Saturday, May 29, 2004

Varsity Karting 2004

Varsity Karting Report
Event date: Friday May 7th 2004
Event Venue: Rye House, Hertfordshire
Patrick Nicholls, Hertford College

Oxford lost out to Cambridge after a disastrous race in horrible conditions at Rye House in Hertfordshire. The Varsity race, which in recent years has taken a back seat in terms of importance to the British University Karting Championship (due to the BUKC’s much higher spec machinery, better circuits and professional-standard competition), became a total shambles after the monsoon-like conditions caused a number of accidents.

After the BUKC - in which Oxford beat Cambridge in 5 out of 6 rounds - the team were riding the crest of a wave and looking to put another one over on Cambridge in this newly Oxbridge-only event. 18 teams of four drivers split between the two universities lined up for the two-hour endurance races, with a vast range of experience from BUKC regulars to total novices in the lower teams.

The qualifying session became something of a lottery as rain began to fall on the circuit, completely changing the handling of the vehicles. Capable of 65mph in the dry, they were now struggling to stay on the circuit and aquaplaning was a problem even in a straight line. Cambridge 1 took pole position for the race, with Oxford 1 back in 9th on the grid.

As the race began it got even wetter, and Oxford 8 with Pete Eliot in the driving seat showed everyone how to drive, storming off into the lead and leaving the others miles behind. However it was all for nothing, as a computer timing error left them down in 12th and they were then rammed out of the race in a collision.

Oxford’s first team had been running consistently but not quite at the pace of Cambridge 1 in 2nd overall when disaster struck: James Brown was involved in a big accident and the team was forced to retire from the race with 45 minutes still to go. With the best lineup out (one of the star drivers, Adam Craig, was unable to race at all), hope of winning the Varsity back was almost gone.

The remainder of the race was extremely anticlimactic – Oxford 2 put the Cambridge lineup under most pressure but eventually finished way behind. The racing was not aided by either the wet track or the light – from about halfway through it became very dark and visibility was a severe problem.

Varsity Karting 2004 was a big disappointment – the conditions were terrible and the racing was very poor as a result; not a reflection of Oxford’s form by any means. However, they can draw credit from their performance in the BUKC and look forward to 2005 with high hopes.

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Monday, May 10, 2004

BUKC 2004 Rounds 5 & 6 Report

BUKC 2004 Round 5 & 6 Report
Event Date: April 23rd 2004
Event Venue: Clay Pigeon, Dorset
Patrick Nicholls, Hertford College

Oxford’s karting team completed a comprehensive victory over Cambridge in the final two rounds of the British University Karting Championship at the ultra-fast Clay Pigeon circuit in Dorset. They produced their best ever driving at exactly the right time and overcame a substantial points deficit to the Tabs after the previous rounds.

The Clay Pigeon circuit is the fastest on the calendar, with the karts flying along at 85mph for much of the lap and contains several flat-out corners that are exhilarating to drive. With 43 teams trying to get the best possible result for their universities, the action was sure to be frantic and with no cloud and baking hot sunshine, the day was perfect for fast kart racing.

This writer was first up in one of four individual 30-minute races that made up Round 5 of the series. A very fast and extremely consistent performance resulted in a 9th place finish, showing some professionals the way around the track. Adam Craig took 18th in his race after being penalized for knocking a marker cone onto the track, and Marcus Haggers 22nd after spinning immediately after exiting the pitlane from his fuel stop. James Brown’s race was virtually over at the first corner – he spun off and by the time he got back going again was two laps behind, winding up 26th. However Cambridge were way behind, with two of their drivers languishing in lowly mid-thirties positions.

For Round 6, consisting of two 1-hour endurance races for pairs of drivers, Oxford still needed to beat Cambridge by a significant margin to ensure overall victory over them. Haggers and Brown started from last place on the randomly generated grid, and overcome an early spin with some truly amazing driving, slashing their way relentlessly through the field en route to a 13th place finish. The other two drivers then got ready for the final race of the season, with Cambridge still mathematically in with a chance due to the complex points system. The Oxford drivers put in a flawless performance, barely putting a wheel wrong and mixing it with the overall title contenders, eventually finishing 8th. Cambridge seemed to gradually work their way backwards, finally spinning off in frustration.

For the whole season then, Oxford beat Cambridge in 5 out of 6 rounds and the Tabs were only kept in the hunt by Oxford’s points deduction and a bizarre scoring system. After Cambridge Karting Secretary Nikos Darzentas’s comments that “we’ll have you for breakfast”, they were forced to put those words on a plate and eat them. Cambridge were curiously absent from the end-of-season podium celebrations attended by all the other teams – presumably too sore from all the losing…

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BUKC 2004 Rounds 3 & 4 report

BUKC 2004 Round 3 & 4 Report
Event Date: March 27th 2004
Event Venue: Warden Law, Sunderland
Patrick Nicholls, Hertford College

Oxford’s karting team took a step in the right direction in the third and fourth rounds of the ultra-competitive British University Karting Championship at the spectacular Warden Law circuit near Sunderland.
After the opening two rounds had promised more than they actually delivered, the team scored a number of good results and started moving nicely up the championship table.

As the 40 teams arrived the circuit was struck by a shower, making the track slippery, which can be treacherous when the karts are ultra-lightweight and are capable of 85mph and insanely quick acceleration. This meant that the first few of the day’s individual 15-minute races would be very unpredictable.

This writer started things off with a 14th place, with James Brown following that up with a 15th, which could’ve been even better – he spun twice. Local boy Adam Craig was up next, and showed his class by charging into the lead almost immediately and racing away from professionals with Formula 3, Sportscar and Le Mans 24hr experience. He stretched his lead to around 8 seconds – an eternity in kart racing – but spun off on the second to last lap, eventually finishing 5th but almost having claimed Oxford’s debut win. Marcus Haggers was rather rusty but claimed midfield results, as did the other two drivers again before Craig’s second race. Again he raced away into an early lead, but was held up while lapping a backmarker and in the end had to settle for second – the team’s first ever podium.

The team then competed in 2 one-hour endurance races in pairs for Round 4– both showings were blighted by spins but the team claimed 19th place overall, and 21st for the results of the 8 15-minute races that made up Round 3.

Oxford had now beaten Cambridge in 3 out of 4 rounds, and lost narrowly in the other, but thanks to some poor driving in round 2 had picked up a points deduction, meaning that they sat 11 points and 5 places behind their rivals going into the final two rounds of the championship. However their pace to run at the front of the pack had been shown.

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BUKC 2004 Round 2 Report

BUKC 2004 Round 2 Report
Event Date: March 3rd 2004
Event Venue: Rye House, Hertfordshire
Patrick Nicholls, Hertford College

Oxford’s karting team endured a rough ride at the second round of the British University Karting Championship (BUKC) at Rye House in Hertfordshire. As with the opening round in Kent, the racing promised better results for the team than it delivered due to some silly mistakes by the drivers.

The circuit is mostly tight and twisty, but with a long main straight - allowing the karts to reach almost 80mph - and virtually flat-out opening corner there is some variety to the layout. The circuit is very narrow, and negotiating traffic carefully and staying out of trouble would be the key to a good race. Each driver in the four-person team has to do a 30 minute race with one compulsory fuel stop.

This writer was up first, and started from 31st on the grid with plenty to do. Places were made up in the frantic action, with several of the country’s best racers out on track, but the race was ruined by a needless collision and penalty which brought an eventual result of 23rd, rather than the anticipated top 15 finish. However, Cambridge’s Ben Evans, by far their best driver, could only manage 20th.

Tom Gibson raced next, starting from 5th, and held his own in 7th against many better-known drivers until he too was involved in a rather reckless accident which resulted in him knocking another driver off the circuit and another stop-go penalty in the pits costing a lot of time – he finished 23rd too. Rajiv Mulchandani suffered a couple of spins in his race, including one at the first corner, but otherwise put in a good showing to come in 24th after starting 32nd.

Adam Craig went in the day’s last race, and started from third on the grid. He got ahead of Super 1 Karting champion Phil Ingram of Leeds (one of the series’ very best drivers) and held his own in second place for much of the race. After his pitstop, he remained there until again becoming involved in a collision and being penalized with the inevitable black flag. This cost him almost exactly a lap, with him ironically coming out right behind Ingram and shadowing him for the remainder of the race – a sign of what might have been. He finished 15th.

The team placed 30th/40 overall, again significantly ahead of Cambridge despite all the penalties given out. The series heads to Warden Law in Sunderland in three weeks time, where a much better result is definitely up for grabs if the team can keep out of trouble.

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BUKC 2004 Round 1 Report

BUKC 2004 Round 1 Report
Event venue: Bayford Meadows, Kent
Event Date: 18th Feb 2004
Patrick Nicholls, Hertford College
Oxford’s karting team embarked on their third season in the high speed British University Karting Championship with a solid if unspectacular run at Bayford Meadows near Sittingbourne in Kent. After a truly awful 2003 with only a few bright spots (30th/38 overall) and a narrow defeat in the Varsity race, the team hoped that this year’s new championship format would bring a change in fortunes.

The championship is the pinnacle of student motorsport in the UK, with 85mph, 0-60 in 4 second karts and with several professional racing drivers (Le Mans 24hr, Formula 3 and GT racing experience) in the field, Oxford are unlikely to be in contention for wins. 40 teams from over 25 universities around the country are competing this year so the competition is bound to be fierce.

Each round is composed of 4 individual races, with the worst result from the four drivers in each team being dropped. First up for Oxford was James Brown, who put in a solid run but threw it all away by spinning at the second-to-last corner, winding up in 26th position. He was followed by Rob Jacobs, who again drove well but spun on some oil dropped by another kart to end up 25th.

Adam Craig was up next, and started very well, getting up to 7th position, before unluckily being forced off the track after a desperate move by another competitor and was then given a penalty for jumping the start. This dropped him down to 30th position, but he then drove superbly, passing and racing away from reality TV show ‘Be A Grand Prix Driver’ winner Mark Johnston of Swansea and setting some brilliant laptimes. He eventually finished in an unrepresentative 20th – but he had shown that he can run near the front in races to come.

This writer then rounded things off with a consistent performance to finish 15th, our best result of the day. As a team, overall not a bad result, but it could’ve been so much better. However, the disappointment was sweetened slightly after a woeful day for Cambridge, who put in some dismal showings and were well beaten in three out of four races by the Oxford drivers. The championship next moves to Rye House, Hertfordshire in two weeks time for the second of six rounds.

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BUKC 2004 Test day - Rye House

Patrick Nicholls
Venue, Rye House Raceway, Hertfordshire
Event Date: Wednesday 26th November

Oxford’s karting team recently took part in a test day for the British University Karting Championship (BUKC) at Rye House in Hertfordshire. The test, compulsory for new drivers to the series, is an extremely useful practice for when the drivers are let loose in the karts for the championship – which uses karts capable of 85mph and 0-60 in 4 seconds. As if that wasn’t tough enough, thirty other universities will be competing, including several professional racing drivers, and the series is held at the best circuits across the country. Thus it is vital for the teams to get in some experience at the test day.

When the team got to the circuit, it became clear that the day would be quite a challenge. Rain was falling heavily and there were large lakes all over the track, and bogs forming off it! The rain continued to fall for the first couple of hours of the session, which meant that plenty of the teams present encountered problems, with many spins and accidents occurring as drivers lost control of their vehicles in the tricky conditions - at one stage there was a massive pileup involving 15 karts. However Oxford’s Adam Craig seemed very happy with the monsoon-like conditions, posting what was at the time the 5th quickest time of the 35 teams racing.

OUMDC Karting Secretary Tom Gibson, trying out the quick TKM karts for the first time, put in some consistent laps and concentrated hard on building up his experience, along with the other Oxford BUKC newcomers Dave Glanville, James Bueno and Julian Tse, and James Brown who had raced in last year’s BUKC with some success.

As the session wore on, the sun finally appeared and gradually spread across the circuit, bringing some welcome relief to the drivers who by now were completely soaked. However it also made the track incredibly unpredictable as parts of it dried out and others stayed wet and full of puddles which unsettle the karts. Lap times tumbled all around and James Brown put in Oxford’s quickest lap of the day, closely followed by Julian Tse and Adam Craig (who lost out due to having all his time in the kart when it was still very wet).

Unfortunately at the end of the day Oxford wound up near the bottom of the timesheets, but due to the rather random nature of the weather are still hopeful of putting in a good performance in next year’s championship races.

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Cuppers Karting 2003

Patrick Nicholls, Hertford
Event date – 18/11/03

Hertford took victory in the second annual Cuppers Karting event, depriving LMH of the title they won last year.

The venue was the tight and twisty indoor circuit at Klub Kart Racing in Aylesbury, which is a great circuit for racers of all abilities, and presents many difficulties. The many tight turns mean that overtaking is challenging, and dealing with slower karts can cost drivers a lot of time. The nature of the race – a 2-hour team endurance event – would also mean that the teams’ stamina and tactics would be fully tested in addition to their driving skills. Fast, consistent driving and good pit-stop strategy would be vital in order to be successful.

The teams competing first had to try and secure the best spots on the grid during a 20-minute qualifying session. The action was furious, especially with cold tyres on the karts to start with. However it was Univ who took the pole position to put them in a good position for the race. The tension rose in preparation for the start, which in time-honoured fashion was conducted to the old BBC Grand Prix theme music and some suitably funky disco lighting to build up the atmosphere.

At the start, Univ held their lead, with Hertford losing out for 2nd to Jesus at the opening corner. However, at the next turn Jesus got it all wrong and hit the wall hard, dropping them down the order. In the opening laps the action was particularly frantic, with many teams trying hard to make up ground but overcooking it and causing plenty of accidents. By 10 minutes into the race Hertford had taken a lead that they would never relinquish, but the race behind was very closely fought.

There were plenty of changes to the order as the race went on, with a few stop-and-go penalties being given out for causing accidents, or speeding under yellow flags (which are displayed when there is an accident). Among those affected were Templeton and Jesus – who compounded the penalty by crashing on the way into the ‘sin-bin’. This dropped them from second back to the middle of the pack.

As the race neared its conclusion, the strategies employed by the teams became clear. Some teams had saved their best drivers for last – including Wadham’s Adam Craig, who set an Oxford track record of 27.00 seconds.

The finishing order was Hertford, Univ, Queens, Jesus, Templeton, Mansfield, Merton, with Wadham bringing up the rear of the eight teams contesting this final despite the impressive laptimes. Hertford’s victory was achieved through consistency rather than outright speed on the day, but was still well-deserved.

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