Cambridge came out on top at last week’s Varsity Karting Championships after a 79 points to 61 victory secured them their first win for three years. With the Light-Blues lying just 38th of 55 entrants ahead of the final round of the British Universities’ Karting Championships, after some patchy performances against strong opposition, it has been a tough year on the race track.
However, spirits were high on the run-up to the annual Varsity race as Cambridge captain Richard Morris looked to have stitched together a strong side of 12 drivers to represent the University. Oxford had struggled with the high national-level standard too, at 31st in the BUKC; and after last year’s disputed ‘loss’, there was unfinished business to settle.
Rye House kart circuit was bathed in sun as the two teams arrived for pre-race testing. The mild conditions made for good grip and the Cambridge drivers settled in well to chalk up some fast laps in the 115cc, direct-drive TKM karts. At only 50 miles south of the city, the home advantage showed as even the less experienced members of the team put in consistent showings.
With both sides warmed up and ready for battle, attention turned to the 10 minute qualifying session with all 24 racers on circuit. The increased track made for some more intense racing: A few yellow flags went out when drivers on both sides made mistakes under pressure, but no major incidents occurred as most managed to find clear space to concentrate on lap-times. Cambridge dominated the tables to lock out the first three grid spots courtesy of Richard Morris, Sam Massey and Steve Rogers respectively. Team regular Alex Thewsey put in an uncharacteristically poor showing for 12th; only to discover a flat tyre after the end!
Back on circuit, the grid formed up for the main event: a 25 minute sprint race from a rolling start, with the university standings decided on the MotoGP points system from driver finishing positions. The tension in the air mingled with two-stroke exhaust and increasingly ominous clouds, and the circuit fell into shadow as the union flag dropped.
The front row handled the start well, with Sam and Richard accelerating smoothly away from the pack down into Stadium corner. Richard took a defensive line in which forced him wide in the middle of the long bend, all the gap Sam needed to nip through and take the lead. Steve had less luck from third, succumbing to Oxford’s David Bickerstaffe as the pair struggled to defend against the tightly bunched pack behind them.
Heading down into the infield hairpin three-abreast, the field saw some brave lunges for position while maintaining remarkably clean racing: A collision claimed Cambridge’s Peter Newton at the apex, but was small by most first-lap standards and no penalties were issued.
From there the race settled down well until, five laps in, disaster struck: the heavens opened both swiftly and thoroughly. With no warning and slick tires, Pylon corner saw a four-kart pile-up into the tire barrier and the marshals had their work cut out to keep the rest of the track moving too. Grip vanished, and lap-times climbed by 50% as even the best drivers gingerly nursed their machines around the circuit.
The remainder of the race turned to a battle to stay on tarmac and put any power down. In such demanding conditions the gulf between experienced and novice drivers stretched wide, and the driver standings were thrown into chaos by the number of spins. Thankfully, the race saw no injuries despite collisions into stationary karts.
No such mistakes for the experts, though: Sam Massey kept cool to take the chequered flag a full 31 seconds ahead of Richard Morris and Oxford captain Sam Rebbettes in 3rd, after fantastic drives from all three. Cambridge managed to place eight drivers in the 15 points-scoring positions, and the strong performance at the top of the table sealed the deal and a comfortable 18-point victory.