Fast Feature: Tyre in the night

What’s scary about motorsport? Nothing really if you’re in it. If you’re a fan, a driver, a mechanic there isn’t anything to be scared off. The ones that see the scary parts are those who are unfamiliar with it.

I was unfamiliar with big crashes. Yes, I’ve crashed, I went through a 3 by 3 tyre barrier at Whilton Mill, that was dramatic but didn’t feel big because it was an object that could be shoved out the way. At Teesside however, I had a bigger accident. The kart was fine bar a slightly choked engine, but I wasn’t.

The kart had just had its mandatory engine service and front tyres changed. This meant that through rubbered hairpins that the front gripped and the rears slid dramatically. However through the fast bumpy corners where there was less rubber they didn’t.

Turn 2, at least on our track map, was one of those corners. It was very bumpy and one of the faster corners on the circuit. When I turned in the front initially gripped, but only for a split second, however by this point I was already through the middle of the turn and trying to sort out what was wrong; lifting off the gas to try and get the kart to turn more.

It didn’t work so I went off into the runoff. 2 years ago in the same race this happened and I got away with it, admittedly the fronts had not been changed on that occasion but the incident was similar.

On this occasion I didn’t get away with it. I ran into the ploughed runoff and went about the business of trying to keep it in a straight line until I got back to the tarmac. I did, well the rear right did and at that point gripped and speared the kart left into the tyre barrier at 30-ish mph (karts don’t come with speedos so this is a guess based on how hard I hit and the momentum lost mid-corner.

I’ve hit things harder, see my mention of a previous crash above, but not at this angle. The crash was into a two-tier tyre barrier, rows of tyres stacked ontop of one another. What made this crash scary was that the kart nosed in a lot knocking several of the tyres from the second row. The feeling of being hit by tyres falling on you, if even for a few seconds, is really rather unnerving, though only after you’ve got out the kart.

I still had 15 minutes left of my stint and had lost 1 or 2 minutes, the equivalent of a lap and a bit around the Teesside Circuit. I had enough time to clean up the tyres and rubber them in a little before our next driver.

It wasn’t until I got out of the kart that things got odd. I’d eaten a chilli- concarne before getting with a little water to make sure that at the end of the stint I had a bit of extra weight to meet the minimum weight limit and some energy for the stint. Still, after 90 minutes in a kart I was quite heavily dehydrated and also had scuffs on my helmet from hitting the barrier and being hit.

Now I’ve seen Felipe Massa’s and Henry Surtees’ crashes and though these were at much higher speeds I couldn’t help but feel unnerved by my minor headache after the crash. Sadly I couldn’t find the doctor so resolved to rehydrate and rest as much as I could.

I also took the precautionary step of cancelling what would have been my second of three stints (one of our drivers hadn’t been able to race so I’d taken their early morning stint due to start 3 hours after mine had finished). I cancelled this and went back to Plan A of seeing how I felt before my second scheduled stint that would be the final of the race.

This was a good move and by 11:00 I felt really rather alright. Not brilliant, we were all sore and dehydrated by this point but the headache had gone and has since not returned.

Why get this out however? Why, after such a great time mull over a crash? Because, though I wasn’t scared, I was unnerved by the comparative ferocity of the accident. This didn’t stop me from pushing like mad in my final stint and I set my fastest lap (a 1:19) in the final hour of the race with a bigger smile on my face.

Today, the day after the race the days before I feel as sore as everyman and woman who competed probably does. My neck is sore from the jolt in the crash but importantly I have no headache or head pain and are incredibly proud of my team for what we achieved at a long, bumpy racetrack on the outskirts of Middlesbrough.

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