Gocart - With a special guest
Four. That's the number of go-cart sessions I've now had in Japan. I guess I can say we've become regulars: once a month, a group of about 20 of us books the track for an hour. But last saturday, it was a little different than usual...Before telling you why, please allow me to brag and proudly announce that I won a beautiful cup (that is, a cheap plastic cup) at the third session a month ago, finishing third:
Usually, we run by teams of two but my teammate for that session arrived "a little" late (AFTER the race!). My usual partner was already teamed up so I did the whole race alone but in the end it was better that way: he's really nice but rather on the slow side, which is not a quality when it comes to racing. For instance when I give him the signal that I'm going to switch with him after the next lap, he usually waits for me to enter the pit lane to start getting prepared...Oh, and that one time, he also did a pit stop only one lap from the end!
Driving alone poses a concentration challenge, it is tough to stay focused for 30 minutes. But on the other hand it gives more practice time, which allowed me to get a better feeling of the cart, improve my braking and thereby drive closer to the adhesive limit and shave off more than a second over my previous record. I was really happy about my third place but I'll probably have to stay satisfied with that as it will be tough to do better. I'm not a go-cart addict but I've done quite a few sessions and I have a good knowledge of the basics of racing physics. Nevertheless, there are still three guys better than me in the group: one is beatable if I improve a little more, but the other two are insanely good and it's only in my dreams that I'll be able to beat them. I will refer to them as "the aliens" in the rest of this post.
Last saturday, there were much more people than usual (48 drivers, 12 teams of 4!), but also quite a few people who just came to watch the race as spectators. That's a fair amount of people!
You can guess that those people did not come for me. In fact, we had a special guest! The guy on my right on this picture, really nice by the way, is called Kohei HIRATE:
He's a professional driver and races in categories that are not very far from Formula 1! You can check out his official web site. Just like the majority of drivers, he began his career with go-cart before climbing his way up to the higher racing categories. For us, it was a great opportunity to actually see a pro driving! Indeed, and this is true for all sports, it is hard to realize the actual level of skill of a pro by just watching them on TV. This is all the more true in go-cart which is not mediatized. Impossible to guess how well a pro can do: will he go 5 tenths, 1 second or three seconds better than everyone else? We had lots of discussions about that but the fact is, we had no clue.
Before I continue, here's a brief introduction about the reference lap times to give you an idea:
- 45 to 46 : the lap records are all in that range (the aliens I mentioned above belong to this category). Getting below 46 doesn't happen often, even for the very best
- 46 to 47 : that's where the big boys play. The best drivers can consistently pull off lap times between 46 and 47,5 under normal conditions (without losing time overtaking for instance)
- 47 to 48 : just a step below...
- 48 to 49 : a first goal to reach!
As far as I'm concerned, I now usually run between 47,8 and 48,5, my personal best being 47,5...not too bad, but there's still a long way to go! Anyway, I was really excited about racing with a pro driver! Besides, within our group, we were expecting an interesting challenge between Kohei HIRATE and one of our aliens.
On one side, someone who has never raced on that track and who does not drive go-carts anymore, but whose job is to drive racing cars and who is used to much more powerful machines. On the other side, an amateur indeed, but who's been practicing for years and drives two to three times a week on that track and knows it perfectly. Should the race be held with more powerful machines, the former would obviously have the edge. But when it comes to go-carts with their engine limitations, the outcome is not obvious...
The preliminary session started after the sunset. You can see that there were still some pretty maple trees:
It was particularly cold on saturday and since the track is located slightly in the heights, the temperature was -2°C when we started the preliminary heat! Needless to say, the track was a little more slippery than usual. The verdict was severe for me: I didn't do better than somewhere in the 48,9ish.
A little later, the pro driver started his series...and he didn't disappoint! Only a few laps on a track he didn't know at all and he pulled off an amazing 46,9! Unbelievable! I had completed my series and was watching from the observation terrace. It was really amazing: a very neat driving style, clean and smooth racing line...really impressive.
But his record didn't stand very long...in fact a few minutes later, our alien managed to beat him by 2 tenths! I can tell you that many people were surprised and the tension raised.
As for us, one of my teammates did a little better than me, earning us a 6th place on the starting grid. And just like everytime, I was the first driver. I just love that moment! The tension that climbs as the race is going to start:
Here we go:
Half a lap later, I have passed one driver:
I will pass another one a little later but that'll be it, the others at the front being way too fast for me.
After 20 minutes, it is time to switch with one of my teammates and all I have to do is wait for the end of the race...and warm my frozen fingers! Thankfully a stand was prepared for us and I get served hot soup and tofu with miso. I'm happy with my performance, I had much better sensations than during the preliminary heat and managed to get a 47,9 in spite of the track conditions.
Back to the race, Kohei HIRATE finally manages to take the lead but when it comes to the best lap time it's a different story: even though he lowers his time to 46,6, our alien once again manages to beat him by two tenths!
After an hour it's over and surprise...our team is second!!! Here is the podium:
That was an awesome session from all aspects and I even managed to get some professional advice, which I hope will get me lower in the 47s range, but I'll have to wait until like march to apply them. Hey what do you think, it's too cold now for go-cart!