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Author Topic: Corporate Games Karting  (Read 1900 times)

Offline Alianora La Canta

Corporate Games Karting
« on: June 25, 2018, 10:13:18 PM »
Warning! Long post alert! (Part 1)

I've been quiet for the past week or so. This is because I've been taking preparations for the biggest event of my sporting calendar very seriously. No, not the upcoming trip to Hungary for the F1 race, but the 2018 Corporate Games, this year part of the Stoke and Staffordshire games. Dad and I were two of the 45 athletes representing my company (as Team-CXC) in a big annual sporting festival.

There were 22 sports being played in the games, from Olympic staples like running to less obvious choices such as dragon boating and poker. Dad and I were two of my team's 5 karters, and we'd also been nominated to be on the endurance team. This was a heavy responsibility and we decided to plan accordingly.

We managed two incomplete karting practise sessions before the big week. One of them, I not only managed to crash at a rate of approximately once every 2.4 minutes and got lost twice (yes, on a kart track), but also needed two helpers to get out of the kart afterwards. The other, I overheated so spectacularly that I had to miss one of my allotted 10-minute practise sessions to cool down. Oh dear. Dad was faster than me, which didn't say very much as he was 10 seconds slower than everyone else (on a track that, admittedly, took over a minute for even the quickest racers in our session).

So it didn't look good when we went to Stoke on Thursday, bringing what felt like half the world's stuff with us because Dad had been internet shopping and collected lots of stuff he'd bought on the way there. Naturally, we got lost twice in the process because the satnav had almost as little clue as to Stoke's layout as we did (neither of us had visited before). After a quick stop at the food court to collect our keys (first team members to arrive!) and another at the sports centre down the road to get our athletes' passes, we went to our base for the next 3 nights.

We stayed in Staffordshire University's dorm rooms, on the second floor. Even though I have a degree, this is the first time I've spent a night in a dorm room, because I commuted to university. There were no lifts - clearly the assumption is that all the karters were fit - and there was a certain worn-out feel to the place. That made me more comfortable. Yes, some people prefer slick and illusory impeccability, but I've stayed in worse places. The kitchen was particularly nice. Three big fridge/freezers, two hobs, two sinks, a microwave, a machine that gave instant boiling water (obviating the need for a kettle), seating for 12 and a 50-inch TV. As a communal space, it was superb.

The bedrooms were maybe not so great. I found the prison-style bed with its squishy thin duvey comfy but Dad thought it was too hard and his pillow had fungus on it. (I wouldn't have wanted fungus on my pillow either...) More of a problem to me was that the room got stuffy easily - it took me 1 1/2 hours to render the room able to be slept in after I returned on Saturday night, particularly impressive since that was after sunset! Both of us got woken up at least once by sunshine slipping through the blinds. On the other hand, the desk was solid, the chair was good, there was a sink suitable for washing clothes and there were plenty of places to charge electronics. I'd brought a laptop and an MP3 player; the latter saw more use because we agreed the music on it was better than on the radio stations (Dad and I like many of the same songs, and I have a folder of music specifically for shared long car journeys. He now finds the occasional forays into Norse Viking metal and French pop amusing...)

Anyhow, we were there for about an hour before leaving to go to the track. We'd decided that due to our lack of preparation, an evening of practise racing away from the eyes of our rivals would be helpful. The track was Fastlane Karting and the staff were extremely helpful. They explained everything, made sure we understood the briefing and then took the disclaimers we signed on paper. We would be racing eight highly experienced drivers.

Well... ..."racing" is a big word. I managed all of 6 laps in the kart before my pedals gradually lost responsiveness. I persisted for a while, but then pitted when my brakes stopped working. After explaining to the marsh, he offered me another kart. Dad stopped in the pits and offered his. We swapped, and I lasted all of 5 laps before my brakes started to suffer. I went onto the back straight, took off all steering, put my foot a foot away from the accelerator area and tried to brake. It took 4 attempts to get the brake to respond. I had to pit and swap kart. I was told that I must have been double-pedalling. Um, how?

That one gave up after 2 laps, so I parked and stayed parked.

At the end of the race, Dad came in and said "The only thing wrong with that kart is that the tyres are shot..."

We elected to have our second race transferred into the Corporate Games practise session, since I was getting spectacularly frustrated (think Romain Grosjean minus the swearing) and clearly learning nothing. Dad was not impressed. Fortunately, we'd got some pastries to eat on arrival at the hotel. We met my team-mates in the karting, established I was the only karter who was actually working for the company we were competing for at that moment (!) and agreed to meet at the track before first practise tomorrow.

With that inauspicious start, how did the weekend go? Tune in tomorrow, my friends...

Percussus resurgio
@lacanta (Twitter) (Blog/Tumblr)

Offline Alianora La Canta

Re: Corporate Games Karting
« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2018, 12:09:58 AM »
I just typed some of the next part, but the computer lost it, so I'll have to try again later.
Percussus resurgio
@lacanta (Twitter) (Blog/Tumblr)

Offline Warmwater

Re: Corporate Games Karting
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2018, 06:24:35 PM »
Very interesting, can't wait for the next installment.
Good Luck!
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.” ― Mario Andretti.

Offline Alianora La Canta

Re: Corporate Games Karting
« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2018, 09:11:35 PM »
Three-and-a-half months is a bit "later"...

Friday morning, and my team convenes at the breakfast buffet. As usual, I have one of everything - including the pineapple juice, much to my team-mates' puzzlement. None of us have paid for the extra practise sessions, but Dad and I did get entry into one of them because our unused half-session got transferred by the organisers. Therefore, we have to be at the track early - there are about 20 parking spaces and 74 competitors!

We manage not to get lost on the way to the track and signed in. There was visible relief on the receptionist's face when he saw I was in a better frame of mind than the previous day. The briefing involved the exact same video as I remembered from two years earlier, when Dad and I had karted at the Kurburgring in Sutton-in-Ashfield (and, indeed, the same as the one from the previous night). Afterwards, we all had to sign a piece of paper confirming we'd watched it and would follow the rules. I had to explain this to several of my rivals, who didn't believe the organiser when he said this needed to be done, that the track insisted on this extra step. (Most arrive-and-drive tracks in the UK only require the mandatory video to be watched, and for a staff member to supervise to make sure nobody was excessively goofing off).

I could see that some of the ones taking this least seriously were already kitted out in team-liveried overalls. Not for my team. We borrowed the track's overalls and helmets (though we did all bring our own balaclavas - mine was the only one in company colours, because that happened to be the colour of my local track's membership option). I was wearing a pair of office trousers, with my company T-shirt over the top of my Monaco 2014 one and a bright blue £1 back protector. You'd think I'd have used a technical T-shirt as my undershirt, but I'd tried that on Thursday and it hadn't helped.

In practise, I tried being more careful with my foot positions and also using less brakes. This worked a charm. My kart worked for 20 whole minutes in a row. I only crashed once, and managed to get out of the corner without marshal help. I found one of the red-liveried Vodafone drivers and followed him for five laps to get a feel for the correct line. It was definitely the fastest team on track, and I had been warned that they, along with IBM, were "semi-professional" teams who practised every week and got company funding for their gear (not just the entries and accommodations like the rest of us). I could do with all the learning I could get.

Dad and I had been learning too, and was still faster than me, but only by about 0.4 seconds. We duly got our telemetry, went into the viewing hall (which had lots of early-2000s F1 memorabillia and international karting photos) and pored over the data. All to the sound of the two Vodafone drivers who hadn't fitted into the first practise session. I really felt like a racing driver then.

Several of our rivals entered the hall, and I made a point of talking to all of them. The ones I found most interesting were the four Safran drivers who were patently amateurs like me despite having co-ordinating dark blue overalls (they said they'd paid for them themselves to "get into the spirit of it") and spent most of their time talking in French. Until they noticed I was listening to them, at which point one of them said something that was half Spanish, half Italian and fully nonsensical to me. (His colleagues thought it was hilarious). None of them hailed from Britain, though they did all work in the south-east of the UK (hence their presence in the UK Corporate Games despite France, Spain and Italy all having their own editions of the competition). They were proper motorsport fanatics and were looking forward to watching the French Grand Prix from their hotel after Sunday's endurance race. Dad and I had resigned ourselves to missing it, as we had to check out on Sunday morning and would be travelling home during the F1.

I also spoke to three of the women who would be trying to defeat me. While the Corporate Games has men and women practise together, they have separate races, awards and points provision for men and women. This would make a big difference to my aspirations of success - there were 74 competitors entered, but only 10 of them were female. My four male team-mates looked enviously at me because all five of us agreed that I was their worst karter, but only one of the men considered themselves to be a candidate for even a single point (this being awarded for 8th place)... ...and I only had to beat two people to get a point in my case!

After a while, I checked the rest of the competiton, who had gradually been arriving in the reception/dining area. There were three surprises:

1) The big screen, previously ignored by me, had first practise for the French Grand Prix on it.

2) The 8 members of Team Vodafone had been looking for me.

3) Several of the women appeared to be looking for someone else.

I grinned, quickly memorising the FP1 positions before going to Vodafone.

Vodafone, it turned out, had noticed I'd tagged behind one of their own, and they wanted to know the face under the helmet. We had a good chat until the women noticed me.

"That's good, we're only missing one now. Wonder who it is?"

Apparently it had not occurred to them to ask the Vodafone team, because the guy I'd followed said, "She was our ninth driver, but unfortunately couldn't get functional childcare arrangements and had to drop out. She's really disappointed."

So was I - given Vodafone's standards, she'd probably have been really good, and besides, that was a really sad reason to have to miss out on the fun. Some of the others seemed... ...relieved.

A short conversation revealed that there was one lady representing her company who had never so much as stepped into a kart before, and was only doing so because her colleague had convinced her to patch up a last-minute gap that had formed in the company's endurance team (the rules require all endurance team members to also do the individual race, but individuals did not have to do the endurance round). For me, she was the bravest one there. I gave her some encouragement and a couple of tips.

A few others had similarly patchy amounts of experience to me, and a couple practised regularly. However, nobody had a truly daunting record and everyone felt they had a chance of not being last - and therefore scoring at least one point for their company. Several felt they had a shot at winning, but they weren't me. I just wanted to do my best, learn through the weekend and see where that got me.

Dad wondered where I'd been, and was pleased to hear F1 was being shown. We agreed to see if we could get the track staff to show the race on Sunday afternoon.

There was a 15-minute general practise slot for everyone, in addition to the paid slots. Someone hit me during the session and got a black flag for it. We were put on notice that the "no contact" rule in the driver briefing was taken seriously. My protector served me well and the only effect on me was a very loud "OUCH" that echoed across the circuit. Who needs radios?

The session ended about 30 seconds early because one of the fast karters had tangled badly with one of the women. She had to be helped out of the kart and eventually announced her retirement from the competition due to feeling ill. The miscreant was given a black flag and told they would lose their best qualifying time (to make sure they got a sanction that they would care about).

I nearly managed to catch Dad, but not quite. He was 0.4 seconds behind two of the other team members, and a second behind unofficial team leader Darren. He was a veteran of two other Corporate Games karting competitions, practised every month without fail and had brought his own (plain white) helmet. He knew his stuff, and seemed likely to reach the men's final.

The men did their qualifying sessions first. Usually these would be mixed, but this year the women's entry was so low that it was decided to separate us. The eight remaining women were all guaranteed a place in the final because there was space for eight karts on the track at a time, so their qualifying was purely about deciding on grid positions. Since it was not clear the place even had 64 karts to attempt to put on the track at once, it was felt more advisable to not have the men worry about fellow competitors who weren't under the same pressure.

I soon observed that every single qualifying race began with the faster drivers "pumping" their karts on the start of the races, to help keep the weight off the engine while it was starting up. Also, as sure as sunrise, every single race featured a collision at Turn 3. I'm not sure what it was about this tightening 270-degree right-hander that caused this, but inevitably, at least two karts (and on one memorable occasion, five) would hit each other and need pushing out by the marshals. Yellow flags would proliferate and anyone too close to the crash would be stuck fuming while this happened.

Driving standards were disappointing. On one occasion, even my normally-placid Dad managed to get a black flag for getting two minor contacts. He maintains to this day that one of them was the fault of the other driver; I don't know the other driver's opinion of that crash but can confirm that the other driver got his second black flag of the day three laps later for a substantial separate collision. Dad took his penalty gracefully, but the other driver had quite the temper tantrum in the pit lane about his. I was glad I'd had my meltdown when few people were watching...

Unfortunately, this meant that Dad had no chance of qualifying for the final as his record up to that point had been mediocre. The driver who hit Dad had been first or second in every qualifying session he'd finished, but two DSQs ruled him out of the final too. As for the other members of my team? Jonathan and Steve's best laps were slightly slower than Dad's, because they hadn't improved as much as he did. Even the fact that they managed to complete all 5 of their qualifying races without incident didn't allow them to break the top 10.

Darren... ...was 9th. He was rather upset with this, as it was the first year he'd failed to make the final. It wasn't that he'd made any especial mistakes either - the competition was simply that good. Vodafone had managed to get four of their eight men in, despite two of them getting black-flagged out of contention (neither of them for hitting Dad, though one of them had been black-flagged for hitting Steve in a Turn 3 crash). There was lots of excited French spoken in the Safran corner when they realised one of them had somehow qualified 8th...

Before their big race, the women had to decide their grid positions. I think there was only one black flag in the entire set of 7 qualifying races. Unfortunately, that was for the most experienced woman in the field - because she got it for hitting my kart so hard that I lost my footing on the pedals and got an injured braking foot arch against its shaft. Unable to brake, I went into the barrier at about 30 mph. The circuit was treated to about 5 seconds of high-volume "OUCH" before I got my self-control back, and the marshals decided there was a proper problem. Red flags for everybody...

It took about 10 minutes to get me out of the kart because I needed two people to help me hop out of the kart. Thankfully I was also able to hop upstairs to the medical area, as they were threatening to park me on a stretcher and call an ambulance. Instead, I was able to get away with an ice pack for 10 minutes and just miss the one race.

Two other women had crashes by themselves that resulted in injuries. One had a similar crash to me apart from not having a second kart involved, got a sore foot, missed a race and tried again... discover her back was too sore to continue. She asked me where I'd got my protector from before she left for the day (since she'd at least attempted to compete individually, she was allowed to take her place in the team endurance final - and it was the sort of back injury that was healed by a good long bath followed by a good night's sleep and a day of rest). The other one got a knee injury and spent the rest of the weekend with a protective roll on it - but we only found this out later, because she managed to keep going and even overtake a couple of people on the qualifying race where she'd had the crash. Only after getting out of her kart afterwards did she signal to the medical staff that she needed assistance. What a trooper.

I didn't pay as much attention to the men's final as I might have done - I was more focused on sitting in front of the TV, watching FP2 with an icepack round my foot, eating a sardine-and-pea pasta lunch. Dad didn't see the attraction of this meal, and opted for a sandwich.

I'd qualified 7th of 7 for the women's final (two points already...). I was pumping the kart for all I was worth, and smiled as I noticed that for the first time, other women on the grid were doing the same. Of course, their lighter weights meant they were more effective at it than me, but I was happy to have introduced the innovation. You could say it made me feel pumped-up ;)

Still, I was last into Turn 1, and last into Turn 2. When I got to Turn 3, there were three karts strewn across the track, two still spinning. I made an educated guess about where each would go, given they were bound by physics, and did a serpent-like route past them all to get round the corner. A faint cheer was audible even through my helmet.

Now I was 4th. If I wanted that podium, I'd have to make up half a lap - a good 12 seconds. I had 11 laps to do this and we were all in equal karts. The first three drivers were having an exciting battle. So I concentrated on making my lines as good as possible and being precise.

On the last lap, I could see the lady who'd convinced the colleague who'd never karted before. She was in 3rd place. Her line into Turn 2 was not ideal, and I used the next straight to get onto her gearbox. I tried to pass her on the outside of Turn 3, but she got a better exit into the following chicane. On the last corner, I tried to pass on the inside of the hairpin, but I was too far back and she crossed the finish line about 20 cm ahead of me to take the last podium spot.

Both of us grinned when we exited our karts, and thanked each other for the exciting battle. She was naturally thrilled with her podium. I was thrilled with my 5 points for the company, in an event I hadn't seriously expected any. Both of us were thrilled that the podium-taker's rookie colleague, who'd been in the Turn 3 collision, had recovered to 5th, despite coming under serious pressure from both of the other karters in that collision for the last 6 laps.

Dad joked that he'd won the unofficial over-60s category (nobody else, as far as we could tell, was over 50, and in some Corporate Games events, there are age categories who can get extra points and medals...), and we both treated ourselves to pizza. After all, we had Saturday off to enjoy watching everyone else compete.

Eventually, I will tell you how Sunday's endurance race went. At this rate, I might even tell you how my half-marathon in Chesterfield tomorrow goes by the time next F1 season begins...
Percussus resurgio
@lacanta (Twitter) (Blog/Tumblr)


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