Karting family logs kilometres on and off track
CLARENCE Valley sprint kart driver Lachlan O'Reilly has had a busy month juggling his sport and studies, competing at race meetings in Townsville, Gympie and Lismore.
Townsville was the first stop for the talented McAuley Catholic College year eight student, where he competed in the 47th Australian Sprint Kart Championships.
About 300 of Australia's best drivers battled it out for right to display the coveted no.1 on a green and gold number plate for the next 12 months.
O'Reilly, competing at his first national championships, contested two classes - his regular junior national light (JNL) class for drivers aged 12 to 16 with a combined kart and driver weight of 120kg, and junior national heavy (JNH) class with a kart and driver combined weight of 140kg, both powered by 100cc Yamaha engines.
The 140kg class kart needed more than 20 kg of lead weights bolted to the frame and seat to meet the minimum weight.
O'Reilly used his Azzurro R6B series kart in the heavy class, with the additional lead ballast on board.
With support from the Azzurro kart manufacturer, a brand new "prototype" Azzurro R8 series Junior kart frame and components were fabricated just in time to be collected from Toowoomba on the way to the Nationals for O'Reilly to run in his favoured junior light class.
With help from KAOS Karting's mechanic, Tony Grant from Lismore, the new kart was assembled in the resort car park on the day prior to race practice starting, much to the amusement of the other guests where O'Reilly and his family were staying.
In qualifying on Friday morning, O'Reilly time in lights was just 0.8 of a second slower than the pole sitter, Ipswich driver Sam Lumsden, placing him back in a starting grid position of 25 for the two heats in a near full field of 35 karts.
Torrential rain throughout the second heat provided some spectacular racing, with the bulk of the field disappearing into a cloud of spray down the main straight at the start.
O'Reilly's new kart handled the wet conditions well, working his way up to 15th by the end.
In the junior light class pre-final on Saturday, some minor contact mid-race while battling for position just outside the top 10 popped the chain off, sidelining O'Reilly for the duration of the race and giving him a rear of field start for Sunday's final.
O'Reilly made up a dozen places in the first lap of the 16-lap final, then lap by lap picked off kart after kart.
He shuffled his way through a pack of four or five karts and then caught up with the next bunch and worked his way through them as well.
Clear in 12th position with two laps to go, O'Reilly caught up with two karts battling for 10th.
O'Reilly, 11th with one lap to go, pressed hard but could not pass the 10th placed driver. He was less than seven hundredths of a second from a top 10 finish.
The story of the weekend for the heavy kart will always be one of what could have been.
Starting the pre-final in 24th in a field of 36, with the radar showing rain on the way, Grant made the call to go out on wet weather tyres with most of the field and all of the leaders choosing slicks.
Liam Sager, starting 16th, also gambled with the wet weather tyres.
Did the rain come down as the race got underway? Were the wet weather tyres the correct choice as those on slicks battled to stay on the track in the slippery conditions? Did Liam Sager take the lead on the last lap and the win, giving him pole position for the final? Did Lachlan's pit crew check that all the wheel nuts were tight before sending him out?
The answers to those questions were yes, yes, yes and no.
O'Reilly lost a front wheel on the formation lap, and in an attempt to get a start, limped his three-wheeler back to pit lane with the missing wheel in his lap, but minus a critical wheel bearings that had been lost on the track.
Starting at the rear in the final, O'Reilly battled his way back to 24th, while at the other end of the pack, pole sitter Sager held on to finish fourth.
The following weekend in Gympie - the site of this year's Queensland Open State Titles - O'Reilly gained a first, two seconds and a third to take out second overall for the day in a field of 18.
His younger brother Sean, racing in the rookie class for 10 to 12 year olds, picked up a trophy as the second placed C-grade driver and was placed fifth overall on the day.
O'Reilly drove in the 2009 Young Guns Titles in Lismore, the largest juniors-only meeting on the east coast, with 122 drivers from as far away as Cairns.
Again, O'Reilly battled his way from 11th fastest qualifier in the near capacity field of 25 in his JNL class.
In an action-packed final, O'Reilly challenged throughout to eventually take third place.
Sean improved all weekend and started the final from 16th in a big field of 24 rookie drivers, but was caught up in a first lap pile-up, was spun around and hit by two more karts, smashing off his nose cone and unable to take any further part.
This month the O'Reillys will race at Oran Park in Sydney, the ACT Titles in Canberra and Hidden Valley in Darwin for the Northern Territory State Titles.