UK Karting

James Doherty's Euro Max Blog

James Doherty's Euro Max Blog
#2 - Wackersdorf

Leading Junior Max racer James Doherty is keeping a blog of his experiences racing in the Rotax Max European Challenge.

In this second entry, he tells us about the German round at the wonderfully-named Wackersdorf circuit in Germany. For more information about UK Karting’s resident blogger visit www.jamesdohertyracing.com.

James' Euro Max Blog

Thoughts before Wackersdorf

I was really looking forward to Germany because of how well I did in France and racing in Europe is more exciting – plus I get to miss 3 days of school! Result! My friends were dead jealous, but wished me good luck. I felt confident. My goal was to come home in the same position in the championship or better (ie: 2nd or 1st).

I knew after Salbris that there were some good drivers but also a lot who would struggle in Super 1. I also knew that qualifying would be important and because it rained in France before I went out, I thought I could do a lot better next time.

Getting there

My Dad took most of our stuff to the team before we went, as they left England on the Monday because it was such a long way for them - almost 700 miles, and that’s each way. Dad decided that we would go by plane and then get a hire care in Munich (phew!).

We got to Gatwick on the Wednesday and met up with Max Hawkins (my team-mate in Europe) his Dad and mechanic, Chris Rogers. As we talked about the trip to Germany, the Hawkins’ noticed that one of their bags was missing. We were able to get onto the plane - but they had to stay behind, which meant Dad and I were on our own in Munich…

When we got there, Dad asked the man at the car hire desk if they had an automatic but we were given a manual Astra – but it was nice and big. Dad had already planned ahead by printing off maps directing us from the airport to the hotel (which was about 150 kilometres north) so thank goodness we knew where we were going. When we went to Salbris we got lost in the middle of Paris and ended up arriving at the hotel at 1 o’clock in the morning - we really didn’t want to do that again!

It was 10 o’clock at night when we left Munich airport and the roads were very clear. Dad took a bit of time to get used to the left hand drive – getting a bit too close to some lorries on the way up (and he talks about my driving?!), but everything was OK. I couldn’t see much because it was dark, but we passed several large towns – basically I remember seeing lots and lots of trees.

We arrived at Hotel Fenzl at 11:30pm and were met by the owner who helped us in with our bags. He was very friendly but his English was poor. My Dad tried to explain that Max and the others had been held up and all he kept on saying was “Speak slowly” but the slower Dad spoke, the less he understood!

The hotel was fantastic – modern, and most important of all, clean. Just as we were getting off to sleep, Max and his Dad called to say they were in a taxi coming all the way from Nuremberg and wanted directions. Somehow, they got the local Polizei involved and persuaded them to lead the way to the hotel.

The circuit and practice

The circuit was about 10 minutes from the hotel with the main paddock on the other side of a busy road! Roland and Lynn - who organise the Euro Series - were saying hello to everyone and Lynn recognised me from Salbris, which I liked. We collected our passes and tickets for fuel and were pretty much set to go.

The track also had a very nice restaurant and bar and an indoor kart track - but Dad said we were there to race outdoors.

I walked the track with my team and thought it was brilliant. The straight went on and on and there were hairpins with up and down hill bits, a chicane - I just couldn’t wait to get out there.

The thing I like about the Euro series is that you get a HUGE amount of practice time. There were 8 sessions on Wednesday and 7 on Thursday - so there was plenty of time to learn the track.

On the Wednesday, I was only 1/10th from being the quickest driver - Max and Jorritt Pex (the world number 1) were quickest. I found the track quite easy, except for an S-shaped section where I sometimes clipped the apex of the first corner. Otherwise I was really good on the other corners and my kart felt fast.

The weather was dry and warm, but sadly Thursday was very wet and miserable. I struggled a bit to start with and was quick, but to be fair, Max was in a class of his own. I had 1 or 2 poor sessions where Dad had words with me, so I went out in the last session determined to do a good job.

I had already aquaplaned in one of the session, and with 1 or 2 laps to go before the end of the last session, I went into a tight corner a bit too hot and came off at the only point where there was no run-off. I slid down a bank, not very fast, but put my hand out to brace myself and straight away I felt something go in my right wrist.

It was difficult to get out of the kart, so I stayed there until the end of the session. The paramedics took me to my Dad and the ambulance crew. They looked at my wrist and told Dad that I needed it x-rayed at the local hospital. I thought Dad would go mad - but he didn’t because he could see I was in pain and really upset.

Broken wrist

It took us about 10 minutes to get to the hospital. Dad tried to explain what had happened and thankfully, the paramedics English was better than his German! We were told it would cost 30 euros to do the x-ray, but that they could see me immediately - which was great.

After a short wait, we were called back and told that I had a suspected fracture. I was then sent to see another person. He said it was a fracture and I would need to be put in plaster. I wasn’t really in pain and the doctor and nurse were very good and said ‘come back in the morning to get it checked’. So all in all, we were back at the track only about hour or so after we had left. It. As Dad said - that would never happen in England, and we would’ve been kept waiting for hours to be seen.

The cast went from my wrist to my elbow and I was worried sick I wouldn’t be able to get my suit on, or drive. Dad said I didn’t have to race and I could go home if I wanted to – to be honest I was terrified I couldn’t race and that I would miss the round and go down in the championship points.

We went back to the hotel where Mr Fenzl and his wife and son spoke to us - they were very interested in karting. Dad had steak (again). I had Wiener Schnitzel - which I had never eaten before and it was delicious, I liked it so much I had it twice more before we left!

Qualifying

We went to Drivers Briefing and then drove to the hospital to get my arm checked. They saw me straight away and said it was OK – but that I should come back if I had a problem. I was SO relieved.

I went back to the track with a jacket on, so no one could see my arm because we were worried that I might not be allowed to race with a broken wrist. I was told to go out, drive, and see if my wrist gave me any problems. I had to borrow a glove from (Mastersclass driver) Dave Wooder to cover my cast. I’ve still got it - so thanks Dave, I’ll return it next time I see you!

The pain had gone now and I was 5th quickest in my group for the Warm-Up. The weather was dry and I overtook about 10 karts, so felt good. Some of the corners were tricky because of the cast but it didn’t really affect my driving that much and I came in and told Dad I wanted to stay and race. He said he thought I was going to come in after 1 lap but was delighted when I stayed out.

I was in the 2nd qualifying group and wanted to get in the top 5 but it didn’t go to plan and I ended up 13th overall. My fastest lap was on lap 4 but no matter how hard I pushed the kart, I couldn’t go any quicker.

This gave me 7th on the grid for each of my three heats, which also gave me the better, inside line. I was confident that when it came to racing that I could go faster too.

Heats

In the first heat, I got it up to 3rd – as Dad had predicted - but Kevin Korjus who was 6th and Best Rookie in 2006 caught me with a few laps to go. He was faster on the main straight but I drove better in the in-field. On the last lap he made a late lunge at the corner where I’d crashed. I decided to try and drive round the outside of him on the next corner - which was a very silly thing to do. I went off the racing line and lost grip allowing two other karts past. I decided to settle for 5th but the guy in front of me got it completely wrong in one corner and took us both out. By the time I’d got back on, I was down in 10th and stayed there. Dad went ballistic. I knew I had been an idiot and was very annoyed because I could have defended better and finished 3rd or 4th.

The result from Heat 1 and the injury made me a bit nervous for Heats 2 and 3. I needn’t have worried though. I made up places to finish 5th and 6th without being that quick. This gave me P10 for the Pre-Final, just two places down from Salbris. Again, I felt confident, even though I would start on the outside.

Pre-Final and Final

I started the Pre-Final well and got up to 7th or 8th on the first lap. Unfortunately, Korjus passed me at the dreaded corner where I’d come off before. A handful of laps later, yet again at the same spot another kart hit me so hard that I went flying down the bank again and thought my race was over. I was so angry and upset - but managed to drag the kart back with my good hand. A stub axle and the steering column were busted, but I managed to finish 28th. Everyone saw what had happened but the other driver got away with it, even though he said ‘sorry’ afterwards.

You start the final where you finished the Pre-Final and because of other incidents, I was just in front of Kenny Andrews and two rows ahead of Max. We all said the Europeans would be happy to see us so far back.

My plan for the final was to miss the pile up which I knew would happen at the top corner, and pick them off one by one. Dad and I thought I could still get near to a top 10 finish which would be a good result.

On the first rolling up lap my kart just spluttered and wouldn’t pick up speed. When we went over the start line I decided to let Max go because I guessed what was going to happen.

Yep, there was a big accident in the first corner. Max was involved, but I drove round the outside and made up about 6 places. Just as I was getting going, the kart started to lose power and I saw Dad waving me into the pits. My race engineer found that the lead to the battery was just about hanging on. By the time he’d fixed it and I got back out, I was 3 laps down and ended up in 31st place.

With more luck I think I could’ve nicked two top 6 places - which would have kept me in 2nd place. Now though, I’m down to 17th place and because I can’t race in Austria, it means my Euro Max title hopes are over for this year.

Journey home

Although I was feeling down about the results, I’ve realised from 3 years of karting that things go wrong - and normally it’s not your fault. So we hopped in the car with Max, his Dad and Chris and got to Munich very quickly. It was all straight road and, like Salbris, the roads were much better and clearer than in England. We were all starving by the time we got to the airport, so we piled into Burger King and pigged out! Anything that was left on the plates - Chris had!

Summary

The reason for going to Germany was to win. So I wasn’t happy with the result, the injury and getting knocked off. But the track was great, as was the hotel and everyone looked after us very well – especially Herr Fenzl and his family.

I want to do the Euros next year and hope Wackersdorf is one of the tracks because I know how to drive it now, and will have a much better result next time, I’m sure. I can’t do the Austrian round because I’m going on a school trip to Rome. I’ll also miss the Rowrah Super 1 race - but will finish the rest of the season. I’ll be back for the Euro Max finale at Genk (26-30 September) and hope to get back into the top 10 points positions in both championships. That’s my target and I think I can do it, with a bit of luck.

My cast has now come off and the wrist is feeling good, so I don’t have any excuses for not beating Dad at table-tennis!!

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