KARTING: Ben Slater’s review of last season

Ben Slater
Ben Slater

Race by race details of his karting year

Motorsport Engineering student Ben Slater has been a member of the Coventry University karting team for the past three years, however, because of his year out placement commitments Ben could only take part in four rounds of the BUKC [British University Karting Championships] , but contributed towards Coventry University A team winning the overall 2014 championship.

BUKC drivers race on slicks no matter what the weather. And so it was at Buckmore Park on February 12 which hosted the first two rounds of the BUKC 2014 for 55 University Teams. Situated in the bottom of a valley, just off the A429 in Kent, it is the karting world’s version of Spa Franco champs. Complete with its own microclimate, Buckmore Park is a permanent fixture on the BUKC calendar, and a firm favourite of many drivers competing in the championship. It’s a fast tight and twisty circuit, with little room for mistakes and even less for overtaking. In the dry it’s a tricky circuit to race on, but on this day it was raining, a monsoon. The whole of England was drenched and Buckmore Park was no exception not that it would do anything to dampen the racing as the organisers decided to continue with the racing.

Ben has previously competed at Buckmore Park in 2012 and 2013 with the BUKC championships so he was very was familiar with the track but it can bite as he found out at the National Schools Finals natSKA back in 2007 when Ben crashed very heavily twice at high speed in his junior rotax.

His first race was a solo sprint race. Ben started towards the rear of a 32 plus grid and had a mountain to climb especially in the torrential conditions, but he used his vast experience racing in the wet, got his head down and into a rhythm and splashed his way through the field putting in consistent laps times over the 30 minute period and clawed himself into a very well earned 5th place finish.

During the lunch break organisers tried to clear the lake that formed on the start / finish line and after whispers of race postponement the action continued with 1 hour endurance races. Ben and his colleague were amongst the leaders but in the closing stages, Ben now very cold and wet made a very rare mistake and spun in the lying water which relegated them down the finishing order to 7th place.

The next round was at Whilton Mill on 15th March near Daventry, Ben’s home track. Following the monsoon that affected the majority of the racing last time out the teams were quietly optimistic that the BBC had predicted a significant improvement in the weather and everyone was praying to the gods of motorsport that it might stay that way. Sadly not, the first race of the day began after a brief but yet heavy shower appeared to drench the track and dash everyone hopes of a pleasant day’s racing, at least there was action and plenty of it.

Whilton Mill is notoriously bumpy but having raced at this circuit since the age of 12; Ben has driven thousands of laps and knows every bump, kerb and apex both in the heavier and slower pro karts and also high spec race karts.

Around Whilton in a pro kart you have to be smooth, fast and accurate to be successful and in the BUKC 2013 individual drivers trophy, Ben was bitterly disappointed when he fell victim to some devastating banditry as he was spun out from the race whilst he was running in second place and catching the leader with 1 lap remaining. On this occasion Ben was out to prove a point to the University Team that tactically wrecked his chances the previous year of winning a British University championship and adding it to his CV.

Ben’s first race was the 30 minute solo race and showed his Class and experience around his home track making up 10 places over the 27 laps finishing 5th.

His last ever race with Coventry University and the BUKC championship was a 1 hour endurance race with compulsory pit stop for driver changes and fuel. Ben and his partner dominated the race and were leading the 49 lap race by a country mile but the compulsory pit stop in the closing stages wasn’t fast enough and this relegated them to 3rd. Coventry took the double win for rounds 3 and 4.

Coventry went on to win the 2014 BUKC championship with good results at Rounds 5 and 6 held at Glyn-y–Gors Park in North Wales and rounds 7 and 8 at Clay Pigeon in Devon. Ben also decided not to compete in the stand alone drivers’ championship held at Clay Pigeon and concentrate on his year out placement working with historic F1 cars.

Ben moved from the very competitive Senior Rotax category at the start of the 2014 campaign. The 177 is a Senior Rotax category for heavier drivers from 16 years upwards. This series also included a master’s class for drivers over the age of 32. This category was dropped from the British championships calendar two seasons ago but recently there has been resurgence with new driver weight reduced to 80 kg.

Ben used the club meetings at Kimbolton in March and April to dial in his new 2014 Praga chassis and an engine rebuild by L T Motorsport in readiness for the 2014, 177 Inter Club Championship. His 2013 chassis was destroyed in a horrendous crash in November the previous year but after some initial trepidation Ben produced some very encouraging results and positive lap times and was ready to take on the new challenge.

The 4 round [16 races] inter club championship attracted a full grid of 31 drivers from all over the country for the opening round held at Kimbolton over the10/11th May 2014. The grid was the strongest line up of drivers in the country including former British Championship contenders.

Whilst Ben only managed 10th in official practice, he dominated the opening race of the 2014 championship held on the Saturday evening in very blustery conditions. With a grid position of 5 from 26 Ben took the lead on the lap 4 and pulled away over the 11 laps to a very popular and convincing win. Matt Barnes one of the pre–championship favourites took second place whilst former British championship contender Scott Clee from North London took 3rd.

Ben was delighted with his win and had thrown down the gauntlet to the professional teams and big names that he had not entered this championship to make up the numbers but was a serious contender for the 2014 campaign.

There was no time for celebration as the kart was stripped and prepared in readiness for the next day for the technical warm up laps early in the morning.

Heat 2 was held on Sunday afternoon. With dry but still very windy conditions Ben started on grid position 21 from 32. In the opening laps Ben had made up 7 places, but a leaking bead on the front rim, caused a slow deflating tyre and handling problems, but he managed to hold this position finishing a well-earned 14th at the finish of the 11 lap race.

Karting and motorsport in general can have its up and downs like many other sports. One day elation from winning, the following race disappointment and frustration. Unperturbed Ben remained positive for the next race. The fault was assessed and rectified.

Ben started on grid position 19th for his final heat and made up 12 places in the opening 2 laps but he could not make up any ground on the leaders over the 11 laps finishing 7th.

Starting on row 5 [position 10] Ben was fired up to achieve a top 5 finish for the final. On the charge to the first bend, Ben took an outside line and made up 7 places to 3rd, and started to chase the leaders Matt Barnes [LT Motorsport] and Dominic Russell [3DR]. Ben held onto 3rd place but in closing stages was overtaken by Ollie Smith from [3DR] a professional team driver. Ben finished a well-earned 4th place. Dominic Russell still carrying his number 5 plate from the British championship went onto win the race. Ben was the 1st place privateer.

The next round was at Forest Edge on 1st and 2nd June 2014 near Winchester. Ministry of Defence land, this is a track that Ben had not raced at previously but a family crisis delayed the arrival at the track and he missed practice and qualifying for the prestigious Southern Championships meeting on the Saturday afternoon.

However, the organisers allowed Ben to practice from the back of the grid and he soon got used to the technical and very demanding track with its very fast straights and flowing bends and high kerbs and he put in some very good lap times in readiness for the 2nd round of the Inter Club championship the following day. In practice the following morning Ben was second fastest behind Olie Smith from professional team 3DR. This was Ollie’s local track and has dominated the 177 grid here.

The 2014 interclub championship was combined with the Forest Edge club championship. Overall there was a combined grid in excess of 30 drivers. Ben started from grid position 7 in his first heat and was up to 6th but on lap 3 from 8 developed a serious misfire and went backwards finishing a very disappointing 27. A simple clip had worked loose from the coil due to vibration on the abrasive surface which caused the misfire and loss of power.

In heat 2 Ben started 10th on the grid and finished 3rd in his class and in the final heat started 19th and finished 5th. His first heat disappointment had pushed Ben well down the grid for his final and he started a lowly 21st Determined to claw some points back from a frustrating start to the day Ben drove an intelligent race to finish 5th in his class behind eventual winner Olie Smith with Matt Barns second, Scott Clee 3rd and Michael Pugh 4th.

The 3rd round of the championship was held at Whilton Mill near Daventry on 27th July. This is Ben’s local track and was expected to do well. In practice on Saturday Ben set the pace along with Matt Barns [LTR Motorsport] and 3DR runners Ollie Smith and Dominic Russell. In the official 3 lap practice on Sunday morning Ben was 4th fastest in class.

In heat 1 Ben started in 5th place but in the opening laps was forced onto the grass which pushed Ben back to a 9th place finish as he lost pace with the front runners. Matt Barnes from took the win.

In heat 2 Ben started in 7th place and made up one position finishing in 6th place in his class with Matt Barnes again dominating and taking his second win of the day with Kimbolton [Hunts club] champion Alex Rowley in runner up spot, with Pugh 3rd and Smith 4th.

In the final heat of the day Ben started 13th and pushed hard to finish in 5th place behind former British championship contender and Privateer Adam Sadler from London and professional team drivers Smith and Barnes.

With a grid starting position of 9 in the final Ben made up several places and was running in 4th place behind Rowley when Ollie Smith crashed heavily, which bought out the red flag for the next few laps.

Ben pushed hard but on Lap 9 was again punted off the track. This pushed Ben down the field and he finished a disappointing 9th in his class which meant a podium position was now beyond his grasp.

The final round of the championship was held at Shennington near Banbury on 17th August. Ben was upbeat about the final round and approached the weekend with some optimism looking to finish the championship in the top 10.

With a positive and relaxed approach Ben returned to Shenington for only his 4th outing at this track in 8 years. Ben admitted that he doesn’t like the track as he had some negative memories of his early outing crashing very heavily on his debut when he was just 14 years old.

Shenington is a very fast track with long straights and hairpin bends and sweeping corners. Very fast and strong engines win at this track and it is very difficult to get the kart set up for the balance between the fast straight and exit from the hairpin bends nevertheless in official practice Ben was 4th fastest behind Dominic Russell, Alex Rowley and Oli Smith.

In heat 1 Ben started on grid position 11 for the 8 lap race and by the end of lap 1 was up to 7th position but could not make any progress on the leaders Oli Smith took the win ahead of Mat Barnes and Dominc Russell. Ben was 3rd fastest overall.

In heat 2 Ben started on grid position 10 but on lap 4 had to retire. The race was won by Dominic Russell with Rowley 2nd and Barnes 3rd.

In Heat 3 Ben started on grid 3 and took advantage of this front position and maintained his position at the end of the race with Michael Pugh from Long Lawford, taking his first win in this championship ahead of Russell in 2nd place.

For the final Ben started on grid position 6 but on lap 2 pushing hard to catch the leading pack made a mistake and ended up on the grass and damaged the front end of the kart. Ben re-joined the race back in 14th place but with 12 laps remaining he could not make any progress as he limped to the finish and a very disappointing final race of the series.

Dominic Russel won the 2015 177 Inter club championship for the second year in succession with Ben down in 9th place

With the televised and prestigious London Cup at Rye House clashing with the Midland Championship Ben opted to have a run out in the senior rotax class in the annual Rissington Classic as he was a regular here in the 2013 club championship where he finished 4th overall.

In the past the Midland Championship was always regarded as one of the highlights of the year,

Having stepped down from 177 for this meeting Ben was at a disadvantage because of his overall weight suited and booted with helmet.

Nevertheless Ben was very quick in practice on the Saturday challenging multiple club champion Chris Thomas but come Sunday the elusive miss fire developed again and he struggled with the pace of the quicker and lighter drivers finishing a disappointing 10th in the final.

Overall the season was successful, helping Coventry to win the 2014 BUKC title and in the 177 inter club championship achieved from 16 races; 12 top ten finishes with 3 podiums with a win and two 3rd place finishes a 4th place, three 5th place positions and a 6th and two 7th place finishes and two 9th place finishes. The other 4 races were mainly due to the result of mechanical failure or and being punted off the track.

After the Shenington meeting Ben decided to concentrate on his final year at University. He is currently involved with formula student. Ben will resume his racing after he completes his degree and is contemplating changing to the new X 30 class that is currently taking over from rotax. He has tested the new power unit and is very impressed with the speed and output. This year will be a learning year with the possibility of competing in the LGM tour in 2015 which takes in several tracks around the country.

With help from Randal Lyn from Praga UK for help and assistance at venues, LT Motorsport for engine preparation and support from Nick Moss, Stuart, Nick Collingwood and Dean from KKC karting components, Gary and Elliot from Vital Motorsport for awning space and carburation expertise Rob Higham for technical assistance, Mike from MJ TECH Motorsport for giving Ben the time off to go racing and of course Mum and Dad for deep pockets. Dad for driving the Motorhome, putting up and taking down the awning, preparing the kart and general dogs body at the track, Mum (The Boss) stocking the motorhome, putting up and taking down the awning, keeping dad and myself in good spirits, keeping us in tea and soft drinks all day, lunch, cooking and making sure friends and visitors are happy and enjoying the racing.

You can follow Ben’s progress on karting UK www.karting.co.uk or visit Praga UK face