TW Steel DMAX Championship Round 3 : Coping With Coming Last

As many of you will now hopefully be aware, this year I am taking part in the TW Steel Daytona DMAX karting championships. This means once a month I travel to a track in the UK and pit my somewhat modest karting skills against around 20 other drivers in my weight class.

So far I have taken part in 3 races, the 3rd of which is the subject of this very piece. I have learnt to be faster, braver, and where I am actually meant to be on a rolling grid start. I have also made some friends, had some crashes and generally had an amazing time. What I have not done, however, is win anything. My goal at the start was to finish the 10 race season anywhere but last and so far things have been just about clear of the back position. Round 3, however, saw things take a turn for the worse and I found myself learning how to cope with winning competition of not winning.

The Drivers

I think it is fair to say I am largely out gunned by every driver on the track in and out of my own “lights” weight class. I have found a few friends who are also racing at the back but I am really only just able to say we are at the same level and that is on a good day. So it suffices to say I should be prepared for coming last. Some of the people on the grid like Chris Hackworth and Dom Whiting among others, have been doing this a long time, I would say most of the grid have certainly been racing a good few years longer than me and have been doing the DMAX champs for 3, 4 and sometimes more years. Don’t let this lead you into thinking it is impossible to beat these guys, it’s not, but you have to be good and I think I am realising that I am really not that at all.

The Past

Over the last few years I have done various “arrive and drive” sessions at different tracks. Often these sessions were months apart and always in the slower 4 stroke karts more suited to the general public. In these races I often did well; and this lead me to think I was some kind of missed opportunity of a racer, that given the right opportunities when I was younger I might have been really good. Well, I think the reality was, that I don’t weigh much and I was always up against people that were heavier than me, and also, a lot of time people taking it less seriously than me. These factors combined may have created an atmosphere where I was able to keep winning without really competing with anyone very quick; too self deprecating? Well, perhaps, but there is certainly some partial truth to it. I am a keen and competent driver, I know how to handle a kart and I know how to handle powerful and fast cars but racing is a completely different skill.

The Track

Round 3 of the TW Steel DMAX Championships was held at Whilton Mill in Northampton. It was the first race of the season where I opted for a hotel the night before and I also booked a practice session too! This meant I had a full 30 minutes of driving the night before the race. I was not the only one either, all 3 sessions were fully booked, and some drivers were doing the lot. Yes, 1.5 hours of practice and they had all driven there before! Another fact that may or may not be important is that Whilton Mill is probably the fastest track in the DMAX calendar and certainly the fastest track I have ever driven on. You will recall my first full race start in Milton Keynes, my shock at how intense the racing was, and how much I felt I needed to learn. Well, the shock has now gone, but the rest still stands and on a fast track, heading into the corner at full tilt alongside 20 other racers is no easier 3rd time around.

The Race and the Excuses

I’m a man, well, that’s what the doctors say anyway, either way I will always offer a raft of excuses after anything other than a perfect piece of DIY, cooking, parking, and frankly any other activity I partake in so racing is no exception.

In practice I was putting in some decent times, the leaders were lapping at around 51 seconds, and I was hitting low 53s and the odd 52. I was pleased and I was just a touch faster than my fellow runners in what we call the Marussia vs Caterham battle, so things looked good. Even in the pre heats warm up laps I was keeping up. So when it came to the racing I was very positive. The snag seemed to appear when the grid positions for the heat were posted up. The way it works, and it is a little boring, is that you race in 3 heats and each heat you have a grid position. The total of these positions are equal for all drivers, so sometimes you start at the front, other times at the back. For the less skilled racers starting further back is easier, it means you don’t get caught up in what can only be described as a scrap for the top positions in turn 1, 2 and 3. Race 1 I was OK, and fairly near the back, race 2 however saw me right near the front of the grid and looking over the ledge right down into the inky blackness of 16 or so drivers behind me all solely focused on getting past me and everyone around them.

By the time I had reached turn 2, which is basically turn 1 as the aforementioned corner is merely a kink, I was already trying to back out a little to let others past. This, however, doesn’t work, you get knocked and bumped from all sides and I got hit from behind and went off.  I got back on but in a 7 lap heat it’s really not a good start. The same happened again in heat 3 as you can see on the video; this was no fault of anyone’s but my own. I was trying to find some room where there simply wasn’t any and off I went. Annoyingly I got caught on the grass and it took a while to get going again, once I did things went from bad to worse. If you have ever played golf, you may have been told to stop thinking about your swing and just do it, by over thinking you end up making more mistakes. Well, I think the same can be said for racing, I was over thinking and panicking about being last so much I drove appallingly.  I basically over cooked it on most of the corners and lost time consistently as a result. Despite what Top Gear may teach young drivers, going sideways round a corner is not the fastest route, sliding is slow, grip is fast and I had enough slide to make a water park feel inadequate.

Then Things Got Worse!

Yes, my over thinking, and over steering type of day was about to get worse. As I continued my lonely vigil at the magnetic pole of victory I saw a black flag warning on the gantry. Each race you get a different kart, and no one remembers their number, so when the flag went up I could only assume it was for me. Had I done anything wrong? No, but my mental state was such that I just found myself guilty of an unknown infraction and proceeded to start trying to read the number on the front of my kart while doing about 50 mph. This didn't work very well, I did finally work out that the flag was not for me. But over the course of 1 maybe 2 laps of me trying to check my kart number I lost even more time. Passing the chequered flag after the pack was not fun, it did not help that there were a fair few people watching either.

The Final (Insult)

It will come as no surprise to you that I qualified last for the final. However, I was in good spirits. I could not fall any further back than last, I had got all the bad racing out of the way, and I was hoping to grab a place or two back from my fellow rear admirals. The reality was a little different, I simply failed to perform, I couldn't string a good run of corners together, after 1 or 2 I would then go wide, or brake to early and knock off all my entry speed. This only got worse as the pack gradually left me behind and I, once again, commenced my night watchman duty. Then, suddenly things changed, I was gaining on the last 2 places, I had found my rhythm; it was coming together! The adrenalin coursed through my body, I was hunting, and I was going to eat well tonight after all.

Well, not quite, in short; a few racers had an incident and found themselves just in front of the people I was chasing. They then had another off and my quarry got past them just as the yellow flag came down in front of me. I had to come off the throttle, the 2 drivers got back on in front of me and I had lost my chance to catch my prey. I raced hard but the 2 guys now in front were quicker than me and not only got away but made it past my targets too. I had lost it all and the final loss was not entirely down to my bad driving.

The Lesson

What can you do about coming last; nothing, all you can focus on is the next race. I have had my bad day now; others have had them before me. The lesson for anyone who races is simply not to carry a loss with you. This applies to losses during heats, but also between race days, I drove badly when I was worrying about my position, I will drive better now I have learnt not to worry about it.

Did I have fun? Of course I did, I loved every minute of it...well all except passing the chequered flag last, I’ll do my best to avoid ever having to do that again.

Watch the official round 3 video by Ben James:


At Motor Heads we appreciate every opinion! except SPAM! Comments are moderated, so if you want to link to your motoring site please ensure its relevant to the conversation, otherwise your comment will be removed.

  1. The review of the championship could not have been better!

    Show Auto Reviews


Post a Comment

At Motor Heads we appreciate every opinion! except SPAM! Comments are moderated, so if you want to link to your motoring site please ensure its relevant to the conversation, otherwise your comment will be removed.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post