February 14th. A day where guys take out girls and spend exhorbitant prices for overpriced psudo-romantic foodie treats. Also known as Valentines.
However I, having no-one to go out with, was at home fixing up the requisite coffee-chocolate smoothie and contemplating spending an entire day playing Path of Exile. And writing. I’d booked tickets for Robocop at Savoy 3D tomorrow. Life was good.
Then Enosh called and said he was going gokarting. Did I want to come along? At first, no, but then I got into YOLO mode, brushed the face, washed the teeth and whatnot, got the trusty Nikes out and hit the roads. We picked up Aaron and Faron (yup) and zoomed down to Colombo on petrol, trance and Guns N Roses tracks. The destination? Speed Drome, Battaramulla.
Getting there is half the battle
*cough* I have to say this about Enosh: he never gets lost. Never. It’s just that the rest of the world (geography, we’re looking at you here) is misaligned. *cough* What should have been an easy turn at Borella ended up in Nugegoda. What could have been a lengthy but sane journey from Nugegoda to Ethul Kotte to Battaramulla instead went from Maharagama to Pannipitiya.
Eventually we rolled into Speed Drome via the 174 road. We’d never done this before, but I had seen quite a lot of Speed Drome while schooling – we used to have our sportsmeets on the ground opposite. It’s a very twisty track and it’s not uncommon for beginners to hit a tyre or two on the bends.
To deal with these, the karts that you get are fairly low-powered: either 160 or 180 CC. The usual rentals seemed to be quite beat-up – anyway, we fit in (in my case, it was a damn tight fit) and set off.
Let me put this in perspective. You’re in a box about two feet square. No, scratch that. You’re on a framework two feet square. You’re a foot off the ground. When you hit the accelerator, the thing leaps, propelling you forward at the speed of vibration. The engine goes phut-phut-phut behind you.
Every turn you make is executed lightning-quick. There’s no power steering: it’s a rod bolted to the axle machinism, so the wheel fights you at every single turn. Your hands hurt after five laps, but let go and you’ll do a damn sight more than hurting. You do forty kmph into three bends over twenty meters, because screw straight lines. Brake into a turn, swing and hit the pedal hard and you can literally skid yourself around a corner.
It is insanely fun. I definitely overtook Aaron at least thrice and crashed into him at least once. Other than that – no broken teeth. Our forerunners, a few chicks in refreshingly thin T’s (come on, girl, you paid real money for that thing? It’s so thin it would make an A4 look fat), ended up alternatively hitting the tires or getting safely across the line.
But Speed Drome isn’t great. The tyre walls are low. The track is short. The cars are almost rustbuckets. THEY DON’T HAVE SIZE 9 SHOES. So, when we got word that there was a karting track in Bandaragama, we headed off in a that-away direction. Reportedly it was better. Muuch better. We sought the truth. Drive and ye shall find!
Stage Two: pros on the road
Getting to Bandaragama is no small task, especially if you have no idea where the fuck we’re going. We used Google Maps. Unfortunately, past the second exit of the highway, Gmaps doens’t know squat. Nobody’s mapped out that area yet. Neither to the inhabitants of Bandaragama. We ended up a) in a broken road in a paddy field b) Lost in a housing scheme c) going round a random roundabout d) Lost again. We discovered Kolu Maps (powered by Random Youngsters ™ ) and the upgrade, Uncle Maps (powered by Maaalukaaraya ™) .
In the end, guided by the folks at the Sri Lanka Karting Center (that’s the place we were after), we arrived.
Stepping into this place after Speed Drome feels like … well, it feels like the difference between playing cricket in your school ground and swinging a bat at the Sugathadasa. Behold! Driveways. A nested, winding track. Flags. Hairpin bends. Long stretches of utter pedal-to-the-metal racing. A whole FLEET of cars. A pit that could put the ‘Drome pit to shame ten times over. Maintenance engineers. Staff at each point of the track with walkie-talkies. Such epic. Much impressive. Very race. Wow. It’s run by the David Pieris Motor Company and they run it very professionally.
Round was excellent. 12 laps trying to catch Enosh: being marginally faster than him, I caught up twice – but never managed to overtake (I know, it’s about timing and not overtaking, but still). Once I hit the kerb and they black-flagged’ me before letting me go. Another time, I spun out briefly before righting myself. Every time one of us spun out or crashed ahead, they would give us the yellow flag (slow down, sonny).
It was good. So insanely good that we went twice. Ten minutes is a thousand bucks. It was worth it. We got more powerful cars. The engine would literally go phutphut phut as you slowed down. Step on it and the car roars forward with a satisfying scream of tyres. There’s a long stretch where you get to do just this – followed by the largest curve on the track, followed immediately by a swift wing in the other direction – I went past all the corners at a half-skid.
The second race was even more epic: it was night. Literally. We phut-phut-phutted our way under the streetlights.
Farhan (or Farren) came out quite well, pulling lap times 42 seconds on both time: my best was around 44. Two seconds behind! Nevermind – we’ll catch up – the next time.