Waking up at painfully unsociable hours. Travelling the length and breadth of the country. Driving on treacherous, rain-soaked tracks in perilous conditions. Huge expenses spent on crash helmets, race suits and pieces of other equipment. In theory, these are some factors that might put people off Motor Racing as a sport. However, to concentrate on them would be an injustice to the unique adrenaline rush, excitement and experience of real racing; the pure connection of man and machine that inspires one to push to the limit. Capable of 70 miles per hour in dry weather, the specially designed Club 100 Karts used in the British Universities Karting Championship can be a challenge to control and drive but are utterly thrilling to watch.
The paddock itself is authentic; occupied by over a hundred drivers, captains, officials and of course my fellow media officers. The smell of motor oil lingers crisply in the air, the rather simple-looking pit-lane become fully operational upon pit-stops. The drivers are also regulated by a series of strict rules and penalties, for jump starts, knocking cones or even for using too much of the kerbs. Instructed by the BUKC commanders-in-chief, a wily, charismatic gentleman who goes by the name of ‘JV’, and fellow racing enthusiast Will Tew, one gets the sense that the BUKC is their family of staunch motor-racing fanatics and ‘wannabe boy-racers’. There is a tenable spirit and enthusiasm among those who perform at this level – a sense of ‘living the dream’ – giving every inch around race-tracks such as Buckmore Park in Kent, honing their skills on the same piece of tarmac in much the same way that their heroes Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button did only a few years ago. As great a hobby as it may be, it requires an awful lot of commitment at the same time.
Departing for Buckmore Park in Kent meant leaving Tesco petrol station in Selly Oak before 5am in the morning. We stood primed with the UB Motor Racing pit-board, weights and countless other items. There are no club coaches or trains, the BUKC drivers drive themselves and their colleagues to these events. Mind you such is their passion for driving, you wouldn’t want to try and wrestle a steering wheel off of some of these lads. When all said and done, that can mean up to a total of five hours driving in one day. As the experienced Club Captain Chris Grange alluded to, the BUKC is not a sport which one can expect to simply turn up and do well in. The standard has increased markedly in recent years as more University teams have joined and others have taken motor racing more seriously.
Having accompanied the team University of Birmingham Motor Racing Club to three races over the last two years, I have developed a huge deal of respect for them. As a result I was delighted to hear the news that on the second day of racing at the Whitton Mill circuit in Northamptonshire (and day after I had watched the main championship races), second year Mechanical Engineering student Sam Brown secured a brilliant race victory in the Rookie competition. Admittedly, whilst not securing any official BUKC points for the team, Sam was delighted to have had his father share the occasion with him. It followed a succession of races in which Birmingham’s drivers finished consistently inside the top twenty in a field of thirty six karts. This represents unprecedented success for a team with arguably the greatest history of any sporting club.
The UB Motor Racing team in its current format that races in the BUKC is effectively the existing successor to the Birmingham University Motor Club, which is believed to date back as far as 1904.
Again, this harks back to the realisms of racing. One of the things most noticeable to me was the difference between Formula One, when the driver presses a button that instantly pops his fuel cap open upon entering the pit lane, and the BUKC, where drivers must drive to their designated box whilst unscrewing and re-screwing the fuel-filler cap themselves. Charles Holroyd was relieved to find out that no-one had seen him ‘clobber the barrier’ on the pit exit as he re-joined the circuit at Buckmore Park.
It is a shame that the club does not have the liberty of being able to perform on the grounds adjacent to the University; Metchley is unfortunately no Monza, and Bournbrook is a world away from Brands Hatch (Although the drivers did joke that it might be possible to do a few laps around the main centre square of our campus, cue the commentary lines ‘and here he comes, past the library’). However, there is no doubting that these drivers, who have such passion for their sport, deserve so much credit and respect for what they do. Current and former Club Captains’ Grange and Graham Kirkby have denied that their decisions to study Postgraduate courses was based mainly on their desire to continue karting, but I think with good reason, it played a significant part. Clearly, neither of them is ready to hit the brakes on their University Karting career just yet.
By Alex Seftel
Motor Racing Correspondent