Off to Kartmania

I wasn’t initially planning on going (I don’t have any money to buy anything!) but, having lovingly created a custom suit design, the risk of my measurements being wrong and wasting a lot of money on a Christmas present (Mum’s the word 😉 ) that Junior cannot get into is too great – I have to go to Silverstone to see the MH Racewear people. The order is already sat in a queue at a factory somewhere in Pakistan (where it will still be next week) so this is just a precautionary confirmation measure-up in case we need to change any of the measurements. I was reluctant to drive all that way for such a short appointment but Kartmania gives us more reason to go, even if we shan’t be coming home with a van-load of new toys.

I’ll be the ginger bloke there – feel free to say hello if you see me 😉

MSA Bambino… when there isn’t enough daylight hours to finish the proper stuff!

When I watch the cadets racing, I really wish that we had discovered the sport sooner. We stumbled into karting purely by chance: having always looked for something different for Junior to do each birthday, karting was a natural progression from the quad biking party that Junior had when he was ten. He really enjoyed it and we soon started attending the half-term events at TeamSport. As soon as Junior was big enough for an adult kart (his friends had already moved up and he’d been trying to prove to the staff that he really was big enough for some time) we realised that he could drive with adults (i.e. me) and we began a monthly visit to Avonmouth for Sunday evening ‘Unlimited Karting’ (it used to be much more ‘unlimited’ than it is now!). One year on, Junior was up there among the faster drivers and I started looking for something that bit quicker and found that Clay Pigeon Kart Club hosted ‘open days’ where you could get some taster sessions in the club Tal-Ko kart. I had absolutely no intention of purchasing a kart – this was just about getting him a free go in a fast kart. Three months later I was clearing space in my garage

Getting back to topic, cadet racing is fantastic to watch. Ok, they are prone to the odd red flag (particularly at Clay) but, by and large, it’s good, close racing. I wish we had known about it – it’s the perfect introduction to junior karting. Which brings us to Bambino karting, something I had only ever seen at indoor karting venues (when I thought it was cute) until Llandow started hosting a class a couple of months back (when the bonus races stopped!). Obviously it is all about revenue – for the club (where it is much needed), the MSA (PG licenses – need I say more?) and the manufacturers but, for me, it just doesn’t belong on the MSA scene. A couple of infant school aged children driving around in their own time is just a waste of valuable track time, especially in the winter months. It’s a great introduction to cadets I am sure but the younger kids karting should remain within the confines of the arrive and drive tracks and their Sunday morning kart clubs. MSA karting should begin at eight years old.

Race 16: When you pick the wrong tyres…

Our final outing of the season took place at Llandow at the weekend. It was a very strange one weather-wise and nothing like the mild 12 degrees sunshine that the Met Office had promised us. I had opted for a warm setup on the back of our experience last month, where we were setup for changeable conditions that never came on what turned out to be a fairly grippy track. I also opted not to cover the kart on the trailer for the journey across the bridge as untangling the cargo net can take an age and I’d covered the kart unnecessarily for the past couple of months. Driving through the early morning mist and seeing how wet the kart was in the rear view mirror, I was already irritated by the time we arrived and the brake disc was already rusted! We arrived early as I wanted to get the chassis checked before getting the front bar welded in during the post-season. It was one of those things where I was in two minds whether to do it before or after the weekend but we were at the track and I wasn’t sure that Nigel would be wanting to do it after racing on the Sunday. Pleasingly, it was straight anyway.

Junior getting unusually artistic with the camera!

Junior getting unusually artistic with the camera!

I had assumed that the sun would burn through the mist quite quickly but it never really happened: the first couple of sessions were definitely wet and Junior enjoyed overtaking people he wouldn’t normally overtake, albeit with them treading their way around on cold slicks! The third session was more questionable and we went for slicks, not because I really cared whether or not it was the optimal choice but I wanted Junior to get a feel for the trickier conditions. This went badly: Junior really struggled and I just knew that, when he indicated that he was coming in, there was no mechanical issue – I almost waved him on but didn’t in case there really was a problem. There wasn’t and I was annoyed! There was clearly a large gap between his pace on the wrong tyre and those of his more experienced rivals but when was he planning to make a start on bridging this gap – midway through a final when it suddenly started raining??? I should have sent him back out but didn’t, instead making him watch the others to see how they still attacked the corners and made the most of the grip that was available. The conditions continued to affect our practice through the day; although the track had dried, the mist lingered, the track was cold and we really struggled to get the tyres up to temperature. We had another disagreement when Junior decided he’d had enough of my telling him where he was losing time. At that point I really just wanted to be somewhere other than at the track, away from some ungrateful kid that didn’t seem to appreciate how much time and effort I put into trying to make him drive around in circles that fraction quicker. I went for a walk but there isn’t really anywhere to walk in a place as remote as Llandow. Even the cars on the circuit next door were on their lunch break! I went back on got on with it.

It wasn’t until we hit 15psi (I’d never before exceeded 12psi) that there was any real sign of wear and, of course, we had to get off of the warm setup! At that point, our pace was looking ok; it was clear from last month that there was a fair chunk of time to be found from some of the lines that Junior was taking and he seemed to adopt a conciliatory approach in looking like he was actually making an effort (as opposed to disappearing with his mates between sessions). He did show some improvement. Our straight line speed looked quite good but we just didn’t seem to be getting the power down early enough when exiting onto the straight. I’ve often wondered whether Junior is just trying too hard: taking too much speed into the corner, forcing him to enter early and compromising his exit speed. With regards to this particular corner though, his heavy crash into the barriers back in August may have been/may still be inhibiting him. After our earlier disagreements, it was a positive end to the day.

Race day came and although we were at the track by 8am, I still found myself rushing to get the kart ready for scrutineering (note to self: remove the sprocket protector after practice to make aligning the chain with the race engine that bit quicker!). The track was damp first thing but, by the time we got to the warm-up, it was clearly a track for slick tyres. After our back-to-back 2-6-6 draws, it was very nice to be drawn 3-5-7 😉 I had passed on my instructions (the amount of time and money I put into this ‘hobby’ of ours, I expect the right to say what I think and for him to listen to it, whether or not he chooses to take any notice) and, in this case, he ignored it: gifting away the inside line as he sought a wider entrance in the hairpin and getting passed by the bloke in fifth. This allowed the second placed kart an easy move to cement his position and we started the race in earnest in fourth place. We gradually fell back through the field with Junior complaining of massive understeer. This is where my inexperience was becoming a factor – we’ve not really had to contend with unpredictable conditions until Clay the previous weekend, where we had performed similarly poorly. I brought the front end in and moved the back out, the thinking being that we had too much rear grip and it was pushing the front end on. Our tyres pressures, not as high as they were on Saturday but still higher than I’d normally have been racing on, could well have been a factor.

Heat #2 was disappointing: The first eight karts were separated by 2.5s and we lead home the final three some 6s adrift and 0.7s off of the pace. This time the problem was power – we had none, apparently. Anywhere. I checked the carb, which was fine and I was left scratching my head. It wasn’t just Junior struggling – I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I’d normally have phoned a friend at this point to talk through the symptoms only, this week, he was next door racing us!!!

I changed the engine for Heat #3; we had been running fairly well towards the end of the Saturday on the ‘practice’ engine and, with little to lose, I wanted to see if there was really a performance problem. If I am going to take a punt, I find the third heat to be the perfect time as you can revert to your former setup over lunch. The race saw a fairly well strung out field and us in a close battle for sixth with a couple of karts that were quicker than us. Junior was clearly harder to pass and only lost sixth place on the line. Although he had had a decent tussle, the people we were fighting with were 0.5s quicker and we were now a full second off of the pace!

So onto the final: I was considering what changes to make over lunch and, as we had been slower in Heat #3, the race engine was back on. With the times coming down, I was considering changing the axle to lose some grip but then the rain came. The first three finals saw the grids all opt for wets but it hadn’t rained since lunch and didn’t look like it was going to rain any further. This really would be a close call. With two laps of the other class final remaining and everyone waiting on the dummy grid, nobody had any wheels on. At Clay, I’d have been glued to the Alpha Timing screen that faces out of the office window at this point, glued to the lap times for clues. Unfortunately, Llandow doesn’t have a screen in the office window and I’ve banged the Alpha Timing drum before now. From what I have seen at Clay and Llandow, it’s simply miles better than MyLaps. I will have to do my own timing in future but the track still looked damp, in contrast to how it had looked when it really was drying on the Saturday, and Junior had shown a preference for an inter tyre in similar conditions only the day before. Someone behind us blinked first and went with inters, my mind was already made up – we were off the pace anyway and had little to lose (other than our third choice wets) – and we fitted inters as the rest of the grid went with slicks. I was quite pleased with this as it meant that, if the gamble worked, we’d have a real chance. Having only ever having had to toss the coin once before, in our very first face thirteen months ago, I had a 100% record with my tyre punts. Until now! The race started and I knew almost immediately that this was going to backfire; the speed that the leaders carried into The Hook proved beyond doubt that this was absolutely not a slippery track :/ Being ‘guided’ off onto the grass moments later didn’t help our cause although it proved to be the only opportunity we’d have to get any moisture into the tyres! We fell further away from the main pack, leading the back three but losing two seconds per lap. The leader’s times were insanely quick – the track seemed faster than it had been all weekend. Junior held off the challenge of the only other runner on inters but that was little consolation although at least he could see the funny side when he came in. Speaking to the other Dads after it appeared that it really had been a very close call but we were one of only two who had gotten it so badly wrong :S It was another learning experience and my only regret was that I had upgraded our ‘worst’ inters the previous week!

Oops!

Oops!

It was a strange weekend – I don’t normally fall out with Junior (although we bicker like a couple of old women) and, although Saturday ended well enough, I was still a little peeved. Sunday had again shown up a lack of race pace but whereas the previous week at Clay I had been convinced that it was Junior’s lines and/or him trying too hard that was the main issue, this week I was looking a little closer to home – it had shown up my lack of real understanding of how to deal with grip (both the lack of and when to lose it). Could this have been the reason that Junior was again struggling?

So our season is over and I am looking forward to six weeks off. Karting really does dominate my personal time so it will be nice to take a bit of a break. I will be working to get a better understanding on the grip issue though: longer/shorter axles, axle types and front versus rear widths as I was struggling at times – it certainly wasn’t my finest hour. I don’t get that much in the way of detailed feedback from my driver but it could also be that I am not asking the right questions. It would be one thing for Junior to be taking his time to get the track right but it would bother me a lot if I were impeding his progress so I will be spending a fair amount of time researching and my good friends can expect a question or twelve in the not-too-distant future 😉 I’ll also be spending a little money on our chassis: I was unsure whether or not to spend any money on a £25, four year old chassis but I don’t like it looking tatty. I’ll be glad to get the front bar welded in as it is a nagging doubt in my mind as to whether Junior has suffered for my not getting it done sooner and then I plan to have it blasted and powder coated. In the New Year, we’ll get everything together and look to get a few practice days in, perhaps even some coaching! 😮

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £26 petrol, £13 fuel, £34 – jig check, bead retainers, throttle spring

Total spent this year: £4,375

 

Race 15: Thanks and farewall Clay!

It was nice to be heading back to Clay on Sunday. We hadn’t expected to be back racing there so soon having made the decision to switch to Llandow but it felt good to going to the place that still feels like home, blasting what has become our ritual DiRT 2 soundtrack as we headed through Somerset to spend the day with the extended TKM family. The final round was set up nicely with seven points separating the top three drivers and our aim was to be competitive without tripping any of the contenders over!

We hadn’t participated in the practice Saturday partly because that wasn’t part of the deal when I offered Junior the chance to compete here instead of going to the TKM day at Whilton Mill but, more significantly, Mrs KartingDad had committed me to some time with the girls! The kart had been set up well in advance, however, and so prep work and scrutineering passed without issue. The forecast for the day had been varied through the week but it was a beautiful autumn morning at the track; just as well since we needed to scrub in new slicks (although we were hoping for some precipitation just to mix things up a little). Our draw wasn’t the greatest; 4-2-7 for the three heats but Junior had been starting fairly well of late, both at Clay and Llandow. Having said that, we had a stinker of a start in Heat #1, Junior was last after two corners and I was relieved to see the false start flag waved (there was a tramlines clampdown in progress at Clay). Unfortunately, things panned out in similar fashion on the restart! The front two in the championship both span in The Esses but it impeded us and another kart and meant that Junior was driving around on his own in 5th place for the first half of the race before he was caught by the other impeded kart and the two diced the last half of the race. It was clear then that our pace wasn’t great – Junior was really struggling with the back end on the still damp track but it was the best racing that he had all day and he made a nice move around the outside of The Horseshoe on the final lap to seal 5th. For the first time ever, we were even the quickest in one of the sectors 😀

Heat #2 was worse still: Junior started second and got a reasonable start but was on the receiving end of a lunge into The Esses, had to brake hard and was hit by another kart, spinning him around. He was a distant last although he didn’t suffer the ignominy of being lapped and was able to ease a little with a view to tyre preservation.

Heat #3 was something of an eye-opener as we were so slow down the straight on lap two that half the field passed us (and the driver who had tucked in behind us had to watch everybody else go by!). I assumed that our gearing was out (when preparing the kart in the week, I had discovered that our usual Clay sprocket was damaged and opted to go up a tooth rather than buy a sprocket that I would likely never use again). Junior thought he had made a mistake getting out of the Top Bend so that might have been the cause but no matter: we came in last of the finishers. At this point, I was just wishing the rest of the day to pass quickly. We were struggling much the same as we had been on our last couple of visits, if not more so, with around six tenths to find with the front runners. Junior was complaining about rear end grip and the track, after some heavy rain on the Saturday, was proving tricky for many people although the times were clearly there – we just weren’t able to get it right.

I didn’t change much for the final as I hadn’t really changed much over the day – just the rear width in an attempt to find some more grip and another small tweak to the tyre pressures, although I did go down a tooth, borrowing a smaller sprocket from one of the other dads rather than buying one for 10 minutes use 😉 Our start was ok but Junior tagged and span someone in the middle of The Esses 🙁 He hadn’t made contact with anyone for ages and I hate it when it does happen, accidental though it was. Junior claimed their back end was going and he couldn’t avoid it – whatever, the end result was the same. Fortunately for us it was deemed a racing incident and not called in by the race observer. We were some seven seconds adrift at the end of the 18 laps, ahead of another driver who had got caught up in our incident and the driver who we span but who caught and passed us before getting a mechanical for his bumper hanging off (he says whistling and looking at the sky 😉 ).

As for the championship, there was something like four points separating three drivers after Heat #2 but one of the contenders had a carb issue on the rolling lap for Heat #3 and it had to be me that reached him first and pushed him most of the way through Sector 1!!! As it turned out, his kart wouldn’t have started even if I had been pushing him with a truck 🙁 The final was still very close and the table did change a couple of times mid-race but the end result was decisive.

So congratulations to a worthy winner (I missed the emotional dad moment) and commiserations to those who came so close.  It was fun racing at Clay in our first full season; the TKM community there is top notch. The season at Clay has been a real roller coaster from the start; doubting whether we’d get a grid (the boys from Llandow saved the grid by turning up at Round #1 and staying for the entire season), finishing third whilst still on novice plates, getting black flagged for, well, let’s just leave it there, then thinking we were getting there before ultimately finding that we weren’t. Both Junior and I have a shedload of new friends on Facebook and I enjoyed sharing all of Junior’s moves with the friendly marshal on my pushing post at The Hairpin 🙂 With the same reflective atmosphere in the car on the way home, now is the absolutely the right time to be moving on. I was really glad we had taken part in the final round and to race with some good friends for very likely the last time (you know that’s not the end though, folks – we still have Christmas Karting at TeamSport to come!) but we were further off now than we had been for quite a few months. I spent a lot of time that evening wondering if I could have done anything to improve the kart? Ride height? Width? Tyre pressures? Should I have gotten the front bar welded in by now? I had opted not to as I thought it might have been wet by now. We’d also snapped an engine head bolt and, although that wouldn’t have attributed to Junior’s biggest gripe (lack of grip), perhaps that might have impacted our pace a touch. I will regret us never really cracking the track when it looked, mid-season, as though we were really making progress. Perhaps it was too much to hope Junior would be band on the pace but I couldn’t help but think there was still a decent chunk of time left in the driver. You could argue that we hadn’t really gotten in enough seat time, having not practiced at Clay since August and only at Llandow on the race weekend Saturdays. I do need to try to fund some more practice time over the winter so that we don’t suffer similarly at Llandow next season. I had always dismissed the notion of coaching, believing that was diverting funds better spent on things like tyres, but it’s something I’d seriously consider now. We’ll see out the final round at Llandow this weekend and then pack up for the year. If you are interested in a decent pit space at Clay for next year, now is the time to get in touch with the club – tell them I sent you 😉

Cost of weekend: £50 race entry, £12 petrol, £8 fuel, £6 engine head bolt

Total spent this year: £4,206

 

 

Irresistible Llandow offer for Senior TKM!

Ok, so I don’t normally have the time to worry about Senior TKM (although, to be fair, I don’t have the time for any other class when we are racing!) but Llandow Kart Club have a great offer for Seniors joining their November round (that’s next weekend): £60 for the entire weekend – how could any driver turn down the chance to drive such a challenging and varied track for such a pittance? 😉 If only we had a senior engine. And we wouldn’t thereafter be committed to racing with adults…

So pass up the opportunity to do whatever fun round your club is arranging for next month, when you’ll be racing with one eighth of the normal sized grid with shorter races (because it’s dark earlier) for full price and do an extra round this month 🙂 What nicer way to round off your season?

Bargain!!!

Bargain!!!

 

You know you’ve made it when…

We're famous! Or is that infamous!?!

We’re famous! Or is that infamous!?!

So I was sat on the sofa on Saturday afternoon, having a tea break midway through getting Junior’s kart sorted for Clay this weekend and browsing the forums (as you do), when I got tagged in Facebook comment by one of my friends. It wasn’t immediately obvious what was going on: there was a photo of our old chassis in my garage that I had posted on the blog shortly before I gave the friend the chassis to use for his dyno testing. I had just replaced it with our ‘newer’ chassis and, as it was an old (2008) chassis showing signs of another crack, I was happy just to avoid keeping it in some form of service and not chucking it in the skip!

Then the penny dropped: the blog had been shared by The Kart Bandit!!! In case, you aren’t on Facebook and don’t read Karting Magazine(I really don’t need to explain this do I?), The Kart Bandit is famous for crash pics and memes (I had to look up what that meant initially!) and generally entertains the karting community. It’s followed by all the kids and most of the dads so my Facebook notifications went through the roof for a couple of hours!

I’m not sure what people make of the blog really and I’ve always been amazed when I meet strangers who comment on it. It was originally intended to help noobs but has really become more of a diary, a record of my karting accounts and some of my more printable ramblings. Of course, I’ve always tried to make it entertaining and having endured more than our fair share of mishaps hasn’t harmed in this respect – I think it resonates with people since we’ve all come through the noob phase. My concern is that I should be moving on from this phase at some point, right?!?

This is what happens to your web traffic when you get a mention by The Kart Bandit!

This is what happens to your web traffic when you get a mention by The Kart Bandit!

Back to Clay already?!?

Following our decision to switch to Llandow from Clay, it seems a little odd to be going back after missing *an entire round* but there is method to the madness: I had originally agreed to take Junior to the Tal-Ko TKM Practice Day at Whilton Mill on Friday (yesterday) but, after the Parents IKR Race last weekend, I hadn’t really had the time or inclination to get everything sorted. I’d also checked a map and realised how far Whilton actually is from us! It would have been twice the distance of our regular tracks and, although only 2.5 hours, everything seems longer when you’re squeezed into a Clio, driving at 50mph(-ish) 😉 with your eye on the trailer for the most part (and that’s just on a dry, sunny day!). So I came up with a plan and offered Junior the choice of practice at Whilton or the race Sunday for the final round at Clay (in addition to both days at Llandow the following weekend). We already have new slicks for this month, which would have been doing only one race and then getting packed up for the season, so they’ll be perfect for doing Clay and Llandow (but not much else thereafter) and I’d have been going to watch in any case;  the JTKM title is going right down to the wire with only seven points separating the top three drivers. I also know that I’d have spent every minute stood there asking myself why the hell we weren’t taking part! Junior opted for Clay in a nano-second. It will be good to be back in the Clay TKM fold even if this could be the last time for a while (the JTKM grid there for next season could be slim to non-existent, even without us).

So we’ll head to Clay next Sunday (I’m spending family time with the ladies on the Saturday even if the kart budget could have been stretched to include the practice day) and hopefully do a better job of keep up with the pacesetters. I spent most of today building the kart and sorting out the trailer (I find a leisurely day cleaning and setting up can be very therapeutic). I even managed to put a whole set of new slicks on all by myself 😉 Now there’s something that leaves you feeling very proud of yourself! If the picture of me, red-faced and dripping with sweat as I fight that final front tyre ever makes it onto social media, someone is going to be in trouble…