During the backend of 2017, me and a few other members of Huddersfield university took part in a test session at Whilton Mill in preparation for the 2018 season. It was my first time driving a Club 100 go-kart and I found them a markedly different beast to drive compared to the corporate karts found at many other venues. A few months later in February, I was back at Whilton Mill to take part in my first BUKC race, and I think I did alright, qualifying 21st and finishing 14th out of 37 runners. On the 5th, 6th, and 7th of April this year, I returned to Whilton Mill to take part in what would be my last BUKC event as an under-graduate.
I was particularly excited for this meeting as the last BUKC event featured the individual drivers championship, and I was lucky enough to obtain a place in the Lightweights class as it completely sold out within seven minutes! Three other Huddersfield drivers would be racing in Lightweights; Aaron Walsh, Sam Tearne, and Jack Lynas, and they were hoping to emulate Josef Jaques’ incredible win in last year’s final. As for myself, I just wanted to go out with as big a bang as possible, and I also had a bit of a surprise for the competition… more on that on a following post.
For now, there was the small matter of the main championship, and once again, I was on full-time videography duty as I was racing in the Intermediates. There was a fairly close championship battle going on, but unfortunately, Huddersfield weren’t in it thanks to a number of unlucky races, most recently in the final endurance race at Llandow where Stephen Letts and Alex Gunn received two separate penalties that cost them a convincing win. Combined with other Huddersfield drivers being in their final year of university, tactics for the final two rounds of the championship would be altered slightly.
Normally, we would put Letts in a race where he’d be starting from near the back of the grid because he is very good at making his way through the field. This time, he would be starting his sprint race from near the front so he could have the best possible chance at winning a BUKC race, his first since the penultimate qualifiers race last year. He would be in race 5, whereas the first race featured no Huddersfield drivers as both teams were placed in the middle four races. In other words, there was a bit of time to watch some of the action before Alex Gunn and Jack Hodges were out for race 2.
Gunn would have a challenging race ahead of him starting from 30th, whereas Hodges was 33% higher up in 20th, but he had a disastrous start as he got airborne on the straight approaching Christmas corner after a lot of contact. This was a shame because he had quite a good go-kart underneath him and even set the fastest final sector of anyone. He recovered to 21st before having another off-track moment with just a few laps to go and dropped down to 30th. Meanwhile, Gunn had a solid race as he steadily made his way through the field and eventually finished 12th.
Next up were Sam Tearne and Kezia Santoso. Once again, both were starting in the bottom half of the grid, but from 26th, Tearne stormed his way through the field to run 8th behind Birmingham A’s Rory Smith. I remember watching them working together to try and close the gap between themselves and the battle for 2nd place, and they were so close come the end, just four tenths separated 2nd and 5th! Tearne did however receive a cone penalty so he was actually classified 6th, but it was still a very solid performance nonetheless. Meanwhile, Santoso had started even further down the order in 33rd place. She didn’t have the pace compared to the other runners, but she still gained a few positions from her grid slot and finished 30th.
Aaron Walsh and Ollie Milner were next up for race 4, and for Milner, he would be taking part in his final BUKC sprint race having made his debut back in the 2015 qualifiers. In those five and a half years, he had taken three wins, one of which was his very first race where he beat A Team’s Shaun Arnold, a driver who was part of Huddersfield’s championship win in that very season. His two other wins came at his Llandow sprint in 2016, and also the second heavyweight heat of the 2017 drivers championship. For his final sprint race, he started up in 4th, while Walsh was 11th.
Both drivers had very good starts to the race as Milner maintained 4th while Walsh moved up to 7th before a fraught second lap led to a collision between Walsh and Loughborough A’s Oliver Wheddon. Walsh attempted a move around the outside of Wheddon at Inkermans, contact was made, and Wheddon came off a lot worse as he spun round and became stranded on the grass. It was deemed a racing incident, but this virtually spelt the end of Loughborough A’s championship challenge as Piers Prior had a disastrous race with three separate black flags.
As with all the sprint races, I watched this one from the straight leading towards Christmas corner, and I noticed just how good Walsh was driving when he took the lead with seven minutes of the race to go, but I was informed by Jack Lynas that he had picked up an ABC penalty, so whatever happened, he wouldn’t be allowed to keep his win. On the road, he took the chequered flag by just over a second, so he wouldn’t have won under the old penalty system anyway, but nevertheless he was pleased with how he drove. Behind him however, things were about to explode.
With five minutes to go, Oxford Brookes A picked up a penalty after an attempted overtake on UWTSD Swansea going into the Boot went a bit wrong, and as a result, they changed their tactics and drove extremely defensively so that championship contenders Oxford Brookes B could close up and try to pick their way through the traffic. This ultimately backfired as their main rivals Coventry A managed to get ahead of Brookes B’s Joe Bleackley amongst the melee, and then on the final lap, Milner and Bleackley came to blows.
Going into Osiers, Milner tried to defend his position from Bleackley, but Bleackley wasn’t having any of it and Milner ended up ploughing into the tyres at the exit of the corner. As they crossed the finish line, both drivers immediately disagreed with each other to put it very mildly, and they continued to disagree after they parked their karts on the start/finish line. Had it not been for an intervening driver, then there would’ve probably been a spot of fisticuffs between the two. Milner eventually finished his final BUKC sprint race in 13th, which was a shame as he ran in the top six for nearly all of the race.
The last two Huddersfield drivers taking part in the sprint races were Stephen Letts and Jack Lynas, both of whom won races in the qualifiers with Lynas sensationally doing the double. Letts was starting this race in 7th, and he kept his head during a chaotic first lap as he moved up to 3rd, while Lynas went from 17th to 9th. Sadly for Jack, he had a spin on the second lap which dropped him down to 26th. He eventually recovered to finish 19th after picking up a couple of cone penalties. Meanwhile, Letts moved up to 2nd on lap 5 and remained there until the end setting the fastest lap on the way.
Although Letts’ 2nd place was the only top three finish in the sprints (Unless you count Walsh’s 1st on the road which he certainly does!), two other top six finishes gave Huddersfield A an overall podium finish for Round 7, just one point behind winners Nottingham A, although a spreadsheet error initially had Huddersfield A down in 5th after dropping two scores. A quick visit to live timing sorted that one out, and a few minutes later, Letts, Walsh, Tearne, and Gunn collected their trophy at the podium ceremony. Huddersfield B meanwhile were 37th.
After a quick break came the trio of endurance races, and both teams would be in the first and last races. First up were Stephen Letts starting 6th and Jack Hodges starting 13th, and it was clear from the off that the A Team really wanted to win this one as Letts powered into the lead on the second lap and then proceeded to just disappear from the rest of the field. Once the first pitstops were out of the way, Letts had opened up a lead of well over ten seconds to 2nd placed Oxford Brookes C, and the lead grew to 17 seconds by the time Alex Gunn took over. All that was left for the A Team to do was bring the kart home and take a well-deserved and dominant win.
Meanwhile, Hodges yo-yoed about in the first couple of laps, dropping to 17th and then moving back up to 13th. He eventually settled in 16th place for much of the race despite picking up a cone penalty at some point before handing over to Kezia Santoso. Much like Gunn, Santoso’s responsibilities in the endurance were to bring the kart home and not accrue any penalties, and she did just that as the B Team finished in 20th place.
The final race of the 2019 BUKC championship saw Sam Tearne and Jack Lynas start 31st and 24th for the A and B Teams. Lynas had a terrific start to move up to 13th, while Tearne was caught up in a first corner pile-up that involved at least seven other karts. Somehow, Tearne managed to gained three positions! He fought his way back up the order to run 17th after the first pitstops, three places behind Lynas.
At the second round of stops, Tearne handed over to Aaron Walsh, while Ollie Milner took over for the B Team in what would be his final ever stint in the BUKC. He was having a decent run and was in a battle for 10th at the start of his penultimate lap, but things went hilariously wrong. He ended up hitting the exact same tyres from the sprint race, except this particular impact knocked off a radiator pipe causing water to spill out onto the circuit. What happened next was pure chaos as pretty much the entire field either slid off or spun round on the slippery surface going into the Boot. The biggest losers were the two Huddersfield teams, as the B Team dropped to 18th, while the A Team couldn’t complete the final lap and dropped to 23rd.
Despite winning the first endurance race, the final lap carnage of the final race meant that Huddersfield A took 13th overall for the eighth and final round, while Huddersfield B were 26th. In the end, this left the A Team 8th in the final championship standings, with the B Team down in 29th in what was all in all, a rather difficult season. Just a single point separated the top three, but it went the way of Coventry A, who took their third championship win, becoming the third team to do so. Oxford Brookes were the first university to achieve this in 2006, while Loughborough did it in 2010.
After the day’s racing was done, those who took part got changed from their race suits into different kinds of suits as the awards ceremony was taking place inside the newly built clubhouse… well, only Jacob Harris chose to wear a suit, a red velvet one, while everyone else was in smart-casual attire. There were a number of awards up for grabs, and the word around the paddock was that I was a strong favourite for Bandit of the Year thanks to the cone theft at Three Sisters. I also received a nomination for Overtake of the Year, namely the lunge on Strathclyde at Llandow.
Those two awards plus Crash of the Year were put together in separate video compilations by Exeter’s Alistair Mallard, who won Bandit of the Year last year for shunting into a stationary Swansea B at a soaking wet Buckmore Park and knocking the driver off their feet. The driver in question was Jeremy Todd, who went on to win this year’s Overtake of the Year for overtaking about 10 karts at the very same hairpin where he was ploughed into by Mallard. As for Bandit of the Year, all nominations were viewed and laughed at by a packed audience, and then Jacob Harris announced on the microphone in a hushed tone, “there can only be one winner…”
“IT’S CONEMAN!” He grandly declared, and that left me to collect not just the award, but also a specially designed t-shirt to confirm my new status as Bandit of the Year. Crash of the Year was won by Warwick’s Sam Stephens for his part in an enormous pile-up at Buckmore Park’s start-finish straight, and then once all the other awards were distributed, a DJ took over and played all the well-known hits. It was a jolly good evening, but I couldn’t stay out for too long as I wanted a good night’s sleep and the best possible frame of mind for the final Intermediates round of the season.