For the first time this season, it looked like we might actually be able to have a race without the weather trying to ruin it for us. The first eight rounds of the British Universities Karting Championship had been cursed with bad weather. The first had to be moved to a dif- ferent date due to snow, the second moved to a different track due to snow, and the rest had seen freez- ing cold, howling winds, torrential rain, or, well, more snow. Add this to the fact that the 2012 Varsity race was run on a track that that might as well have been The Isis. So there was a certain optimism within the team that, this time round, we might have a good race.
We arrived at Rye House, a change of venue from last year, to find the track bone dry and begging to be driven. Both teams had booked out karts for the first hour of track time to use as practice before the race, although Oxford had significantly more than Cambridge. The two teams looked surprisingly similar in ability, buoying our spirits, as we had initially thought that the loss of three of our best drivers from last year’s team would spoil our chances of victory.
The practice session finished with only one broken chain to show for the thrashing we had given the karts. We refuelled and went straight back out for ten minutes of qualifying. This was thankfully incident-free, and we returned to the pits to find out where we would start. We were somewhat annoyed to find that the Tabs had managed to secure the top three grid slots, although Oxford filled the next six positions.
The start of the race would prob- ably be more familiar to a fan of NASCAR than of Formula 1, as the karts have no clutch and must get into formation behind a pace kart before being released into racing. After what must have been the long- est few minutes of driving in my life — karts buzzing all around, driv- ers focused, waiting impatiently for the excitement to begin — the pace kart pulled off. Foot flat to the floor, the engine notes consume you as you turn into the first corner, a flat out right-hander, jostling for position while at the same time trying not to wipe out one of your team mates. Braking hard into the first
hairpin, some drivers try to dive up the inside, others hang it wide and try to get more speed on the exit. Then round the second hairpin and onto the back straight, before what I consider to be the hardest corner of the track, an almost flat left followed by a sharp right. A small chicane and the final tight right bring us back to the main straight, crossing the line. One lap down, twenty-four minutes left in the race.
Then, a mere four laps into the race, the curse came back, and it be- gan to rain. Karts began spinning off at every corner, the yellow flags came out, and the race changed completely. It was now less about seeing how fast you could go, and more about how long you could keep it on the track for. Twenty minutes later, all drivers exhausted from the concen- tration, the chequered flag came out and we slowly returned to the pits, nobody quite sure of the result. We gathered around the podium as race director JV read us the bad news: Oxford 61 points, Cambridge 79. We congratulated them on what had been a much cleaner race than last year, and headed home.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna who died 19 years ago this week at the 1993 San Marino Grand Prix.