A race observer? Me???

Having kind of done marshalling courtesy of a marshal training day at Whilton Mill, I’m well on my way to completing the set with my latest stint at officaldom courtesy of volunteering to help Llandow Kart Club run the Super One Series third round last weekend. Although I had a mini panic attack when told I was to act as the observer on the final corner, it was another enlightening experience. It’s not an easy job: as the grid approached I focused on the closest karts and wacthed those until they past the apex and then switched back to pick the next candidates. Where they were bunched closely, I just had to watch the apex – I could see the final 10m of the entry to the corner but it’s at the apex where the lunges or rear shunts came. Yes, it can be a very difficult task especially in the larger grids and there will be times when the observer misses a big incident simply because they are watching other karts but, if I can do it…

I did have help: the clerk was also stood at my corner for much of the meeting but that enabled me to discuss everything we saw and get his view on things. There was a lot to learn: that you needn’t necessarily give someone room who has run wide provided you aren’t deviating from your line (it’s down to them to back off and fall in line), that the best clerks really do see the sport as non-contact (this Super One clerk handed out a warning to pretty much every initiator of contact) and, if you gained a place from making contact, the chances are that you’d be losing that place an four more! I got the sense that there was some inconsistency however as there were some incidents reported at other corners that perhaps leniently went unpunished. It really enforced the feeling that clubs *must* have dedicated observers: neither the clerks or the marshals have a primary role of reporting incidents. It’s a concern of mine as the Llandow seem to have done away with race observers for their club meetings.

So it’s two down and two to go although I cannot see myself acting as clerk, nor scrutineer anytime soon 😉

My office for the day...

My office for the day…

Stuck in a rut

It would be fair to say that our karting career to date has been one of peaks and troughs. We’ve both enjoyed it but lately I’ve found myself spending more time dwelling on our struggle to get on the pace. You just really want to see your son (or daughter) get there – to cut that ~0.8s deficit and really nail those lines. To his credit, Junior just loves driving the kart but I’ve gotten wary of burdening him with my desire to bridge the gap that we seem to have had for as long as I can remember. Carrying more exit speed is far easier said than done and, on reflection, I wonder if I’ve overdone the ‘work on your lines’ thing at our practice day last weekend and ahead of the Llandow seasonal opener.

The weekend began with a wet track so Junior was out on the inters that we had ruined at the November round final, where we were caught out on the wrong tyre. Here they lasted just long enough to get us through the worst of it before they were too bald to be of any use and we switched to slicks. Unfortunately, Junior went off on his second lap – sending the kart backwards into the tyres at Chandlers and finishing off one of the bumpers that had done very well for us over the past two years (not to mention the two replacement bumper bolts that I had bought after our mishap the previous weekend!). We were doing some testing on a smaller sprocket but it wasn’t working for us. As soon as we went back up a tooth, Junior was much happier and a bit more competitive. The warning signs were there though as the day went on; The track was pretty quick considering the time of year and the early morning conditions but we weren’t able to get below 46.0s when the pace was low to mid 45s.

We were up and out early on Sunday to get the kart built for the race day. It was nice to see a couple of guest drivers who were here for a sighter with a view to the Super One Series round in May so we had a grid of eleven drivers. Heat #1 saw us start plum last. There was an incident at the start which took out a couple of drivers and we raced along in 7th – comfortably ahead of the rear of the field but adrift of the main pack. It looked like it might be lonely day for us. Heat #2 was where things started to take a turn for the worse: Starting in second, we managed to maintain our position around the outside of Raymonds and Junior set about his defence of his position. It was clear that we didn’t have the pace and Junior had been vulnerable on the run out of the Hook and into Surtees all day on the Saturday. We had spoken about it and decided that we’d take a narrower entry, try not to make it easy for other to pass and just see how things unfolded. It was going ok, especially for the pole man who was clearing off with haste! There were a number of laps where third lined up a pass as they headed up the straight but Junior’s is no slouch up the straight and is also pretty decent on the brakes into Raymonds so was able to maintain his position. That was until third place got the cutback and they headed into The Hook side-by-side: There was contact and it had to be Junior who lost out. He was clearly disappointed. The ‘offender’ was shown a warning but, from what I saw of it, it was rightly deemed a racing incident.

Heat #3 was where an already bad day went into meltdown. Junior started fifth and was hit from behind going into the first corner, punted the person in front who span and took out another driver. Junior dropped back and finished well adrift. Being the pusher who had volunteered to cover the furthest corner of the track, I’d not seen the incident but our finishing position and lack of pace through the day was taking its toll – I’d have quite happily packed up at that point. When I got back to the pits, Junior complained that he’d been hit and had his race ruined. I went to the Clerk to chat about the start and was told they were calling several drivers in. I was hugely surprised when only Junior and the driver that Junior had hit were called in (in relation to the start – two others were called in for another incident). This is where I can take two paths in my reporting of this – there is the ‘take it on the chin’ approach or the ‘redhead says what he thinks’ option!!! Given that the last time I publicly criticised officials, we were shown a straight black flag for contact two corners into our first heat at the subsequent round, I’ll try to stay on the cautious side…

In my attempt at small talk with the other Dad as we waited outside the Clerk’s office, he commented that this was what had happened in Heat #1 [Junior hitting his lad]. Junior’s look of astonishment at this little revelation told me all that I needed to know on this one. I am aware that with what follows I may be appearing to be wanting to have my cake and eating it but, in this instance, I can and I will – especially on my own blog, other points of view are available I am sure 😉 We were called in and the Clerk read out the report that suggested Junior had ploughed into the driver in front without braking. There was no mention of any other driver and I was already getting a sense of dodgy report Deja Vu. I had told Junior to just tell the truth – it hadn’t dawned on me for a second that we’d be taking the blame for this one. Junior said he’d been hit into the driver in front (naively, it also hadn’t occurred to me until this point that this might be an excuse the Clerks hear a lot) and agreed he’d caused the driver in front to spin. The driver’s explanations were pretty clear then the Dads got their chance to chime in; I questioned why the other party hadn’t been called in and Junior was asked who had hit him – as if he was going to have been looking behind him!?! I commented that it wasn’t fair for them to be asking him to name anyone as, although he could make a reasonable guess that it was the driver directly behind him on the grid, he couldn’t be certain of that. And that was that  – we soon got called back and were penalised on the back of a damning report as incorrect as it was incomplete!!! The contact behind had gone unspotted and the claim he hadn’t braked… I can only assume someone got carried away with the drama of it all!

It was a resigned feeling rather than an angry one after that. We’d always had a policy of Junior offering an apology to any driver he’d hit on track and, if at fault for any reported incident, he’d put his hand up and say he’d made a mistake. I’m not sure we’ll continue to adopt that policy – I know that the officials are doing their best and can only give what they see but we’ve been only the wrong end of a couple of duffers now and, in this instance, we would have been better off being less forthcoming and certainly naming the suspected third party. In the end, it was too easy for them to blame Junior.

The Final was all about getting as much packing up done as we could beforehand. The Clerk gave the grid the ‘loading’ speech after two incidents in three heats but, to be honest, I have never seen it at Llandow. Normally drawing the pushing zone furthest away doesn’t help in that respect! Of course the drivers like to point the finger… The majority of first corner incidents are caused by drivers getting caught out with the concertina effect as the grid steam into the first corner. We have been guilty of that a few times last year – it’s a mistake you wish they would learn from but there is no intent and it’s certainly not loading (which, to me, is when you are pushing someone into the first corner, denying them the chance to brake until you’ve shoved them wide enough to get by on the inside). The race itself was uneventful in so far as it was further confirmation of our lack pace. We stuck around to applaud the winners and then headed off the McDonalds for some Chicken Selects and a banana shake.

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £26 petrol, £13 fuel

Total spent this year: £891