So the 2016 Blokart World Championships are in the books. It was a successful week for me but I was also sorrowed to see all the international competitors come so far only to have an extremely rare rain event nearly ruin it all. It was great to see the organizers react and manage the problem. They really did a fantastic job of managing these challenges. One silver lining is that there was a week long warm up event the previous week (North Americans) which most of the competitors attended. This event had excellent, normal Ivanpah sailing conditions.
As far as the racing during the World Championship goes, it was incredibly fun! We only had 1.3 days of sailing (of the scheduled 5). We changed venues to the smaller lake bed to the W of Primm, and this turned out to be an excellent location as well. The new track which features a start/finish line right in front of the parking area makes the sailing very fun for all to watch and enjoy. Beware of high speeds and large packs, however. We had several incidents where Blokarts racing at full speed failed to make the leeward mark turn before getting into the pit area and striking Blokarts and even a car. This situation can not be allowed to happen again.
The top 4 or 5 in our Heavyweight Performance class are all incredibly talented high performance, high apparent wind dependant craft sailors. This event was the first time that I had witnessed Torkel Stillefors (4th overall) from NZ. He had extraordinary kart speed, equal or greater than mine at times, and I often had to concentrate hard to stay ahead of him. He slowly improved each race and clearly has lots of sailing talent. Ross Vickers (3rd overall, Hong Kong) is a fantastic sailor, and he also carried the burden all week of doing a great deal of organizational work for the event and to help out the Blokart team. Ross is an excellent starter and has superb speed. He had a funny mast/sail issue on the 1st day of racing (Wednesday) and was getting a tricky inversion in his mainsail just above the boom. This problem may have been an issue for the first five races (day 1). His starts put him in the lead of many of those races. With that issue sorted out for the next Worlds, Ross will be even more formidable than he already is. Santi Oliver (ESP) is one of the best 2 or 3 Blokarters on the planet and is always extremely fast. A strong argument can be made that Santi is the best! Santi can run away quickly when he gains a small lead early in the race and clean air. He often quickly extends a small, early lead into an insurmountable one if his competitors are not extremely focused. My fortune was that Santi had a few less than perfect starts on the first day and therefore had a few high finishes (for Santi) in the 4-6 range.
On the final day of racing, we had a couple of heats with decent wind and then it all went downhill with large shifts (180 degrees) and periods of 5-15 minutes with no wind at all and the entire fleet stopped or handcarting. This reality was all exacerbated further by the forecast being for strong winds developing into a high wind warming by 2 pm. Unfortunately, there are not clear, objective rules on how and when a Blokart race should be abandoned, cancelled, etc. when the wind is poor. I think that the IRBA (International Blokart Racing Association) needs to work hard on defining those parameters into a comprehensive rule which prevent lingering questions and concerns at the World Championship Racing level. Clearly the rules need to be carefully written and well though through. What we cannot have is a purely subjective interpretation of when a race is valid and when it is not valid. This created a bit chaos.
I think the RC and officials ultimately made the right calls. That said, many sailors were arguing and lobbying heavily about the quality of the race in question and “what was racing” vs. “what was a crapshoot.” Some event said, “well that was my best race…” or “that race would allow me to throw out a bad score” as justification to keep a poor wind race and not discard it. A bit of a bummer to be down to that level of decision making. I am confident that this will be sorted out before the next Worlds in 2018.
As for me, I had a really good first day (4 firsts and a second). The second day I struggled with only one race win in 3 races and a 7th. The wind shifts and voids were only part of the problem. I was also being too conservative on the hairy, intense starts and trying to avoid a major collision. In the final race attempt (ultimately abandoned), I built a large lead at the first weather mark. Then a massive wind shift (180 degrees) and a period of 5-10 minutes with absolutely no wind allowed most of the karts behind to catch up (many handcarting) when a new breeze came back from the starting area (the exact opposite direction) and left the leaders becalmed on the playa for 20 minutes. I finished nearly last in this race and could not sail at all (no wind). I was forced to handcart around the rest of the course, roughly half a mile, to finish (Blokart rules do not allow getting out of the kart and pushing it, you MUST HANDCART!). I was shocked that a race in which entire fleet was forced to handcart for an extended period (almost no wind and ultimately a 180-degree wind shift) was not immediately abandoned, and was still being debated for some period after the “race” was completed(?).
If we are not worried about wind shifts and wind consistency, then why to we change the marks at Ivanpah when the wind changes direction between races? I think the answer is to keep the course square to the wind? Why not just leave it a set track and if the wind shifts, so what? We need to get this policy sorted out so that decisions on race validity (and fairness) are mainly objective decisions based on wind shift amount and the percentage of competitors who are forced to handcart to progress around the course (push wheels with hands similar to a wheelchair).
These problems are IBRA challenges and have nothing to do with the 2016 Blokart Worlds Organizers. Only venues as huge as Ivanpah create these kinds of challenges and the rules for sailing there are likely going to be different than club racing or at a smaller venue such as an airport or parking lot.
The 2016 Blokart Worlds organizers did a truly fantastic job! I can’t say enough about the organization and volunteers who made this all happen and dealt with the adversity mother nature created for them. They are all fantastic. Thank you all.
Blokarting is as fun as it gets when it comes to sailing craft racing (of any sort). We go considerably faster than the fastest sailboats in the world, for pennies on the dollar! I truly look forward to the next Blokart Worlds and to getting some sailing going in MI again soon.