INSIDE LINE- Karting Is Easy, Right? With William Kellett

So how many good stories start along the lines of “there I was minding my own business when….” Well last Friday evening I was just getting ready for a normal weekend when Leo sends me a text. “Do you fancy doing a 24 hour kart race tomorrow”. Things like this don’t happen very often, so I jumped at the chance and with little to no information whatsoever about the event 12 hours later I’m sat in the carpark of Whiteriver Kart Track waiting for the event to kick off.

As I arrived I found out more details about both the kart and the team I’d be racing for. I’d be racing for Team Whiteriver which had been dubbed as the “celebrity” kart pre event by the pack. Team mates Damien and Luke had won free drives on the team courtesy of an Open GP competition a few weeks prior. The final full time driver for our team was Peter Collins who you may know as the morning DJ on Spin 1038. With the team sorted out I went to have a look at the kart I’d be spending a lot of my time in over the next 24 hours. They looked like any ordinary rental fun kart but these were twin engined and produced 50 bhp and with them weighing 235kg with a driver, these karts could seriously shift.

There was a one hour free practice session followed by a half hour qualifying session. I decided to sacrifice most of my own time to try and get the rest of the lads some more seat time to get used to the karts. When I finally went out to do a few laps I quickly realised that this was going to be a far greater challenge than I first thought. The karts were ultra responsive and had no problems in showing you the grass when you overstepped the mark by a fraction. As qualifying kicked off an issue soon became apparent as the left hand side engine was randomly switching off causing a total drop in power. In our efforts to find a solution I ran out of time to set a flying lap so we would start P13 on the grid.

It was decided that since I was the only one with experience of side to side racing that I would tackle the first stint. The start which included a full Le Mans type sprint to the kart, which went very well for me and I jumped into the top 10 right in the middle of karting stars from Ireland, UK and Europe. My immediate impression was that I’d must have somehow found myself in a one lap race for a million euro prize, as it was total carnage which was proved on lap two as the karting pros decided they didn’t want the rookie mixing it with them so I was soon facing backwards and dropped to dead last. In my charge to catch up I made the fatal error of pushing too much too soon and when my neck cried enough I was forced to pit 50 minutes in and handed over to Damien. These karts are nothing like I’d ever driven and your hands,neck, arms and back take a continual beating around Whiteriver. As I sought refuge from the 20 degree heat we hit the first major problem of the race as a failed clutch lost us 15 laps and dropped us to last. The rest of the lads found it tough going in the heat and we were glad to see the disappearance of the sun as I prepared to take my second stint.

As I headed back out for my second stint I knew somewhat what to expect in terms of the forces and punishment my body was going to face. While my ribs took a pounding from the outset I was surprised to find my neck and arms could take much more of a beating without losing pace. While I didn’t have the pace of the leaders my laptimes were in the top six top eight throughout my hour and ten minute stint. Despite losing a lap to an engine cut out we were making good progress until the rear left wheel sheared off on Damien costing us more time and it was becoming a real “one step forwards two steps back” situation.

We were also running some of the Whiteriver marshals who were filling in stints for us as we only had four drivers compared to the ten of some teams . Their involvement gave me a much needed breather and as the night drew in I prepared for stint number three . As we were one of the first teams to receive new tyres I was suddenly on a different level of pace to the pack and I was able to spend the next hour and twenty minutes slicing through the pack like a video game! I handed the kart over back onto the same lap as the back of the pack after five hours of chasing.

I then decided to try and get some rest as most team had their drivers only run one stint by the halfway point where as due to our low numbers I’d already clocked 3 and a bit hours in the kart and needed some form of break. It was then off to my luxury hotel for the weekend- AKA my car and a duvet! After a half hour sleep I was woken by a loud bang on the window and Peter was there telling me I was needed to go back out right now. I jumped up pulled all my gear on and ran to the pits only to find they’d sent one of the Whiteriver lads Cormac out. It turns out that during his stint the conrod came clean through the left engine which had been suspect all day. A new unit was fitted but to the loss of ten laps. Luckily for us, Cormac is one of the quickest karters around and knows Whiteriver like the back of his hand. He was matching the leaders for pace and made up most of the deficit by the 4am stage.

What was clear to see by this time was people were entering what I nicknamed “The Zombie Phase”. Most people who could be were asleep but the unfortunate few which included me who had to stay awake were struggling to barely function. I’d managed to wake myself up by the time I jumped back in the kart at 5am. “The Zombie Phase” was also not restricted to the people in pitlane as left right and center drivers were struggling to keep on the track. Now I’d had literally no sleep to this point and was probably worse than most having done a lot of laps prior to this but the adrenaline of realizing this was where we needed to make gains fired me right up. In between karts spinning left right and center I was shocked to find myself flying past the leaders who had been running for the guts of an hour and a half and were clearly struggling. Although my body was adjusting to the forces going on and I was even taken alternate lines to minimize the G forces on my neck in certain places I had a new serious problem emerge. A large blister on my left hand had burst and I could barely use it to turn. I was forced to drive using a bizarre system of wrapping the fingers of my left hand round the spokes of the steering wheel and using my right hand to do most of the work. When I eventually was forced to pit I’d found out we’d manage to jump back into P15 and we were now chasing team “FiatNam” a nickname which might be familiar to readers here and the team consisted of many past Fiat drivers from about ten years ago who competed against my dad in Unos and 1400 Puntos. Now with a slight bit more of edge to the mega fight developing over 14th place at the 18 hour mark.

Damien managed to get past FiatNam with a great turn of speed and Peter and Luke matched them for pace. It was then time for my final stint and I had 45 minutes to as we so technically put it “Drive her as fast as she will f***in go!” Knowing this was my last run I threw everything at it and even got onto the back of 3rd place who was flying in order to maximize lap time. I was able to make some mega overtakes including being sat on the outside of three consecutive right hand bends before making it stick on two karts and pulling off an even better move than the famous Hakkinen and Schumacher one at Spa as I managed to use a backmarker to overtake 1st 3rd and 5th place all in the space of one corner! I was now totally fired up and as I came in I was absolutely finished and could barely walk back to pitlane. By the end of the race Team FiatNam had managed to jump us again so we finished the race in P15.

This race was nothing similar to anything I’d ever done before. It makes the Six Hour Fiesta Endurance Race look like a 15 minute sprint race. The demands the kart places on your body is something I have never experienced before and it was a steep learning curve to find the tricks of karting out on the fly. I’ll be able to draw some comparisons to a car 24 hour race when I take part in the C1 24 Hour in Rockingham in September. Massive thanks has to go to all the team the drivers who all drove superbly for raw novices to any form of racing let alone 24 hour ones. Big thanks also to Guy Foster of Whiteriver and Leo Nulty from Motorsport.ie for offering me the chance last minute to take part it’s certainly a race I’ll never forget that’s for sure! It’s back to normal racing for me next weekend, with my first trip to Bishopscourt with the Zetec Fiesta but it’s going to be the polar opposite to what I’ve just done this weekend!

Until next time
William Kellett

Images from Marc Quinlivan