The Nationals- Mallala, June 24/25

The Deep End

There's rocks on the bottom... The Superkart Non-Gearbox National Championships were held at Mallala Motorsport park, 1 hour north of Adelaide. Normally a P-plater like me is not eligible to run the Nats but for beauracratic reasons I will not go into here, 2006 was an exception. So, only my second race meeting ever was the biggest meeting of the year.

It's called the non-gearbox nationals but a small number of 80cc Gearbox karts joined us because their speeds are similar. There were a total of 42 karts. That's a lot.

Mallala used to be my "home track" if you count club sprints in an old Austin Sprite I had when I was 19, too many years ago. The facilities have changed somewhat but the circuit layout is the same. I was looking forward to seeing the old place again, from the right side of the fence

Friday 23rd Jun - private practice

After some niggles at Winton earlier I was all nervous about reliability. That was the least of my problems. After some laps in the first of three sessions it seemed to all be honking along nicely. Then I had a near-harmless spin on turn 7 in front of three others. Two got past, one didn't. He hit the front right corner hard enough for me to think the weekend was all over.

Surprisingly, I drove away with some fairing damage and a bent rim which I didn't discover until the following day. The other guy, #83 Martin Latta, was less fortunate with some bent axles and steering damage. He was none too pleased but everyone agrees that there is no right way to make a simple mistake. Even #83's owner accepted it was a "racing incident".

It was back in one piece by the third session. It's moments like this you remember not to take yourself too seriously. We're just racing karts. Not saving the world. Having said that, I was none too keen to go having silly little loses in traffic so I played it as safe as possible.

The final session's only worry was a return of the overheating problem. Other than that, the thing was running smoothly. More repairs and then the machine was put to bed for the night.

Saturday June 24th- Qualifying

Naturally it was just prior to scrutineering when I discovered that I had a bent front right rim from the prang. Local kart shop and road racing specialist Ian Williams popped my tyres onto his spare rims and lent them to me for the weekend. After a flurry of other modifications we hit the track for Practice 1, which I later discovered was changed to "Qualifying 1". So, what used to be Q1 was now Q2 and Q3 was later cancelled. Geddit?

Since we were running as support to the CAMS National Racing Series, (as seen on SBS' Speedweek Program) we did not expect the program run to schedule all weekend. With the big title races like V8 Commodore Cup, Formula 3 and GT Production, if there were any delays it was a sure thing that the little superkarts would lose a session or two. It turned out that our second Qualifying would be the one to go. Naturally we didn't learn of this cancellation until after the first Qualifying.

Oh, and another bonus about running at such a hard-core car race meeting was that, being at ground level, us superkarters get to see all the debris and rubbish that the cars leave behind. I dodged nuts, bolts, brake ducts and fan belts.

Q1:

I have to admit that the whole qualifying thing, the thrill of searching for that perfect lap to bank a good time, is a huge rush. Finding a clear lap amongst 42 karts was the big challenge.

I thought I'd found one on around my fifth lap, but heading into turn one, the major bump at the apex finally got me and I had the mother of all spins. I don't know how many times I gyrated but it put me right back in the traffic, with some big flat spots on the tyres vibrating like buggery. I posted a 1:23.3685 and was a little sheepish about taking T1 flat again.

You can find the whole stats of quali 1 here . I qualified 27th out of 42. My big surprise come race day was that, despite being a "P" Plater, I would be starting from my quali spot, NOT the rear of grid as I'd thought. It was a long way back anyway... Before I make too many excuses I will post the following; there are many ways to take my performance but overall I was happy. I'd elected to run in the "lightweight" class (160kg) but knew I would be hopelessly overweight for that. The next weight break for heavies is 180kg. I was around 170 so it was either put on a ridiculous amount of ballast or just suck it in and run uncompetitive with the waify boys. I was never expecting any trophies this time around so it really didn't bother me.

It did bother some of the heavies though!

I really did think I had a little more speed in hand but then found out that Q2 (Q3??) was cancelled. At least I got to go home early.

Sunday, June 25.

Race 1 was scheduled for 10.20am, and I have never been so nervous. I'm told being nervous is good. I don't know about that. I qualified 27th but had to start from 30th because the 80cc Gearbox karts are put at front of field for safety reasons (they take off much quicker), and obviously I had outqualified some of the 80's.

So I came into the meeting expecting to have a nice relaxing start right at the rear of grid, and here I was right in the thick of it, slightly rear of the midfield pack. The Mallala grid winds all the way back past the last corner. That's where I was.

Race 1

I think all of the 12 karts behind me passed me at the start when I put the right foot down and nothing happened. Some annoying little carburettion problem perhaps. It cleared itself by the start finish line and off I went, almost last. The rest is quite a blur but I was having a nice duel with pit buddy Ron Goldfinch (SA), and got the occasional love tap from Lee Filliponi (VIC).

My Friday crash mate Martin Latta was in the mix but I eventually got past him, with a slight weight advantage.

In lights, Deane Crooke, who had qualified fifth, had a spin at Turn 7 trying to abort an overtake under yellow flags in a spirited dice with Stewart Campbell (SA) and Stratton Limberis (SA) among others. His recovery drive was stirring, eventually passing me and finishing 25th.

The perennial Colin McIntyre topped the heavy class, finishing 10th outright from 22nd. There were incidents galore and many yellow flags. Overall my thing performed well. The brakes were a bit spongy and tyres stayed consistent. I finished 27th, three spots ahead of where I started. Considering how many spots I lost at the green light, that wasn't bad.

Race stats here

Race 2

Starting order was as per finishing positions in race 1. The only change I made between races was to make the gearing a little taller. Since I was expecting to spend most of the race running in a pack, there would be plenty of slipstreaming. You really notice the engine spin up about 400rpm when you're behind someone. This time I started a little better, but the thing still coughed and spluttered off the line. I dropped to 29th at the start.

Lap 3 I was 27th, lap 4 Michael Rogers and Ron Goldfinch (SA) nailed me, but lap 5 I follwed them through Andrew Beams and Jason Burton (SA) to grab 25th on the last lap. Moving up again! Very happy. But I was particularly keen to catch Alastair Punshon (SA #54) as I knew he was running very similar weight and setup to me. This put him right ahead of me on the grid for race 3.

results here

Race 3

Finally the misfire didn't bother me at the start and I flew (or actually, crawled, as the non-gearbox karts tend to do) past Alastair Punshon at the start. I even nailed Kristian Stebbing, one of Victoria's State Championship front-runners, briefly on lap 1.

Commencing lap 2 and going into my favourite turn 1, I threw it down the road again, obviously having learned nothing from Q1 yesterday. The problem was, the chassis flexed so much that the chain flew off and I free-wheeled conveniently into the pit entrance with no prop.

Theoretically, it is impossible to put a chain on, to the correct adjustment, by hand. But by some mysterious quirk I was able to do just that. I rejoined, with the leaders bearing down on me, about to put me a lap down. Whilst grimacing, waiting for the damaged chain to go "bang" I drove the wheels off the thing trying to stay ahead of the leaders. In fact I equalled my qualifying time in the process. But they were too quick, not to mention 10 kilos lighter, and I obeyed the blue flags.

It was interesting though, to run with the leaders for a lap, albeit last. My nemesis Alastair Punshon (a lovely bloke, that #54) finished 24th. So I could have been 23rd or higher. What if, what if, what if. What if I hadn't made a stupid mistake. Sigh...results here but just ignore the last couple of lines.

Race 4

My combined results put me grid 30th for the 8 lap final. On lap one Dean Crooke in the Hypermax spun it again, this time on turn 3, as did Brad Stebbing and others. Even from my vantage point back there I could see clouds of dust and karts everywhere. This must have given me a leg up to be 27th by end lap 1.

But that meant these front runners would be trailblazing from rear of field and catching us slower guys, it was just a matter of time.

In the meantime I spent most of the race having a great dice with Ron Goldfinch again. Whilst it was a little disheartening to be only on the pace of a heavier weight competitor, Ron is one of SA's frontrunners, so my speed was mostly encouraging. Every lap, side by side down the straight and braking duels into the northern hairpin. Great fun. Our pace put me as high as 25th on lap 3 and 4, but I still couldn't nail Ron, and was getting tired of looking at the #46 on his bumper.

Then on lap 7 the fast guys loomed, recovering from their first lap spins, just as I was having a crack at Ron. Rod Clark, Brad Stebbing and Deane Crooke menaced me going into the northern hairpin, and I planned to let them through after exiting the hairpin, hopefully having a crack at Mr. Goldfinch as they passed him.

The kerb on the outside of the northern hairpin is rather nasty and tall. I managed to miss it all weekend, until now. Trying to get a fast exit I threw it up onto the kerb, sparks and debris flying everywhere, not to mention getting a very sore bum in the process. Deane Crooke told me later it was a spectacular sight. It kinda took the wind out of my sails and I lost touch with Goldfinch, eventually finishing 27th. Right where I started! Results here

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In what other sport can you push like a lunatic, drive madly around in circles and finish exactly where you started? Not many, I suspect. We're not saving the world, we're just racing silly little karts.

 

 

 


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