Saturday had been a positive day: we’d narrowly missed out on our target of qualifying in the top 5 and, despite a horrible draw bias against the even-numbered side of the grid, had done really well to finish 4th and 6th in the heats. The heats are one thing though; the real work was to come and we’d need some luck in running to be in with a shout at a podium place in the final.
Practice went badly: 14th fastest and Junior complaining of brake issues. The brakes did look a little suspect and I bled them again but that wasn’t the end of the problems: As I stood in the queue for the tyre bay ahead of the pre-final I noticed that both track rods were loose. I had lasered the front end the previous evening but had clearly only tightened the nuts by hand!!! :S I had to rush the kart back to our awning where a couple of the Extreme dads were on hand to help me get the lasers back on and get the kart front straightened up. That was a close one, especially since I was desperate not to be responsible for any failings this weekend!
The pre-final was critical: do well and we’d be in with a shout at the final. Fare badly and our weekend would effectively end here. We’d managed to find ourselves in 6th place once more: a single point behind two other drivers tied in fourth 🙁 It was unlikely that we’d be able to get third good start from the ‘bad side’. And so it proved. Junior had the worst start I’d seen him make in a long time: bogging down badly and losing three places as the leaders scooted off. We gained a couple of places back before dropping away and having to desperately hang on for a 9th place finish. It could have been worse: tenth and an even-numbered draw would have ended any hopes we were clinging onto.
Junior hadn’t really been happy with anything about the kart and we made some extensive changes for the final. After what seemed like an eternity on a hot dummy grid we took the karts onto the starting grid (on track) from where they would start their formation lap. This in itself was novel to us and really made the event feel that bit more special than your average club meeting (perhaps something to consider for the Welsh Champs, LKC?). We didn’t really have any game plan but Junior *had* to start well. And start well he did: we made up a couple of spots off of the line and then fifth and sixth proved that two around The Hook very rarely works and came together. Junior passed sixth and had a fantastic run at fifth, who was bogging down, as he recovered from the contact. I’ll always wonder how we might have fared had we made the pass stick (I was keen to see if we could have lived with the pace of the leaders having spent the weekend just that bit too far back). It wasn’t to be: we got a nudge and were soon doing a spot of grass karting. All credit to Junior, he followed the off-road mantra to ‘keep it lit’ and re-joined in tenth place. I had abandoned my pushing post at Raymonds for the final (yes I know I said I would never be the push-start guy at this post but the fact is it needs somebody as had been proven on the Saturday) and was stood with the spectators, only metres from the action. My heart was sinking fast. It was to sink further: the three karts in front of us came together again in The Hook on lap #2: It was a big incident. Junior dived right but the karts slid slowly into his path, one hooked up on top of another and, as he struggled to get the engine to pick up, the entire field sailed by 🙁 I was crushed. You never, ever want to see a red flag because of a driver injury but the subsequent flag did us the biggest of favours. There was quite a delay whilst the paramedics attended to the injured party (who I hope makes a speedy recovery btw) before we were informed that the race was being moved to the final race of the day. So much for that roast dinner!
I have never seen Junior so relieved. What had been a nightmare start to our biggest race would quickly become a memory: The race was being restarted in full and we’d take to the grid in 9th place once again. I spent 90 minutes pouring over the kart making sure all was well, took in the Extreme final (some dodgy stuff going on in that one!) and got ourselves set once again.
Unfortunately, the lad who’d been injured was unable to make the grid. The bad fortune continued since that moved us up to 8th and back onto the bad side of the grid. To cap it all off, the drier starting directly in front of us had an absolute stinker of a start, bogging massively and forcing Junior, who was now tucked right up behind him, to sit and wait whilst those behind flashed by. We crossed the line in 10th (the lad who started behind us crossed the line in 7th!!!) but that was the end of the bad news. What followed was undoubtedly the best driving performance I had ever seen from Junior. He’s never lacked in determination and it wasn’t his smoothest performance, as he had clearly decided to give it all he had, but he showed a clinical edge that I had not seen before. You could almost see that the penny had dropped: That, at this level, you can’t just be fast and expect drivers on your pace to give up their places, you have to *take* their places from them. He passed karts in six of the next seven laps before finding the gap to fifth that bit too much (although he arguably could have gone for it at the final corner!). It was a fantastic drive and he was chuffed to bits with the result. I was thrilled to see him step his game up to a level where he could compete with national drivers. You could argue he should be able to do just that at his home track but he was taking on the best and most experienced JTKM drivers in the country, on the best kit in the country. I’ll rue not getting the chance to see if he could have held onto the leader’s coat-tails at any point of the weekend but the simple fact is that we’re not really at that level as a package to be taking on the big teams.
There were a few little bonuses yet to come: Junior got the best privateer trophy (after some question of the fifth placed finisher’s presence in a team awning!) and I was generously given a free set of tyres from Alan Turney for my efforts with the TKM Facebook Group 😀 😀 😀 In our most expensive month ever in karting, faced with a £200 engine bill and another new set of slicks needed for Welsh Championships, this was very welcome 🙂
Rest assured, dearest readers: I’ve not been bought off, however! 😉