autosport International Show at the NEC in Birmingham, and despite the 5 am start and the 290mile round trip, I was not disappointed.
It was a great way to kick off the new year of motorsport and also great to catch up with the guys from TheCheckeredFlag, BTCCCrazy and BTCCBlogs. It was also great to catch up with Ian Cook of Pop Bang Colour. For those of you who dont know about him, he creates stunning paintings of cars using wheels, tyres, remote control cars and even real racing cars as paint brushes. Ian is painting throughout the weekend and is streaming himself at work so you can see what he’s up to. Its seems like an age since I was behind the camera shooting cars.There was so much to see and cram into just a single day and with hindsight I should have perhaps spent 2 days there and booked a cheap hotel for the night.
One of the highlights of the day was the unveiling of the new Renault Lotus livery. A nod to the days of old, when a young Brazilian in the form of Ayrton Senna took to the wheel of a Black and Gold John Player Sponsored Lotus, as the iconic colour scheme returns. Other unveilings included a new offering from Caterham, certainly something a bit different from them, a new Radical sports car, and the rebranded British F3 series. I was however a little disappointed that the new Ginetta G55 car was on the stand minus the body work as I was looking forward to see what the final product would look like.
I took a few moments to stare in awe at the cars on offer at the Coys auction whilst there with some magnificent cars for sale, including an immaculate E-Type Jag, Ford Escort Mk 1, Ferrari’s Porsches and my favourite on offer, a Martini Liveried Lancia Delta Integrale Rally car.
As well as the new cars, racing cars, trade stands and motorsport products on show, there was also the live action arena to visit. On show was a variety of motorsport action including Grass track and Rally cross racing, Stunt driving and the Nissan GT-R. After this action, later in the afternoon was a Charity Carting race in support of the Starlight Foundation. Lots of Big name, and lesser known drivers along with some members of the public who had paid for the privilege of taking part, did battle in a team event Karting challenge. The likes of David Brabbham, Emanuelle Pirro, Paul Drayson, Matt Neal and Gordon Sheddon battled hard against each other for race winning honours.
It certainly was a great day and if you are heading there this weekend, I hope you have a great time. If not, then perhaps you will consider going next year. In the meantime, there are some more photos on my Flickr account, so why not have a look here and feel free to add me as a contact if you also have a Flickr account.