So one day I was browsing social media, looking at pictures of everyone's dinners that they deemed fit to share with the world for some unknown reason. I was about to close the browser when I see an advert for "Want2Race", get a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a fully funded season of real-life racing. It seemed too good to be true, they would allow me of all people into their race car? A man who has zero real-life track experience and just sits at his computer desk driving pixel cars all day? (not even that much anymore to be honest)
Naturally, I was curious, I registered my details and eagerly awaited a response to find out if I would have to sell a limb in order to take part (This is motorsport after all). To my surprise, I quickly get a reply, "go to your local go-kart track and hand them this piece of paper". So I did.
I call up my local circuit and book the next available race, the "Enduro 30". I've been go-karting many times, most the time they are team events with my cousin where we drive a 2-hour race with several driver changes, so I felt fairly comfortable there. I turned up on my own, a tad nervous knowing that I would need to do well in order to get to the next stage of the Want2Race competition. I sat down in the usual 4 Stroke SODI RT8 Kart, praying that mine hadn't lost any horsepower in its poor, miserable life.
Thirty or so drivers got ready to take part in qualifying, a large portion of them had announced in driver briefing that they had never been go-karting before, so I had my concerns. We all got in our karts, rolled out onto the circuit and tried to post a decent time. That didn't happen though. Corner after corner yellow flags flew in two's, the carnage was unreal. Despite the chaos, I managed to post a 52 second lap time, which is around 1.5 seconds slower than my usual best. With Qualifying over I lined up 7th on the grid and hoped for a smoother race.
Of course, the race was just as chaotic as the Qualifying. It was an infuriating event, one moment you are racing for the top 5, then you get a yellow flag but get stuck behind a blue flag car going slower than mobility scooter! I waved at the competition as they drove away into the distance while I sat patiently for the next green zone to emerge. My bad luck continued as my go pro camera fell off (luckily landing in my lap), followed by a premature end to the race following a huge collision in turn 1 (I luckily was not involved).
I was not happy with the result, it had been complete chaos and carnage since the green flag and I finished exactly where I started. I went to the race director to get my form and read the comment box "all ok", SUCCESS! Inspiring words as they were, I didn't believe I'd done enough to progress to stage 2, nevertheless, i sent off the paperwork with some comments about "carnage" this and "yellow/red flag" that in a hope they would look pass my pathetic performance.
The next month I get another email "you have progressed to stage 2", I could hardly believe it. Loading the email I quickly googled the circuit "Blyton Park", followed by an "Oh Sh*t". Let's just say It was a long journey from my house (4 hours). They asked for payment within 5 days which I quickly paid without even thinking about what my account figures said. This was my chance to actually get into a real race car!
I drove up the night before, staying on the top floor of a local pub listening to the local talent try their luck at singing from downstairs. It didn't matter, I wasn't really tired and was too busy thinking about tomorrow. I Researched the track, ideal racing lines and a constant stream of caffeine and onboard clips from the internet filled up the remainder of my night until I gradually fell asleep.
The circuit was just down the road, but I left with plenty of extra time (I have a lot of bad luck you see). I rolled up to the circuit and gazed at the car as if I'd never seen one in my entire life. That's when it finally sank in, "I'm really going to drive this thing". A very long driver briefing took up the first few hours of the day before drivers were assigned slots to be "assessed". Mine was at the latter end of the day, with my first run pretty much being on the last stint of drivers to go on track. Time moved very slow, every now and again I would hear the screech of some tires and the engine roar as it went by the pit lane. I waited patiently for my go.
I stepped in the car and buckled up, radio piece was good and I could hear the instructor, good start. "Engage first and off we go," he said, gingerly raising the clutch the car slowly moved off from the starting point. Now, it might be worth mentioning that earlier that day the Ginetta guys made it very clear that "if you spin, you're out". That same sentence kept looping in my head for the entire day, so as you can imagine I was a tad hesitant to open the taps on my first ever go in a real race car!
We roll onto the circuit and I swear I went so slow I could have gone faster in reverse. The instructor was talking the whole time, telling me where to brake and turn in as well as showing me the optimal lines. I listened attentively, absorbing the information like a sponge. The first lap goes by without a hitch, followed by the second and the third. This was great! I slowly gained paced and brought the lap times down. The car was very nimble, light and responsive, less power than I imagined though but plenty for this small circuit.
Throughout the day several people had already span out, all of them happening at the same two corners, "the wiggler" and "ushers", funnily enough, these were the two fastest parts of the circuit. I am nearing the end of my first stint when I didn't get the car straight before the braking zone, the car throws its dummy out and there is an almighty screech from the tires. Countersteering right followed by a quick left I just about managed to wrestle the beast into line again by which time my heart nearly burst out onto the bonnet. Thankfully though it was my only "hiccup" and the instructor was pleased with my performance saying I improved throughout the stint nicely.
Now full of confidence and with an ego that could rival L.Hamilton, I stepped into the car once more. This time it was a different car, the suspension felt firmer and the steering wheel was smaller (which suited me). I take the car around the track much faster than the previous stint and within just a few laps I was already 2 seconds faster. From all my research I deduced that a decent lap time would be around 1.18-1.20, so I focused as much as possible and hammered down. Each lap went by faster than the one before until I was told to come into the pit lane, my fastest lap being a 1.20.2.
What an experience that was! The car was really fun to drive and if I didn't have "the bug" before, I certainly do now. Straight away I asked when I would find out when/if I had progressed to stage 3/4. Sadly they didn't have that information and I was sent away praying that I made the cut.
I Could not believe it. As soon as the email read "want2Race" my face lit up with joy unable to stop smiling for a good hour or so. It was the same procedure as before, send off some money and turn up on race day to put everything on the table. The atmosphere this time was much more serious, everyone who sat down in the briefing room had "the look" on their face, you know the one that says "don't screw this up". As ugly as it sounds I had been wearing that face all morning, my fiance who kindly accompanied me constantly telling me to "stop it", lovely.
Forty people showed up and only 8 would progress to stage 4 (the Final shootout). No pressure then, I felt more confident this time though. I knew the car had more to give and the instructor told me at stage 2 "just increase the speed in the corners", what could possibly go wrong. Once again I was placed in the last of the stints so I had plenty of time to chew my fingernails and twiddle my thumbs until I was summoned.
I once again got into this beautiful Orange Ginetta G40 and drove onto Blyton Park circuit. I knew that I couldn't just sit back this time, a lot of the guys present that day had been to stage 3 before and I knew that I was one of those guys with very little experience. I put my foot down and tried my best to set some good clean laps, sadly, however, there was an issue, and that issue was me. It was a very strange mix of emotions, confidence and nervousness, fear and determination. In short, I didn't ease myself back into the car (Baring in mind it had been a good time since I'd been out of the car) and I went in too "hot-headed". silly mistakes began to emerge, one lap I would enter a corner way too fast, the next, far too slow. I started to get frustrated which resulted in the car snapping under braking going into the Wiggler (right next to some very nice steel/concrete polls).
My brain fried itself alive after I got out of the car. "you idiot", I said to myself repeatably, "you should have just eased back into it like last time". Of course, there was still another session for me to rectify my mistakes but that still didn't help me mentally. I grabbed my laptop and downloaded the footage from my helmet cam. "too much power here", "can brake later and harder there", "just, what the hell was that!".
Second go, I knew that this was it, no more mistakes or screw ups. I start off gently this time, finding that limit under braking and just learning how to drive the car again (what I should have done from the word go). This session feels much better, I start off posting 1.21's and quickly progress into 1.20's and 1.19's. The instructor even allows me to go full throttle though "port froid" which is a quick right + left-hander. It felt incredible, feeling the car on the limit and just gaining that extra tenth or two each time was a great feeling. Sadly it was over before it even got started as I was instructed to go back into the pits.
The instructor looks at me and says "that was really good, near the end of that you were right up there". I felt great, I didn't let myself down and I showed them I can do it! "but, you need to be at that level from the word go, some of these guys here have a lot of Experience and it's a tough competition out there".... Ah.... Not so good, but still good-ish???
Confused.com was an understatement, but I took on his feedback in a positive light. This was the second time ever that I had been in a race car after all.
The judges converged for their final decision and we all waited patiently for a good hour or so while they decided who would progress to stage 4. We are all summoned and they call out the names one by one. Of course the names do not register in my mind, instead I am counting, 1,2,3,4...and so on. I prayed and hoped I'd done enough, but then ... "that's it, ladies and gentlemen, it has been very close but unfortunately, you have not progressed". My name had not been called, my fiance's face was one that reflected mine as my heart sank. Disappointment, not with the instructors but of myself and my performance. I already had a feeling that I had not done enough after those mistakes in the first stint.
The experience I've gained from this competition is immeasurable, never have I felt so at home or comfortable with what I was doing or where I was. It was a rollercoaster of adrenaline, fear, passion, excitement and it meant so much to me that I was given a chance to get to stage 4 over hundreds of others. If anyone is debating whether or not they should take part, do it.
Thank you Ginetta for this great program, I hope to be back next year with more experience and ability!
Thanks for reading