Decision time!

Racing twice a month was never going to be sustainable despite us having done so for the past two months. Our participation in the August round at Llandow Kart Club was never really intended but the great time that we had, Junior’s enjoyment of the track and little things like the novel addition of the reverse grid Bonus Race meant that we were going to have to make a decision sooner or later. Clay Pigeon Kart Club offering a shortened practice Saturday for their September round, together with my work commitments preventing us from making the Llandow practice Saturday meant we could again race twice but the time when we would have to choose was always going to arrive. It’s all down to money, effectively; there is no way that our budget stretches to a new set of slicks every month, which racing twice a month would demand (at least when one of those tracks is Clay). Hey, Tal-Ko – bring back harder tyres and our budget might stretch that bit further!!!

The decision was entirely Junior’s. Yes, he’s in the Clay championship and has all of his friends there but, as enthusiastic as he is about karting (and he really is one of those who would enjoy two hours driving around in circles in the rain), the contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home after the Clay round a few weeks back (where he had beaten his PB but we’d only ever been hanging on to other’s coattails) and the journey back from Llandow the very next week (where, to be honest, it was pretty much the same thing except we were in only our second race there and were making really good progress) was massive. I think that, with the new slicks at Clay this month, we both expected a little better but that, following on from a disappointing month in August kind of opened the door to us trying something else. There is definitely no point is spending the amount of money that we were/are without Junior getting a decent amount of enjoyment out of it.

So Llandow it is, for what I would expect to be the rest of the season at least. Junior is really enjoying the track – I guess it is a case of ‘a change is as good as a rest‘. You could argue that we should persist at Clay and keep trying to improve. It’s a valid point and one I considered but this is just a hobby for us – we aren’t on the road to F1 and the fun element is essential. There are some down sides to moving – the TKM community is a lot smaller as there is no senior grid, which is a shame, as I really enjoy the social scene! That said, there are still one or two from Clay that we know quite well and Junior seems to make friends fairly easily. The JTKM grid is, like Clay, just about enough with a grid of 7 or 8 regulars. The club itself does appear to be in a much more precarious position in terms of entry numbers but hopefully they will find a way to boost the numbers to something approaching sustainable. The biggest downside may prove to be abandoning my share of our 6x3m awning – I could still bring it but I don’t have any room in the Clio or the trailer and I can’t see myself buying a smaller one this side of Christmas (or do I mean, I can’t see my wife authorising a spend on one?). But no matter – we’ll make the most of whatever conditions we find ourselves in! Next weekend will seem a bit odd as I twiddle my thumbs and watch my friends on AlphaTiming but I’m looking forward to our October round…

Race 13: Bouncing back from last weekend

Arriving back in the country from a work trip on Saturday morning wasn’t ideal preparation for the Llandow race weekend but knowing we’d miss the practice Saturday had allowed us to race at Clay last week. It also gave me the luxury of Saturday afternoon setting up and, as an added and very unusual bonus, I had a great night’s sleep! 🙂

We were set up in good time and nothing eventful happened on the warm-up laps (although the club did decide to build a new plastic wall on the outside of one of the corners immediately before our first heat!). We had a pretty poor draw for the three heats – a second place start, followed by two sixth placed starts (I’ve no idea how the draw is done but a) you should never start in the same place twice and b) you should always have at least one start in an odd-numbered grid position so that you benefit from the inside line to the hairpin), so Heat #1 was always going to be our best chance of a decent result. We had a good start and, importantly, did not lose any places around Raymonds. The leader was easily quicker than us and, although we had a buffer between us and the other quick lads for a few laps, they were soon on our tail. The championship leader made his move into Chandlers, we ran a little wide and quickly lost third as fourth pounced into the next corner. As the front three cleared off, fifth set about catching us and teed themselves up for a move into the final corner of the race. Junior got the cutback and the two of them were bouncing up and down in their seats desperately trying to get the kart to pick up as they crossed the line together with Junior getting the nod by 1/1000th!!! We also set a new PB in the process 😀 On the downside, Junior just wasn’t listening to my solid race advice 😉 and was taking the entry into Surtees much narrower and earlier than everyone else. We had spoken about this on the way to the track as it was clearly an issue last month and, as it was beginning to annoy me, we had words!

Heat #2 was our disappointing race – I had made some changes to address a couple of the issues that Junior had reported but we were punted all the way up the start straight (much to Junior’s annoyance) and managed only one lap before Junior pulled over, with fuel all over himself and the kart. You don’t need to ask who I entrusted with replacing the fuel tank cap after he had topped up the fuel, do you? :/ To lose the test opportunity was disappointing and threw our plans to again compare the engines into disarray. And, on his one and only lap, he was narrow again into Surtees!

Heat #3 saw us start sixth again. I don’t really remember this one at all, although we again set a new PB 🙂 By this time the leaders were throwing in some seriously quick times and I think the speed of the track was accentuating our deficit as, despite us continuing to get quicker, we were 0.8s off the pace. With us setting quicker times and Junior’s lines still off in places (still no improvement into Surtees), I decided against swapping engines. I did, however, drag Junior onto track for another review of Surtees (in case you get the impression we are always arguing, it is very rare for me to criticise his driving – knocking his confidence isn’t going to do much for anyone) and I also phoned a friend for some track setup advice (thanks, mate!) – there had to be more to it than just our lines causing us to be that far off the pace.

So, with a new setup and firm instructions on the entry to Surtess freshly banged into Junior’s head, we started in sixth for the final. We got a good start and, amazingly, Junior proved that he could actually follow instructions!!! We looked quicker and were a bit closer but clearly not quick enough for the first five. I think this was just a true reflection of where we are in terms of our pace at Llandow. We were clear of the 7th and 8th, Junior knocked another two tenths off of his PB and we were down to 0.5s off the pace.

The Club had again arranged a reverse grid bonus race for the end of the day. It’s optional, costs a fiver and raises a bit more money for the club. It isn’t that well supported (half of the JTKM grid had entered and, in some classes, there is no bonus race) but it gave us another opportunity to test setup tweaks and, as last month, we started in pole. Whether or not that is a good thing, I’m not sure but Junior enjoys it! We were going really well, with Junior leading the first two laps until we were cursed by the commentator :S Just as he was saying how well Junior was doing, he ran wide and let them all past! “Oh well, it was good while it lasted” I think was the next thing I heard on the tannoy!!! The track was cooling a little by this time but, although the leaders pace was a little slower, we continued to trim our PB and stayed in touch for the whole race.

The day was a good one, we’d raced against some new juniors, including our first experience against a Super 1 driver, set PBs every time we went on track and closed the gap down to about 0.3s over the day. It was great to see Junior having fun again and it was the perfect confidence booster for him. It’s funny how much lighter the mood in the car is on the way home after you’ve both had an enjoyable day. Five races for £60 was good value for money although it’s a real shame that the number of entries was only around 45 – you do fear for a club with numbers that low. I think the problem is that there is no really good sized classes, unlike Clay, where several are 20+ in size. We’ll certainly be back next month.

Standard view for a Sunday morning :)

Standard view for a Sunday morning 🙂

Cost of weekend: £55 race entry + £5 bonus race, £12 petrol, £6 bridge tolls, £7 fuel

Total spent this year: £3,658

Race 12: Feeling a bit flat

It’s definitely a bad sign when you get up on a race morning and it’s still dark! Having opted to skip the shortened practice day, I had had the luxury of spending an unexpectedly large chunk of Saturday preparing the kart. There was still a small question mark over the axle following our last test day and, in the end, I decided to revert to our backup axle. Of course there was the usual last minute changing of the tyres too – I left it late to decide upon which rims to use and *really* struggled with getting new front slicks on with my girly office finger muscles 🙁

We arrived at the track at 8am and was relieved to find nobody else occupying our space 😉 It was one of those perfect prep mornings where we found ourselves scrutineered, signed on and waiting for an acceptable time to start the engine on the trolley (just to make sure all is well) an hour ahead of the first race. Things had gone a little too well obviously as our three lap warm-up was curtailed after I spotted the engine side of Junior’s bumper dragging along the track. After snapping two bumpers in testing, I’d reverted to slacking the bumper bolts a little to allow some movement on contact and, although the nylocs were threadlocked, I already had some doubts over the quality of the threadlock adhesive! It made a pleasant change for junior to a) see my signalling to him and b) actually take any notice of it! My £11 and one month old bumper bolt was no more…

With the bumper fixed tight, we started in 5th for Heat 1. We seemed to get another good start, making up at least one place but then something happened, the pack shuffled and we got spat out in last place! From there on, it was pretty unexciting for us as we were at the back of a couple karts that were held up and drifting further away from the leaders. Junior didn’t put in a bad time – a 35.9s was a decent start for the first race of the day and we weren’t last (although only because of a DNF) but we still had the age old problem of not really ever being close enough to threaten a pass.

Heat 2 was always going to be the highlight of the day (and our best chance of not finishing last) as we started on pole. For the first time, we managed to lead out of the first corner and even lead the whole of the first lap! 😀 We had a quick kart behind us though and, when he made a move into The Hairpin, we were pushed wide, giving up second in the process. Lunging into The Hairpin is becoming a particular beef of mine – this move was cleaner than a lot of moves I see there but maybe Junior needs to be less compliant in getting out of the way – get his elbows out a bit more and earn a reputation as someone who won’t just get out of the way. As I have said before, the officials can penalise under reg C2.3.3 “Gained an unfair advantage – The hearing has determined that you have gained an advantage over another driver(s) by the manner of your driving. You may not have actually made contact, but your position on the track may have unfairly impeded the other driver(s)”. The way I see it, if you muller the apex with half of your kart off-track and with no chance of actually getting around the corner unless the kart ahead takes avoiding action, you deserve this one thrown at you. I’ve not seen this rule used in a no-contact incident and, to be honest, I cannot see anything changing in that respect. We got passed for third a few laps later but finished fourth with relative ease, mostly thanks to the rest of the field being held up. We did set a new PB in the proces, however 😀 It also confirmed Junior’s preference for his CRK steering wheel.

I put the newly run-in race engine on for Heat 3, not that I suspected there was any problem with the other engine but I just wanted to compare the two and this was the first real chance for us to do so. We started last but only made up one place and finished 5th after another DNF. Frustratingly, Junior said he could feel no difference between the engines. AT ALL!!! :/ I also screwed up in not attaching the Mychron rev wire to the coil lead and it dropped off somewhere on track. Would you believe that AiM charge £18 for a replacement?!? It’s just a piece of wire! Another Dad gave me some wire to create a replacement but it meant I had no data to compare the rev ranges of the engines. We were 0.03s slower than in Heat 2 and that wasn’t enough to tempt me to switch the engines back!

There had been what seemed like ten red flags during the day, mostly involving the cadets from what I saw. One driver actually suffered some fairly serious injuries and you obviously cannot afford to take chances with the kids. That said, you do wonder sometimes if kids are told to stay in their karts so that they can take their previous lap position on the restart. Evidence of this was a Dad shouting at his kid to stay in the kart earlier in the season! I think there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough; two red flags and that should be that – end the race under yellow flags. No overtaking and no manipulation of the result because Little Timmy span out and wishes he could rewind one lap. The races were running very late but, to the club’s credit, they skipped lunch and honoured their commitment to 6 minute heats and a 10 minute final 🙂

Sixth, fourth and fifth placed finishes weren’t enough to stop us starting last of seven for the final 🙁 One of our opponents had seemed to be struggling for pace but he was starting directly in front of us. The mission was simple: pass him as quickly as possible and try to hang on to the pack. I’d given us a little more straight line speed to try to give us a better chance down the straight and into Billies. Our start was predictable – we failed to clear fifth, who quickly became sixth and got stuck for a couple of laps and were adrift by the time Junior made the pass. With the pack racing amongst themselves there was still hope and it briefly appeared that we might get back in touch with the pack. It never happened, even when the leader went off and rejoined ahead of us and giving us the opportunity to try to tag along as he caught the pack towards the end of the race. An incident on the final corner saw us gain another place – 5th wasn’t a bad result but we were a couple of seconds adrift, never really in touch and a little disappointed. In hindsight I think that this was a fairly accurate representation of where we are right now – a few tenths off the pace and lacking in the consistency that would keep us in touch. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect more given the amount of time we spend on track.

We race at Llandow Kart club this weekend, hoping to begin bridging the gap that seems to exist between the first four and everybody else. It’s going to be a long weekend as I fly in from the US on the Saturday morning but hopefully our performance will be good and the day will be a good one.

Cost of raceday: £50 entry fee, £12 petrol, £7 fuel

Total spent this year: £3,573

When is a race day too short?

It’s going to be a busy day at Clay this weekend as there are four guest classes at the track – Junior Blue, Formula Blue, World Formula and RAFMSA will all be sharing the Dorset countryside with us. And that sets of my track time alarm!!! As my Facebook friends, or at least those that are still following my whining ways, will confirm I do go on a bit (which would be ok were the Club Competition Secretary not on there as well!). So, although I’ve said this elsewhere, I want to reiterate my appreciation of the job performed by the CompSec and I am sorry for any social media ear-bashing that you get from me on behalf of the club (even though it isn’t aimed at you)!

I do seem to be alone in being hung up on track time. For Junior, a race is too short if he is doing well and too long if things aren’t going quite so well. We’ve had a few too many long races at Clay recently :/ Other drivers don’t seem to mind and the Dads are happy that a shorter race day will mean lower costs, with less tyre wear, less fuel, less potential for damage but at what point do the races become too short to warrant the £150-odd cost of a race day? We moved from A&D karting initially because the value for money of owner driving was greater – £72 for 24 mins track time in the Castle Combe Club Championship whereas we were spending around £120 for 90 mins or more when we started doing practice days and in a much quicker kart. Obviously those costs spiral when you start racing. I’ve always been keener on longer races as we need the race experience and Junior typically wants to drive as much as he can. With the race days at Clay having gone from 8 min +1 lap heats and a 12 min + lap final earlier in the year to a 6 min +1 heats and 9? min + 1 final last month, I feared the worst but the club has managed to preserve 6 min +1 lap heats and a 10 min +1 lap final. I’m not sure how the officials and track staff will view the 15 minute lunch break!

The even bigger bee in my bonnet for this round was the potential for the club to decide to once again start the (slower) Junior Blues ahead of the (faster) JTKMs in a combined grid. They did this in March which had disastrous results for us as we were involved in an incident which saw us off at the fastest corner and then our kart was hit whilst I  attempted to remove it from danger (as the little darlings seemed to be unaware as to what exactly a yellow flag meant). I still begrudge the £72 it cost me to replace the two-race old axle (no, I haven’t done enough karting yet to shrug this kind of outlay off!) but it could have been a lot worse (for me physically, had I not dropped the kart and jumped out of the way) and I’ll always be suspicious that my subsequent comments online (you can do the detective work yourselves) were the cause of our black flag the following month. So my Facebook wall wasn’t quite the happy place I would normally expect it to be of late and I held off from entering until the grid issue was confirmed – we’ll have our own grid and won’t have to contend with slower karts in another class starting in front of us just because they have a ‘big race’, taking defensive lines against faster karts that they aren’t even competing with, or running them wide, or trying to run me down!

Onwards and upwards anyway 😉 I am quite looking forward to this Sunday and it’s a shame that a shortened practice (more Formula Blue inconvenience 😛 ) mean that it is not really worth our while in running on the Saturday. We won’t get to run the final check to ensure the axle is good after our issues as our last practice day but Saturday will be a relaxed day spent getting the kart setup. After our dire weekend last month, we’ll be on new (as in 2014 new) rubber for the first time on the new (as in 2010 new-to-us) chassis and I am really keen to see how we go. Of course, four 7th place finishes wouldn’t be conducive to a happy trip home.

Have fun if you are racing this weekend 😀 If you see what appears to be a ginger rocket in the southern skies at around 7:30am, you’ll know I’ve arrived to find someone in my pit space 😡

Spent since last post: New carb popoff tester, £32; lots of TKM carb gaskets, £25; a 35ft roll of exhaust wrap (still haven’t found one with any longevity and if you want to try some of this titanium stuff, come and see me in the pits!), £35.

Total spent this year: £3,749

Push starting a TKM Direct Drive engine

It was really nice to see some noob JTKMs practising at Clay on Friday who were either first or second time out but, in the damp conditions, spinning was inevitable and I found myself becoming the Push Start Guardian for the morning. I didn’t mind, it’s a JTKM Dad rite of passage 😉 Each time I helped a Dad get their lad going, I’d look around to see him on the floor as his lad drove off(!) so here are my tips on how to start and direct drive engine without tasting the tarmac…

Firstly, it’s documented in way more detail than I will offer on Karting1.co.uk in their post ‘How to Bump Start a Kart‘. I’ll just summarise the basics and the golden rule:

In your pit bay, you need to properly prime the carb. To do so:

  1. Disconnect the short piece of fuel hose from the small overflow tank
  2. Disconnect the long piece of fuel hose from the carb
  3. Blow into the short hose until fuel runs out of the long hose (that is connected to the fuel tank but no longer connected to the carb)
  4. Reconnect the long hose to the carb
  5. Remove your spark plug (but leave it in the spark plug cap and sat on top of the engine to avoid any potential for electrical damage)
  6. Remove your airbox
  7. Cover the carb with your hand and rock the engine-side rear wheel back and forth to draw fuel into the carb until you feel the fuel on the hand covering the carb
  8. Your preparation work is done – you’ve done your bit to ensure that there is minimal air in the system. Optionally, you are ready to fire up the engine with a handheld starter if you seek additional piece of mind. Obviously, you want to replace the spark plug before doing so (and you will find that you will leave it out and you will look daft when you try starting your driver – it’s just one of those noob things!).

Now push is going to come to shove, quite literally so with the kart on the grid…

  1. Get the driver to lean forward (it helps lessen the mass you’ll be lifting)
  2. Hold the rear bumper in the right hand (which will be doing most of the lifting)
  3. Hold the back of the seat with the left hand (which won’t be doing much lifting)
  4. Lift the kart – you don’t need to lift very high, in fact the lower the better
  5. GOLDEN RULE: LOOK UP, NEVER LOOK DOWN!!!
  6. Run as fast as you can for 5-10 yards
  7. Drop the kart down
  8. Keep pushing until it picks up. Driver will need to feather the throttle pedal until the engine starts to pick before accelerating away.

An engine with a properly primed carb should not require ‘choking‘ but an unwilling engine can be helped by the driver placing their hand over the airbox trumpet momentarily to increase the fuel to air ratio. Do this too much and you will flood the engine!

There is one other tip that I found helped us greatly (when we bought the kart it took a long run to get going and, after this tweak, it took a matter of yards). It’s a little more technical so please seek expert advice if you are unsure!

You can help yourself by ensuring that your carb butterfly is slightly open so that, when you hold it up to the light, you can just see daylight around the outside of the butterfly. This is the butterfly:

TKM_Carb

It is adjusted by the idle adjust screw as illustrated on p27 of Tal-Ko’s BT82 Parts and Drawings Guide. It’s worth emphasising that inappropriate changes to carbs can be seriously damaging to your wealth! Again, if in any doubt, please ask a more experienced TKM mechanic.

Hope this helps!

Karting information for noobs

I’ve noticed that a couple of my kart chums now link my blog on their karting1.co.uk signatures; I am honoured, Gents 😀 But I realise that it might be hard for noobs to see the wood for the trees amongst my ramblings 😉 So, if you are new to the sport and are looking for the helpful stuff, here is how to find it. Either:

Just click here. Or…

Scroll down and look for the ‘Categories’ section on the right hand side, then click the ‘Where to start’ link. That’s as good as it gets right now but if you’ve any questions, feel free to post…

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Running in @Clay: featuring Mr Erratic Rotax

Having had the race engine back for a couple of months and still finished running it in, we headed off to Clay on Friday for a host of reasons; primarily to get the engine run in but also to compare the engines, work on lines and test some theories regarding grip (or the lack of it at the last race day). It was nice not to be rushing around madly as we do on a race weekend and the journey down wasn’t too bad for a week day. Unfortunately, the forecast had worsened through the week and it seemed we wouldn’t get the perfect weather for getting through the list of things to do. On top of that, there were a couple of four stroke events on over the weekend so the track was much busier than I had been hoping.

The first few sessions went well enough as we worked through the mid-range of the engine revs but then we hit a snag – anything over 13.5k revs seemed to start some kind of noise that I couldn’t explain even if I thought I knew what Junior was talking about! He was sure that it was an engine problem, which is the one problem area that fills me with dread 😮 I spoke with a few people – my engine builder and the guy I bought the engine from both of whom suggested it was four-stroking. It didn’t seem like it was four stroking but I tweaked the jet settings a touch and we tried again – the problem got worse the more revs Junior gave it. I changed the carb in case it had gone bad (and in the process discovered that my carb popoff tester was faulty and I had very likely been getting my carbs rebuilt unnecessarily!) but still we had the same problem. I was about to give up and fit the other engine so that we could at least get something out of the day but it was then that my own ‘karting dad’ (figuratively speaking) asked if my axle was bent – now this struck a chord!!! We had crashed at Llandow last time out but had competed in a race after the crash without any such problem (even if we only managed 2 laps before our exhaust manifold snapped) but it wasn’t the axle I suspected, rather a bearing hanger I had bought used and fitted the night before. When attempting to refit the axle after fitting the hanger, the axle was a good few inches away from aligning with the bearing hanger on the brake side. It turned out that the bearings seemed to have suffered some damage and were out of alignment. I had removed them at home, knocked them straight and refitted the axle – seemingly without issue. I was desperate to give the engine another chance so replaced both the bearing hanger and the axle just to ensure we could prove that the engine was/was not to blame. Luckily, the problem disappeared 😀 I am still not 100% sure that it was the bearings in the hanger but the axle looks good and I’ve refitted for our next outing.

After that our day was a bit hit and miss. The rain came and went and, although Junior seemed to be enjoying the conditions following a confidence boosting wet heat at Llandow, it meant we didn’t get the consistent weather that we needed to be able to back-to-back the engines. Nor work on lines. Nor test grip theories. We also broke both our bumpers – one when a prokart ran into the back of us into The Hairpin and another time courtesy of a bloke in a Rotax who was clearly very quick but was driving  erratically and making moves as though his life depended on every corner – bear in mind that this was just a practice day! If you had asked ten bystanders to point out which of the 30 karts on track looked most like the driver was under the influence of something, I guarantee everyone would have picked the same bloke!!! I am normally a fan of having large, mixed grids but seeing this bloke push us wide and then punt a prokart into the very next corner made me go and request the sessions were divided. It didn’t rid us of Mr Erratic Rotax but it did give us enough space we could steer well clear of him. Although you will inevitably see contact in karting, I don’t normally expect it at practice days!!!

In the end, we had achieved the main goal of running in the engine. Both of my bumpers have been snapped but at least my emergency bumper retention system (some rubber hose and hose clips) proved their worth.

I’m not sure where we’ll be headed next – Junior wants to do the next round at Clay but it’s looking like a very busy weekend with three additional classes taking part and that sets off my ‘track time alert’!!! It’s likely we’ll race unless there is a chance of a repeat of the ‘slower karts starting in front of the faster karts‘ fiasco we saw earlier in the year (the last time that there was a big Formula Blue event at the track). That lead to us/me getting into all sorts of bother – I won’t be doing that again…

Cost of practice:£35 practice fee, £12 petrol, £6 fuel
Spent since last post: used bearing hangers, £30, two used carbs £70

Total spent this year: £3,657