Taming a Thoroughbred Racing Kart, An Automotive Journalist’s Experience
Pt. 2 Down to Business
Maybe heading into qualifying with a bit of gusto would help in a different kart, but these Tony Karts provide neck-wrenching grip, and as such, they really reward a patient, smooth, delicate touch—something I strove to achieve in this five-lap qualifying session. Though brief, this challenging format forces competitors to be on their game from the moment they leave the gate, get their tires up to temperature, and put in a flyer. Thanks to the careful marshals, we were spaced evenly, traffic was minimal, and most of us did not have any issues in finding a series of clean laps.
From experience, I know my quicker laps feel almost lackluster. Fast, neat, but not dramatic. Today I was feeling spunky. And so, I raggedly qualified third, four tenths behind Barry in second and half a second behind Brett in first. Not quite the several-hundredths spread we three had the prior race. Nevertheless, third is sometimes a good place to be. Taking Tor’s advice to heart, I took a few minutes to cool my jets before the heat race, and planned on letting the race come to me.
We all met in the classroom a few minutes before the start time to run over the starting procedure and discuss strategy. After a warm up lap, we ran a formation lap, then gridded up, two-by-two, and rolled down the front straight. This period is when my heart nearly pumps out of my chest. Eyeing the starter, I took a deep breath and waited for the flag. Hopefully, I would make up for my lackluster qualifying performance.
Despite a strong start, my race pace matched my qualifying performance. Brett and Barry established a gap, diced among themselves for a few laps, and eventually settled into position and walked away. Regardless of what I did, I could just keep them in my sights, but nothing more. I finished an unchallenged third after twelve challenging laps. Though I was slightly frustrated by my inability to put up a good fight, I was content with third. It would work well if I could find out where I was losing that little bit of performance.
Brett (#37) and Barry (#33) traded places for the first laps of the heat race before Brett ran off.
So, after consulting every coach with every conceivable question, I took advantage of the lunch break, closed my eyes, and took a quick nap in a comfortable leather chair in the air-conditioned classroom. By the time we were gridding up for the final race, all seemed well with the world. The coaches had done everything in their ability to prepare me for the challenge—and now, it felt possible.
With a very strong start, Barry (#33) would overtake Brett (#37) around the outside of Turn 1.
The final race’s start was calm and measured, and I sat behind Brett and Barry. With a little more confidence than I had in the heat race, I was able to hang on to the leading pair with some speed in reserve. The action was fierce and enthralling; we front-runners were all within a tenth of one another, and the cold tires only made the first few laps more exciting. Getting a front-row seat to witness Brett and Barry trading positions several times a lap was worth the price of admission. However, I wasn’t planning on just spectating.
Playing the waiting game paid off. After Brett overcooked one passing attempt (3:24), I passed him and slotted in behind Barry. We now had a gap between Brett and ourselves, and as we shot off into the lead, I tried a few moves on Barry, a great defender. Finally, one pushy attempt stuck while exiting Turn 1.
Brett, arguably the most consistent driver in the pack, clawed himself back into contention. With our pace almost identical, it was anyone’s race, and likely that mistake would decide the winner. In fact, I did my best to focus on what was ahead rather than distract myself with the wolves snapping at my tail.
Barry spinning just before Tic-Tac-Toe. Unfortunately, this error ruined his chances of a podium.
In fact, I didn’t even realize Barry had spun until I lapped him. While that made my life a little easier, Brett was reeling me in steadily; taking a much straighter line through the challenging Tic-Tac-Toe section. After four unhurried, clinical, uber-smooth laps, he had me in his crosshairs, and passed me as I ran wide through Hill Corner.
I relinquished first, but held on in second; hoping for another mistake. However, Brett drove cleanly and consistently, and while I could nip at his bumper, I couldn’t find a way past. He was the rightful winner of an exhilarating race, and standing on the second step of the podium after the race debrief, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
With mechanical parity, strong competitors, tailored instruction, demanding and reliable karts, wonderful surroundings, and some shiny hardware to place on the mantle, there were plenty of reasons to enjoy that sunny Saturday in Sonoma. In three weeks’ time, I will return for the next Simraceway Arrive & Drive Karting race, hopefully with a new rib protector and a little less around the midsection. With any luck, I’ll be able to bring my A-game. Because of the level of competition present, I’ll certainly need it.