Yesterday, I fulfilled a childhood dream. My childhood dream growing up was to go Go-Karting and participate in a race with fellow racers just as passionate about motorsport and racing like myself. And I did that yesterday; thanks to Ste who is one of my closest friends on the planet who very kindly organised this as part of my 27th Birthday celebrations.
In order to get my first Go-Karting experience off to the best possible start, me and Ste first started by getting to the centre where the track is (its an indoor track!) in Brunswick (just outside Liverpool City Centre) which didn’t take very long by train. When I first saw the centre, I got goosebumps, got competitive and also at the same time nervous about what to expect and if I would be able to drive the kart competitively and most importantly safely.
But with all these feelings and emotions, we entered the centre, got checked in, met our instructor for the day Stuart and got given our overalls and instructions to where to get changed and to attend a Drivers Briefing before we got racing on the track. After getting changed into our overalls (minus a mishap with a locker!), me and Ste with our instructor Stuart went into the Drivers Briefing room, met our fellow other racers and listened as Stuart briefed us on how to race safely and professionally before leaving us in the room with a seven minute DVD.
During the Drivers Briefing, I will admit to you now that I was incredibly nervous and I said to Ste that I don’t know if I’ll be able to race competitively and it’s gonna be different to a PlayStation game I’ve been brought up with. But Ste just calmed me down and said to me just enjoy yourself and be safe.
As the Drivers Briefing finished, Stuart came back in to ask if we had anymore questions and then took us out to the track ready for my first ever Go-Kart race. Entering the track was absolutely amazing and felt surreal; just watching the last group racing each other competitively filled me with fear, anticipation and excitement all mixed together and I was going to be experiencing what they are in about five minutes time.
Stuart then instructed our group to get our balaclavas (which you can purchase at the reception when you check in) on, find a helmet that fits us correctly and comfortably (I was a large!); put on some gloves, to check what kart number we would be on the screen (I was number 4 in the first race) and then get into the kart ready for further instructions from Stuart.
I thought to myself as I walked to the kart “This is it… my childhood dream is finally happening. Jesus, I’m gonna be racing four guys and can I do it? Guess this is the time to find out Sarah.” But soon enough I was called to my kart and getting into the kart for the first time was a very personal and emotional experience. Just getting into the seat; adjusting myself and adjusting the brake and accelerator pedals (I’m a bit short in height) blew me away, I got pumped up and wanted to get going and show what I can do on the circuit safely and try and be as competitive as I can be too.
In order to get to racing, we all had to pass a brake test with Stuart. And mine didn’t go well. Firstly; someone bumped into the back of me as we moved down the line and I had to use the brake pedal to stop and ended up stalling the engine. But after getting the engine going again, I managed to pass the brake test and made my way out of the pits. And I have to say it was the most exciting, scary, nervous adrenaline rush I’ve ever experienced, knowing that I had control of a powerful go-kart and I had the power underneath me to push the limits.
As I went into the first corner, I was amazed at how the car responded to every pull of the steering wheel and also how it managed to stop so quickly. I thought to myself, I’ve got past the first corner, let’s see what this is really about and I’ll have three laps to build my confidence up. As I headed towards the end of my first lap and into the first corner, I see Ste in front of me and eyed him up for an overtake and thought I can do this.
Unfortunately, I misjudged the braking point and went too fast into the corner while making my move on Ste and hit the back of his go-kart and he went into the barrier. My first thoughts now was “Oh no, is Ste okay? I don’t care if I get black-flagged for this, I want him to be okay.” Well Ste was okay and after the marshall had a word with me, we both carried on with the rest of the first race and getting more experience around the track.
By the third lap, I was gaining more and more confidence with the kart and learning more about myself pushing the limits and feeling like I was getting faster with each lap that was going by (even though I stalled on the second lap after taking the corner way too fast and caught the back end which resulted in the engine stalling and be calling for a marshal). But the fourth lap, I got a nasty shock at how dangerous karting can be first hand.
I went up the ramp which is in the middle of the circuit and the red flag came out after someone had a spin on the track. I was halfway up the ramp and after remembering the briefing; Stuart said to get to the top of the ramp and keep your foot on the brake. So I tried that and I took my foot off the brake pedal and ended up going backwards down the ramp. I was scared for my life especially as it is very steep, you can’t see anything behind you and I hope to God I don’t hit a fellow racer and injure them or myself.
However, I did the distress sign and was helped by the marshal to recover and he told me again the advice in the briefing and said not to let it affect me as I’m doing well. That gave me the confidence in the next five laps. As I just pushed the limits and myself and found myself fighting for third place (I didn’t know it at the time) and in a great move into the first corner which has a tight apex, I took the place away from my rival and set my sights on progressing up the grid further before the laps ran out.
I loved the run up to the back straight into the home straight and Turns 1 and 2, you could put your foot down and hear the incredible noise of the engine humming like a bird and it was like literally threading a needle at over 50mph. It gave me a thrill each time, I wanted more of it each time I went past and I wanted to do it better each time as well.
On the last lap, I did not see the yellow flag signalling me to slow down and ended up being black flagged for it. I then slowed down into the pits and Stuart told me that I didn’t slow down for the yellow flag and I told him that the green flag was showing where I was on the circuit and I only saw it as I entered Turn 6 and slowed down straight away. Stuart said “I will not disqualify you from the race as you’ve done well for a beginner, but you shouldn’t go flat in the ramp corners as its dangerous and you need to brake earlier for corners and be patient as you have the speed and commitment to improve massively in Race Two.”
As I was waiting for Ste and the other racers to join me in the pits, I was sitting in the kart thinking “How did I not see that flag? I was watching as best I could while driving but it was green. As for the ramp corners, I knew I could go flat out and control the car and it’s helping me catch up to the others, I do feel bad not listening but racing drivers push the limit and today I am a racing driver”. I was truly angry at myself as Stuart told all of us to get out of the karts and check our times on the screen. And boy did I get a shock…. I was third fastest! In my first ever race.
I couldn’t believe it. Me. Third fastest. My fastest lap time was a 53.359 (on Lap 6), which meant I was 6.369 seconds behind the leader. I was like someone pinch me. Even Ste couldn’t believe it, even though I still felt bad about crashing into him and I could tell he was shook up by it. Stuart then told us to take our helmets, gloves and balaclavas off and we will have a short break before going to race in the final event.
At the break, me and Ste took the time to reflect on what just happened, how we felt about the first race and also to look at the telemetry of our times. In my case, I still in shock that I finished third in my first race and I wanted to go straight back out and race again and I could see from looking at the data where I was losing time and felt sure that I could build upon what I achieved already.
So after a few photos to celebrate the occasion, me and Ste headed back on track for the final race. As I got my balaclava, helmet and gloves on, checked my kart number (number 4 for the second race); I knew I was in a good position to challenge for the lead and to maintain my current position in the group. I was still a bit scared but confident that I could push myself further and get more performance out of myself and the kart.
As I exited the pits to start the final race, I knew what I had to do which was drive better than I did before. And going into the first corner, I took on board Stuart’s advice by braking earlier and getting onto the power straight away and already I could feel the difference. I was slowly gaining ground on second place (I knew where I was as you start the race in the positions you finished Race 1 in) and by Lap 7, I was catching him inch by inch and closing the gap to as close as 0.2 seconds as Stuart later pointed out.
Lap 8. I was catching him to the point where I was lining him up for pass into the home straight. He defended very well indeed and correctly I should say. At this point, my fellow racer and I was lapping Ste and Ste moved out of the way to let both of us past. As we all headed into the first corner, my competitor gave me a width as per the Drivers Briefing and I made my move; confident that I can take him on the exit of the corner but he stupidly closed the door on me and I hit the side of him but backed off enough to let him recover without getting us both in a position not to finish the race.
This then lead to him retaining the position and in my head thinking “You’ve just done an Maldonado on me, I had the racing line, you knew I was there. But I’ll get you and take that place off you in the process.”. As the laps steadily went down, I continued to put pressure on him and let him know that one mistake we made and that place will be mine for sure this time. And this time, I won’t back off mate, no way. Never underestimate the power of a Jones.
The final lap. I knew the first corner was gonna be my last chance to get him and I tried everything I could to get past but it wasn’t enough. I had my chance and it wasn’t meant to be. But as we made our way back to the pits for the final time, I was angry that he closed the door on me, disappointed that I couldn’t have another go at taking the place off him but I knew I gave it everything that I could, I enjoyed myself and I finally achieved my dream at long last!
As I exited the kart for the final time, I wished that I could have another go and that I didn’t want to leave it behind. I felt connected to the car; felt like we was in harmony and that it served me well. But once again; me and Ste look at the time screens and I found myself third! I actually thought this was a dream! This time my fastest lap was a 47.879 (on Lap 6 again) and was 2.817 seconds behind the leader; a massive improvement to Race 1.
After the obligatory celebration photo, congratulating my fellow racers, taking the gloves, helmet and balaclava off and looking at the telemetry to see the improvement (and having words with the fella in second place), I was so happy with what I achieved in my first ever go-kart experience and race and I just wanted to do it all again.
In 27 years of being on this planet and following motorsport for 20 years; I now fully understand why drivers love racing. It’s the most liberating, exciting, frustrating, nerve-wracking and most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. In the space of three hours, I’ve felt every emotion you can get and was rewarded for my efforts with two third place finishes and third overall in the group. On my debut!
And even though Ste was a bit nervous and scared about this, he did extremely well and got more confidence as he got more experience and mileage around the track. And I’ve got to say a big thanks to Ste for organising this and letting me achieve my childhood dream at last; you really are one of the most caring and generous people I know.
Overall, all I can say is that if you haven’t been go-karting and you love your motorsport; you have to experience it. No words I can type can explain the sheer joy, bliss, satisfaction, gratification you feel while driving the kart as fast as possibly can dare while pushing yourself every inch of the way. And I cannot wait to go back and do it all over again and it’ll be sooner than I think.