Lydd November 6th 2005
Rounds 16 & 17 Stiddard Trackside GP Premier Series
On the dot of 8 o'clock - and not a second sooner - the circuit gates were unlocked and the motley collection of vehicles waiting on the starting grid of the approach road surged forward to claim the best pit position. Prime location collisions were skilfully avoided.
We had wondered about the ability of the circuit lighting to cope with night racing, a question that was rapidly and conclusively answered by the absence of any lighting at all. Sue Hart began to re-arrange the racing schedule to finish earlier...
The weather forecasters had crossed their hearts and promised us bands of heavy rain flowing across the countryside from the west from early morning onwards, but just for now it was simply windy and overcast.
But we didn't really doubt that we would be on wets by the time the first race started.
However just to be prepared we put on a new set of slicks and worked out a quick change routine to a good wet set up. Other than that we got the weights sorted out on the lift-on scales - they were certainly going to slow down pit stops a bit - and practised changing the seat insert with the new retaining clips - OK, but only one banana.
James went out first for 10 minutes or so, managing to spin on the exit from the pits on the new tyres, but otherwise finding that the kart was pretty reasonable.
By then we were into qualifying and Thomas was able to get down to a good 40.683 lap before some rain blew in and made further practice pretty pointless.
We stood around for a bit but with five minutes of qualifying left, the rain stopped and the track looked reasonably dry so James went out for another bash. But he was half a second off Thomas's time and came back in, complaining of feeling ill.
So, in a change of plan, we decided Thomas should start the race and do a good long first stint. The main thing was to avoid being caught in a queue for the antediluvian scales, but we knew we were running with enough fuel to give us considerable flexibility about when to come in.
Still no rain, although Simon Blease who now arrived to help in the pits, reported heavy showers on the way down from London. So we got together all the wet weather gear for a rapid change but left the slicks on the kart for the start.
We got an upgrade from 8th to 7th on the grid courtesy of KKC and at the start Thomas was doing well, but just slipping back a bit from the leading pack. As the likes of Titan, RKC and KKC came through we dropped to 11th, but were then back up to 10th as Poland Racing took a dive.
Auto I were gradually catching up and by lap 20 we were battling with them for 9th, positions changing several time over the next few laps with some very close but clean racing. On lap 29 Thomas got the fastest lap of the race for us at 40.418 but soon after decided he wasn't going to be able to get past Auto I again, and let them go on and away.
However we were doing nicely and from lap 60 onwards, as spitty, intermittent rain began to affect the track, Thomas moved steadily up the field.
Our progress was helped as other teams pitted, but, as we had agreed, we were going for a long first drive, with James feeling in no hurry to take over the driving. By lap 79 we were in 2nd and then three laps later we had got to 1st before James finally decided we couldn't risk it any longer and brought Thomas in for the changeover. We had a clear run at this although the clip for the seat insert still seemed to be holding us up a bit.
Lap times had gone up by two or three seconds for the last quarter of Thomas's session, with just enough spots of rain to make a difference. And James continued on at about the same speed with the track drying out a little in the middle of his drive but then getting damper again by the end.
The pit stop had brought us back to earth and 11th place but this improved over the next half dozen laps to 7th where we stuck until James came in for the final stop,
This dropped us back two places and right into Auction My Igloo's path and for the last ten laps or so of the race we swapped places with them on almost every lap. They were using the Leopard engine which was miles faster at the end of the straight but slower out of the corners. So they would come howling past on the approach to the pits bend and James would find somewhere to re-overtake them on the rest of the circuit. However by the last lap Auction My Igloo had conceded, with their normal overtaking manoeuvre in any case being blocked as James took the opportunity to dive inside Zero Racing at the same point.
That gave us a 9th place finish, which felt just a shade flat, though James was just happy to have got through his 35 minute stint without mishap.
In the break between races, the rain at last seemed to have started for good and we changed the slicks for a new set of wets.
As the grid formed up the rain stopped, but the track was still pretty wet and everyone was on wets except for Axles of Evil who were going for a rather desperate punt with slicks. Having said that, there wasn't really serious standing water at any point during the race and it wasn't until well after it had finished that it came down in bucketfuls.
Once again, Thomas was to start the race but got taken off at the first corner as B & R made a fast charge up the grid. That would have been bad enough but as the kart came to a stop against the tyres, Thomas realised that the front wheel had come off.
We now lost fifteen laps as we got a rescue trolley down to him, wheeled him back to the pits and screwed back on the wheel nut we found waiting for us on the workbench. It was an uncharacteristic lapse in our usual high standards of preparation. Neither James or Thomas had noticed that the wheel nut had been left off when we changed form slicks to wets in the lunch hour.
After that we couldn't be anything other than last for quite a long time, although Thomas did manage to overtake Axles of Evil fairly quickly who were still in process of proving to themselves that they had made the wrong tyre choice.
Lap times in these conditions were about 10 seconds off the pace in the earlier race.
KKC were also having problems which allowed us to take 12th by lap 42.
The Pit Crew kept Thomas out for just over the hour in driving time before bringing him in for fuel and a change to James.
This change turned out to be slightly more exciting than was strictly necessary as Thomas first gave the kart who had just vacated the weighing scales a slight tap to encourage them to move on, and then hit them again rather harder in the fuel bay when he thought the pit crew who were pushing him were going to do the breaking while the pit crew thought he was. Many apologies to all concerned - especially to the re-fueller who thought we were trying to break his legs....
Once out on the track again, James was going round at a reasonable speed and soon got back ahead of KKC who we had lost a place to in the pits.
Towards the end of the session a dry line began to appear in places, allowing him to set the fastest lap of our race at 46.606
This was just after a barely-stopping spin on the infield which cost him half a dozen seconds, but just before he visited the gravel trap at the end of the main straight when he found himself in entirely the wrong position as a competitor he was trying to overtake unexpectedly signalled he was going into the pits
Thomas brought him in after 52 minutes for a relatively peaceful final refuel and changeover.
The idea now was to keep Tom out for a good 40 minutes leaving James just 15mins before the flag.
The rain had started again now and lap times were back into the 52s for most of the session apart from a moment when he took to the grass about half way through.
We were now in 10th as B & R Racing came to grief with a blown engine which blew their chances of winning the Championship.
As planned Thomas came in to swap to James with just 15 minutes to go. No refuelling this time and no dramas and James was out again in the increasingly murky gloom.
He was slightly surprised to be brought back in again just a few laps later, but you don't argue with the pit board or stop for a discussion, so he just came in, drove through and went out again.
In fact the pit crew had momentarily forgotten about the wheel coming off on the first corner which counted as one of the mandatory stops. In any case it made no difference to our finishing position of 10th just six laps later.
So, the end of a rather bitty season for us. The final Championship positions are here, although for us they are pretty much irrelevant as we missed so many rounds for one reason or another. But we finished feeling optimistic about our recent speed and we're looking forward to the first round of the Winter series. The full results of these rounds are here and click for Neil Ashcroft's unbiased account of the racing.
R e d S t r i p e R a c i n g
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