Driver Diary: Patrick Britain – KWC 2017
Nearly 200 drivers from around the globe battle in Spain for world title
This Driver Diary is from California karter Patrick Britain. A long-time Sport Karting driver, Britain traveled to Madrid, Spain recently to challenge 199 others from around the globe, taking part in the Kart World Championship event the last week of July.
For a long time, I’ve been of the opinion that racing isn’t about what you’re driving, it’s about who you’re racing against. If I have my choice of an incredibly fast kart with few quality drivers or a slower kart with dozens of quality drivers, I am picking the latter every time.
Like most of us, I grew up dreaming of becoming a professional driver for a living. When that didn’t work out, I started racing just for fun. I had (and still have) a small budget, so I focused on finding the highest level of competition that I could for the lowest price possible. Sport Karting was the answer.
Sport Karting is known by a lot of names – rental karting, arrive & drive karting, hire karts – but the premise is all the same. A driver brings his or her race gear and talent, and the rest is provided by the series. This creates racing that is extremely pure and draws in many drivers with loads of talent, but with either no means or no desire to go racing in their own equipment. You might be surprised to find out that not only are there regional leagues for this style of racing, but also national championships, and even a world championship known as the KWC. This year, I decided to fly to Madrid, Spain and enter into the Kart World Championship.
The KWC is broken up into two parts, the Nations Cup and the Kart World Championship itself. The Nations Cup takes place three days before the KWC starts and is a team event pitting each country against each other. Countries are allowed to have multiple entries, and this year, more than 40 teams from 22 countries entered. The field is split in half randomly and put into qualifying races that are two hours long each. The top 12 finishers from each heat make it to the final race, which is three hours long.
The KWC individual competition is five days long and consists of heat races (also called qualifier races) for the first four days. Each drivers runs two heats per day for a total of eight. Each heat is 20 laps long and requires one pit stop to encourage strategy. The points standings after the heats determine the top 64 who will transfer to the semi finals. The semi finals split the top 64 into four groups, arranged in order of points position. After the semi finals, the top 16 in points are locked into the final and 17th-32nd in points go into a last chance qualifier for the final 16 spots. 17th in points would go against 32nd, 18th against 31st and so on, in a head-to-head qualifier. Each driver runs one lap in their randomly assigned kart, and then the two competitors switch karts and run one more lap. Whoever has the lower total time advances to the final. It is a very unique qualifying procedure and creates an opportunity for drivers outside the top 16 to make a splash in the final race.
I race each month at CalSpeed Karting Center in Southern California in their league called the ‘Super Series’. This outdoor series is nearing on 10 years old now and features over 100 drivers each month ranging from complete beginners to Sport Kart aces, and even some pro drivers that want to have a little fun. The Super Series is well-known as the top Sport Karting series in the U.S.A. and among the top in the world. But, a few of us Americans wanted to see how we would stack up at the world championship.
I had run the KWC one time prior to this year, but it was so long ago that I’m not even sure it counts. Back in 2007, I entered the KWC when it was in its early stages and still being held in Phoenix, AZ. I had been racing Sport Karts for about three months at the time and had no idea what I was getting myself into. The competition back then was high, but nothing like it is now, and I was able to finish a respectable 38th. Since then, the KWC has become a touring series that races in a different country every year and draws competitors from all over the world. Back in ’07, I believe we had about eight countries represented, this year, there are more than 20.
Representing the U.S.A. this year would be a team of drivers including myself, Charles Eichlin, Diego Morales, Wes Dent, Oliver Rojas and Andrew Wood. Joining us would be a few drivers who race against us at CalSpeed, but are not from the United States – Andres Prieto and Juan Monroy from Colombia and Sean Brierley from England. Each of us entered with high hopes, and eager to see how we’d do in the field of nearly 200 drivers from 22 different countries.
After nearly 20 hours on an airplane, my wife and I arrived in Madrid and promptly proceeded to get completely lost in the culture shift. We were told by many that almost everyone in Spain speaks at least some English, let me tell you, that isn’t true. We did finally make it to our hotel at about midnight, and like a kid on Christmas Eve I went to bed as quick as I could, ready to hit the track for practice in the morning.
The KWC is a five-day racing event running from Wednesday to Sunday, but it is preceded by the Nations Cup event on the Sunday before. I would be starting my practice on Saturday, racing in the Nations Cup on Sunday, practicing more on Monday and taking the day off on Tuesday. I had a lot of prep work to do and not much time to do it.
Saturday morning finally came and I was fortunate enough to be able to do a quick track walk with Sean Brierley of England before the track went hot. The track is this interweaving, two story, spiraling maze of corners that wraps completely around the building. It is “indoor style” in its complexity and tight confines with zero runoff. Coming from the vast open space of CalSpeed, I’d have to totally adjust my style.
I spent the first few practice sessions studying the other drivers to get a feel for their approach, hopefully allowing myself to get some of the early session mistakes sorted out before I even went on track. With nearly 200 drivers entered, and 24 drivers on track at a time, drivers have to purchase individual practice sessions and spend the rest of the time watching.
By the time I got suited up for my first session, I had learned a few things. First, don’t overdrive it. The corners are slow and the top level has very little grip. The fast guys were waiting for the kart to come to them and not forcing it. Second, don’t go for broke right at the start of practice. Several drivers had already been talked to or even sat out some sessions because they had made big errors in practice which resulted in big crashes and big damage to the karts.
The fast drivers at this point were running low 59-second lap times, so my goal in session one was to get to within about a second of them. By the end of my first 15-minute session, I was able to get pretty close, with a time of 60.5. Luckily, by the end of the day, I had found some more speed and a lot of consistency and was right on the 60.0 mark, putting me right in the midfield.
Sunday morning came along and it was finally time to compete. The Nations Cup was the first contest, and it puts teams of 2-4 drivers from the same country against each other in short endurance races. The qualifiers were two hours each, with the final being three hours. The goal of Team America (Diego Morales, Andrew Wood and myself) was to simply make the final. In order to make the final, a team would need to finish in the top 12 out of 20 in their qualifier. We drew a fairly tough race with several of the local Spanish teams, the defending champions from the Netherlands and several more very highly rated teams.
Our team would be doing 30-minute stints in the kart as it is required by the regulations to do three driver and kart changes. This ensures that you can’t take advantage of a faster kart for too long, and also allows you to get out of a slower kart if you happen to draw one. Even though the karts are all identical, there will always be some discrepancy.
My team decided to have me start and finish the first race. This would give me about an hour to rest in between stints, which was very welcomed. 30 minutes doesn’t seem like a ton of time in a kart, but this track beats you up pretty good. The transition to the 2nd level was pretty rough, with the kart actually completely coming off the ground and landing right as you are into your braking zone. The transition back down to the 1st level was just as tough, with a long “corkscrew” corner pushing your neck and arms to the limit. On this type of track, there is no time to rest.
Our qualifier went smooth and we ran our own race, putting down consistent lap times and focusing on making no mistakes. Our strategy paid off as we were able to come across the line in 10th and transfer through to the final. The final race would be an extra hour long and require an extra driver and kart change, so strategy would play an even larger part. For us, we decided to play it safe again and do 40-minute stints in order to keep ourselves as fresh as possible.
After a relatively clean and straightforward qualifier race, it was no surprise to see the final be the complete opposite.
The three-hour race saw a red flag, a full course caution, several big crashes and the top two teams both DNF after separate incidents. It was one of the most wild races I’ve ever been a part of. We managed to avoid all of the drama, make a great restart after the red flag, and bring it home in 11th. Not bad for one day of practice and 40 competitors. Our friends from Great Britain managed to shock the entire sport karting world and won the Nations Cup overall, and earning the right to call themselves ‘world champions’, a fact that they have yet to let us forget.
All of us viewed the Nations Cup as a great practice session, as it was our first chance to race in actual competition. Practice sessions are one thing, but they always lack a certain level of intensity. After the Nations Cup, we all were feeling much more confident about our chances.
The individual contest started a few days later on Wednesday, and in between, I spent the time relaxing as much as possible, but still running a few scattered practice sessions. I wasn’t sure if it was the right strategy, but a few days later the decision to be as rested as possible would play into my results.
It was in this break between the Nations Cup and the individual KWC that we received news that our great friend and competitor back home, Dennis Kimbrell, had been hospitalized with a heart issue. Details were scarce, and we all initially assumed it was a minor issue and he would be out within a matter of days, but we soon learned that it was much more serious. Being thousands of miles away, all we could do was be a supportive ear for his family, including his son and multi-time national champion, Jon. We pushed on with our practice sessions, knowing that Dennis would want to hear all about our trip once we returned.
Wednesday finally arrived, and we were all filled with high hopes, yet realistic expectations. My personal goal was to make the top-64 at the end of the qualifiers on Saturday. This would put me into the semi final races on Sunday. I had a secondary goal of being on the podium at some point during the qualifiers so I could have a chance to represent the U.S.A. with the flag while I received my medal. If I could accomplish both of these, I would be satisfied.
I would be first up, being assigned to the very first race in Round 1. The track was cold and very slick, which is normally my specialty. So after the two-lap qualifying session, I was very surprised to find myself starting 23rd out of 24! I felt like I had a decent lap, but clearly something had gone wrong. I pushed it out of my head and got on with the 20-lap race. The race went green and I quickly realized that I didn’t have nearly as much heat in my front tires as those around me. The best decision, in my mind, was to make a quick pit stop early so I could have clean track and run as fast as possible. As the race shook out, the decision ended up being a good one, as I made up several spots to come home a respectable, but still disappointing, 15th.
The next race didn’t go much better. I qualified 16th and finished 12th. An improvement for sure, but not enough to get me where I wanted to be. At the end of day 1, I found myself 112th in points.
Day 2 started off just like Day 1 finished, with a 12th place finish. I wouldn’t say I was frustrated at this point, but certainly becoming concerned. I needed to show something to myself in Round 4, and luckily for me, I did have a glimmer of hope. I qualified sixth for Round 4 and had high hopes as I didn’t completely nail my qualifying lap. The problem was, I hadn’t had the experience of running up front yet.
On lap 1, I didn’t go as defensive as I should have into turn 3 and a driver jammed his way into the opening. Not exactly a clean move, but I shouldn’t have left the door open. I was able to over-under him on exit of the following corner, but the ensuing chaos had us both lose a few spots. Then, apparently upset that I had passed him back, the same driver drilled me straight in the side in the final corner. The impact sent me wide and into the barriers, allowing the entire field to pass. It was frustrating, but if I had defended properly at the start, I wouldn’t be in that position.
My game plan to make up as many spots as possible was to drive as hard as I could until I got to the back of the pack, make my stop, and then drive as hard as I could again. This strategy worked, and it helped me salvage an 11th place finish as well as earn me a bonus point by having the fastest lap of the race. There was my glimmer of hope.
Day 3 began and I had a new wave of confidence from my personal performance the day before. The results weren’t there yet, but I knew I had the pace. Round 5 went well as I had a very clean and smooth racing, ending with my first great finish of the event, a fourth place. Now things were starting to go my way. In Round 6, I was really firing on all cylinders and I led the majority of the race, but unfortunately lost the lead on the last lap after a questionable pass. The move was legal, but had some front to back contact. I don’t race that way, so I expect others not to either. Lesson learned; this isn’t CalSpeed, you can never stop defending. Still, I had achieved my goal of getting on the podium.
I went to bed that night knowing that I had to have two more great races if I wanted to meet my ultimate goal of making the semi finals. Otherwise, my event would be over and I wouldn’t be racing at all on Sunday. I was confident that things had turned around.
Saturday morning came and I don’t know that I have ever been so motivated. I felt good, was having fun, I was competitive and I knew I had it in me to make the semi finals.
I picked up my helmet to walk to the paddock for Round 7, and as I started to walk away, I heard my phone vibrate on the table. I picked it up expecting to see an email or some random Facebook notification, but instead saw the worst news I could imagine; my friend Dennis had passed away.
I had met Dennis about 10 years ago at our local indoor track, Dromo 1. I had just quit racing cars and was looking for some kind of racing that could fit my bank account, but still be competitive. I quickly learned that Sport Karting had a lot more depth than I ever imagined, and it was a perfect fit. This was in no small part thanks to Dennis, his son Jon and his step-son Aaron. Jon is as talented a racer as I’ve ever met and has become one of my best friends over the past decade. Naturally, Dennis and I became close too. There were times that an outside observer would think I was his son. Dennis was always way too generous with me and sometimes paid for me to race on his team as a “ringer” for endurance events. If something ever came up and Jon couldn’t race, he’d call me at 5 in the morning to be the fill in. He never let me give him any money for those races. I could go on and on with stories about Dennis, but just understand, the news of his passing was devastating to myself, the entire U.S.A. team, and many drivers from around the world who had raced with Jon.
Snapping back to reality, I remembered that I still had a race to run and I’d have to mourn the loss later. Dennis was a racer, his dad was a racer, and his kids are racers. Our hearts were heavy, but we raced on. I grabbed a note we had written in support of Dennis and stuffed it into my driving suit. I didn’t really know why, but it just felt right at the time. I strapped my helmet on and tried to lose myself in the race.
Qualifying went well, as I would line up P3 for the race. As soon as the race started, I knew I had a shot. I was faster than the two in front of me, and I just needed to be patient and let the race come to me. Second place made his move on the leader around lap 5 and I was able to follow him through. Then around the halfway mark, the leader made his pit stop. This was the opportunity I needed and I put my head down to take advantage of the clear track. I kept up the higher pace all the way until lap 18 of 20, which is the last lap that we were able to make our required pit stop. I hit the pit lane as late as possible and pushed as hard as I could on pit in and pit out. As I re-joined the track, I was clear of the pack by about five kart lengths. I just needed to put down one more solid lap. I’ve lost a lot of races, some of my own doing and some by circumstance, so I know better than to count my chickens before they hatch. But as I rounded the final corner to get the checkered flag, I knew I had done it. 10 years after my first Kart World Championship, I had finally won a race.
My mind immediately went to Dennis, and I remember that I had his name written on that note in my suit. I took the note out as we slowed down and held his name up high. If not for Dennis, I knew I wouldn’t be where I was. Thank goodness for helmets, because no one could see the absolute blubbering mess that I had become as the raw emotion hit me. I was elated at being able to get a win, and to do it in Dennis’ honor, but I was devastated as the loss of my friend began to sink in.
I had a few hours before my next race, and I needed every minute of it to get my mind back in the right place. We messaged our thoughts to his family, but unfortunately there wasn’t much more we could do from the other side of the world. So, we just kept on racing.
My final qualifier, Round 8, was another solid run. I kept my nose clean and made a good pit stop, bringing home a solid sixth to end the qualification rounds. After it all shook out, I found myself in 32nd, comfortably within the top-64 who made the semi finals. I was so happy and relieved to meet my goal, but now I realized that making the knockout qualifying round for the finals was an absolute possibility. The top-16 after the semi finals would automatically make the finals, and then 17th-32nd go to a knockout round of qualifying where the top-eight make it to the final as well.
Sunday morning came around and any result would just be icing on the cake. I had met all of my goals and I felt like I had nothing left to prove to myself. Still, I felt good about my chances of at least making it to qualifying for the final. But then, a wrench got thrown in; we would be racing in the opposite direction for the semi finals.
It was the same for everyone, so I just needed to go out and get it done, but in qualifying I just couldn’t come to grips with the new direction. I started a disappointing 16th. I got faster and faster throughout the race, but could only make my way up to 11th at the finish. Not bad, but I would be right on the cusp of making the top-32.
I watched the remaining races with great interest, and as things started to shake out, I realized I might actually have a chance. As the final race started, I realized that it was down to one driver to determine if I would make the top 32 or not. If he finished ninth or worse, I’d make it.
He finished eighth.
Just like that, my event was over. But, I couldn’t be happier. I had achieved every goal I had set for myself and came so close to making the final, which was something I didn’t think was possible. Plus, I’d be able to sit back and enjoy a beer while the championship was decided.
The final race was awesome and the defending world champion Rico Haarbosch put on a clinic, setting the fastest lap of the race practically every lap en route to the win in the final. However, the world championship for 2017 would go to Ruben Boutens. A driver who had been so close, so many times, but was never able to pull it off. It was really a great moment to watch him, his teammates and his family celebrate his championship.
The Kart World Championship was an outstanding event. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants an excuse to go on a vacation and also be able to enjoy some top level racing. As a driver, you get to worry about just driving and not tuning or repairing your kart.
The rumor in the paddock is that the 2018 edition will be held in Poland and that someday soon, the event will return to America. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.