The lost report

Whilst looking at footage of various Trulli Trains on YouTube, I remembered the time I built a massive Trulli Train at EUMSC karting when I was still a student. I then remembered I had started to write a report of the occasion that had subsequently been left unfinished, a memory verified by a brief trawl of my hard drive. For posterity, then, more than two years later, here is the aforementioned report.

(n.b. a ‘Trulli Train’ is a line of racing cars stuck behind a slower vehicle in front that has track position and stubbornly refuses to be overtaken. The term is derived from Italian racer Jarno Trulli, a man with a habit of getting good grid slots by virtue of qualifying performance and then running at a slower speed in the races than those behind him. The result of this was more often than not a queue of vehicles stuck behind Trulli on the circuit, a phenomenon affectionately termed the ‘Trulli Train.’ Trulli Trains could grow to up to nine cars in length and last for upwards of twenty laps).

A few years back, a classmate of mine who had been on the youth books of a Premiership football team told me that no matter what level he was playing at, no matter who he was up against, he felt a little pang of excitement any time he scored a goal. Even if we were playing in the park with jackets and bags for goals, he would always crack a wee smile when he put the ball past the keeper. I was never sure if I agreed with him, dismissing his feeling as the result of zealous over-competitiveness and vowing to save my own excitement for a situation that really mattered.

Six years later, I found myself hammering down the straight of an outdoor karting track with a rival in my sights. Grasping the steering wheel so tightly I was practically being hoisted out my seat, the black blob in front grew larger and larger. The corner looming, I ducked to the inside of the kart in front, drew level, jabbed the brake pedal and turned the wheel as hard as I could. Straightening up and stamping on the accelerator, I turned my head to see the kart I had been chasing now firmly behind me and losing ground. It may have been at the back of the field on a club night out at a freezing cold go kart track in East Lothian, but for that miniscule split second it could just as easily have been Monza or Silverstone. Finally I understood what my teammate had been getting at. You may well read this and laugh, but if you haven’t experienced something similar when karting you’re either lying or a soulless drone.

During a karting outing with the guys and girls from Edinburgh University Motor Sport Club last week, I experienced something I’d never felt before. Waiting in the sparsely furnished Portakabin to go out on track, all the talk was of dissertations, Modern Warfare 2 and flat hunting. All things I’d been through myself (well, not Modern Warfare), so nothing too unusual there. Catching my reflection in the visor as I pulled my helmet on to go out on track, I then noticed a light glint in the hairs at the very edge of my temples. Just the light playing tricks though, I told myself. It finally hit me, however, when I went to lower myself into the plastic kart seat – and put my back out. I felt old.

I hope this is exactly how Michael Schumacher feels when he takes to the grid on Bahrain. Or perhaps more accurately, I should say I hope this is how Luca Badoer felt when he rolled out of the Ferrari garage late last year for his F1 comeback at the tender age of 39. Because as well as being old and racing for the first time in a long while, I was shit slow. I’ve been involved with the club for a good few years now by virtue of having done my undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University as well before starting my postgrad studies, and in that time I’ve noticed two things about the nature of our karting outings. It’s definitely got a lot safer due to the departure of certain members from less salubrious parts of the United Kingdom, but slightly more earnestly EUMSC karting has also gotten faster.

I was therefore delighted to hear we would have a free practice session before the serious racing commenced. If truth be told, free practice is one of my favourite parts of going karting, especially at an outdoor track like the one we were at. It’s one of the few occasions you get to go out on the circuit, pick your own lines and drive at your own speed without having to give a flying monkeys about what the other karts are doing. Taking the last kart in the line so that I didn’t have to worry about anyone else, I buzzed off out of the pit lane and on to the freezing track. The vibrations from the raspy little engine shot up my spine and arms, the sound of my own breathing rang in my ears and the pressure from stamping on the accelerator as hard as I could made my leg ache within fifteen seconds. But, damn, it felt good.

My joy was short-lived, though. I was tailing a trio of karts and trying to think of a cunning way to carve through them when a sudden mist descended. A mist so thick it made the vehicles in front disappear completely. Along with the track, the surroundings and the lights. My visor had steamed up in the cold weather as a result of excessive breathing. Bugger.

I now had two choices. Continue without vision and risk causing – actually make that definitely cause – a massive accident, or slow down and let the visor clear. Common sense on this occasion prevailed, and the remainder of the practice session was interspersed by occasional periods of complete whiteness, invariably at the most inconvenient moments. Looking for that braking point just before the hairpin? Boom! Steamed up visor. About to pass someone at a narrow bit of track? Boom! Steamed up visor. Trying to avoid a track marshal with a yellow flag? You get the idea…

A series of tests followed involving me running up and down in front of the Portakabin wearing my helmet in a vain attempt to solve the problem. It looked ridiculous, but it was the only way to avoid causing a huge accident. I tried a range of breathing patterns with the visor at different levels of openness, eventually settling for the breathing through the nose with the visor finger-width open option. This did mean that if my glasses slipped down mid-race I would be left with a two-millimetre slot through which I could see where I was going, but it was a risk worth taking.

I now had to start the proper races about five seconds a lap slower than everyone else and without a clean practice lap under my belt. This wasn’t going to be pretty. Thankfully, I was to start the first race second from last, which meant I (a) wasn’t going to be humiliated and (b) would be able to pick off anyone that fell by the wayside along the way. Starting at the back, I’d also decided that this was going to be the race I really went for it in the style of my, ahem, F1 idols Takuma Sato and Kamui Kobayashi. My early charge was aided by a hefty pile-up at the first corner, allowing me to pass half of the field and move up to a respectable position. The flipside of this was that I was now in front of a braying pack of folk who were all taking about four seconds a lap out of me. Time to get defensive.

Over the next seven laps, a number of folk found an idiot weaving in the braking zones, slamming doors in their face and generally sending them in directions they weren’t supposed to go in, but for all that not a single person had got past me despite the difference in speed. I had built my own Trulli Train, of which I was very proud. Sadly the Mabon Train was derailed on the second to last corner when I tried to block a heroic lunge down the inside from a rival. Refusing to be pushed wide, I turned into the overtaking kart until it slammed on the brakes just short of the apex of the hairpin, leaving me to shoot forward out of control and beach the kart on the kerb. Idiot. For the next thirty seconds I jumped and jerked and generally looked like I was trying to engage in things one can get done for Breach of the Peace for as I tried to free my stricken vehicle.

By the time my back wheels had found traction on the grass and made their way back to tar, everybody bar one had passed me again. Square one, back to. But it was worth it for a race where I went for it all the way. On subsequent races I elected to concentrate on my own driving instead of causing havoc for everyone else, and it paid dividends as the times tumbled. I still wasn’t setting the heather alight, but I was getting faster and more respectable. Returning to the

At this point the original text stops. I can only assume that the ‘the’ that I was ‘Returning to’ was the Portakabin to wait in when not racing. Given that the last modified date on the Word file reads 10 February 2010, I must have gone off to do my PhD fieldwork before finishing this. I did go karting again, and did get a bit faster, but I retained the nasty habit of running out of talent and putting people off the track in the process. I have since decided to retire from any form of racing.

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