Sunday, 7 January 2018

12 Hours of Teamsport Bristol

On the Friday night between Christmas & New Year, I participated in what would be my most challenging kart race to date- the inaugural 12 Hours of Teamsport Bristol-the brain child of race director Martin 'Diego' Savage, who I would be teaming with alongside ace driver Tom Cardno & multiple event winner Oliver Bayani. Our team, 'Total Eclipse of the Kart', would attempt to defend the victory Martin & I took at the previous '6 Hours of Teamsport Bristol'

The event format was fairly straightforward. 10 teams consisting of 3-5 drivers would race over 12 hours from 10.30pm to 10.30am, with three scheduled stops for refuelling at 1.30am, 4.30am & 7.30am (each kart would be called in in number order during a window where no driver changes were permitted, for a maximum stop of 2 mins each) The only other rule of note was that no driver was permitted to race for longer than 2 hours. Teams from as far afield as Rugby & Southampton came along to compete, as well as a team made up of a husband & wife pairing - which I believe is a first!

Ollie got the race underway at 10.30pm on the dot, leading away from the pole position he'd won for us during the 30 min qualifying session that had set the grid. Ed Barrs, driving for the 'Saucy Nuggets' team alongside Scott Vowles & Carson Franklin chased us hard for the opening half hour of the race, until they started to catch a couple of the slower drivers. It was already apparent that the lap record would likely fall during the event, and it wasn't long before Ollie had stretched away from Ed even though at one point it looked like he may have even have made it past. The Saucy Nuggets were the team that were likely to push us the hardest during the event, with Sam Slater's 'Four Skint' team on the fringes also. Sam had even managed to rope in BRKC & Club 100 regular Sean Brierley - a decent measuring stick if ever there was one.

The first hour of the race flew by, and it wasn't long before I was suiting up & preparing myself to take over the lead from Ollie. By the time we switched over at midnight, he had managed to lap the entire field (!) so my mission was a simple one - stay ahead of the Saucy Nuggets until at least the first of the fuel stops at 1.30am, and drive the wheels off the thing! It was immediately evident heading out onto the track that all the drivers would be setting personal best times during the race - the grip was unbelievable!

Ed had of course un-lapped himself when Ollie had made his stop and he'd handed over to Scott Vowles, who quickly set about closing down the gap to the front ie. me! By some miracle, I managed to hang on to the lead through the first hour & a half of my two hour stint, working my way through back-markers whilst keeping a close eye on Scott's progress.
I knew he was VERY close to me as I was called in for the first refuel where I had a moment to hop out of the kart & stretch my legs, before jumping back in & re-joining the action. A couple of laps later I caught sight of Scott climbing back into his kart in the pits, and by the narrowest of margins edged in front again as he emerged back onto the track - Fantastic!

I knew it wouldn't be long before Scott got past, but I knew I had to try & stick with him if Martin & Tom were to have a chance of fighting for first place in the lonely hours of Saturday morning. As expected, he did pass me as we turned right at the top of the up ramp, but I held my line through the following right then left turns, and threw my kart back up the inside of him at the left-hand hairpin - a pleasing if only temporarily satisfying moment. A lap of so later Scott squeezed past again, and I didn't make life too difficult for him so as not to lose too much time before our imminent driver change. A side note of this opening stint for me was that while we were battling the Saucy Nuggets, we managed to put 2 laps on Four Skint driver Gavin Williams, though once Zac Venn took over driving duties he was able to unlap himself & drive off into the distance. After 2 hours of hard driving I was called into the pits & handed the kart over to Savage. 

I stood track-side for a while watching Martin *almost* lifting the inside rear wheel as he turned right at the corner by the pit exit, in awe of the grip that the track was producing. He set off after the race leader at a blistering pace, and by the time Carson Franklin replaced Vowles we were right back in the fight. 

I rejoined team mate Tom Cardno & had a bite to eat as we discussed how the race was unfolding. At one point I wasn't sure whether sleeping would be a valid option, but seeing various drivers tucked into all corners getting some shut eye was enough to convince me to drag my camping mattress in from the car & get my head down for a bit. During this time Martin completed his 2 hour stint & handed over to Tom, with a quite frankly unbelievable lead of 3 laps (!) I made sure to keep Oliver updated by text (with the longest gap of all between his stints he'd decided he'd rather sleep in an actual bed & had gone home) & by the time it came for me to start preparing for my final hour we were already looking to be in a comfortable position for the win. Sam Slater's team's assured podium place was at this stage looking a little uncertain as the team from Rugby Kart Club had suddenly come alive, taking advantage of Gavin Williams & Sean Brierley's lack of experience on this track.

Tom Cardno had successfully negotiated the first of his two re-fuels & dutifully came in to hand over the kart for my last stint. Knowing that I was only going to be on the circuit for an hour or so meant I could push as hard as I could, fully intending on taking advantage of a fantastic kart & the grip levels available. Sure enough I soon found myself behind Sean Brierley, who despite the lap deficit between our teams wouldn't give an inch of space. We battled for several laps, even finding ourselves being re-passed by one of the drivers from Rugby Kart Club at one stage. I finally managed to get a decent run on Sean on the approach to the hairpin leading to the up ramp, & made a late move down the inside - job done. As if that small victory hadn't given me enough satisfaction, my next scalp certainly put a grin on my face. While Sean's lack of experience on the track contributed to me being able to catch & pass him, the next driver I was able to chase down had already overtaken me earlier in the night (and subsequently disappeared up the road) - Zac Venn. 

Now whether Zac was struggling with fatigue or just an ill-handling kart I don't know, but it soon became evident that I was able to make big gains on him as we negotiated the tricky section at the back end of the lower level. The fact that I was then able to stay with Zac as we made our way on to the top section said a lot about the performance of our kart, & after a few laps I made a late move up the inside of him as went through the first proper corner on the upper level - good stuff. The remainder of my stint literally flew past, and before I knew it I was being called in again to hand back over to Cardno, who had another fuel stop to look forward to at 7.30 am.

Tom continued on at a blistering pace, setting a personal best lap of 36.663 before the final refuel, & it wasn't long before Savage was back in for his final hour. With Oliver Bayani still to rejoin the fray for the closing 90 minutes, we were able to (proverbially) take our foot off the gas, but not before Martin set a new lap record of 36.539. By the time a well-rested Ollie returned (with much needed coffee & bacon rolls) & got back in our kart we had a five or six lap lead over The Saucy Nuggets, whilst Four Skint had re-established their advantage over Rugby Kart Club. Sleep almost took me again as the clock wound down, and the final 30 minutes of the race seemed to go on for ever, but eventually Bayani took the chequered flag having set an incredible personal best, track record-breaking lap of 36.307. What a race!

Once all the drivers had completed their final laps & returned to the pits, it was with a mixture of adrenaline & exhaustion that the top three teams made their way on to the podium. Our winning margin in the end was 9 laps, made even more impressive by the fact we were in second place over 3 hours into the race. 

It really was a pleasure to stand on the podium amongst such talented drivers, and having set my own best personal lap of 36.733 during the race my passion for karting has well & truly been rekindled. A big thank you goes to my team mates, competitors & of course the Teamsport Bristol staff for putting on such a great event, and I cant wait to see you all again soon. Did someone say 24 hour race?

Until next time


Full results can be found below;

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