Buying a kart (2nd Edition)

This comes up a lot on the forums so I thought I would update the articles I wrote on this in February and March last year! So what do you need to consider?

It is worth pointing out firstly that, if you are new to karting, you aren’t going to take all of this in straight away – it’s hard to write a guide that doesn’t bamboozle newcomers but is complete at the same time! Read it, learn from the forums (Karting1.co.uk is a very friendly place for noobs to ask questions), talk to some kart owners at the track, start to build up an idea for what you want – things might be a little clearer when you return!

1. What class of karts are raced at your local track or what are your mates driving?

Even if you have no plans to race now, you should bear this in mind. Why find that you need to replace everything in 9 months once you are bitten by the bug and want to start racing? Visit the local tracks on a practice day and chat to the other owners – you’ll find they have much more time to chat on a practice day compared to a race day. Ask everything and anything but bear in mind that everyone will have a different opinion – what works for one driver will not necessarily work for you! Contact the local kart club to get some expert advice and ask if they run open days where potential new owners can test drive a kart – why turn down the chance of a free go? Of course, if you already have mates who are owners then this may well answer this question for you.

2. Set your budget

Before you can go about finding the right kart, you need to set your budget. A Formula TKM kart from 2009 will start at around £600, a RotaxMax-engined kart nearer £1000 (if you are considering Rotax, you need to know that the engines must be sealed by a licensed engine builder if you are considering MSA racing). You can obviously spend more and look at much newer karts. You will also see older, cheaper karts around, many of which will be described as TKM 100cc karts. The key is whether the kart has a Tal-Ko BT82 engine – if not, you are looking at a much older engine for which part availability may be limited, as may your race options.

When I use the term ‘TKM’ from here on, I mean Formula TKM…

3. I’ve picked a class but how do I buy the ‘right’ kart?

Your options will be to buy a complete kart which just needs you to add fuel or a rolling chassis (everything except the engine) where you must source the engine parts yourself. The benefit of the former is that you can arrange to meet the seller at the track and test everything for yourself. With the latter, you can more easily perform a visual inspection (of the chassis without the engine mounted) but you won’t get to feel how it handles and, when buying the engine, you will really want to see it running to be sure it at least fires up ok.You may also need to source the carb/exhaust/starting system separately.

4. I’m going TKM, what engine type should I get?

You have three TKM engine options: Direct Drive, Clutched, TaG (Touch and Go). Direct Drive is the cheapest and simplest but the downside is that it needs a push start – either doing it yourself (and then jumping in) or having someone to do the pushing. If you can overcome this (it’s easy once you know how, apparently!), then you’ll find troubleshooting a whole lot simpler. Bear in mind though that, if you spin out on track, the engine will cut out and you will need to push start yourself once again. A clutched engine uses a centrifugal clutch and requires an external starter. If you spin, the engine should not cut out. Both Direct Drive and Clutched engines will have either cast or CNC-machined cylinder liner ports. Cast ports were used on the older engines. CNC-machined ports feature on engines after serial number 6500 (and all TaG engines) although you cannot use the engine number alone as a guide as the previous owners may have swapped the parts around. CNC-machined engines are generally considered to be better and command a price premium.

A TaG has a touch-button start system using an on-board battery. The wiring loom for TaGs has seen numerous upgrades, each more reliable than the previous version – you will want to know the age of a TaG engine and also whether the loom has been replaced at all. Because of the loom and battery, there are some tuning modifications to the TaG engines to offset the excess weight.

Engine prices for Direct Drive engines will fall into one of three categories: non-CNC £250-£350, CNC £500-£600, an ex-Super 1 (the national race series) engine (with some proof to back up any lofty claims) £750-£1000. Bear in mind that a new Direct Drive engine costs £1200, a Clutched engine £1300 and a TaG £1650.

5. What make of chassis should I get?

This is all a matter of personal preference. If you are buying from a manufacturer or trader, you can test drive the options and see what feels best. You may find it really boils down to availability of spares – is there an on-site shop at your preferred track and, if so, which manufacturers parts do they stock? Will you be buying replacement parts direct from the manufacturer or looking to buy used from eBay? There are plenty of options but you’ll find that OTK (a brand that encompasses the TonyKart, Kosmic, Alonso and Exprit brands of kart) parts are by far the most commonly available in the used markets.

6. Where should I buy?

You have a few options here. You can buy new or nearly new karts direct from the manufacturer. Obviously, this is the most expensive option but you should be confident of getting a decent piece of kit. You can buy from a trader – they are generally very helpful in making sure you get something that suits you, you’ll have some comeback if you encounter problems in the short term and, if they are based at the track where you drive, you’ll have a source of assistance in those times of need (and there will be plenty). You can buy from an individual – either through contacts i.e. the local club, via one of the big two UK kart forums (www.karting1.co.uk and www.karting.co.uk – the latter tends to have a more active ‘for sale’ area) or via eBay. Avoid eBay if possible – that’s the place where the karts that haven’t sold anywhere else end up. It’s a great place for spares but not necessarily for karts and engines. You may also see retirement packages up for sale from time to time; these can offer very good value for money and the spares can prove to worth their weight in gold in the long run.

7. How do I avoid buying a dud?

If you are new and do not have expert friends, it’s very hard to be certain. Buy from a trader would be the easy advice. You need to ask the right questions but, even then, you will ideally need to visually inspect the kart and then test drive it.

8. What questions should I ask?

  • What make, model and year is kart?
  • Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives)
  • Is the engine Direct Drive, Clutched or TaG?*
  • What is the serial number of the engine?*
  • When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
  • Does it have a cast or CNC-machined barrel?*
  • How many hours since the last rebuild? (a TKM engine needs a rebuild after 8-10 hours and cost between £300-£400!)
  • On what bore is the engine? (TKM engines have a range of bore sizes, the maximum bore size for a Junior TKM engine is 51.40mm, for a Senior TKM engine it is 54.75mm. The point here is that, if the engine is on it’s final bore, it may be needing a new barrel at the next rebuild and that’s not cheap)*
  • Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
  • Does the chassis have any cracks/re-welds/rust/flattening? (yes to any of the above will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
  • What size rear axle does it have? (30mm tend to be found only in older karts, 50mm is the standard nowadays, converting from one to the other will cost extra)
  • What sized seat is included? (if it isn’t your size, you’ll be needing to buy one before you get out on track)
  • In what condition are the tyres?
  • What is the condition of the bodywork?
  • Exactly what spares are included?

* TKM specific questions – I am sure there will be other questions specific to other classes, it’s just that I cannot help you with them!

9. What are the essentials?

You will need:

  • An external starter (if going TKM Direct Drive or Clutched)
  • A kart trolley – to push your kart from the pits to the track
  • A data logging system (Mychron or Alfano) – the Mychron 4 is generally recognised to be the best of the affordable bunch
  • Some fuel cans, preferably different colours (one for mixed fuel, one for unmixed)
  • Fuel filters

10. What spares do I ‘need’?

You will want spare:

  • Tyres
  • Hubs
  • Sprockets
  • Chains
  • Carbs

You might want to consider spare:

  • Axle
  • Bodywork
  • Stub axles
  • Track rods
  • Bearings

11. What about perishables?

  • Chain lube
  • Carb cleaner
  • Brake cleaner
  • WD40/GT85
  • Engine oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel hose
  • Mechanics gloves
  • Cable ties
  • Hose clips
  • Nuts/Bolts

12. And tools?

  • Spark plug spanner
  • T-Bar socket (for wheel nuts)
  • T-Handle Hex/Allen Key set
  • Ratchet spanner set
  • Snippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Metal ruler

Feel free to post questions or suggest improvements 🙂

Dad drives Clay!!!

They say that you should not judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Today I walked the mile although it would be more appropriate to consider me wearing their slippers – today was the day I got to race at Clay. Ok, so it was only a corporate thing in the Raceway’s arrive & drive karts but I learnt to appreciate what Junior does *so* much more – to drive Clay lap, after lap on the edge, not wanting to enter Billies too hot, taking enough kerb in The Esses, exiting fast but not too wide, getting The Hairpin spot-on, not losing too much momentum through The Horseshoe and nailing the Top Bend. To feel how rough some of the kerbing is on the exit of the corners I have been telling him to hit for the past year. And I was driving a much slower kart doing 44s laps!

There are some things that seem to run in the family – it wouldn’t have been a Team Karting Dad effort without the now customary black flag! It was an honest mistake – I was trying to pass another karting dad, we were side-by-side around The Kink, some mutual squeezing going on and I was focused on the amount of space he was leaving me (or not) to claim the entry into Billies. Made the pass, looked up and saw two karts facing the wrong way before The Esses and got a black flag for not spotting the yellow being waved on the kink. The drive-through proved a costly 28s delay too as we (my randomly drawn partner and I) lost by 5s 🙁

Anyway, it is fair to say I have learnt to appreciate even more what it takes to try to lap consistently, inches off of the floor in a bloody fast kart. I am tentatively looking forward to the Junior TKM Dads day (Dads drive JTKMs!) that we have lined up for next month – then I’ll be able to say I really have walked the mile in his shoes 😮

Race 7: Disqualified!?!

Since our ‘bumper’ day last month, I have been pretty vocal on my thoughts regarding enforcement of the rules regarding ‘incidents’; here, on Facebook and on the forums. Perhaps it was just down to my naivety in expecting your average ‘Arrive/Drive’ circuit rules to be at least the as tough in MSA racing. I’d like to think it wasn’t solely down to me but no matter – a club official spent some time during the briefing explaining that the club had read what was said and what actions were being taking to address this (marshals being given radios and calling in any contact witnessed) and then the MSA steward made a comment about not wanting people complaining after every race! I think that one was aimed squarely at me although, like I say, maybe that was just my naivety – it was the first time I had ever spoken to an official and half of the time I was one of a number of Dads complaining about the very odd decision to start slower karts ahead of faster ones! Who could have foreseen what was about to happen?

Junior was really looking forward to Heat 1 as it was his first ever start on pole. He looked like a natural leader on the warm-up lap 😉 but that was about as good as our day got 🙁 He outbraked himself into the first corner, ran wide and was overtaken by everybody except the novices. It was probably the worse defence of pole position you’ll see this season! Then the field bottlenecked into The Esses, a kart was spun and they carried on. A few laps later, Junior pulled in the pits. I assumed there was a problem only to find HE HAD BEEN BLACK FLAGGED!!! Until this point, I hadn’t even realised he had made contact with anyone, then came the chat with the MSA steward. The next part was a bit of a blur, Junior was stunned to the point of not being able to give any reasonable explanation to the steward, who told us why we had been black flagged rather than allowed to continue and an inquiry held after the race (I didn’t really understand this bit) and then proceeded to tell us about drivers at Buckmore Park who wouldn’t be racing next weekend because they would be having their licenses revoked (I understood this but even less). I admit that I had no idea if or what penalties could be imposed. At least I do now 🙂

With the benefit of the internet, I surmise that Junior was penalised under rule C.1.1.5:

Driving in a manner incompatible with general safety, and/or departing from the standard of a reasonably competent driver.

Now this seemed somewhat harsh, not only to me, but to every other Dad who had assumed we had experienced a problem only to find we had been black flagged. I’ll quote the driver who lost out  just to prove I am not making this stuff up:

Was a racing incident, I tried to miss someone and slowed up a bit and ****** hit me, wasn’t his fault at all!”

It seems Junior found himself with nowhere to go when the pack bunched and a few drivers took evasive action. I would love to know exactly where Junior was supposed to put his kart in light of this but… the irony of having been so vociferous about not penalising contact and then becoming the first to fall foul of the new enforcement of the rules was not lost on me! It was very harsh but I could only take it on the chin and move on. I knew very well that my comments would put Junior in the spotlight. It was funny how, after last month, another Dad had warned me not to make a name for myself for complaining to the stewards and I admit that, at one point, during the conversation with the steward, I did find myself gauging whether there was any hint of retribution in his demeanour (there wasn’t!). He seemed like a nice bloke although I definitely left with the feeling of having been roughed up a little (I guess this is the intention!). Once we had got back to our pit space, Junior found his tongue and declared all of this to be my fault! Had I not said anything about last month, this wouldn’t have happened apparently. There is probably some truth in that (in so far as contact would still have continued unpunished) but I don’t play the blame game – we had a curt chat about what a team was and Junior had to decide whether we were staying for the remainder of the heats (as a team) or whether we were packing up and going home (as individuals). On with the day…

Heat two was almost as bad – we found ourselves behind a novice and they were racing closely when one of two things happened: the novice lost his back end in The Esses and we had nowhere to go except into him or Junior spun the novice in The Esses. Either way they took each other out. One driver had one view, the other driver had the other. I have mine but all that matters is that race observer didn’t report us as being at fault – things could otherwise have gotten much more, um… ‘interesting’!

Heat 3 was largely anonymous – we finished 6th in a pretty strung out field. Unsurprisingly, we started last for the final. I made a few setup changes and we actually made a decent start – passing the novices into/during Billies and were dicing at the back of the main pack. It was going really well – we gained and lost a place and were showing our best pace of the day and our fastest lap since September last year (still don’t quite get why we haven’t yet bested that having set it before we started racing!). Then our bumper snapped 🙁 There had been some minor contact a few laps earlier and my plastic ties had only lasted so long. Junior was shown (although didn’t actually see) the black and orange flag with a couple of minutes remaining and that was that.

A shitty end to a pretty shitty day. Our run of 23 races without causing an incident had come to an end just at the wrong time. I have no complaints about the strict enforcement of the rules although I sincerely hope that they will be applied in a consistent manner. On the plus side, I think our setup was good and we were pretty much on the pace at the end. Junior does need to improve his racecraft – I know that will come with experience. He also needs to be a little more sturdy in his defence – he is definitely considered a soft touch by some, who make the most of the knowledge that he’ll jump out of their way given any lunge into a corner. I think that regulation C2.3.3 sums it up nicely:

Gained an unfair advantage – You may not have actually made contact, but your position on the track may have unfairly impeded the other driver(s)

😉

Cost of day: £15 petrol, £49 race entry fee

Total spent this year: £1,716

 

The exhaust BBQ!

I have never cleaned my exhausts. To be honest, I tend to avoid any nasties that recommend the wearing of gloves/goggles, covering of skin, holding your breath etc (even Mr Muscle oven cleaner!) so I wasn’t ever really likely to go down the caustic soda route recommended by many. Consequently I hadn’t ever bothered trying to clean the exhausts – until one of my buddies told me he just put his on the BBQ! Unfortunately, I don’t have a BBQ so I sat patiently and waited for an invite to his next one 😉 I really wish I had taken a picture of the little BBQ, in the gloom, with a couple of TKM exhausts and end cans sat in it – it was one of those sights you’ll only see at the very bottom of the karting ladder :/

It’s been quite refreshing not having done a single thing on the kart for two whole weekends running! I have spent a few evenings on related stuff – the exhaust BBQ being one thing and yesterday evening was spent learning how to properly put up the awning! It’s a 6x3m awning that we (another Dad who I pit next to and I) bought from a bloke who had used it for his rally car. At £60 it was a bargain, despite the fire damage!!! Ok, it isn’t quite that bad although we will be the only ones you’ll see in a white awning with big brown marks over it! To date, we had only ever used it without sides. It turns out that we only have three sides and that we don’t have all of the side panels we’d like (it had been used 3m wide and 6m deep, we want to use it 6m wide and 3m deep) but we’ll make do (as usual).

Despite really not wanting to spend any money off-track, I’ve had to replace the axle that I only bought in March, thanks mainly to the young chap who had forgotten what the yellow flag meant 🙁 You really should be able to send the bill to people who are completely at fault for breaking your kart but there we go…

Items purchase since last post: axle £72, exhaust cradle (the old one got broken as I didn’t use any rubber dampeners after aligning it nicely) £12, fuel pipe (£6)

Total spent this year: £1,652