Cherwell tries: Motorsport

It was with great joy that on a miserable Wednesday morning I at last stumbled upon that holiest of grails: a sport in which McDonald’s is acceptable pre- and post-activity fare.

At the sort of hour I thought only rowers ever saw sober, I joined up with the Oxford University motorsport team as they prepared to head for a routine weekday practice session. In Kent.

Three hours and a sausage and egg McMuffin meal later we rolled up at the track – the sort of compressed, winding go-kart course you might be familiar with from extravagant 13-year-old boys’ birthday parties.

The name ‘Motorsport’ is probably a bit of an oversell, conjuring up visions of multidiscipline, Wacky-Races-cum-Formula-One competitions in which you’re free to choose between your team’s motorbike, rally car or dune buggy depending on track conditions. The truth is a little more mundane – if that’s really a term that can be fairly applied to the impressive fleet of 115 cc Club 100 ‘championship karts’ that the Oxford team race.

Their physics, though generously explained in some detail by the team, seemed to be almost exactly modelled on that of Mario Kart. The best drivers literally jumped into sweeping three-wheeled drift turns, and seemed to have little need for the brake; while the worst, me especially, were forever sending our karts into what were essentially banana-skin-induced spins.

By the time it was my turn to take a ten-minute stint on track I had completely unsettled myself with visions of a 250 mph blowout into the pit lane wall. Fortunately, I had nothing to be quite so worried about. Driving was difficult but utterly exhilarating. These karts are much more sensitive than the ones you might have been tricked into driving on a hazy mid-teenage summer holiday in Portugal, and I found that I was always a slightly over-zealous stamp on the brake away from finding myself facing the wrong way with four or five karts storming impatiently towards me.

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As a result, buzzwords like ‘understeer’, ‘racing line’ and ‘braking zone’ all of a sudden began to make sense in a context outside of the relatively charmed worlds of Top Gear and Gran Turismo 3. I soon became incredibly jealous of the skill of the more experienced drivers, who flew effortlessly past me at worryingly brief intervals. But even I could hold  my own on the home straight – a thrilling full-throttle drag which took the karts up to around 65 mph.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is of its nature bound to be a genuine minority sport, with decent facilities relatively sparse and expensive to use. But, tucking into my Big Mac meal as we made our way back to Oxford via Bayford McDonald’s, I couldn’t help but feel that the seven regulars I accompanied were on to something. For pure adrenaline value this must rank near the top of the list of Oxford sports – and with Cuppers in a couple of weeks, maybe now’s the chance for a few new drivers to take the wheel.