Dukes roar to Maiden win

 

By Ben Rumsby

The long wait is finally over for Bath University’s Dukes of Hazard karting team after they clinched their first Club 100 win at Whilton Mill, Round 5 of this year’s Rookie Endurance series.

Following a tense finish to an incident-filled race the team of Daren "Sideways" Stanley, Paul "Quick Bastard" Jones and Rob "Insane" Venn mounted the pit-lane barriers to jubilantly salute Jamie (newly-tagged) "Kamikaze" Waring as he took the chequered flag and a deserved victory that propels the Dukes right back into the championship frame on a day where most of their nearest rivals languished well down the order.

Frequent sunny spells may have kept the rainclouds at bay, but it was the Dukes who produced the real magic at Northamptonshire’s demanding Whilton Mill circuit, and conjurer-in-chief Daren "Sideways" Stanley set the trend for what was to come.

Starting from 28th on the grid (once again as a result of their championship position of fifth) Daren proceeded to carve though the field with nonchalant ease; this despite the awkward congestion that a tight circuit of this nature inherently gives rise to. Within three laps he had gained ten places, and only ten minutes into the two-hour event he was as high as eighth and, more importantly, only 15 seconds off the lead. "I was trying to do the same thing that I did at Rye House [Round 2]." He later explained. "It’s just a case of not taking too many risks. Push as hard as you can when you’re in clean air, and only take on the overtaking moves that are gimmes really. Most of the people in front of me weren’t that good: they were pretty weak on their braking areas and everyone was slow up the hill. So getting in front of traffic when you got to them was reasonably easy."

Interestingly his efforts were, at this time, being matched almost stride for stride by one of the Dukes’ closest championship rivals, the Max @ttack team. Whenever they gained a position Daren would almost immediately follow, and he began to gradually reel them in with each passing manoeuvre. Eventually he had them in his sights, but anyone expecting a classic dogfight were to be disappointed, because he swept past and eased away as if they were a backmarker.

With all of the Dukes’ championship rivals now behind him Daren switched his attention to moving up the order as quickly as possible, and after only 20 minutes he had claimed third spot. With the race settling down into a pattern, and the first of the pit-stops beginning to be taken, Daren had the bonus of plenty of clear air in which to close in on the top two, and second place was inevitably claimed.

On lap 33 he deservedly found himself nose to tail with the leader and poised to pounce, when suddenly disaster struck: going into the first corner Daren clipped the back of his intended target and span. "I saw Paul and Rob in the pit-lane waving at me saying I was in second, and first place was right in front of me." He revealed. "I could see he was battling with someone and was really struggling to get by so I was just sitting pretty behind them thinking: ‘Do I just let them fight it out – sort themselves out, or do I try and catch both of them while they’re tripping up over each other?’"

It was then he made the fatal error: "Coming out of the last corner I got a really good run," he went on, "and they went side-by-side into the first corner. I thought: ‘Right, they’re going to trip up over each other here – I’m going to take both of them.’ But they collided. I hit the brakes to avoid them, but unfortunately touched the back of one of them. And with the brakes pretty much full-on it just unloaded the back end and it came round on me. It was just bad judgment on my part really. I should’ve let them sort themselves out and picked them off one-by-one. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally do, but by then I was so confident because I had been catching and passing people so easily – it just went to my head, I think." By the time Daren had rejoined the race he found himself in fifth place and 23 seconds down on the leader.

The following lap saw him pit, a stop which only cost the Dukes a further three places. This was no small surprise when considering the near-ridiculous length of the pit lane.

Paul Jones was entrusted with the now-crucial second stint, and, despite dubbing Whilton Mill his "bogey track", he paradoxically seemed to show little respect for the demands of the circuit; indeed he quickly set about hunting down the leaders.

Some fearless overtaking saw him very quickly up to fourth; third soon followed, and at the halfway point in his run he had second place firmly in his sights. A breathtaking overtaking manoeuvre on his opponent through the tight hairpin highlighted the confidence he was feeling at this time, but, as always, Paul remained refreshingly modest about his personal contribution: "I found a lot of people were falling for dummy manoeuvres. I’d go up the inside of them and they’d panic and spin. A lot of the time I was quite lucky that heaps of three or four karts would be fighting among themselves and I’d just slip past. There were a few instances when I was stuck behind the kart in front, but you’ve just got to stick with them and wait for the opportunity to arise."

Soon after clinching second spot the leader pitted leaving Paul out on his own. He took full advantage, quickly opening up a 15 second margin. By lap 68 he was 20 seconds ahead and fast approaching the end of his spellbinding run.

The team were keen to keep him on the track for as long as possible, mainly to eke out as much of the current supply of fuel as they reasonably could. But Paul was beginning to experience a few difficulties that put him at odds with the team’s instructions. As Daren mounted the pit wall to motion for him to continue Paul started tapping his helmet to apparently indicate all was not well with the fuel: "When I first started to feel the engine surge I looked down at the fuel and there was plenty there," he admitted, "so I thought I’d give the sign anyway just to let the team know. Daren was on the pit wall and he gave me the signal to go round a couple more times." This non-verbal exchange continued for another three laps before an ostensibly exasperated Paul gesticulated even more dramatically. "Once I got to the point when I thought I was losing more time than me coming into the pits I gave the cutthroat sign and it was time to come in." He said. The team brought him in the very next lap.

Paul’s brilliance meant that third man Rob Venn exited the pits having only dropped to second spot, and, like Paul, he enjoyed the luxury of the leader’s own stop allowing him to regain first place.

Rob is fast earning a reputation for being ultra-reliable and although – much like Paul – he professes to "hate the place [Whilton Mill]" he didn’t put a foot wrong during a run which would have tested even the most composed of drivers. This is largely because on lap 90 a spectacular accident on the start-finish straight between two of the Dukes’ competitors was deemed serious enough to warrant stopping the race. In fact one of the drivers lay worryingly prostrate along the kerb after he and his seat were thrown violently from his vehicle. Fortunately the ambulance was near at hand and, after a few minutes of real concern, the felled driver was eventually lifted to his feet, visibly shaken but otherwise unhurt.

The marshals proceeded to organise a restart, the rules dictating that the karts line up in order of race position behind the pace kart before resuming the race proper. From holding a 23-second lead before the break, the Dukes now believed their advantage to have all but disappeared. Consequently the whole team huddled around the stationary kart prior to the restart and debated their tactics: "We were talking about our strategy; whether to let me do one or two laps and then come in straight away or whether to leave me out for a little bit to try and keep track position." Rob later revealed. "We were worried about losing too many positions on the track."

The restart underway the Dukes suddenly discovered that because they had crossed the finishing line before the stoppage and the second place kart had not, far from losing their advantage, they actually found themselves a lap ahead. This was quickly communicated to Rob who, despite being overtaken by the second place team, was now aware that he still held the lead: "It probably made me drive more sensibly, more defensive." Rob later divulged.

And it wasn’t only in terms of track position that the Dukes benefited from the red flag, as Rob himself freely admitted: "I could drive a bit quicker because I could analyse what I’d done when I went out the first time."

The team therefore decided to keep Rob out until the natural conclusion of his run. It proved a good decision as he pitted having secured a three-lap lead, a margin that ensured last man Jamie Waring retained first place going into his split stint. Thus victory was looking to be firmly in Jamie’s hands.

A stint that a conservative driver would have cruised through Jamie managed to make nail bitingly tense almost from the outset. Indeed, a spin only a few laps in temporarily lost him the lead. "Under yellow flags I accidentally overtook someone," he later revealed, "so I waved him through but someone else was trying to get through as well. I closed the door and he pushed me off – which made me a bit angry for the rest of the stint!"

This perhaps explains why Jamie drove with a purpose and intensity that at any other stage during the race would doubtless have been lauded as a great performance. But in a final stint where victory could only be thrown away it was possibly a little dangerous. In fairness, however, all was well when he brought the kart into the pits for the final of their four prerequisite pit-stops midway through his run, and he exited with the lead in tact.

With only three minutes remaining and an unassailable one-lap lead the Dukes were counting on an incident-free finish. But Jamie merely added to the tension when, attempting to lap a slower kart on the start-finish straight, he clipped the back of him causing his opponent to spin. Every member of the team held their breath as they looked for a not-unwarranted black-flag, and when the marshal duly produced it the tension was unbearable. But to the Dukes’ unquestionable relief the flag was destined for another team, and Jamie kept his composure in the short time remaining to take the chequered flag, fist clenched in triumph.

As if the victory weren’t sweet enough many of their closest challengers finished far enough behind to propel the Dukes to third place in the championship, giving them a real chance of taking the spoils come the end of the season.

Following the presentations Rob aptly summed up the team’s delight at finally securing a Club 100 win: "It’s an aim we had before the championship began – to win an event, and it’s the realisation of that which is really good. Plus we all drove really well, which is the best bit about it. We all raced hard – it was a really hard-fought victory."

They will need a similar result in the remaining two rounds if they are to snatch the championship, but if their last two performances are anything to go by, anything is now possible.

The Dukes completed 126 laps; RS Racing finished one lap down; with Max @ttack a further 3.46 seconds further behind.