British Universities Karting Championship 2017
Rounds 5&6: Glan-Y-Gors, North Wales
Snowdonia provided the dramatic backdrop for Cambridge’s Motorsport Blues team to continue their most successful season to date in the British Universities Karting Championship. Glorious weather greeted the team made up of Richard Morris, Alistair Senior, Robert Tinn, and, making his first appearance for the Blues after some promising performances with the Seconds and at Varsity, Leo Salem.
As usual, the morning round was comprised of six 25-minute races with Cambridge involved in four (one per driver). Alistair, who has put in some fantastic performances already this season, took the first race of the day starting from 12th position. A good start saw him up into 7th at the end of lap 1, and 5th after the second tour. He chipped away at the leaders, and by lap 10 fought his way up into 2nd position. An enthralling battle ensued, but on lap 15 Alistair was forced wide, off the track and onto the grass, leaving Cambridge hearts in mouths. Fortunately, he kept control of the kart and avoided spinning, re-joining the circuit in 5th position. By lap 23 he had recovered to 3rd, which is where he took the flag. However, the driver from Huddersfield who crossed the line first was given a time penalty for contact which dropped him to 4th and promoted Cambridge to 2nd. Another strong race from Alistair to make up 10 places!
Next up was Richard, looking to make it back-to-back wins following his lights-to-flag victory at Rye House. He set off from pole position and used all of his experience to get the jump on the field at the start and establish his lead. Immediately he set about upping the pace to try to break away, but that was not going to happen with the quality of drivers who had started at the front of this field. It wasn’t long before he was joined at the front by Oliver Basey-Fisher, a former British and Vice-European GT car racing champion. The two went absolutely hammer-and-tongs for over 15 minutes of the race, right to the flag. As a result, Nottingham and Loughborough were able to close up as well and join the fight. However, Richard showed great composure and all of his years of experience in his defence. Every lap Basey-Fisher would mount a fresh assault, and every lap Richard covered him off, strategically backing him up in some corners to gain an advantage on the following straight and driving robust defensive lines. Once again, Richard took the win, never relinquishing the lead from the start to the finish. It was a drive hailed by the commentators as possibly the best defensive performance in the history of the BUKC, and the two drivers shook hands and congratulated each other after the race in a great display of respect and sportsmanship.
With a 2nd and a 1st in the bag from the opening two races, secured by the team’s most experienced drivers, things were looking extremely promising already as the time came for Leo and Rob, both in their first season racing for Cambridge, to take to the track. Leo, making his debut at this level, was given a 34th place start to gain experience at the back of the field. A strong performance on lap 1 saw him rise to 28th straight away, and then 27th at the end of the following lap. Sadly, though, at the start of lap 8 a moment of inexperience cost Leo as he positioned himself on the outside of a battle, put 2 wheels off the edge of the track onto the grass, lost grip, and spun. This dropped him back down to 33rd place, and he was only able to climb to 31st by the flag. However, this was still valuable experience, with Leo making a good start, setting some consistent lap-times, and learning from battling with the level of drivers in this tier of the championship. With only 3 of the 4 morning results to count towards the team’s score, there was still plenty of optimism heading in to Rob’s race. Rob took the start in 23rd position, but a tough opening lap saw him down to 31st. From there, he produced a reliable drive to pull himself back up the order and take the finish in 21st position. It got better, though. The BUKC runs strict rules about the minimum weight drivers must race at (including any ballast they need to run), and a few teams were disqualified for breaching this. After penalties, therefore, the result was 16th. This left the results to count as a win, a 2nd, and a 16th.
Overall, Cambridge came 7th out of 51 teams for Round 5 of the Championship. Another very strong performance which furthered the team’s hopes of finishing in the top 10 at the end of the season. The afternoon then saw the endurance races in which drivers compete in pairs in 1-hour races including two mandatory pit-stops.
The first of the Round 6 endurance races saw Leo taking the start from 20th position. Taking the first corner from the outside row of the grid, Leo did a very good job to survive the first lap in 22nd. In the early battling he made his way up to 19th, before pitting for fuel and to let Alistair take the wheel. Being one of the earlier teams to pit, Cambridge emerged in 33rd but rapidly climbed again, rising 20 places up to 13th by only lap 19. At the mid-point of the race, Alistair was running in a comfortable 11th. This time, Cambridge waited until most teams had already pitted, and so Alistair came in from as high as 2nd. After the stop, this dropped back to 11th once more, which is where Alistair remained to the flag. After penalties, though, this became 10th. A solid if undramatic start to the afternoon. The final race, taken by Rob and Richard, was to be anything but. Rob started 15th on the grid and a strong opening lap saw him up to 11th straight away. As with the first race, an early stop and driver change then dropped Cambridge right down the order, but with the prospect of bouncing back by dropping out of the fighting pack and instead having clear track for Richard to drive into. The plan was working well with Richard up into 8th and having already made the first stop by 20 minutes into the race. But then disaster struck – another driver, following closely behind Richard, lost control of his kart, came crashing into Richard, flicked up into the air off the side of the Cambridge kart and came down on the front of it, causing damage to the area around the pedals such that the throttle wouldn’t open fully. Thankfully Richard was unhurt, but he had to make an unscheduled stop to fix the damage and lost 2 laps, re-joining just behind the leaders in 28th. He then set a blistering sequence of lap-times, overtook and un-lapped himself against the leading pack, and set off up the field again. By his 2nd mandatory fuel stop, he had hauled Cambridge back into 11th. The stop dropped him to 23rd but he continued to set lap-times within hundredths of a second of the fastest lap of the day on a consistent basis and, by the flag, had recovered to 17th. It was hard to accept losing 2 places from the initial grid position given the fantastic pace shown and that the team had made no mistakes, but incidents are a part of motorsport.
After all the drama, Cambridge was classified 17th out of 51 for Round 6. This was obviously not what the team wanted, but was far from a bad damage-limitation exercise. With the team’s worst two round results to be dropped from the final standings at the end of the season, we hope that the difficulties we had in the afternoon will become irrelevant anyway. In any case, after a strong morning round, Cambridge left the scenic Welsh mountains 7th in the British Championship standings and with plenty of hope of securing a great finish with just one day of racing remaining at Whilton Mill, Northamptonshire at the end of March.