Tom Flack takes his place at the back of the grid to report on the industry’s premier kart racing event
Mae West once said: “The race is not always to the swift or the strong – but that’s the way to bet.” Though the revs were off the chart, and muscles constantly flexed, it would have been madness to put money on the outcome of the fifth Insurance Endurance challenge, held at the legendary Daytona at Milton Keynes.
In the insurance industry’s answer to Days of Thunder, 27 teams set out at dawn harbouring dreams of glory. It would prove to be one of the closest races in Daytona’s chequered history, as Lamp Insurance staged a dramatic comeback to clinch its first title ahead of a valiant Sagicor, which had to settle for second place for the fourth successive year.
Despite eight hours’ racing, 16 driver changes and two pit-stops, third, fourth and fifth place were separated by just seconds.
From the previous evening’s warm-up to the marathon itself, it was clear that the standard of racing was of the highest calibre.
There was, however, ample room for mischief and mirth, with the Microsoft team setting their stall out by losing control of their car during the warm-up lap. Luckily they were already bringing up the rear – an accolade fiercely contested throughout the race with the incredulous team from Insurance Times.
Following an explosive start, the field remained tight. After seven laps, less than two seconds separated the top five, with Fletchers F1 holding the most precarious of leads.
With speeds reaching the upper-40s, the tension was heightened by a number of drivers who seemed to have serious issues with personal space. It was left to the commentator to remind the competitors of the difficulties of fitting a three-foot car through a six-inch gap.
He later described the race as one of the closest he had ever seen. He wasn’t kidding.
But for sore wrists and bruised egos, all but two of the drivers emerged unscathed. One of the casualties was former schoolboy champion Grant Scott, of the Insurance Times team.
He charged through the field to ninth place before handing over to fellow wacky racers, Penelope Pitstop, Peter Perfect, Mutley and Blubber the Bear. Pitstop, evidently unchallenged by the race itself, decided instead to investigate the scenery at close quarters during her first lap. After repeating the feat, speculation ensued that she was trying to get close to one of the dashing course marshals.
In the end, despite repeated attempts to spray the course with copious quantities of oil – and body parts – the Insurance Times team came home in an eminently disrespectful twenty-sixth place.
Sagicor took the lead on the three-hour mark, by which point Lamp, having fallen out of the running in the early stages, had moved up to second. A hundred laps later, the two remained locked in battle.
Meanwhile, a tremendous tussle broke out in the AXA family, as parent company duelled with Smart & Cook and Layton Blackham for supremacy. Though Layton would carry the day on the track, Smart & Cook lived up to their name by winning the pit-stop challenge with a time under 20 seconds – roughly the same duration that separated the broker’s fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth acquisitions.
As the race moved into its final hour – and sweat poured from countless furrowed brows – go-karts momentarily warped into dodgems as the contenders took increasingly desperate steps to negotiate the field.
After over 300 gruelling laps, Sagicor remained a nose in front. But Lamp would not be denied. Aided in no small part by producing the fastest lap of the race at 1:09:12 – scarcely more than a second shy of the track record – and some expertly timed-driver changes, they finally took and held the lead.
The battle for third proved no less compelling. Despite seven hours and 55 minutes of racing, less than a second separated Call 24/7 and the tenacious Cunningham Lindsay, for whom the word ‘loss’ suddenly had neither place nor meaning. Incredibly, it was Lexham who powered through to take the final podium spot.
After the race a delighted Michael Symons, team captain and chairman of Lamp, said: “It wasn’t easy out there. But we came expecting to win. We had six consistent drivers.”
Five of Lamp’s team, in fact, which included Symons two sons, clocked laps under 1:11.
Gracious in defeat, Graham Faggetter, team captain of perennial bridesmaid Sagicor, said: “We couldn’t have done any better. We were beaten by a better team. In the end, we were delighted to find ourselves second – again.”
And what of the intrepid Insurance Times team, who finished a mere 58 laps off the pace?
Despite Martin Brundle’s promise in the pre-race briefing that “friends, family and groupies” would be calling their names, they were left wiping the dust from their eyes at the end of the day.
How they finished
1 Lamp Champs 8:00:47.71
2 Sagicor + 1:08.83
3 Lexham Insurance + 3 Laps
4 Call 24-7 + 3 Laps
5 Cunningham Lindsey + 3 Laps
6 Fletchers F1 + 5 Laps
7 Layton Blackham + 9 Laps
8 Heath Lambert + 11 Laps
9 AXA + 11 Laps
10 Smart & Cook + 15 Laps
26 Insurance Times + 58 Laps