Team JRH – Born through history, a lot of sadness but a huge amount of laughterJanuary 16, 2017 0 comments
“I want to give you something before I go” that’s how it all started.
John Robert Hemmings (JRH) only had 6 months to live. Terminal Cancer was tough to watch and the old man wanted to give my sister and I something special to remember him by.
In my early years, I spent many a Saturday Go Karting at Weybridge with my dad and sister, I soon got a taste for karting even though my sister seem to be quicker than me! (weight advantage nothing to do with skill). For years after we messed about in karts, but for various reasons it never passed this stage, even though we both were fanatical about motorsport.
So, the old man had got into his mind that it was a superb idea for me to start playing about in karts again. Two weeks later after “that” conversation his parting gift to me was a Mari Chassis complete with RPM engines. However there was one conditions attached, I raced and didn’t just ‘Pi$$ about’.
What do I do? Mess about down at Bayford Meadows for a couple of months with a few mates. As the inevitable time got nearer we decided to form a team called JRH and enter the RHPK series. Dad was a real practical joker and loved a good laugh and even though we laid him to rest on April fool’s day this would not be the last laugh he would have with me from above…
The first season was a challenge, we started with number 53 and it was a steep learning curve. Sod trying to understand tyre pressures we soon found out that it doesn’t matter what the PSI is if you can’t stop. Shim brakes, no idea, they faded as the race went on. Mark one of the early drivers still holds the record for entry speed to the weigh bridge, in those days we didn’t use the entry road straight off the esse’s. Close is an understatement, he stopped it inches from the canal. Second learning, you only leave the wood drift out of the brake disc carrier once. I remember thinking, “Wow James is carrying quite a lot of speed into that first hairpin.” Funnily enough after changing his pants and me putting the wood drift key in, I was sent out to test the kart. This was the first point that we started to understanding that the work behind the scenes was as important as your performance on track.
We moved from 53 to 34 in Clubman in the second year, the old man was still looking down and having a laugh. John Huff and Mark Beaumont could not get the name right. The early part of racing sometimes we were known as JHR some months JRH. At one stage I had entered twice, once as JRH and once as JHR. After pointing this out numerous times I gave up, let him have a laugh. At home my sister Kerry was giving me some grief that she reckoned that she would still be on the pace. One Saturday she turned up, yes, she still had it. After never driving the track before she was only a second or so off the pace after a hand full of laps (weight advantage nothing to do with skill!) Kerry then took a bit too much kerb and ran out of talent, that gave me the excuse to get her out the kart quickly, before she embarrassed me. My god JRH would not have let me live this down, I suspect some of you guys may mention it.
Tobi joined the team and continues to race with the team today, this was the pivotal year. We had moved across to a new 7kart mk 4 and we had become a little more serious about our racing, we could smell the Super Class. We were up against teams like Mac Attack, M&H, G Force and Super Green, Alverstone, ABA and of course JAM who we closely race against to this day.
It was close racing all season and we had finished the season in second. The last race of the season we took our first win by less than 2 seconds to M&H. Dave Huckle ran M&H who normally set up next door to us in the Pits.
The banter and laughs between Dave, James and Elliot was superb across those years and they are still missed by all (nudge nudge, comeback?). There was one race I personally remember against Elliot. We were nose to tail for 1 hour 20 mins and after 45 mins of battling the wave came to say let’s just work together and push on.
Those 45 mins were some of the best racing I have had in a kart. Across those years that we raced against M&H we touched, more like kissed, no more than 3 times and the battles were immense. This year the bad news is Tobi and I won’t get to race against Elliot any longer. The good news is he has decided to come and be part of Team JRH for 2017.
After finishing second in the Clubman to JAM we were under a probation period for the next season. Jam as Clubman champions had automatically gone up and after 3 rounds Mark Beaumont told us the news that M&H, SuperGreen and JRH had been promoted to Supers. Number 30 had almost halved and we became number 16. We were in Supers!For the first couple of years it was just Tobi and I that raced together. The dynamic worked with both of us passionate about racing and prep. We laid out a prep plan that sees us spending more time off the track prepping, than on it. Weekends were spent normally with Tobi overseeing me do something stupid like trying to empty a fuel tank with an air hose quicker and getting a face full of petrol (I could hear the old man laughing and calling me something not repeatable here). To be serious for a moment, we left no stone unturned in those early Super years, at one stage we were not happy with a 2mm variance from once side to the other so spent 4 hours getting it right, sad I know, but it worked.
Number 16 in our first season soon became 8 in our second season. We knew that we were not the fastest team on the grid but finishing, consistency, strategy, making the right call and prep delivered a shiny number 8. If you don’t finish you don’t get the points, we soon learned when to take risks and push and when to just bring it home. We never gave up, you don’t know what is around the corner.
In 2016 we moved across to the 7kart XV. I must mention that the all my 7kart’s have been a joy to drive. 7kart have helped us to get to where we are today, Rob helped us initially with a setup and then it was down to us to find what worked for us. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another, this was evident when we moved from the mk4 to the XV. I struggled, the XV, it required a different driving style, Tobi gelled with it instantly. I got the best out of the mk 4 and Tobi got the best out of the XV. There has always been the smallest of gaps between us (nothing to do with weight just my skill!) but now the gap was virtually nothing. A blunt conversation came my way, “you need to sort yourself out” this time it wasn’t from the old man but my team mate Tobi!
The professional sport man image we had adopted needed looking at. All the equipment was prepped each and every month it was time we both looked in the mirror at ourselves.
We did and we saw what some described as “USER ERROR”. As many of you have seen Tobi is proud of his “Men’s Health” Body which is regularly displayed in the paddock complete with underpants, but you can always improve…
We both signed up to the gym and started an extensive Body Pump and Body Combat course to help on track fitness. As you can see from the below this was taken seriously just like the old man would have wanted us to.
Last round of the season we asked this bearded Lithuania bloke from corporates if he fancied doing a stint with us. Following that Janius Zukas joined us for the 2016 season. The pressure was really on now to keep number 4. 2015 was a great year and we finished 4th but surely, we were punching above our weight?
More teams had come up from Clubman making Super even more competitive. Helicopter, Custom Rods and ABA were a little further down the road than us, but Karting Magazine, ITS, JAM, Wraith, Focus were all after our number 4.
2016 was a challenging year, we knew from history that we were not the fastest team on the track. We should be qualifying better than where we were, at points in the season we were way down. Qualifying 18th should not be right if you are holding number 4 in the championship. It was tough saying over the comms ‘I can’t find anymore.’ We were all down on pace so it pointed to something on the kart. Nothing had changed in Prep, everything was checked double checked and checked once again. We could not find the problem. We were fitter, nothing had changed in the race prep but we were struggling, it was probably the toughest point in racing since the old man had bought me the kart. It looked like we could be going backwards. “Let’s look to the track” Tobi said… “things have changed, most of our overtakes are being done at hairpins good exits on the straight were not delivering.” Eventually we found out that the engines were down on power, around 7% to be exact hence why we could not put together a flying lap.
Mark Beaumont made the most of this asking Chris McCarthy from the Karting Magazine to interview me on the grid during the televised round.
“Lee you seem to be out of position in qualifying.” My claim to fame on TV is justifying a bad qualifying result, plus it looks like I’m picking my nose, anything to keep the old man laughing.
Race craft and driving around the problem had allowed us to still continue to deliver consistent results, but we had made it harder for ourselves than it should have been. This would make the latter part of the season a nail biter. We sorted the engines and bang we were back on form. Qually 5th.
The great thing about RHPK is all the teams around us. The teams ahead of us in the championship and our rivals were the first to come find us and say good to see you guys back up there. The moment Ben from ABA (complete with tight jeans) comes and finds you, shakes your hand and says good to see you back up where you belong, means a lot, it shows the spirit of the championship.
The season had started to turn for us, a highlight for me personally was to be third in the race after qualifying 5th. This came from nobody having an issue, it was pure race craft and pace. Tobi came across the comms saying we are in third, I told him to stop pissing about! We were holding number 4 and I was third on track on pure pace, maybe we did deserve to be number 4 and we could hold the number this year.
As a team, we decided to move back to Tobi and I, Jaunius moved to Silverline. It was great to have Jaunius as part of the team, he really helped us move forward as a team, challenging our thinking. I have no doubt if he had not been part of the team we would not have delivered the final result of the season. Just to go off track for a moment, Janius has started his own team this year and I have absolutely no doubt that he will be pushing the front runners this year and will soon be in Supers, good luck.
That bloke Elliot who had been pushing us all the way through our Clubman Era wasn’t going back to M&H next year. You guessed it, he joined us for the last round and 2017. So, the last round of the season… We are 4th in championship and JAM, Focus and ITS can take it off us.
We played the long game in qually watched all the teams and saved the wet tyres watching ITS qually 20+ and us just above the guys around us. Tobi was blistering in the first stint and pulled out a superb lead opening up a gap to all of our rivals, for me I think this has been the best drive since he has been with the team. I did the second stint and held the gap, at this point we had pretty much written off ITS. Elliot jumped in for the last stint, it seemed like we just had to bring it home with a 30 second lead over ITS. Pace was good matching all of our rivals including ITS initially. The gap started to close soon dropping from 40 seconds to 30 to 20 and so on. Two laps to go it was less than 2 seconds. Poor Elliot who had not driven an XV before was driving the nuts off the kart but could not respond with our setup. As it dried we got slower ITS got quicker. It transpires that ITS had a semi dry setup on the kart, we did not stand a chance, we were being hunted. We both crossed the line with 0.18 of a second between us.
We had held 4th place. However, I must point out two things, if the race had of been one lap more we would be carrying number 5 next year. Above this the sportsmanship of ITS who gave the place back on the straight as there had been advantage by contact as they came onto the straight, true gentlemen. That to me sums up the RHPK championship sportsmanship, fair but hard racing and a great bunch of guys all willing to help at any stage.
So, what does 2017 look like? We’ve got a new chassis, engines that are run in and a great team. However, to make sure we are ahead of the game we have invested in additional horsepower for this season!
I suppose apart from thanking John Huff, Mark Beaumont, Rob Nurse and 7Kart, Ufo and RPM, Tobi Janius, Elliot, the original racers – James, John and Mark there is one further other person I need to thank… Dad – John Robert Hemmings. You are never forgotten, keep us laughing, please keep the rain away and thank you.