Date: Monday 13th July 2009
Time: 10am – 2pm
Location: Buckmore Park, Chatham, Kent
After receiving an invite down to a Go-Karting day at Buckmore Park I didn’t need to be asked twice if I wanted to attend or not.
I have been wanting to do a proper Go-Karting day for years, the last time I got to have a go being 7 years previous on a stag do (which I actually got a trophy for being second after the days racing), but that was just at a small indoor track that has long since closed down. I have done a few supercar driving experiences over the years which are absolutely superb fun, however they don’t let you go at full speed and actually race against others which is why this Go-Karting at Buckmore Park event was getting me excited. I had even looked at a few online videos (Buckmore Park hot lap video) of the Buckmore Park circuit just so I had an idea of it’s layout, yes I am competitive so and so
Anyway, Buckmore Park is actually one of the premier UK Go-Karting circuits and is located in Chatham in Kent. It is one of the Karting circuits that the likes of Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Johnny Herbert have all raced at when starting out their motor racing careers. It was actually at Buckmore Park at the Champions of the Future event in 1996 that Ron Denis first discovered Lewis Hamilton!
Buckmore Park Go-Karting track is an out doors track that has the full circuit which is 1,200 meters (1.2km) and then a couple of smaller circuits available if the main full circuit is divided up. There are plans to extend the Buckmore Park track even further as it is continually being developed.
Now coming from the North West it was an early start for me to make it down in time, so with my alarm set for 5am I was up and at the train station for an early train down to London, after an underground and then a local train to Chatham (Chatham train station is the closest train station to Buckmore Park) it was just a short Taxi ride to Buckmore Park.
Upon arriving and meeting the 30 others who were in our group (a few faces and people I already knew) we were given the usual disclaimer to sign and then sent to collect our electronic tag which is put around your ankle (cue the jokes from some that it would match the one I have on my other leg). After this is was into the locker room to get your back/rib protector fitted and then get your race suit, helmet, balaclava and gloves.
After everyone was suited up we were assembled for the briefing of the day, to tell us the Do’s and Do Not’s of Go-Karting at Buckmore Park, it was a good set of instructions that were well presented with quite a few giggles and laughs as a few anecdotes were told along with the instructions.
Safety briefing over and it was time to get racing, a list was put on the notice board detailing who was racing in each of the 9 heats with each driver being racing in 3 heats, it’s now the nerves and adrenaline start to flow…
For everyone’s first heat, drivers were given 3 practice laps to get to grips with the Go-Karts and see the layout of the circuit, after these were done Karts and drivers were lined back up ready for the start of the race. The Red lights go out and the green come on and it’s off you go. Now for the first race/heat I was actually positioned on pole position on the grid (so basically everything to lose) which I promptly managed to do as I came into the first hairpin way too hot and hitting the brakes sent me into a spin and back into around 9th position, NIGHTMARE!
Now I have to say I am ultra competitive and love speed and have a huge desire to win which can sometimes be to my detriment (View the Caterham Slalom day at Silverstone) but today I had to use it to set about getting some places (and pride) back.
It is surprisingly harder to overtake that I imagined it would be, however once you realise that you have to be aggressive to overtake then you will start to get places back, despite clearly slower drivers in front, you will have to create your own openings, maybe taking a different racing line or making sure you carry your momentum well into and out of corners so you can bully your way past. Anyway, with a bit of relatively decent driving I managed to claw my way back up to fifth position by the end of the 5 lap race, although still very annoyed at myself for not playing that first corner a bit safer.
Anyway, as everyone got out of their Go-Karts and headed back to the main watching area it was clear that all drivers from first to last position had really enjoyed it. With such a wide range of abilities it was great to see everyone smiling and clearly buzzing off the race and looking forward to the next race and changing stories and talking of any racing incidents that may have occurred during the race. Unless you remember what your opponents Go-Kart number is you may only find out after the race has finished who it was who you were having your own personal tussle with.
Although we had only done 8 laps so far it was actually surprisingly more physically demanding that I had expected and I think most thought and felt the same. Although you are sat down, your arms and body do get a real work out as you take on the course as you have to be quite physical with the Kart as you drive around with directions always changing and the need to correct any slides you get into.
The set up of the day at Buckmore Park was very slick, the heats were done seamlessly so no time was wasted. We had been told at the start of the day that each driver would do 3 heats and then there would be a final for the best drivers to battle it out for position and the trophies, we were also told that if there was time then there may well have been a “B” final for the next set of drivers so it was in everyone’s interest to make sure the day ran quickly and smoothly (obviously my aim was the “A” final so that was my main concern (again, there is that always wanting to win part of me)…
Back in the watching area and a look at the list showed that I was in the next race after the one that was about to start, so not much time to relax, just time to have a watch and a drink of water.
The weather actually was brilliant, it was warm (it was the middle of July) but a bit of patchy cloud, it can get warm in the race suits so when you aren’t driving it can be worth just taking your arms out and opening the suit up to keep you a bit cooler. With Buckmore Park track being outdoors it is open to the elements, as much as rain may make it a bit more interesting if we’re honest a dry track is preferable so you can race as fast as possible with the most grip the GO-Karts would give you.
It wasn’t long before it was my turn to be on track again, with the main “race control” calling your name and which Go-Kart number you are in you take up your place on the grid. I was positioned 8th on the grid for this one so knew I had some work to do if I wanted to make sure I got a decent finishing position.
With the green lights on I managed to get myself up to a healthy second after the first hairpin, fortunately managing to avoid the spinners and crashers (and not spinning myself this time).
Now I kept my position of second all the way through, not managing to get close enough to catch or overtake the leader but with some fast lap times in I was pretty pleased, apparently I was in the 52 second per lap bracket which is pretty good going by all accounts, although no doubt a lap time that professional Go-Kart drivers would be disappointed with!
Now having seen a few of the other races and raced against a few people there was definitely certain drivers who stood out, one very quick guy called Martin and another quick guy call Dan who wasn’t afraid to let your bumper get in his way shall we say, both had a similar desire to win that I had so it was good to keep an eye on how they were doing with a few glances at the electronic timing board that listed drivers lap times as the race went on.
Anyway, with a bit more water down my neck and it was time for my last race in the heats and I was positioned in 10th on the second row from the back, not ideal but I’d been managing pretty fast starts mainly I guess due to being fairly light in weight and the fact I like to brake later.
This race also saw a few spinners on the first hairpin and I managed to get myself up to third, another lap in and I managed to take the lead which I didn’t give up and pulled away for my first win of the day, GET IN!
With heats all over we were told that because there was time there would be an A, B & C final, the C final going first which consisted of the slower drivers throughout the day, the winner of that race getting to also race in the B final. Then the winner of the B final got to race in the A final.
With the list on the wall I searched for my name, the 2 fast drivers, Martin & Dan, were on pole and second place, I was behind them both in third on the grid so it looked like my driving had been pretty good throughout the day to have qualified there.
With this being the “big one” you could tell everyone had the adrenaline pumping and were ready for action.
In the cars this race was to be an 8 lap race to the finish with the winner taking the kudos…I wanted to win!
The red lights went out and the green came on and I got a flying start, unfortunately with no where to get past all I could do was bump into Martin in front as he wasn’t as quick off the line, everyone got around the first hairpin without any incident, I’d lost a couple of places around the hairpin and the race was on, I quickly got my way past the 2 who passed me and set my eyes on second place. To be honest I was driving really well and I soon had the second place man Dan looking over his shoulder to see where I was as I was slowly closing, this was brilliant, it was very much nose to tail stuff and we were very evenly matched but I think with my presence behind him I was going slightly quicker and we had a real close battle for 5 laps.
With the laps counting down I knew I had the choice of either staying in third and keeping that position safe to pick up a trophy or to go for the second place but taking the risk that it could spell disaster as I knew Dan was also a determined driver who loves to win as much as I do which could end in disaster for my race or his… It’s not in my nature to just settle for something if I can do better, very much the same attitude as Dan also has I think, so there was no way I was just going to settle for third when there was second to be had…hopefully!
With our own personal battle for second and third spot it had let Martin get a bit of a lead out in front so now it was totally just a battle for second spot, after a few looks at over taking I made my move on the 6th lap at the end of the start finish line and took second spot by darting up the inside of Dan, at the hairpin it was taken back as Dan forced his way back though, a real good fair scrap.
I managed to get my way past again towards the end of the lap by darting up the inside at the corner, it was at the following very sharp corner that my race for a podium position was to be ended as I was bashed out over the curbing and on to the grassy area where I then flew back onto the track sideways into the side of Dan. Unfortunately for me I then ended in a spin and resulting in me losing positions down to seventh. Now you don’t want to know what words were been shouted in my helmet at this point as I only had a couple of laps left and no chance of getting back into a trophy winning position… I fought back and managed to get my way back up to sixth position when the chequered flag was put out for the end of the race.
I was feeling pretty miffed at my lack of top 3 finishing when I knew I should of had one but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the race. Splitting the finals up how they had done to group drivers of similar ability together was brilliant and despite my shunting off the track the laps I had battling nose to tail for second position with Dan were so much fun, it really was a proper race and immensely adrenaline filled fun which I think Dan had also immensely enjoyed too!
After congratulating the winner it was time to give our ankle tags back and put the race suits and helmets back before heading upstairs to the room we had our safety briefing in for an end of day presentation.
Each driver received a printout of their stats from the final race of the day, giving their fastest lap time, position and fastest speed.
When it came to receiving mine I was asked to be given a louder round of applause as my sixth place should have perhaps been a second by the guy who oversaw the whole Go-Karting event and a few jokes were cracked about it, with Dan even admitting that perhaps I should have been up there collecting a trophy (which gave my pride a bit of an ego boost).
The top 3 all received a trophy to take home which would act as a nice memento of the day.
We then headed back downstairs for something to eat before everyone started to make their way home.
It was an absolutely superb day, the guys at Buckmore Park Go-Karting run it extremely well and provided a first class driving experience that is fun for all. The facility they have there is brilliant too, there is small spectator stands dotted around the track as well as the balcony of the main clubhouse so it provides brilliant viewing facilities for any spectators and a decent canteen for food and drinks.
In the canteen area there is also a row of TV screens that relay the racing going on around the circuit so you can always keep an eye on the goings on and also a live leader board with lap times and time distances between drivers. There is also a Go-Kart pro shop to take a look in if you really get the bug and want to get all your own gear!
As I mentioned before, it is actually quite physically demanding and I am still aching from it today (the day after), I have a few small bruises on my back and my arms are still aching, I guess from using muscles that are not usually used in this way. Also, being only a couple of inches form the ground you absorb all the bumps and knocks as you race around, but it is well worth it.
Just for note that these are very fast go-karts, my printout from the last race showed that my top average speed was about 50mph so as you can see that is actually very fast for a circuit full of twists and turns, imagine doing that so close to the ground and it feels like you are going even faster than this, added to the fact that you can be doing these speeds within inches of other drivers.
My top tip for the day is something that Dan had also mentioned, after the chequered flag is dropped after each race you follow a “safety Kart” back to the pits that is designed to slow everyone up, if you watch the line that this kart takes it will give you a good indication of the best racing line for the circuit, something to look at for ways you may be able to shave the odd split second of your lap times in case you are taking a corner with a different line.
As far as cost for thrills goes I think that this is definitely up there towards the top, if not the very best that you can get from a driving experience. With such regular time in the Go-Karts and not lots of time having to wait around as some other driving experiences require plus the fact that you are getting to actually race legally then it is just pure fun. A superb activity for groups of mates, business outings (Buckmore Park also do have conference facilities available), stag do’s or just days out. Immense fun that I look forward to doing again!