I was going as fast as I dare. Seatbelts holding me tight in my seat, straining against the invisible cornering forces trying their best to eject me sideways. Millimeters above the rough bitumen, the sensation of speed was amplified. My kart, emblazoned with the number 32, was right on the tail of a battling duo of racing karts. So close that I could smell hot tarmac and burnt rubber mixed with the faint hint of body odour. The heat emanating from their engine exhausts, directed at me, I could practically feel the warmth hitting my face. Sweat was pouring over my brow and into my eyes, stinging slightly. The high-speed vibration from the stiff chassis transferred directly through the wafer-thin seat, into my spine and was making my vision blurry. At this point, I was driving by feel.
I had to get past, I had to win this race. It was all that stood in the way of my first championship, after years of trying. It was that or another year chalked up as an ‘also ran’. Most certainly a permanent retirement from racing with nothing to show for it. At my ripe old age, a chance this good would not come again. The younger generation was just getting too fearless. Or I was getting too fearful.
I had to remind myself, “Breathe… breathe…”, as I exhaled and inhaled. Trying to control my rapid heart rate.
I nudged kart number 22 with a sharp clang, the closer of my two adversaries. A love tap, to let him know I was there. I felt I was faster, having closed the gap to the two of them in the last 2 laps, and was very keen to get past, somehow. Either dive in with tires screeching, on the inside of a corner, under hard braking. Or get a better run out of a tight corner and onto the straight, with the slight speed difference helping me sail past near the end of the straight. Or just wait until the two crash into each other and give them a cheeky waive as I flash past.
It’s a tight, twisty kart circuit, you must be very accurate to get a fast lap, and even more so to get past two karts that are duelling each other and don’t want you to get past. A tight closing radius right-hand corner is followed by a long sweeping left-hander that can be taken full throttle if your nerves and reflexes can handle it. Separated by a short straight, just long enough to gather some speed before you dive into the off-camber sweeper to the left. It looked wide enough for 3 karts abreast. “Let’s find out”, I thought to myself before diving into the three-way battle. Number 22, using some dirty but unfortunately not illegal tactics, nudged me to the outside of the track, forcing me to slow down and get back into formation.
It wasn’t to be on that attempt. Nor having gone three abreast into several more corners after that. Do I have the stamina, or fearlessness needed? My heart was pumping, white knuckles gripping the wheel, eyes focused like a bird of prey scanning the race track ahead, searching for an optimum race line that would give me an advantage. Any tiny one-thousandth of a second of extra speed would do. My forearms were throbbing and cramping. It was proving difficult to concentrate, let alone drive and try to get past.
I could just let them go and do my own thing, finishing third in the race wouldn’t be so bad. I had given it a good go. No. The competitive spirit was very much present and had brought with it quite a bit of red mist too. A lot of paint had been exchanged three ways in the last lap or two. I wasn’t giving up. Only one thing would change things now, someone would either get tired and gave in, crash or worse. I suspected the latter two, mostly due to number 22’s seemingly greater levels of ambition than driver skill. I was convinced he had a death wish as he wasn’t giving an inch. And not in a good way. Very common of the PlayStation generation, using the other competitors’ car as a break. I decided that I had to make it work in the braking zone and do it fast. I was getting tired, I didn’t think I could do this for much longer.
The split-second decision was to dive into the inside of the corner and get past before they knew it. I just had to trust I could brake harder and later than them. I felt I could do it, but I wasn’t sure if they would be gentlemen about it. If not, they would slam the door shut on my overtake, side-swiping me into the scenery.
We all flew past the long main straight and into the first series of corners. The right-hander after the straight is taken flat out with heavy braking needing to be done just after the apex, down a small hill, off camber. A great spot for overtaking under brakes, if you hold your nerve and break just that bit later than your rival. I stopped breathing for a few moments. Reacting on pure instinct. There was no time to think, just do.
I dove in. Number 61 was furthest from the corner’s inside line, 22 was next closest and then me, aiming straight for the inside of the corner. Not the fastest way around a race track but the best way to do the kamikaze hard braking move I was going for. I recall blinking, everything was in slow motion, or so it seemed. My eyes opened again, and I was alongside the other two racers, very deep into the corner. A quick but precise snap of the steering wheel was all it took to get my kart turned through the corner. Tires screening for that last bit of traction, just managing to hold the racing line. I was on the inside and mostly passed my rivals. It’s then that I saw the flurry of activity in the corner of my vision. Number 22’s car was doing a pirouette. Not an orthodox racing move, especially if you want to go fast. As I stole a further glance to the left, I could see both 22 and 61 entangled in a glorious wreck. No doubt caused by their last-ditch attempts to stop my overtake.
A cheeky grin spread across my face, just enough that I noticed a drop of sweat trickle on to my lips. It didn’t taste salty though, it tasted of sweet success. “The old boy still had one more trick left”, I mentally patted myself on the back. The ensuing dust cloud made for a great distraction behind me. I took a moment to remind myself to breathe, “I can do this, I can do this”. Re-focusing on the task at hand, keeping the lead for another 2 laps until the chequered flag.