The shock on Jamie Chadwick ‘s face as we were told the race would last 30 minutes should perhaps have prepared Mirror Sport for the sheer effort a karting match-up between myself and four top W Series drivers would involve.
But no, instead the rest of us joked about how the two-time W Series champion was running scared. That would turn out to be a mistake at the end of a 10-minute qualifying session and a 20-minute (negotiated down by Chadwick) full-throttle race.
A beautiful, sunny day greeted the racers at the Daytona International Circuit in Milton Keynes, perfect conditions for karting. Facing Mirror Sport would be Chadwick, Abbi Pulling, Alice Powell and Sarah Moore, with the gulf across the grid immediately apparent.
One trip to go-karting track on a family holiday to Tenerife a decade ago would turn out to not be the best preparation for such an event. And the drivers themselves were taking it as seriously as possible, with all of them keen to claim the first scalp in a week that will see them take to Silverstone as one of the support races at the British Grand Prix.
“I’m going to pull the card that people have more experience around here. A lot of the Brits have been to this Daytona track before whereas I have no clue what way round it goes. This is the one opportunity you get to give a bit of argie-bargie,” Pulling, currently second in the championship, told Mirror Sport.
“I’m like ‘should I be nice to Alice, should I not, should I be nice to Moore, should I not?’ This karting is more for a bit of fun. Take a step back and realise where you’re at. Some people would be so excited to go in one of these karts so it’s just to enjoy how lucky I am. I think we’re going to be quite competitive.”
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Having donned our race suits, and with Pulling’s hopes of a titanic battle ringing in my ears, we took our seats in the briefing room. Our race director for the day showed us a layout of the 1360 metre track, containing 11 corners.
Following Chadwick’s successful protestations about the time we would be out on track, it was time to take to our karts. The engines were blaring, with the smell of petrol hanging in the air as we slumped down into our seats.
The challenge ahead immediately became obvious as I turned around to see W Series championship leader Chadwick right behind me. Once the pitlane light went green, the four professional racers were past me by the first corner and qualifying had begun.
The 10-minute session became an adventure in itself, with the karts surprisingly difficult to handle despite not having any gears. The balance between braking and accelerating became key, with the kart threatening to spin out if the pedals were pushed too close together.
Mirror Sport did fall foul of one spin at the penultimate hairpin, receiving a warning to ‘calm down’ in the process. After that knock to my confidence, it was little surprise that I qualified second-last, a mammoth 25.1 seconds behind Chadwick who took pole position.
But as we took our places on the grid for the start of the race, I was hopeful that the chaos that usually greets the first lap could play into my hands. My idea was similar to Chadwick’s, who ahead of the race had detailed her plan.
“They’ve all given it a bit of chat which I’m a bit concerned by so I might just lay back and enjoy it. I’ve been here a few times, it’s really good fun. When I started I was in a much smaller track than this so really excited to get back in a kart, I’ve not been in a kart for a while. A little warm-up for next weekend,” she told Mirror Sport.
Unlike Chadwick, my hopes were quickly shattered, as the W Series drivers flew off into the distance, with my snail-like reaction time leaving me battling at the back. Having settled down into the rhythm of the race, a new-found appreciation for what Lewis Hamilton has been going through this season was grown.
The track was incredibly bumpy, with cracks across the track threatening to send you out of line as you flew, or in my case crawled, through corners. With the W Series racers all battling at the front, my focus was turned towards trying to improve my lap times.
Of course, the professionals caught up to me, lapping me a total of three times as they all battled for the lead. The quartet were hanging on to the back of each other in breathtaking style, with the speed that they took the corners with leaving me in awe.
Powell and Chadwick had a race-long battle for the lead, with Pulling and Moore frequently swapping places as they fought for the final podium position. Mirror Sport almost had a game-changing impact on the race as Powell and Chadwick attempted to lap me for the third time.
The duo came out of nowhere, with all three of us forced to take avoiding action as we went around a corner. That incident earned me a yellow flag for bumping, a slightly harsh call from the stewards in our opinion.
As the chequered flag fell, we were grateful for Chadwick’s decision to get the race-time cut, with the effort of turning the wheel leaving my hands in pain. A thrilling battle had played out up front, with Chadwick pipping Powell to the win at the death.
At the impromptu post-race drivers debriefing, I was happy to learn that the W Series racers had also struggled with that problematic hairpin that sent me spinning. As the times were calculated, I discovered that I had shaved more than six seconds off my best lap, completing 13 laps in total at an average time of 92.736 seconds.
As the water sprayed at the podium celebrations (champagne was unfortunately not available), the W Series drivers were left in high spirits ahead of next week’s trip to Silverstone. And Pulling was pleasantly surprised at the quality of racing at Daytona.
“It was a very interesting race. Me and Sarah got handed the dodgy karts, Alice and Jamie got away a little bit. But it was really fun. Every time I got close to Sarah I just sent it, I kept getting the run on her down the back straight. It was a different experience and it was fun to have you guys involved as well,” she told Mirror Sport.
“As a beginner, you guys did great. Focus on your line as apposed to what we’re doing behind you. A few people when we were coming up looked behind which is great for us, but you’ve got to be selfish in motorsport.
“There were a few more drains than expected. It was bumpy when you took the curbs and the exit was so aggressive. Every time I took it, I was like ‘oh my god’ and nearly flew out of the car. There will be revenge on everyone next weekend hopefully.”
Watch the fourth race of the 2022 W Series season live from Silverstone on Sky Sports and Channel 4 on Saturday 2 July.