This week, I took the meaning of ‘on the road’ audience development to a whole new level. I undertook a challenge; a drag race with Simon Nicholas, a senior fund manager at Brown Shipley, writes Anna Dumas.
Well, not quite. It was outdoor karting, but considering that, for one thing, I’d never karted before and, for another, I don’t even drive an ordinary car (after one disastrous attempt at securing a driving licence I decided, much to the relief of my instructor, that it wasn’t the mode of transport for me), it might as well have been.
Ever since Nicholas briefly mentioned his former aspirations to be a Formula 1 driver over lunch a few months ago, I had been set on challenging him to a race, despite my complete lack of ability.
When I first suggested the idea, he seemed keen and mentioned that there might be a ‘certain synchronicity’ to the timing of my request. Intrigued, I later found out that a colleague at Brown Shipley had decided to arrange a karting day for the Manchester office team, which I was kindly invited to tag along to.
Nervous and excited, I pitched up at the Three Sisters race track in Wigan, the entrance to which is flanked with metal bars – apparently a necessity thanks to overenthusiastic driving on the way out. I looked up from my parking spot to see I was opposite the medical emergency centre. Unfortunate positioning. Unless its presence was meant to serve as a warning.
Either way, I was apprehensive. My fears were compounded by the sight of the first of my competitors striding from the car park, with his very own flame-patterned helmet under his arm. Perhaps this wasn’t the recreational bunch of wealth managers I had hoped for.
After meeting the rest of the team, some of whom I was pleased to hear, were also relatively inexperienced, I put on my boiler suit and helmet, listened to the safety briefing, had a quick peek at the track and leapt into my vehicle, ready to race.
Before I knew it, the black and white chequered flag was down. Engines roared and I watched as 11 cars zoomed off into the distance, leaving me for dead.
Unperturbed, I drove on, carefully traversing each corner, checking in mirrors which weren’t actually there, flicking an invisible indicator, and braking before every turn. I’ll admit, it wasn’t a strong start, particularly as it wasn’t long before I was lapped, first by the flaming-helmet bearer, private client director Andy Ramsden, and then by my main opponent, Nicholas. It took a quick reminder from an unnamed individual that this wasn’t the driving range at Legoland, to get me into race mode.
Unfortunately, just as I managed to pick up some speed, private client manager Jon Chitty, in an enthusiastic if slightly kamikaze attempt to be the third person to lap me, managed instead to spin out of control and into my bonnet. As we pulled up from the first heat, much was made of the fact that of all the people Chitty could have wiped out on the track, he opted for the journalist.
The next heat was equally disastrous, if less dramatic. Ramsden started firmly in pole, with Nicholas having slipped back to fourth off the line, and me, staunchly as ever, bringing up the rear.
Nicholas clawed his way back to second, later admitting that he ‘fought some hard battles’ to get there, and I managed to maintain my position throughout the heat, harbouring intense frustration about the fact that I had a competitiveness that my skills didn’t allow for.
By the time we reached the final, I was ready to burn rubber. Ramsden was once again in pole, with Nicholas hot on his exhaust pipes. I needn’t mention which position I was in.
As the flag came down, though, I put my foot to the floor and roared ahead. A change in style that so surprised the other drivers, one span into the grass. Wasting no time, I overtook two more and managed not to spin out of control myself. Despite a few wobbly moments, I eventually came a very respectable ninth, which at least made me near enough to top of the bottom quartile.
Nicholas, despite his early ambitions, didn’t manage to beat Ramsden, the runaway winner, but maintained his position by coming in second, closely followed by Chitty.
Who won the challenge though?
I reminded Nicholas that earlier we had agreed to arrange a handicap system between him and me, considering our relative experience levels. The difficulty, though, was that we hadn’t worked out exactly what this should be until we had the results.
A few suggested that since it was his ambition to win and mine not to come last, I was the overall winner. In light of the fact that he came in a good 13 seconds before me, I couldn’t help but feel this was a sympathy vote.
Eventually, though, after much debate, the conclusion from Nicholas was – very charitably – that we were ‘both winners’.
For the record, then, because we all know fund managers are always being measured in terms of their performance, rest assured; Nicholas recorded what we can definitely refer to in unconventionally technical terms as a top-quartile va-va-voom-style attainment!