NKC Round One!!!

This was a step into the unknown. We really should have been out for a 2018 shakedown weeks earlier. With this very much on my mind, I decided we’d get our running-in done on the Friday so that we could get a feel for the Mitas tyre during Saturday practice. It was nice to arrive to some pleasant weather; there is nothing worse than needing four blokes to hold the awning down whilst you scramble to hammer the pegs into the awning legs. The problems started when the newly rebuilt engine didn’t start. Another problem was that I was in between handheld starters! My trusty starter’s battery had gone beyond the point where it was capable of starting the engine and I was missing the connectors to pair my new, larger starter with my new, more powerful battery. What was left in the old battery was good enough to confirm that we had a spark but I was wary of losing any time with rain due to hit us later in the afternoon and so bolted on the race engine so that Junior could set about evaluating the tyre. We had a decent afternoon on a cold but dry track although we had to take off a few teeth to get the revs down a bit. A few of the NKC drivers turned up later in the afternoon and it was hard not to be struck by the presence of a rather nice motorhome with one of the new 2018 Birrel-Jade chassis stood outside the awning – I wasn’t expecting this at NKC!!!

We stayed at a Travelodge overnight, arousing little interest from the reception staff as we moved in along with clothes, engines, tools and anything else of value! I was able to get the new starter sorted in the evening so Saturday was all about running in the practice motor. It was largely uneventful save for our trailer leaking (again), the Alfano battery dying as we set out for the first session (and Junior having to gauge his revs by his track position relative to someone else who was also running-in) and also some notable pace from a number of our rivals. One of my concerns about joining NKC was how much competition we would face and I had been considering racing on the practice engine but it was clear that we wouldn’t be having this luxury: we’d be rocking the full race trim on the Sunday!

Sunday was a strange day. Timed qualifying saw us a whole second off the pace at one point, eventually finishing third and 0.5s adrift of the pole-sitter. Heat #1 was much more like it: we sat third for most of the race and took the lead in the final minute, finishing with a little in hand over the chasing group. There were five drivers who really stood out in terms of pace and it looked, as they approached the final two minutes, as if it might become a five-way battle for the win. It was a really good race to watch.

NKC 2018 is go!

Heat #2 (aka the pre-final) was the one where things seemed to become a little bit familiar; we had made a few changes to get on top of our high revs and apparent overheating in the tyre but from the start we looked off of the pace. Junior was struggling to hold onto second; he’d maintained position on the previous lap by holding it around the outside of Ashby but, when his rival made the same mood the next time around, he wasn’t quite so generous in his affording us of some space and Junior was shown onto the grass and into the biggest puddle on the circuit. Fortunately for Junior, the cameras only caught the end of it! It was one of those things really; when you try to maintain your position by going around the outside of the corner, you’re always going to need a compliant rival to leave you the space. Either that or you’re going to have to get your elbows out to ensure you’re given the room. Or you head off the track. Part of me was glad that Junior hadn’t turned it into a bashing match and he was unlucky to find himself in a bog that stopped him in his tracks. We weren’t going to complain – I think that we’d both have made the same move against a slower kart who was becoming problematic! Of course we wouldn’t want to be seen to be a soft touch so we’ll note it and move on😉 The marshals got Junior going again and he came home a distant 13th.

Having brought our gearing down through the day I was still baffled by our high revs; we’d been shedding teeth all over the place. It was only in conversation with a good buddy who was racing at Kimbolton that the penny dropped. In fact it dropped more like bomb: the race engine still had the 9-front sprocket on from Buckmore Park in December!!! I felt like an absolute pillock. Everyone makes the odd mistake, me perhaps more than most but this was a real clanger. In my defence, I’d left a note on the motor to warn me that the sprocket needed changing. I’d had the builder leave the sprocket off of the practice motor when it was rebuilt to ensure that it was replaced but, in my rush on Friday to switch the motors over and get Junior out on track for some testing, the note had either slipped off or maybe was back in the engine box at home. With so much other stuff on my mind, the moment was gone. It felt like I should have had plenty of time to change the front sprocket but, with the side pod off and the sprocket spanner in hand, we were called to the dummy grid for the final! I had to just put on the smallest rear sprocket that I had, which turned out to be a 72-tooth. We’d probably still be several teeth over what you might consider optimal but it would have to do…

The first lap of the final was depressingly familiar: As Junior headed into Ashby, the kart in front span of his own accord and rolled backwards down the slope, collecting Junior and pretty much stopping us in our tracks. It was only the huge punt we received from the kart behind us that gave us a glimmer of hope: Junior was able to pinch the fuel pipe to clear the engine and was able to continue although any hopes of catching the leaders had gone. To his credit, Junior drove like a man possessed but it was another of the recovery drives that I have come to admire him for. By the finish he had brought a 15s gap to the leader down to 9s, set the four fastest laps and the only lap of the weekend below 50s but still trailed in 9th. The only small consolation was that we were able to start packing up immediately in a bid to avoid the rain that was clearly on its way.

Getting your head down 🙂

The way things ended took the gloss off of what had otherwise been a really enjoyable weekend. There had been some great competition at the front and, if we can have five karts contesting the podium every round, it’s going to be a thrill to watch. Although I already knew a couple of the drivers, both Junior and I had made new friends with Junior getting on particularly well with a couple of the MSA drivers that we’d been battling over the course of the day. The day had had a very different, almost chilled feeling to what I had become used to on the MSA tour, it felt as if people were just there to enjoy themselves (even if there had been some hard racing at the front at times) and there had really only been minimal contact throughout the day. The tyre was nowhere near as bad as we (and many of the other MSA dads) had feared; it was a tyre that you could really attack on. The scrutineering was as thorough as anything I had encountered, including at the TKM Festival. The NKC organiser had performed an admirable job considering the stress of running a fledgling series whilst also trying to enjoy his own race weekend and I’d been really impressed with the BKC officials and their handling of us (as a new and very mixed ability grid).

Junior was a bit disappointed in the car on the way home. To him, we’d had issues and finished down the pack just like so many other times on our MSA travels. In some ways I shared those feelings. Our gearing issue was a bad mistake and it will be interesting to see how we fare at Hooton in a few weeks with what will hopefully be a more optimal setup. I still believe that the harder tyre is the way to go for the budget class and that this is right thing for us to be doing at this time. Feel free to join us 🙂

Onwards and upwards?

Going in undercooked

It’s been a while since we last hit the track. In fact, Junior has sat in the kart exactly twice since our disastrous TKM Festival in August. The plan had been to get out and test the new tyre in plenty of time for the NKC season opener at Whilton Mill this weekend but the weather and Junior’s need to give his boss two week’s notice for any time off of his weekend job (which, considering he’s on a zero hours contract, seems a little ironic) wiped out our chances of getting in some seat time. Not the ideal planning for our venture into non-MSA racing or the harder tyre that will likely take some getting used to. And then there is the engine to run-in. How would you like your steak, Sir? I’ll have mine undercooked!

Personally, I’ve been itching to get back to the track for a month now. Buckmore aside, I’ve had a lengthy spell away but I’ve done all the prep work: new axle, new nuts/bolts/washers, new steering wheel, new bearings, new pipework, new nassau and spent a small fortune on the necessities that will ensure ensure that we can stand on our own two (four?) feet without our friends to rely upon for things like lighting – ’tis true, I’ve never owned lights or a power source! In my defence, we didn’t really ever stay over at the track until last season (ok, that’s not much of a defence).

I still have no idea what to expect from this season; a season without my buddies, whether we will be too ‘MSA’ for the NKC, whether Junior will enjoy the harder tyre that I’ve always craved, what it will be like touring the country with the Bambino Kart Club. I’ve high hopes of low-stress, highly enjoyable weekends. It has to be better than last year, surely!?!

Another one bites the dust

Edit: Thought I posted this weeks ago but found it sitting in the ‘drafts’ folder so, rather than letting it go to waste, here’s the round-up of our final MSA race and the end of the road for Buckmore Park Kart Club… 🙁

The news that Buckmore Park Kart Club was to close to enable the circuit to focus on the more profitable corporate karting meant that our retirement from MSA racing was short-lived. Four months to be exact. What the legend himself, John Surtees (RIP), would make of the decision is something that I guess those behind it might choose not to dwell on. A circuit of that magnitude being condemned to a lifetime of corporate karting is a sad thought indeed. Although we had only visited the track once, back in April, it proved an instant hit with Junior and, with sufficient interest shown from others in the class, our entry was quickly submitted.

Being likely our last chance to drive the circuit, we made a long weekend of it and were one of only four karts taking part in Friday practice. The conditions were unique to us: although dry all day, the low temperatures meant the track never dried. We were on our ‘very-inter’ intermediate tyres – that I had bought from a certain JTKM champion some 18 months earlier 😉 – and, with the track alternating between cadets and us every 15 mins, there was an awful lot of track time. Our tyres were done long before we packed it in for the day and, as we started to pack up, the track turned on the lights so, of course, we *had* to go out again!

Last session of the day, track to ourselves 🙂

Friday night was spent at the Premier Inn with the best of our besties. This would probably be the last time we would spend a weekend with them. I’ve said before how much more I personally get from a race weekend spent in the company of my very good friends. The kids and the dads get on so well. I think it is the single thing I’ll miss most about MSA racing. The cooked breakfast was very welcome on a frosty Saturday morning too… 😉

Breakfast was about as good as Saturday got. We got to the track and, as I went to put on the engine, I saw that our weekend was a good as over…

Well this is a game changer!

Nobody at the track had welding gear. The maintenance staff for the corporate karts weren’t in until later in the afternoon and I was looking at a 6-hour round trip if I wanted to pick up our old chassis from home. One of the TKM dads came over to offer his advice: it was going to need a MIG weld and my best bet would be to get it to a garage. I spent over an hour on the phone trying to find a garage services company who a) offered a MIG welding service and b) had their technician working on a Saturday morning. Eventually I found my saviour: Lewis and his team at Lordswood Motorist Centre. Although they were closing at noon, they could do it as soon as I could get the frame there (it turns out Lewis is an ex-kart and car racer so sympathetic to my cause!). My homeboys had already stripped the engine area and Lewis was only 10 mins from Buckmore Park. I was saved 😀

You couldn’t make this s**t up!

The crack was away from the engine mount area so I had the mechanic sleeve the frame just to make sure it made it through the weekend. It really was a huge crack – I’d never seen anything like it before. I was back at the track by 12:15 and on-track by 1:00pm! 😀 The rest of the day was really about enjoying driving the track on Friday’s tyres as I didn’t want to commit our fresher wets. Junior wasn’t totally enamoured with being off the pace but I wasn’t overly bothered.

Not exactly a looker, huh? But it was all about getting over the line on Sunday afternoon…

A meal at a local pub, a couple of hours spent playing Exploding Kittens and a decent night’s kip later (*so* glad I wasn’t sleeping in the car), it was race day. Buckmore Park runs qualifying and, given the quality of our tyres on the Saturday, we weren’t really sure where we would slot in. With the track slippery but not wet, we kept the powder dry on our best wets and ran our best inters. Top six would be great but it was better than that! The experience of the Friday conditions really played to our advantage and Junior bagged P4 in amongst the Super One boys 🙂

Race #1 went ok; we were passed by someone who would be challenging for the top spot and a little remote of fourth but it a good enough result. The pre-final was disastrous: although the plan had been to switch to our best wets, the track continued to dry (albeit slowly). There wasn’t really any evidence to support putting on better wets, particularly with a very wet final forecast. Of course, once we were committed to our setup, in came the rain. It was a steady drizzle that, by the time the race begun, had accumulated enough moisture on track to mean that our setup was utterly inappropriate for the conditions. Junior dropped like a stone and had to fight to hold onto to ninth place. He was not at all happy. To be honest, it wouldn’t have been a Karting Dad weekend without something like this p*ssing on our fireworks (even after the chassis snap!).

Paul Babington’s photos are awesome!

Starting P9 for the final meant the podium was as good as out of reach. We setup to make early passes and we’d see where we got! As it turned out, the setup was very, very good. Junior made early passes; his kart clearly handling better than those around  him and, were it not for losing some time fighting for some mid-pack places, he might have challenged for the podium places. As it was, he managed to catch and pass his good friend for fourth near the end and so the race, our season, our MSA career and our last race at Buckmore finished on a high. It was the first time we’d finished every race since our seasonal opener in March!!!

It was pretty miserable by the time we got out for the final…

Packing up in the rain and the cold was no fun but at least it was dry enough when we got home to dry the kart, engines and carbs and to start airing the awning sides. And that was that. I should add a big thank-you to Sheila, Martin and the staff at Buckmore Park Kart Club, as well as the excellent work of Paul Babington Photography, whose amazing photos meant we always spent that little bit more on our visits – we’ll always have fond memories of BPKC 🙂



An MSA reprieve!

Well, temporarily at least… things changed a little with last month’s news that the owners of Buckmore Park had decided to close BPKC and dedicate the track to the much more profitable corporate karting. It wasn’t a complete surprise. Entry numbers had been down for some time which was also not surprising considering that MSA race weekends weren’t actually dedicated to MSA racing; I had never seen racing finish at 3pm on a Sunday and the corporate karts roll out onto track before as witnessed on our own visit in April. It did make me wonder why we hadn’t been given more track time and, assuming this was a regular occurrence, what the locals made of it. It was never something that would encourage drivers to the track. It is very sad for the people behind the club who had been very welcoming towards us when we visited on the opening round of the ill-fated Southern Tour. It meant the final two club rounds of the year presented us with a final opportunity to race at the track.

A poll on the TKM group suggested there was a healthy appetite to visit in December. More fool me for believing it but we will have a reasonable grid of 8-10 drivers for this coming weekend. The numbers aren’t actually that important – we just want to visit our favourite track for one final time and, if we can finish three heats and a final, that would be a bonus!

Preparing the kart in the freezing temperatures yesterday did make me wonder what the hell I was thinking when I put our entry in! Hopefully we’ll have a little more luck than the people that trekked to Kimbolton for Saturday practice before getting sent home ahead the snow. It’s been a long time since we did any winter racing and I had forgotten what it felt like trying to tighten things when you cannot feel your fingers. Hopefully the weather is obliging 🙂

Carb Clinic – Only possible when Mrs KD is not home (and even then she started moaning about the smell as soon as she set foot in the house!)

Today was the last time I would be having to sift through tyres to find something that we can a) race on and b) practice on. Next year I won’t have to swap slicks at all – we’ll have one practice set and one race set. Have I already mentioned that our tyre budget for next year will be £260? 😉

And now for something completely different…

It’s been a miserable year. After Llandow we went through the season without once finishing all three heats and the final. The ‘combative’ racing style (read: I just wish that sometimes he could give up the corner!) Junior had shown in JTKM wasn’t working in Extreme. His was always a battle for the apex and, once he was there, he believed that he had to be afforded room. But, where that might previously have got that in JTKM, he was now being shown short shrift. I’d always been a little worried about Extreme; it looked a lot rougher from what I saw of it from the sidelines in 2016 and the amount of contact only seemed to increase in 2017. A friend had pointed out to me in our final JTKM race that this would be an issue in Extreme… his words haunted me for most of the season!

There were highlights: Buckmore Park, where we showed fantastic pace, was simply awesome and our new favourite track. We threatened at the Super One practice round at Clay before things went south and also looked strong contenders to land the Festival Cup. With the Super One scheduling killing off the chances of grids at the South West Champs at Dunkeswell and the Cancer Research Meeting at Clay Pigeon our season came to a typically premature at the TKM Festival. Having set out with only one goal: to keep our noses clean and finish all the races, it was a meeting that changed everything. Caught up in somebody else’s accident in Heat #1. Barely getting the kart fixed in time (we’ll ignore the extent of the damage!) for a subdued second heat. Condemned to the Festival Cup after getting punted off at Turn #2 in Heat #3… it truly was our all-time low. And, if you’ve read this blog, you’ll know that is saying something!

But suddenly Junior earned the chance to salvage something from the weekend, driving his b******s off to climb from 18th to 3rd in the Festival Cup pre-final and we started on the front row of the televised final (pole-sitter had a mechanical). I would have put money on us clinching back-to-back Festival Cups and yet, five seconds into the final, we were out. Out of the Festival. Out of goodwill. Out of MSA racing. You can see what is very likely to be our final MSA race on the TDI Media coverage. I haven’t watched more than the first 90 seconds of it and didn’t see any of the remaining finals such was our haste to get away from the track. “When the fun stops, stop” is the message on all the gambling sites these days. We’d had such little fun over the course of the year that it was time for us to stop.

Strong pace at Buckmore Park was about as good as it got

But this was typical of our season… being hit by four karts during/after getting spun around in The Esses and hoping the rest of the grid missed us (they didn’t)

I didn’t touch the kart for two months. It was surprising really… with karting having dominated my life for four years, my enthusiasm for the sport had totally vanished. So what has changed? Well dragging myself to Clay Pigeon for a practice with some of our closest friends was a good start. Playing with the non-MSA Rotax drivers can be a bit heart-in-mouth at times but Junior enjoyed himself. Whilst we never left Kimbolton thinking that was our last time in the kart, something had to change; enjoyment had to come first so we’ve decided to move to non-MSA racing. The National Kart Cup was an option last year but the timing wasn’t right and I had to give the Southern Tour a chance. That failed mostly because of clashes with the Super One schedule; planned rounds at Forest, Dunks and Clay all went the way of the dodo as, quite literally, did Llandow Kart Club. 2018 will be all about rediscovering the fun element of karting. With Clay Pigeon’s IKR series at its heart, there is much that appeals about NKC: it shares much of how I think a budget class should operate and mandates a single set of harder-compound slicks to last all six rounds. If we can make do with a single set of wets, our tyre budget for the season will be £260!!! With Glan-Y-Gors, Whilton Mill and Rowrah all featuring in the new and improved NKC for 2018, I think it will appeal to the more casual MSA racer and I find myself really looking forward to the series (although I have to be honest, the chances of us going to Rowrah are slim to zero – I’m just not up for 6-hour drives to a track, no matter how impressive the track looks!) . There are negatives: it’s likely we’ll be leaving all of our friends behind, I don’t really know how competitive the series will be and it’s taken on a little bit of a northern focus (I’d be perfectly happy never to venture north of Birmingham for karting!) but this is the right option for us at the right time. I firmly believe the series will go from strength to strength. As far as TKM goes, I don’t think it will be too many seasons before non-MSA racing is the major player after Super One and, perhaps, Shenington/Kimbolton (unless of course, the MSA/ABKC make a grab for IKR grids at some point).

So why have I dusted off the blog? Where the original intention was to help noobs find their way in the sport, the blog as I see it will have a new purpose: to document our switch from MSA to non-MSA racing – what’s good, what’s not-so-good, the costs/savings, the competition and, most importantly, the fun (hopefully). If you really want to share the experience, you can register at https://kartcup.co.uk 😀

The last post?

It’s been a long time since my last post. Although Junior and I continue into the uncharted territory that is senior racing, our journey through junior karting has come to an end and it feels like the right time to bring a close to the chronicle of our trackside adventures. Junior is now 18 so not really Junior any more and I’ve been doing this for four years; I’d even go as far as to call myself competent!

What started out as a bunch of experiences and costs to help noobs better understand what they’d be letting themselves in for when they entered the sport evolved beyond the costings and ultimately became a diary of our time in junior karting. Hopefully it will still be useful to those starting out (you really need to look at the earlier posts) and I hope to bring the guides up to date at some point. The blog reached way more people than I could ever have imagined: over 28,000 genuine hits from around the world and a year-long stint writing for Karting Magazine  – mostly thanks to The Kart Bandit who stumbled across my adventures and took it to the masses.

I was largely anonymous outside of the local TKM scene when this happened…

…And world domination followed. Almost.

Of course whilst I hope the blog retains its usefulness to karting dads (or maybe just the ability to entertain!), the most important thing for me personally will be to reflect back upon everything we did in junior karting. It’s been a mad, mad four years. Karting takes no prisoners, you have to be totally committed to it if you don’t want to get found out at the track. And even then we got found out more than I would have liked! I am very proud of my driver and they way he dealt with the setbacks we suffered. He always believed, *mostly* remained upbeat and just enjoyed driving his kart as quickly as he could. I seemed to be the one who suffered on those disappointing journeys home. We won’t dwell on the one that got away, it will always haunt me 🙁 I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t change a thing; We’d have a room stacked full of trophies if I had my way but the positives go far beyond pieces of shiny plastic: He always was my best mate but watching my son grow as a racer and a person has been an honour and a thrill. My advice to karting dads is to cherish the times you spend together at the track. Never, ever shout at your driver. Don’t criticise them publicy even when you feel they may have been in the wrong. Don’t wave frantically at them as if they driving too slowly for you: WTF are you thinking!?! Do you seriously think they aren’t trying to drive fast??? Encourage, encourage, encourage. Although there was that one time at the Festival… 😉

So this is it! My final piece of advice is for those moving from Junior TKM to TKM Extreme: Paddock gossip says you must run unrestricted in TKM Extreme, piling on as much lead as it takes to make the weight. There may well be some tracks where this is the case (I fear Kimbolton) but we’ve raced at Llandow (the most technical track in the country), Buckmore Park (*the* best track in the country) and Clay Pigeon (the best facilities in the country) and we’ve done just fine for pace. Test for yourself before you take out a loan to buy all of that lead!

I’ll still be posting on Facebook if you want to keep in touch. Thanks for keeping me company over the years. I hope it helped you – the therapy was certainly great for me! 😉

In case you wondered, that’s Junior in the header pic – getting passed by everyone in his TKM taster session in 2012!

Then… Our first track day as an owner/driver in the racing green colours that we inherited and that we’ll always carry!

Now… We lead in TKM Extreme! (Only the helmet remains from Day 1!) :/

A Sad Farewell to Llandow Kart Club

We’d not attended the final months of the 2016 season at LKC; Our championship was aspirations were finished and, after the TKM Festival, our season ended in October with the Britain’s Finest event at Whilton Mill. LKC were already struggling and their season also came to a premature end through lack of entries. Although the end of season AGM brought about a new committee and (finally) Alpha Timing, the writing was very much on the wall: It would take some turnaround to attract the 50 entries needed to see the club break even. The season would begin with a new slot for the Celtic Challenge, a non-championship event which would then lead into the championship proper. That was the theory at least and, on the back of another disappointing entry, the committee announced last week that LKC would cease to hold meetings after the Celtic. Perhaps holding onto that bombshell for a couple of weeks may have brought a few more to the Celtic, maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference to a club that just seems to have struggled to hold onto drivers from South Wales. The current and previous committees couldn’t really be faulted for trying things to attract people: hosting Super One, offering prizes, reduced entry, free entry, even the amazing (if I say so myself) four heats and a final made no difference to the stagnant entry numbers.

We had practiced on the Saturday and, despite a first session last-lap crash as Junior seemed intent on breaking the lap record, we looked very quick early-on. But we needed a set of inters for the raceday and spent the rest of the day trying to make slicks work! Fortunately we had a nice, dry garage spot and some friends to scrap on track. It was a decent day in weather that could have been a lot worse. Sunday felt very sombre. To stop and look around the place; The familiar faces of the officials, staff and hardcore members stirred what has easily been our best memories of junior karting. It really did feel very sad. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t reaching for the Kleenex but I knew even before we’d raced that I’ll really miss Llandow Kart Club.

There were 20 or so entries merged into three libre classes: cadets, junior and senior two-strokes. As you can imagine, the racecard threatened to turn into quite a rush so there were 5-minute intervals between races (and, event then, it was still a rush!). This was our first TKM Extreme race meeting and our first chance to see how the engines had fared after being converted to Extreme. Conditions in Heat #1 weren’t ideal. Neither was my setup: Having had so much time to prepare in the morning, I noticed on the dummy grid that I had negated to change the rear width from the very narrow setting we were using on slicks, in the wet, on the Saturday! How long have I been doing this!?! The three entrants in our class meant the grid positions would be straight-forward! It was a strong line-up too with our fastest rivals from juniors in 2016. On top of that, they had both switched to TaG for 2017. Today would be *very* interesting…

Junior started on pole but it was clear that we were holding the others up and they three of them were strung out by the finish with us at the back. Heat #2 was better but Junior ended up scrapping his principle rival from last season and they allowed the leader to clear off. Heat #3 was pretty much a case of deja-vu. Pleasingly there was no contact between them (historically, there has been!) and they seemed to enjoy the tussle even if they were missing the point somewhat. I’m sure the leader appreciated the license to bugger off into the distance!

We started in P3 for the final and, finally, conditions were good enough for slicks. We were on our Whilton tyres from October and our rivals on nice, slippery fresh rubber. We would need to make hay while the sun shined. I really am gutted about what happened next: Junior went up the inside as they entered Surtees on the opening lap and the leader tried to hold it around the outside, as had been done on numerous occasions through the day. This time they touched and our rival span. In the final TKM race at Llandow Kart Club and against friends we’d been racing for several years, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to see. The incident seemed pretty innocuous; Things had clearly become tight but I devastated one of them span. Junior was looking pretty quick and he drove away from his remaining rival but there was no celebration. Junior didn’t feel as if he’d done much wrong and, whilst this was clearly going to The Office, I wouldn’t be: the not-so-little-bloke turned 18 on Thursday so I left him to it! Junior kept the race after his rival said he’d leant on Junior a little and not left him enough room. It was a surprising and impressive display of honesty when we were more less over a barrel (the marshal report had us making a ‘late move’ and taking the leader out which was never the case) but I guess their friendship shone through the disappointment. It wiped all the gloss off of the win though: There were no fist pumps, high-fives, not even a smile from Junior. Even now it feels like a loss and, to be honest, I’d have preferred it that way if it meant we could have been treated to a three-way duel for nine minutes plus one lap.

And that was that. Junior is the TKM Extreme Celtic Champion for what it’s worth although, with no further club events, the ‘CC’ plate will never be carried in race action. I really do hope that, against all odds, the club can rise again from the ashes at some point in the future. Maybe the MSA and ABKC can learn something from club’s demise about their inward focus on their own big clubs and national championships. I shan’t hold my breath…

You never know how much you will miss something until it’s gone…

RIP Llandow Kart Club 🙁

The droopy bumper fiasco

It seems like only yesterday that the CIK/MSA/ABKC consortium introduced the droopy bumper to widespread criticism. Everybody on one of those popular green had to go out and buy a new upper front bumper bar since the new style bumper brackets did not properly seat the bumper. The world and their dog went out and bought stronger bumper clamps and… The response at the end of the season was overwhelmingly positive!!! First corner incidents were largely eradicated overnight and, although there was a feeling that officials came to rely on drooped bumpers alone a little too much, the punters were generally happy.  Who’d have thunk it?

So why are we in exactly the same place twelve months on? It appears as though the CIK were not overly enamoured with the solutions that some of the chassis manufacturers produced to address the bumper situation and were working on a revision as early as the summer that would be introduced for 2017. Not all kart manufacturers are affected but, if you drive one of those popular green things, you’ll be needing new upper *and* lower front bumper bars. This is a screenshot of the latest MSA release:

They missed the question "Why did you not get it right the first time?"

They missed the question “Why did you not get it right the first time?”

The annoying thing is that, to my mind at least, the CIK didn’t do as thorough job in writing the regulations as they should have. It is clear from the Tal-Ko communication that they believe manufacturers were seeking to gain an advantage. I’ve no idea if this really is the case but I’ve long been near that threshold where you just wonder why bother to pay so much to race MSA and facing ever more red tape(particularly when the ABKC are talking about the need to simplify things for drivers). There is a lot that appeals about IKR and we find ourselves seriously looking at the prospects of going non-MSA for a large chunk of next year. If the TKM Southern Championship plans do not materialise (and I’m losing hope since Tal-Ko and the MSA have been sat on them for a month or so now), we’ll be contesting the National Kart Cup over five rounds on a single set of harder-compound slicks! A SAVING OF £600 ON RUBBER ALONE!!! Sounds perfect but more on that shortly… 😉

*That* Channel 4 program

All the talk today is of last night’s airing of ‘0-60mph: Britain’s Fastest Kids’ on Channel 4. I hadn’t intended to watch it: It was clearly covering an aspect of karting that I have little time for but such was the subsequent reaction on social media that I had to see it for myself (mostly on the back of some bloke describing TKM as a ‘bandit class’). I shouldn’t really have been surprised: We’ve rocked up with the kart on a camping trailer behind the Clio and parked next to the most luxurious motorhomes imaginable a few times now and the money being spent on karting at the ‘top’ level should be obvious to anyone who has seen a British Championship event. Admittedly, it is still staggering when you hear someone is paying 26 times more than you are to participate in the same sport! You could argue that behind every wannabe sports star is a pushy parent and that dedication comes at a cost. The production staff clearly had a narrative but I don’t think it was an inaccurate representation of national racing for 8-12 year olds from what I have seen. Motorsport, above all other sports, is the place where money talks. A poor driver will ultimately never make it but success can be bought at almost any level with sufficient kit, coaching, contacts and seat time.

There were a few OMG moments. Some of the things the drivers had to say about their efforts to please their dads were quite shocking. You really hope they are able to derive some enjoyment from those times when they don’t make the podium. It is a shame that, whilst the show never set out to be a reflection on karting as a whole, those who don’t know any differently will come away thinking that the sport is largely the domain of spoilt kids, pushy dads and footballer’s wives. The show sampled life for those prepared to do whatever it takes to follow in Lewis Hamilton’s footsteps when the sport is so much more for the other 99% of us. The saddest moment for me was when the dad suddenly choked up when reflecting upon the good times he had with his own dad, karting out the back of the van, before quickly dismissing the emotion as the ‘the old days’ of karting as if completely unaware that’s exactly how karting is for many today. The dad/lad experience is alive and well, it hasn’t changed one bit. Karting dads make a choice; I’m certain that, when Junior looks back on his karting career, he will know those same feelings that hit the dad so hard in the program. You just wonder whether those kids with the shattered dreams will look back on those times quite so fondly…

Farewell to JTKM

Saturday had all the hallmarks of a tough day: The 5am start was sub-optimal but learning a new and tricky track was always going to be the real challenge for Junior. This would be where his relative inexperience (both in terms of seat time and experience of different tracks) compared to a lot of his national rivals would potentially be exposed. His task wouldn’t really be helped by our need to use our newly Extreme’d practice engine since we wouldn’t truly know where we were pace-wise until we switched to our sole remaining junior engine and our race setup. We spent the first session running-in the engine which had already spent time on a dyno. Junior spent the second mostly drifting back through the pack and, at somewhere like Whilton Mill, this meant spending most of his time being forced off of the racing line as karts passed before he could get back onto the line. He was also having a confidence issue with Oblivion, an aptly named corner with a very welcoming tyre wall should you get it wrong, and it was only in the afternoon that he was confident enough (with some stern prodding from his mates!) to take it flat-out. Having a couple of sessions ended prematurely by being punted off didn’t really help and we were some way off throughout the day. We did bring the gap down to ~0.4s in the final session running our race trim, which was quite encouraging all things considering, but we were clearly going to be off of the pace on race day. To top it all off, I’d caught some October sun[burn]. Again…

This is *not* the right line to be on :/

This is *not* the right line to be on!

We had a rare hotel stay booked for Saturday night so we had plenty of time to prepare the kart after practice with the added bonus of no 50+ mile trip home and associated early Sunday morning start. We even had the comparative luxury of a Premier Inn 🙂 Best of all though was that eight dads/drivers were joining us for some cow at the Beefeater next door. It was a really enjoyable evening, as these things tend to be, even if it did double the cost of the stay. There was plenty of good TKM gossip to be had also 😉

Race day. It is said that what you get with one hand, they take with the other and that was certainly the case with our grid draw: The karting gods had given us a good starting positions, just not in the ideal order for a Whilton Mill virgin. Junior would start the first heat in P2. This would be his hardest race; His lines had been inconsistent on the Saturday and it would be a case of seeing how many places we would lose. It was hard to know what a good result would be and I really feared the ‘lost 15 places’ scenario, which would be a real blow to Junior’s confidence. As it turned out my fears were unfounded 😀 Junior got the perfect start (crossing the line 0.02s ahead of pole), held the outside line around the first part of Oblivion which gave him the inside run through Turn #2 and onto the run up the hill. Junior held a five or six-length lead entering Christmas Corner and, aided by most of the national racers having lower gird position starts, he was able to pull a lead which he maintained until the fifth lap when he was caught, forced wide and passed by two karts. He tussled for second at one point but his move didn’t work out and almost sucked him back into the chasing pack. He hung on though for a fantastic third placed finish. His pace was good too: He was only a couple of tenths off of most of his rivals so a great result and a real confidence-booster. It was funny how the brakes, that had only been so-so throughout practice, were now spot-on 😉

I had never seen a start quite like that of the second heat: There was so much weaving around as the pack entered Oblivion. Junior was in the thick of things and had made up seven places by the end of the first lap 🙂 He had climbed to P12 by the end of lap three but there his progress halted; He got into some tussles, lost his consistency when he had opportunities to break away and his P13 (11th after bumper penalties) finish was a little disappointing given that he had made so much early progress.

The third heat saw us start what was to be an unlucky 13th on the grid. Junior gained four places on the opening lap, consolidated over the following laps and was looking set for a solid top ten finish when he got Christmas Corner all wrong and whacked the kerb of the left-hand kink on the exit hard, knocking off chain. He had a little moment where he flapped about before the realisation of what had actually happened and why dawned upon him! Worse was to come: Back at the awning, I had checked the crank alignment and got everything ready for the final when I noticed that there was almost no compression in the engine. The rear axle was rotating almost freely. With 30 minutes to go before the final and our last race in JTKM, had we really damaged the engine? I removed the head: The piston had lost a ring of carbon around it’s outer edge. Not a good sign. Removing the barrel confirmed it: The ring was pinched tight. The piston had hit the head when the chain came off. And this was our only remaining JTKM engine 🙁

Don’t fret, readers! We had received a generous offer from one of the dads who had been at Clay with us a couple of weeks earlier. He had seen that we were all set to abort the race day after our practice motor had seized (and not wanting to push the race engine much beyond the ten hours it was approaching) and offered to bring an engine to Whilton just in case something disastrous befell us. We didn’t have much time to fetch and fit it before the final so Junior rushed off, cap in hand whilst I hastily removed the engine. Whilst I was fairly certain that mechanical failure had not been the cause of our engine damage, I couldn’t take any chances with somebody else’s engine: I bought a new chain, cleaned the carb, checked and double-checked the pop-off and triple-checked the settings to ensure we were rich enough! We were even in the assembly area with a few minutes to spare 🙂

Junior started 13th in the final and had yet another a great start, this had become something of a trait of his this year. Climbing to 8th after the first lap, Junior was running in sixth by lap #3 and things were going well. The lead pack had gotten away but Junior was at the head of the chasing pack until, with three laps remaining, he got forced wide in The Boot and lost *four* places!!! To his credit, Junior got his head down and the final laps saw some frantic tussling. Running in ninth as the he entered The Boot for the final time, Junior made a bold attempt to pass two karts around the outside of the left-hand entry to take the inside line for the right-hand run into the final corner. He managed it but ran in too hot to avoid conceding one of the places and he finished a very respectable eighth. It had been a really enjoyable race to watch although he got some criticism from one of his friends for turning across them as they looked to make passing moves on him. Whilst I had watched the race, I hadn’t really seen any problems. I think it stems from having come from a track where we been excluded on a couple of occasions for collisions where Junior had made a move up the inside but was found not to have been 90% alongside a rival when they turned into the corner and it was deemed that Junior should have backed out of the move. Junior’s driving has evolved accordingly; He’ll concede if a kart is alongside but a whiff of the nose up the inside isn’t going to make him jump out of the way. The other dad and I are very good friends and we chatted afterwards; He made the point that his rivals won’t back out so readily in Extreme and that Junior will find himself getting taken out a lot more often. I couldn’t say that we saw the race the same way but his racing in Extreme is a concern to me: Junior will need to evolve. He has to find a way to avoid scrapping, to get his head down and drive consistently without losing his composure when under pressure. For now though, we’d enjoy what was a good final race for us, with some good pace and some close racing whilst being thankful for the loan engine that ensured our JTKM career didn’t end with a DNS.