TW Steel DMAX Champs 2015 Round 1 : Did I Finish Last?

My first experience of racing in the TW Steel DMAX Championships

Some readers may be aware that for some time now I have loved going karting. Normally in the sort of format most people do; the arrive and drive sessions offered by many tracks. I have also raced in some charity events with some very experienced racing drivers like Damon Hill. I had never actually entered into a championship though and I had never raced with people who had years of karting experience - never that is until the 15th of Feb 2015!

The background

As a motoring journalist you get asked to cover lots of different things; it’s not just testing cars! I for one always like to have a go at something new. So when the lovely people at Daytona Motorsport asked if I would consider joining the TW Steel DMAX Championship this year I naturally jumped at the chance. But what did I really know about it? The answer is not a great deal!

I love turning up at a kart track with friends, posting a few lap times and arguing about who is the best. It’s exciting, fun, fast and a great way to spend time pretending to be a racing driver; it is also a great way to build up your confidence. It was this confidence that lead me to say yes to the DMAX Champs this year. I thought I was pretty good, not great, but certainly not slow but as round one loomed in the calendar I did start to wonder if pretty good was anywhere near good enough.

DMAX Karts

First of all DMAX karts are 2 stroke not 4 stroke and, as such, are considerably faster than the karts you are likely to drive at your local track. They handle better, offer more traction and are a lot more like the kind of karts all the famous F1 drivers started out in. Because of this I took the chance to have a 3 hour masterclass kart lesson at Daytona Motorsport in Sandown prior to round 1, and I am very glad I did. You can watch a video of this below:

Having a small amount of time in a DMAX kart before taking part in a full race was really useful; it certainly wasn’t any replacement for good old fashioned practice and track time but it did give me a brilliant grounding and ultimately stopped me embarrassing myself, well almost.

The race format

The TW Steel DMAX Championship is run across 10 race days. You can do one, or more, of these days but many people do all 10, the best 8 races count towards final points so you are allowed a bad day or two. The actual race days are firstly broken into weight classes so there is no moaning from your portly pal about being at a disadvantage. This is all very fair and, as a rather slight chap I entered the Lights group. You can also choose between a 1 hour endurance race or the heats races. The choice is basically an hour long slog with lots of time to make your move but with real danger of getting so tired you can’t turn the wheel, or 3 intense short heats with a final where the racing is full tilt from the off. As a first timer I went for the heats.

The experience

As the season goes on I will be looking at different aspects of the championships and hopefully offer you, the reader, something of an racer’s-eye view of how it all feels, works and evolves. For now, however, I wanted to look back at the first race and what it felt like to be a newbie on what is the fastest arrive and drive karting championship in the UK; Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the TW Steel DMAX Championships 2015!

Arrival and weigh in

The first thing that strikes you when you walk into the race centre for round 1 is that everyone loves karting. This may seem obvious but it more than just a load of people standing around waiting for a race, these people are here early, kitted up, fit and healthy and keen to learn, chat and be part of something for the next 10 months and it makes for quite an atmosphere.

After getting my newly acquired kit on, including my rib protector which, thankfully, no one saw me trying to get into. It suffices to say it was a struggle getting my suit over it and when I did it was with some grunting and a wince as I actually gave myself a full on “Nelson Munce” wedgy. That task completed I strolled out to join the other racers and to get weighed. After some pre season fitness work and a very healthy diet since Christmas I came in at a svelte 69 KGs fully kitted up. The minimum allowed is 70 so I was ordered to carry a single lead weight on my kart for the day. This is key to making sure everything is fair and just another little thing that makes this whole event and season a well oiled machine.

There was a fair bit of standing around prior to the race briefing but everyone is happy to chat and quite a few people are there on their own. I am not someone who takes part in a lot of sport so this may be rather normal, or it may just be that karters are nice people, hopefully both.


After a very in depth briefing about how the heats work, where to get your grid positions, how to behave and some amusing discussions about pretending your testicles are attached to either side of your kart we were ready to go!

The call came out for practice and off we went, after a spin on the first corner I started to feel my way round the track, which was entirely new to me, and, so I thought, I started to get a bit of pace. After a short break it was time for heat 1.

I am not going to do a blow by blow account of each race but a few things became clear after the first 2 heats;

  1. This was certainly real, full on, seat of the pants racing.
  2. I am not very quick; all of the arrive and drive wins and stag do victories really don’t add up to much once you are on a real grid
  3. Bravery counts, not stupidity, but good old fashioned grit, hold your line and push for the gaps.
  4. I was going to need a lot more practice.
  5. This was one of the most fun and adrenaline fuelled things I had ever done (and I have done a fair few)
One of the most bonkers parts was the rolling grid start, the formation lap is like a game of chess with people nudging and pressuring each other to speed up or slow down ready for the green light. Rather embarrassingly I went far too slow and almost ruined an entire start...sorry everyone! I soon learnt how to do it properly for heat 2 and certainly won’t be making that mistake again. The speed of the racing was incredible, trying to fit 4 karts into one corner certainly doesn’t work but it’s so much fun having a go. I really cannot get across just how intense an experience the DMAX racing is, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t done it would even begin to understand, sadly, but thankfully I have another 9 races to go to try and get it into words.

There were bumps, spins, and a lot of moments where I was clearly being over taken and out gunned. There were some scary moments where I pushed myself too hard and nearly came off going full chat, I followed the lines of the better racers, I took advice from my fellow racers and I tried to absorb as much as I could.

OK so I didn’t win anything, but I didn’t come last. I was steady, I made only minimal mistakes and where other people had bigger crashes, I managed to grab a place or two throughout the day. I got faster and I got braver and I had one hell of a good time.

Where did I actually finish?

Well, the championship standings show me currently lying 17th on a grid of 20 drivers. When I started my goal was simply not to come last in the first round so I will take this as a victory for me at least. For the winners of the day my performance was probably pitiful but everyone had fun, roll on round 2 - Sandown! March the 15th.

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