On the Southern Hemisphere’s longest kart racing track, David Whitley realises he’s neither the skill nor the will to win
It doesn’t take long for me to realise that I’m not Lewis Hamilton. Delighted with myself for the overtaking manoeuvre on the second corner, I enter the third at top speed, hit the brakes and promptly fly off into the grass.
That’s enough of a scare for me. I’m not cut out for this racing lark. I shall pootle along at the back from now on, taking the corners slightly slower than is strictly necessary.
This somewhat defeats the point. The others flying around what is supposedly the longest karting track in the southern hemisphere are here for the race. Six Mexicans and two New Zealanders have got their competitive juices flowing, battling for the racing line and trying to eke the maximum out of the karts. These little beasties can go at 100km/h if properly pushed.
It’s a sad moment to realise that I’m not all that competitive behind the wheel. Having spent three weeks driving around New Zealand’s North Island, I thought I was. It’d be fair to say I’ve not always stuck rigidly to the speed limit, and I’ve regularly found myself taking on fairly narrow gaps in order to overtake slower vehicles.
But it turns out that it was never speed for speed’s sake. It was speed with the purpose of getting from A to B quicker. I’d no desire to race other cars – if they want to go faster than me, then I’ll happily pull over and let them overtake; I’ll stick to a speed that feels safe.
It takes a surprisingly large shift of mindset on a racetrack. It’s not a journey from A to B – there’s no benefit in getting there quicker. You’ve just got ten minutes to travel as far as you can, and record lap times that are hopefully faster than those of the other drivers.
Offroad NZ just outside Rotorua provides a seriously impressive circuit, though. It’s not just for tourists given balaclavas, helmets and jumpsuits for the day – serious professional kart races are held here too. There’s that perfect combination of straights and corners that allows for overtaking, but each corner has to be taken at a different speed.
After a couple of embarrassing spins on the first two laps, I find myself really getting into it. I’m still at the back of the pack, and I get lapped by the fastest two Mexicans, but I find myself wanting to push harder into the bends rather than wimp out. I start working out what I can get away with, and I start paying serious attention to the kart in front of me. Could I possibly get past? Can I make a race of this after all?
And then the chequered flag comes down. Just as I’m starting to find my inner Schumacher. We all pull into the pits, and go to check out our lap times. I’m eighth out of nine. I may have been behind the pack, but I managed to do one lap faster than one of the Mexican women. It’s a bit embarrassing.
So the excuses start. It didn’t help that I had to stop to have a loose strap removed. If I was closer to another driver, I’d have been able to race them and get faster speeds in their slipstream.
The Kiwi bloke joins in. You’ve got a massive advantage if you’re lighter – the girls taking the wrong racing line had more power simply because they didn’t weigh as much.
Everyone has their excuse. Except Alejandro, the winner. He just has the smug look of someone about to spray champagne all over the podium.