Practice 5: a mixed day at Llandow

Having already had one practice day this month (although whether you can describe 12 laps as a practice day is questionable!) and an ARKS test booked for Friday I hadn’t really budgeted on another day out this month but there were quite a few reasons for us to make sure all was well with the kart ahead of the test: we hadn’t fired up the engine since the accident which had damaged the spark plug and cable, we had adjusted the front tracking, replaced the steering wheel and bled/adjusted the brakes. I needed to know that a) the kart worked and b) Junior was happy. Finding somewhere to test was a little difficult – Clay had Elite Karting on, Dunkeswell had their race weekend and Llandow had very patchy availability all over the weekend because of their arrive/drive commitments. It was a pleasant surprise when I called them on Saturday to find they were completely free on Bank Holiday Monday. Game on.

There were three Dad/lad combos heading over and we arrived to find some nice sunshine. The kart was soon set up and ready to start on the trolley when something unusual happened: it did not start! Fuel was being sucked into the carb ok but replacing the spark plug made not difference and it didn’t look like replacing the carb was going to  either but it did eventually fire up. Not sure why this was but, once going, everything seemed well – we had missed the first session but were set or the second session. It turned out we were sharing the entire day with arrive/drive karts which was a little bit annoying when we were hoping for an open track day.

The first couple of sessions were frustrating – Junior came in after five laps of the opening session reporting the brake pedal felt too stiff and that the back end felt loose and then after two laps of the next session reporting there was a hissing from the carb/engine area and the engine feeling ‘spluttery’. I don’t mind this having him come in if he has any concerns as we’d previously found that when Junior was reporting something, he turned out to be correct. The brake had been stiffened so this was to be expected. There was signs of oil escaping around the exhaust flex which was the only thing that might have explained the hissing. Everything else looked and another Dad gave the kart a thorough checking over. At this point I semi-joked to his son that he might like to take the kart out and see if there was anything amiss. Five laps later we were back in business: our test driver jumped out, Junior jumped in and instantly seemed much happier. Never underestimate the importance of a driver having trust and confidence in his kart!!!

At this point we were doing well – Junior was seeing out entire sessions and going quite nicely, hitting 47.61s in consecutive sessions (bear in mind his kart is not weighted currently). And then it rained. We stayed on the slicks at first: Junior was briefed to go out, be careful and just enjoy driving his kart. He looked quite at home in the damp, his pace was good and he span just the once at Raymonds as he pushed it a little too hard. We then switched to wets as the rain continued. He still looked pretty good but then we started losing kart parts on track again just when I thought we had seen the back of those (with the resolution of the engine mount problems) – this time it was the exhaust end can and silencer. I had noticed that we were down to two end cap screws at the weekend but had no spare screws and had forgotten all about it. A bunch of us set about locating the missing pieces. I was glad it was very quiet by this point as wandering around a track looking for your kart parts isn’t the best of feelings. As the shop had no screws, we tried using a rivet gun to fix the cap to the exhaust – that lasted another 5 laps before one of the boys noticed the end cap was missing again although the silencer was still present. I sent Junior to the pits and went hunting for the end cap again. At this point it was getting late and still raining so we decided on one more session. This time the end cap was fixed with some screws (that had been fitted inside one of the Dad’s vans!), covered with a metal tie, the some exhaust flex held in place with some plastic ties. It did the job and we ran for a good while before Junior came in with numb hands (he had been getting pretty ragged by this point too – not sure what had happened to the control he had shown earlier).

There were some notable positives though: Junior went quite nicely on the dry track – you could see him start to attack some of the corners and he was posting some reasonable times. He was also pretty good when the track got wet – initially when out on slicks as the track started to get wet and again when we went to full wets. His performance was tempered a little by his final session, where he didn’t seem to be able to adjust his pace and was clearly going too fast into the corner, ruining both his lines and his momentum (as he fought to keep the back end in place). I couldn’t really complain – having not had any wet practice since we bought the kart (when Junior was very, very slow), it was valuable experience ahead of his ARKS test.

Having approached the day hoping for an entire day’s smooth running and a little bit of wet time (be careful what you wish for), things didn’t exactly pan out as hoped but they say “There’s no such thing as bad track time”. Llandow was quite a different track from Clay and Dunks – it seemed more technical in terms of mastering the entry speeds to get the right lines and exit speeds and showed that Junior still has much to learn. The toilet facilities were pretty poor (soap and hand drier, anyone?) and, since I am moaning, I could have done without the torrential rain on the way home and the subsequent clean-up job once we got back (I just wanted a hot bath) but there we go. Oh… and the rain got inside all three layers of the visor protector and they had to be removed 🙁 I think this will be our dry visor from now on.

Fingers crossed for Friday…

Cost of day: £10 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £40 track fee

Total spent so far: £2,575

ARKS race license application

Even though our last session was curtailed somewhat early, it was noticeable that the track at Clay was very busy and the licensed and non-licensed drivers were split up fairly quickly. The licensed group had four drivers; the non-licensed group had twelve drivers. It made me start to think about getting the ARKS license sooner rather than later – I still don’t plan to race this side of the summer vacation but it will give us some more options (in terms of where and when we can practice) and might put Junior in a smaller group when he is out on track.

The MSA certainly aren’t going out of their way to encourage new blood into the sport! £50 for a DVD, a couple of handbooks and the all-important application form!!! I realise that there is some cost to the materials but there’s a hurdle to a lot of people straight away. The test costs £93 although at least that includes a day’s practice. Junior has been watching the DVD quite a lot, admittedly under threat of iPhone confiscation or something similar! He knows all the flags, the raceday procedures, the organisational structure and the racewear regulations. After booking in his test (for next week), it did occur to me that I hope his Mychron is configured correctly and that his lap times are what we think they are!!!

Cost of ARKS Starter Pack: £50 (funded by Junior)

Total spent so far: £2,518

Replacing the brake fluid

This weekend was one of those where my plans to make the most of some kart-free time didn’t quite pan out as expected. I made it to Sunday afternoon before a friend (who is quickly becoming KartingDad’s Dad!) offered to help me replace the brake fluid with friend. The brake fluid levels were getting a little low and the fluid itself was looking pretty dirty. My lad hadn’t expressed any issues with the brakes but it was something I wanted to sort out as well as get some exposure to the last part of the kart that I had yet to experience maintenance on.

The first issue was what brake fluid did I need? There is a fair amount of conflicting advice to be found on the web. I went with the recommendation of Dot 5, which was not what was being used in my brake system. This Kosmic Setup Guide from Australian outfit Remo Racing has some useful information on the type of brake fluid (it’s also a pretty decent tuning guide for novices) for which type of OTK brake: typically it would appear most recent (post-2006) OTK kart will use the BS6 brake caliper which requires Dot 5 brake fluid. I placed my order for EBC brake fluid (cheaper than OTK or Putoline) as well as a couple of brake caliper seals and four master cylinder seals.

I had intended to try to document this process but it would be fair to say this wasn’t the most straightforward of maintenance procedures! Cleaning out the old brake fluid from the system was simple enough, as was replacing the seals but I wouldn’t like to have had to re-assemble the system and bleed the new fluid through on my own. It’s definitely something I’d need some baby sitting on next time as well although I don’t expect to have to do this again anytime soon. The brake certainly seems nice and hard but I’ll ensure Junior takes his opening laps fairly gently next time out!

Cost of parts: £26 (2x  brake caliper seals £3.71ea, 4x master cylinder seals £2.64ea, EBC Dot 5  silicone brake fluid £8.28)

Total spent so far: £2,468

Visor protector: Racing Optics Shield Protector

Junior got a red mirrored visor for his Bell KC3 helmet for his birthday a couple of months ago. I subsequently realised the importance of some kind of visor protection and so the visor has been shelved ever since pending me sorting something out. Bell make tear offs for the KC3 but I wanted something a little more protective and could find little alternatives on these fair shores. In searching, I came across the Racing Optics range of shield protectors. It seemed like just the job although there were no reviews to be found and Racing Optics declined to respond to my email asking about their suitability for use on a KC3.

I took the plunge anyway and a friend picked up the 3421CP3 Clear Shield version for me on a recent trip to the US. Each packet comes with three protectors (one missing from the image below, which was taken after fitting!), each with three removable layers and are fixed to the visor via a small adhesive strip around the protector. IMG_4942

 

I removed the clear visor from the KC3 and then noticed that the mirror visor had a small scratch on one edge. It definitely wasn’t there when we got it and the visor has been sat on a shelf in it’s protective sleeve ever since! I took a deep breath and counted to ten… 😉

I assumed that, being generic, the protectors would be undersized: the opposite proved to be the case – the protectors are about 10mm too tall. Now I’m not the best at fitting adhesive covers, as Junior would vouch with the cover I stuck to his iPhone, so the thought of having to cut and fit the protector didn’t fill me with joy. The bottom of the protector was a nice flush fit along the bottom of the visor so I decided to trim the top. This might pose an issue if and when water gets between the visor and the protector but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I marked the centre of the protector so that I could position it centrally on the visor and mark the cutting area. It took a few attempts as I didn’t cut enough off initially but it looks ok:

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It was then that I realised the new visor does not have a visor sticker so Junior may have something to say next time he is driving into the sun! Not having thought about this sooner was a bit annoying and I might get one and stick it over the top of the protector – I am undecided on that. It will also be interesting to see how easily the final layer of protector comes off although I am not banking on having to remove layers all that often. I think it looks ok – like so much of the past four months, it’s a learning experience!

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Cost of shield protector: £20

Total spent so far: £2,442

Replacement steering wheel: C-K-R MC4

Fortunately Junior’s hand is now fine after carelessly leaving it in between his steering wheel and an adult in a Rotax at the weekend! The steering wheel was pretty badly twisted and, with a new Tonykart steering wheel costing in the region of £150, we were always going to be looking at a used replacement.

I have always (I say always, I’ve only been in the sport for four months) been a fan of the steering wheels that allow the Mychron to fix flush to the wheel’s surface. Although Junior wears a Ribtec – it seems desirable from a safety point of view to have the Mychron sunken into the wheel if possible. There are several options in this respect – mostly manufactured by AiM and all demanding a premium on top of the standard OTK wheel so it was quite timely that I had seen one of the C-K-R F1-style wheels come up on the one of the forums the day before Junior’s accident. Aside from looking fairly cool (especially to a teenager), one of the nice things about this type of wheel is that is flat on top and potentially would allow Junior to see a little bit easier (his view over the wheel and nassau isn’t great at the best of times).

I got some pics from the seller: alarm bells ring when the pic is small and blurred – the only thing clear was that the wheel was not in A1 condition. Some of the carbon fibre paint effect was scratched off and it wasn’t being supplied with any of the accessories or even the steering wheel bolts. He wasn’t really answering my fairly explicit questions either but I took a punt figuring that I would be able to get my money back if I wasn’t pleased with the purchase. We struck a deal and the wheel arrived today (Mychron not included!):

You can see where the paint is coming off beneath the switches and it turns out that the one of the pins has snapped off the back of the starter button – good job we’re running in TKM! Now I just need to get a 3-hole steering boss and we can actually see how Junior thinks it compares with the original OTK wheel…

Cost of wheel: £50

Total spent so far: £2,422

Practice 4: Holy S#!t (our first accident)

I had a feeling last night – one of those feelings; that I woke up with again this morning. There was never any chance of me calling the practice day off – if you are going to have those feelings then you need to find another hobby! I just shrugged it off as a stupid thought and got ready. Whereas my first couple of practice day mornings were stressful, outside-of-the-comfort-zone affairs (both from the point of view of towing and running the kart on my own), I am quite excited to be going karting nowadays even if I’m not the one doing all the fun stuff. Giving myself an hour was pushing it though and we arrived later than I had hoped, at around 9:45.  Clay was Clay – cloudy and windy with rain never looking too far away. Things were going ok – bolts checked, tyres pressures set, chain lubed [I realise now that I omitted to check the jet settings!] until, when I thought I’d take up some of the slack on the throttle cable, I noticed that the throttle valve wasn’t closing fully and wasn’t closing very quickly at all. It didn’t look like anything I had done in loosening the cable clamps and I couldn’t figure it out. I had to resort to the going to see Mike at the shop; I don’t really like looking like a noob but I have found the service to be excellent – you might pay a little extra for the convenience of having it there trackside but I’ve nothing but praise for Mike and his team. It turned out my cable had rusted inside the sheath (lesson #1 for the day – after a wet session, the cable needs to be cleaned/dried). I parted with £1.50 and had the part fitted 🙂 It turns out I had spare cables (I tend to learn what spares I got with the package as I find out I need them) and changing the cable wasn’t any great issue  but I didn’t know that at the time!

We missed the first 20-minute session but were set for the next one. I was unable to start the engine on the trolley as it looks like I have killed my remote starter battery but again the engine started perfectly in the pit lane and off went Junior. He seems to have developed a routine where the first lap is very slow – I think experience has taught him to take it easy and see if anything falls off! A couple of the corners were a tiny bit damp but his lap times were tumbling when it happened… one of the adult rotax drivers had been on Junior’s tail for a lap or so when, going into The Hairpin, it looked like Junior left the door open, the other driver seemed to go, then stop, then realised he was being let through. Unfortunately Junior decided he had waited long enough and turned in, they banged sides but instead of bouncing off the track together, the rotax flipped up over Junior’s rear wheel and both kart and driver continued up over Junior’s back/shoulder and helmet and down over the front of the kart. It looked bad and Junior was sat pretty still in his kart and the other driver and I legged it over. Neck ok? Check. Back ok? Check. Head ok? Check. At this point the only injury seemed to be his hand, which he couldn’t feel but he could wiggle his fingers somewhat. We walked him off to the reception to get some ‘treatment’ whilst a couple of drivers retrieved his kart (thanks, Gents!). I knew he was ok as he first asked whether the 37.6s lap he’d just done was his best lap at Clay (sorry, mate – that was 37.5s) and then told me the how the kart was broke. The ‘treatment’ as it turned out was some cold spray!!!

Our kart seemed to come off worse – bent bumper, damaged spark plug cable, broken spark plug cap and badly bent steering wheel. Junior’s suit had marks up the back, his neck support was split and his helmet had some fortuitously light marking – presumably from either the tyre or floor tray of the rotax. At this point it wasn’t clear whether we’d be heading back out so I gave Junior something to ease the pain (his iPhone) whilst I bought a replacement spark plug cap and started repairs. The steering wheel was a challenge – it resembles something like it’s original shape after some bending and a few smacks with a hammer but I think it’s probably beyond full repair. The rear bumper bolt was bent at 30 degrees and stuck fast. An hour or so later and Junior still wasn’t able to clench his hand so it was game over after only 12 laps! The staff at Clay were sympathetic enough to offer us a full credit note which was good of them. So, as the sun looked set for the afternoon, we left for home.

The bumper bolt took me another hour to remove at home! On the plus side, I got to clean more of the back end that had been less accessible with the bumper on. The bumper itself looks in need of a vice (which I don’t have) so I put on the spare. Yet again, I came to appreciate the completeness of my spares set as I had little hope of finding a bumper bolt – there were 3 or 4 in there 🙂

A steering wheel replacement looks costly – I’ll have to look into the options here. Most of the marks came off Junior’s helmet with a damp cloth and there is no sign of damage, which was a relief. We don’t seem to be having much luck at the moment!

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7.50 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £5 parts (throttle cable, spark plug cap)

Total spent so far: £2,372

The karting time sink

For the first time in ages, I had no plans for the weekend – no karting, no football, no work, just me, the family and some gardening. Then I was offered the chance to take the kart to one of the other Dad’s garage to check out the engine mount issue and get some kart maintenance tips. At this stage of my kart mechanic ‘career’ it was too good an offer to pass up on so the kart-free weekend went out of the window and on Sunday afternoon I took the kart off for some TLC.

We started off looking at the engine mount – the threads on the mount are very worn and there were standard nuts on the engine clamp bolts instead of nylocs. The conclusion we came to was that the engine vibration was causing the nut on the front clamp to loosen and the lack of thread on the mount was enabling the bolt to drop out. I can’t overstate how much I really hope that this problem is now a thing of the past!!!

Whilst the engine was off, I saw how much better petrol is for cleaning engines than my household degreaser – I’m still not a big fan of using petrol as a cleaning agent but I can now see it’s usefulness. I also found that my exhaust flex was in a pretty poor state, with several cracks so we replaced that with a new piece of flex – 65mm appears to be the consensus for Clay Pigeon.

With a nice, clean engine and an engine mount that hopefully won’t be shifting mid-session any more, we moved onto the mechanics lessons. Lesson #1 – rear axle removal. Attempting to spin the axle (with the spark plug removed, of course) showed that things weren’t exactly rolling smoothly (it rolls even less smoothly with the spark plug fitted!). I’d shied away from removing the axle until now and the it took some removing with the crud that had built up around the brake disc carrier and bearings. It was pretty clear that this was something that I should really be incorporating into my post-race cleaning procedure – not only does the axle spin much more freely now, it also gives you the opportunity to clean the chassis much more thoroughly. Another issue was the wear on the hub bolts – they were showing a fair amount of wear so I need to get into the habit of chucking bolts that have reached the point of no return.

We looked at the front and rear setups – measuring the rear width, to which I hadn’t really paid much attention previously and I came to understand the importance of axle keys, one of which seems to have been lost during the last outing. It was also nice to confirm that my axle was straight – the same could not be said for my spare, unfortunately. Moving onto the front end, we checked the toe and adjusted the Ackermann (moving down to the lower set of holes on the steering column).

Four hours later and with my wife calling to find out when I was coming home for dinner, we were just about done. I still need to learn how to clean out and adjust the brake system and also adjust the throttle cable (this should be pretty straightforward but I am reluctant to just play around) but it was invaluable to be able to do/watch (there was a fair amount of watching) this with expert guidance – cheers, Mark 🙂

I have also come to appreciate the value of the ‘bits and pieces’ box that was included with the kart package – if you are buying a retirement package and get the chance to include something like this, do it!

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