Practice 13: just what the doctor ordered

We came away from our third race day with mixed emotions – the kart had run smoothly and Junior had enjoyed himself but I was hoping that we might have been a little closer to the pace than it turned out we were. We started racing having reached the point where we were roughly a second off the pace but we hadn’t looked close to that kind of pace on race day. Although I know that race day is obviously a different kettle of fish to practising, the leaders were putting in the same kind of lap times you’d expect but we weren’t getting close to our best times. I think it is just all part of the learning process: I am definitely off the pace when it comes to judging the right pressures for the tyres (it isn’t quite a simple as it was in the summer!) and Junior definitely still has much to learn.

With all this in mind, I decided we’d head back to Clay for another practice day – it would give Junior a lot more seat time than he’d been getting on a race weekend and a chance to work on finding the time that would get us back on track (so to speak). I’d picked up the carb that I had had rebuilt for the last race day but forgotten to collect. The weather was pleasantly warm (for November) and it made a real change to turn up at Clay to see not only blue sky but a dry track!!! After the first session, Junior was already quicker than he had been a week earlier and it was nice to see him putting in lap after lap. It also gave me the opportunity to walk around the track and have a look at his lines – it was invaluable to see what really is happening out on track and provided plenty of little things to work on (although you could rightly question what do I know!).

The sessions were really pleasing – there were a couple of quick Junior TKM drivers on track for Junior to try to keep up with and he managed to nudge his times down from 37.3s to 36.6s, which only put him in the region of 0.6s off the pace. 194 laps was more than Junior had ever done before on a practice day and he was visually quicker by the end of the day and getting a much better exit out of the Top Bend. I know I have said this before so, whilst it was really pleasing, I’ll be cautiously optimistic about any potential improvement in our race pace.

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Costs since last outing: £20 carb rebuild

Total spent so far: £4,255

Race 3: um… a trifle disappointing if I’m honest!

Remind me to write these posts up a bit sooner!  We had our third race last weekend; as we had had to test the Saturday before to ensure our motor was ok, we missed the practice day and just attended the race day. I was very keen to see how we fared in the dry conditions – we hadn’t really had a chance to gauge our dry pace on a race day and Junior had looked pretty good in difficult conditions the week before. Although we are all at sea in the wet, I was optimistic that we may be in sight of land on a dry track.

As usual, we set off later than I had hoped but still got to Clay quicker than we ever had before :O so were track-side at 8:15am and scrutineered by 8:30. Interestingly, we got our first scrutineer comment: he thought our brakes were a little iffy! That was a surprise as we’ve never had any issues and Junior has been really happy with them of late (I’ve checked them since and they feel ok!). Race mornings are always a little misleading – you think you have plenty of time before the warm-up until you realise that the sign-on and briefing take a good chunk of time. We were looking good until I found I couldn’t prime the carb – this was a new one! It was good last week but it just wasn’t allowing any fuel through. Annoyingly, I had taken our bad carb in for rebuild during the week and had completely forgotten to pick it up!!! I put on our second carb (which had been our best one until our problems at Dunkeswell), primed it with no issues and it started fine.

I sent Junior our for his warm-up and took my marshalling position (I can’t stand watching from the pit lane so sign up as a pusher and stand on the designated marshal post). It immediately obvious that something wasn’t right: we were properly slow, as in two thirds of a lap after three laps slow. Junior came in and said he just had no pick-up from 10,000rpm. I didn’t need to hear this – a return of the revs issue and around 45 minutes to solve the problem wasn’t good. I got the non-priming carb out, replaced the gaskets, sprayed the gauze filters and put it on the kart. To my huge relief, it primed perfectly 🙂 To the races…

The kart started perfectly and Junior’s start was good; there was a coming together going into Billies that Junior had to dodge and he was in touch exiting the Hairpin but, between The Horshoe and the Top Bend, we seemed to have lost a fair amount of time. This set the scene for the day – I watched Junior gradually losing ground and finish 18s behind over 9 laps. I was a bit deflated at this – I was really hoping we’d be 1.2-1.5s off. Although my experience with getting this tyre pressures right in sub-optimal conditions is limited, I was pretty certain we were in the right ball park. We just seemed to lose so much ground in certain parts of the track, I couldn’t help but feel we just weren’t getting the lines and braking right. Junior complained of oversteer so I brought the rear width in by 20mm.

Heat 2 saw Junior get a ‘great’ start (he didn’t look last as he crossed the line!) and us narrow the gap between our fastest laps and those of the leaders (from 1.95s to 1.65s) and we finished 16s off the lead. That was encouraging – Junior felt the rear width change had made a good difference although, disappointingly, everybody else finished 😉

I decided to do a little testing – I took a tooth off the rear sprocket even though the Mychron suggested it wasn’t necessary to see if Junior felt a difference in either his exit or top speeds. He didn’t and posted an almost identical fastest lap. He did however get to have a race with one of his friends who had left the track in questionable circumstances and rejoined as Junior was passing. He was pleased to defend his 7th place 🙂

The final was notable only for the people leaving the track when trying to heat their tyres up!!!. Unfortunately Junior got collected and ended up down the bank on the exit of Billies. Not sure what the marshalling regulations say but I sprinted across the track to get him back but, with three karts off track, I figured we had to do whatever necessary to get the karts back on track. Unfortunately for me he was down a slope and, rather than turn the kart around and drag it back up, I was initially trying to push him up the hill with the back end lifted (also know as ploughing!!!). Another Dad helped carry his kart onto the track and he got going in time to join the second formation lap but his tyres were caked in mud :S At this point the karts had slowed ahead of the start and it meant Junior driving around with little chance of cleaning his tyres. He lost a lot of ground on lap one – almost certainly because of the mud – and was 22s adrift after the 11 laps. He set his best time of the day (37.52s) but was still 1.6s off the pace.

So we’d had a decent day running-wise, Junior had had another great time but the day, for me, was a bit of a disappointment. We were 1.5s off our best lap, although that was obviously in much warmer conditions, the leaders were probably 0.7s off their quicker times. We were again running on used tyres (they had probably done 50 laps) so that might account for a few tenths but I think there is still a lot of time to be found in our lines – it’s hard to gauge when you are viewing from a fixed point on the track; whether Junior had gone from taking too much speed into his corners to killing too much speed, I don’t know. I feel the need to get down to a non-race weekend practice session again so that we can get a decent amount of track time to try to figure things out. I realise that things will improve over time and with experience but, if I can accelerate that process, then I am all for it.

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £6 fuel for the kart, £23 race fee

Total spent so far: £4,181

Practice 12: Engine test

I picked up the engine from the builders on Friday: he had had good look at the electrical side and could find no issues – the thing sparked every time. The crank misalignment had been resolved and some bearings replaced. My wallet was £138 lighter but more concerning was the uncertainty this left us with over the state of the engine and it left me with a decision: practice this weekend so that I could check the engine out or next weekend on the practice Saturday before we race. No really a choice, huh? It meant that the kart, which I’m a little bit ashamed to say had gone untouched since Dunks (I know… but you know I am usually *very* prompt at cleaning up), was going to need a fair bit of work done to get it ready. In the evening. In my dingy garage. With minimal lighting (even the street light outside my garage was broken!). Fours hours later and we were pretty much good to go – it was bedtime and I had barely seen the family although that seems to happen a lot since we bought this thing 🙁

Saturday – we were two miles from Clay when I realised I hadn’t actually checked to see if the track was open for practice!!! *Never* do this! Luckily, they were only two vans there when we arrived: there definitely was no event on 🙂 The track was bathed in the kind of glorious sunshine for which Clay is renowned:

If view when arriving at Clay October through April!

The view when arriving at Clay anytime from October through April!

There were two problems to begin with: when you are wanting to test a motor that has a suspected electrical issue, you really want to be able to test the spark. And for that, your starter really needs it’s battery, which I had left the battery at home on charge! Next problem was the flat tyre on our trolley: I hadn’t sorted it out which meant I’d be spending the day pumping up the trolley tyre between sessions. Ho hum – on with engine testing…

The kart started first time and we kept the kart to below 12,000rpm for the first session. That went smoothly and I pulled Junior in after ten minutes to let the engine cool and make sure all was well. The second session was hampered by a ‘feeling’. Junior has these from time to time and will drive straight into the pits and report them! Sometimes I really wish he’d just spend another lap trying to identify these ‘feelings’ although there are times when I wish he would just STOP THE KART IMMEDIATELY!!! You can’t have it both ways I guess 😉 It was time for slicks anyway so we took the kart off to check it out. I couldn’t find any real issues although the chainguard was knocking on the finger guard and he has objected to his side pods being too loose before so I tightened those a little. Typically, by the time our next session started it was starting to rain. Junior stuck in a handful of laps before coming in complaining about revs again. This was becoming a pretty big issue – he had reported it at Dunks last week and I really could have done without it becoming a persistent issue. It was raining pretty heavily now so we covered up the kart and sat in the car for an early lunch (scoff all you like – I bet you have an awning! ;)). Keen not miss two session, I got my waterproofs on an got the kart set up for the wet. The sun was shining by the time I had finished :-]

Anyway….we looked a little off the pace in the wet. I think fundamentally Junior doesn’t have the confidence to push as hard as he needs to. It’s one of things that comes practice I guess. It was a pretty windy day so, once the rain stopped, the track dried quite quickly. Junior was never going to be setting any PBs today and his revs never really got much above 15,000rpm but his lines *really* improved over the course of the afternoon – he clearly had a lot more confidence when the grip was there and I couldn’t really fault what he was doing (consistency excepted!). He looked pretty quick, which was really encouraging to see. I’ll be doing a Sun Dance on Saturday evening in a bid to keep the rain away – I am quite keen to see where were are in the overall scheme of things (I’ll be going by how many seconds off the penultimate finisher we are!). We had the odd problem – Junior came straight back in complaining something wasn’t right and, when we looked at it on the trolley, the engine mount bolts were loose and the chain had much more slack than it should. I think I may have only hand tightened the engine restraining bolt – I should be above this now 🙁 but at least I didn’t lose the mount brackets and bolts. The revs issue also raised it’s ugly head again although I think we might have solved this one – after changing the carb, he said it was fine for 15 laps before it happened again and he came in. At this point I noticed that the fuel was pretty low and, running a 3l tank, I am wondering if the fuel is moving from side to side around bends and we are starting to get air into the system. We kept the tank topped up and had no problems thereafter. Consider this a tip 😉

Of course it had to rain when we were 20 minutes from home, just to ensure I spend three hours rather than one tomorrow cleaning up :/

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £9 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Costs since last post: £138 engine repairs

Total spent so far: £4,140 (Ouch – we’ve broken £4k!!! If you see my missus, don’t mention this blog!)