Stuck in a rut

It would be fair to say that our karting career to date has been one of peaks and troughs. We’ve both enjoyed it but lately I’ve found myself spending more time dwelling on our struggle to get on the pace. You just really want to see your son (or daughter) get there – to cut that ~0.8s deficit and really nail those lines. To his credit, Junior just loves driving the kart but I’ve gotten wary of burdening him with my desire to bridge the gap that we seem to have had for as long as I can remember. Carrying more exit speed is far easier said than done and, on reflection, I wonder if I’ve overdone the ‘work on your lines’ thing at our practice day last weekend and ahead of the Llandow seasonal opener.

The weekend began with a wet track so Junior was out on the inters that we had ruined at the November round final, where we were caught out on the wrong tyre. Here they lasted just long enough to get us through the worst of it before they were too bald to be of any use and we switched to slicks. Unfortunately, Junior went off on his second lap – sending the kart backwards into the tyres at Chandlers and finishing off one of the bumpers that had done very well for us over the past two years (not to mention the two replacement bumper bolts that I had bought after our mishap the previous weekend!). We were doing some testing on a smaller sprocket but it wasn’t working for us. As soon as we went back up a tooth, Junior was much happier and a bit more competitive. The warning signs were there though as the day went on; The track was pretty quick considering the time of year and the early morning conditions but we weren’t able to get below 46.0s when the pace was low to mid 45s.

We were up and out early on Sunday to get the kart built for the race day. It was nice to see a couple of guest drivers who were here for a sighter with a view to the Super One Series round in May so we had a grid of eleven drivers. Heat #1 saw us start plum last. There was an incident at the start which took out a couple of drivers and we raced along in 7th – comfortably ahead of the rear of the field but adrift of the main pack. It looked like it might be lonely day for us. Heat #2 was where things started to take a turn for the worse: Starting in second, we managed to maintain our position around the outside of Raymonds and Junior set about his defence of his position. It was clear that we didn’t have the pace and Junior had been vulnerable on the run out of the Hook and into Surtees all day on the Saturday. We had spoken about it and decided that we’d take a narrower entry, try not to make it easy for other to pass and just see how things unfolded. It was going ok, especially for the pole man who was clearing off with haste! There were a number of laps where third lined up a pass as they headed up the straight but Junior’s is no slouch up the straight and is also pretty decent on the brakes into Raymonds so was able to maintain his position. That was until third place got the cutback and they headed into The Hook side-by-side: There was contact and it had to be Junior who lost out. He was clearly disappointed. The ‘offender’ was shown a warning but, from what I saw of it, it was rightly deemed a racing incident.

Heat #3 was where an already bad day went into meltdown. Junior started fifth and was hit from behind going into the first corner, punted the person in front who span and took out another driver. Junior dropped back and finished well adrift. Being the pusher who had volunteered to cover the furthest corner of the track, I’d not seen the incident but our finishing position and lack of pace through the day was taking its toll – I’d have quite happily packed up at that point. When I got back to the pits, Junior complained that he’d been hit and had his race ruined. I went to the Clerk to chat about the start and was told they were calling several drivers in. I was hugely surprised when only Junior and the driver that Junior had hit were called in (in relation to the start – two others were called in for another incident). This is where I can take two paths in my reporting of this – there is the ‘take it on the chin’ approach or the ‘redhead says what he thinks’ option!!! Given that the last time I publicly criticised officials, we were shown a straight black flag for contact two corners into our first heat at the subsequent round, I’ll try to stay on the cautious side…

In my attempt at small talk with the other Dad as we waited outside the Clerk’s office, he commented that this was what had happened in Heat #1 [Junior hitting his lad]. Junior’s look of astonishment at this little revelation told me all that I needed to know on this one. I am aware that with what follows I may be appearing to be wanting to have my cake and eating it but, in this instance, I can and I will – especially on my own blog, other points of view are available I am sure 😉 We were called in and the Clerk read out the report that suggested Junior had ploughed into the driver in front without braking. There was no mention of any other driver and I was already getting a sense of dodgy report Deja Vu. I had told Junior to just tell the truth – it hadn’t dawned on me for a second that we’d be taking the blame for this one. Junior said he’d been hit into the driver in front (naively, it also hadn’t occurred to me until this point that this might be an excuse the Clerks hear a lot) and agreed he’d caused the driver in front to spin. The driver’s explanations were pretty clear then the Dads got their chance to chime in; I questioned why the other party hadn’t been called in and Junior was asked who had hit him – as if he was going to have been looking behind him!?! I commented that it wasn’t fair for them to be asking him to name anyone as, although he could make a reasonable guess that it was the driver directly behind him on the grid, he couldn’t be certain of that. And that was that  – we soon got called back and were penalised on the back of a damning report as incorrect as it was incomplete!!! The contact behind had gone unspotted and the claim he hadn’t braked… I can only assume someone got carried away with the drama of it all!

It was a resigned feeling rather than an angry one after that. We’d always had a policy of Junior offering an apology to any driver he’d hit on track and, if at fault for any reported incident, he’d put his hand up and say he’d made a mistake. I’m not sure we’ll continue to adopt that policy – I know that the officials are doing their best and can only give what they see but we’ve been only the wrong end of a couple of duffers now and, in this instance, we would have been better off being less forthcoming and certainly naming the suspected third party. In the end, it was too easy for them to blame Junior.

The Final was all about getting as much packing up done as we could beforehand. The Clerk gave the grid the ‘loading’ speech after two incidents in three heats but, to be honest, I have never seen it at Llandow. Normally drawing the pushing zone furthest away doesn’t help in that respect! Of course the drivers like to point the finger… The majority of first corner incidents are caused by drivers getting caught out with the concertina effect as the grid steam into the first corner. We have been guilty of that a few times last year – it’s a mistake you wish they would learn from but there is no intent and it’s certainly not loading (which, to me, is when you are pushing someone into the first corner, denying them the chance to brake until you’ve shoved them wide enough to get by on the inside). The race itself was uneventful in so far as it was further confirmation of our lack pace. We stuck around to applaud the winners and then headed off the McDonalds for some Chicken Selects and a banana shake.

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £26 petrol, £13 fuel

Total spent this year: £891

Our 2015 shakedown

Although we made an early start to the year in a borrowed kart, it was really good to get Junior out in his own kart at the weekend for a shakedown ahead of the opening round of the club championship next week. Having had the chassis stripped right down for a respray (that I susbsequently deferred in favour of touch-up), it’s always a welcome relief to see the thing remain in one piece! I had spent a good chunk of the Saturday trying to get my action camera optimally fitted. The Sony HDR-AS30V has so far seemed like a very nice piece of kit but it is woefully let down by Sony’s lack of mount options: No tilt mount was available at release date and when they did attempt to correct that omission, they produced a tilt mount that lacked full 180 degree movement, opting for one that rotates in 30 degree increments (which sucked on the nassau) 🙁 So I had bought some M3 bolts and rubber spacers in a bid to make something that at least worked for me.

It was a wonderfully sunny day considering the time of year. The track was already dry and grippy at 10am even if there were patches of frost remaining on the kerbs. Our first mission was to run in the practice motor. On the recommendation from my builder, we shortened the run-in time compared to the process we undertook for our race engine; Opting to spend a 10-minute session at 11,000rpm, 10-minutes at 13,000rpm and then a final 5-minutes at 15,000rpm. Running in after a full chassis strip was a good thing since the kart wouldn’t be worked too hard and I could check over all of the nuts and bolts whilst the engine was cooling down. After that we got on with our goal for the day: Improving Junior’s lines.

We’d talked about this. I don’t ever criticise Junior’s driving but there was a point a few weeks back where I told him that he needed to up his game if he wanted to compete this year. I’d be perfectly happy to carry on as we were if he was going to be happy finishing towards the back of the pack but, even allowing for some incompetence on my part, there were huge savings to be found in his driving. He didn’t like it at the time but I pay a lot of money in support of his enjoyment of this sport so, from time to time, I say my piece and expect him to listen to it! We walked the track first thing and agreed that we’d work on getting The Dell sorted. It is an important corner at Llandow, especially for Junior as he tends to lose time in Sector 1 so is often under pressure here as they enter the main passing zone.

Things went pretty well for us, lap-wise. Although the track was disappointingly busy so there were two groups of owner/drivers (2-strokes and 4-strokes) in addition to the odd arrive/drive session, which meant that we only got in 61 laps, Junior worked really well to the extent that he lapped within a tenth of his personal best time. The camera worked really well, the mount didn’t snap (for now) and the Alfano continues to impress me. Video footage of one of his sessions can be found on YouTube although I still haven’t mastered the quality loss that YouTube’s encoding process seems to inflict and I have no idea why I am the only one who can view the video at 1080p 60fps :S

Sony video footageWe had a couple of mishaps: one of Junior’s friends wanted to try our kart as he had some issues with his own but he only got in two laps before the chain snapped. Not really sure what caused it – I’d never had a chain snap until we got a shunt towards the end of last season, when we lost our reliable Panther chain but this EZ chain lacked the longevity (and just as I was singing the virtues of our switch to Silkolene chain lube after two years tolerating the mess caused by my purchase of a job lot of tins of Rock!). I hadn’t realised that the Alfano wasn’t switched on so we don’t have any data to suggest whether or not the engine revs went through the roof. Following this our day ended prematurely when, in plunging temperatures, Junior lost it on the out lap and snapped the bumper bolt. This did annoy me, probably more than it should have, especially since I had put the tyres up for a test without forewarning him!

Cost of day: Practice fee £40, bridge toll £6, fuel £10, petrol £10, new chain £20

Total spent this year: £757

A trip to the engine builders

With the practice engine due a rebuild and my previously stated fear of posting engines via couriers, I recently drove up North to spend the day with my engine builder. It was a bit of a hike but being able to get the engine back same day coupled with the chance to see what goes on and learn more about something I am still largely ignorant made this an easy decision.

It proved to be a really insightful day: Stripping the engine down, measuring the wear on some of the key parts, putting names to parts and seeing where they fit in (I know I could study the Tal-Ko parts diagram but it is not quite the same). Crushingly, my con rod did need replacing 🙁 How an 8-inch piece of machined metal can cost £166 is beyond me. It would have been fair enough had this been a BMW part – perhaps I just don’t appreciate fine engineering? 😉

It was good to learn the measurements of the squish, the head volume, inlet and exhaust ports along with my ignition timing (something else I had hitherto paid no attention to). I cannot guarantee I’ll be able to explain the exact functions of all of those just yet but I am making progress! The builder was pleased with the engine and saw no reason why it would be 0.3s slower around Llandow than our race engine but we’ll run it in and assess if anything has changed. We took the measurements for the race engine too so that we could tweak things if need be.

It was getting pretty late by the time we got to carb rebuilds. It was the first time I had watched a full rebuild – there wasn’t that much to it so I will hopefully do my own in the not-too-distant future! My recent eBay-purchased 820 carb that had seen only one session’s use at Llandow since being cleaned and kitted proved to be fit for nothing more than donor parts since the throttle shaft spring no longer remains held by the body of the carb (yes, we did try another spring) 🙁

You know what they say about stuff being on eBay for a reason…

Cost of rebuild: £436

Total spent this year: £671

Catching up

A rather poor effort on my part has meant a lack of blog articles of late. I blame the Karting Dad Facebook page for the most part – it’s very easy to type in one liners and move on (although I do recommend it for the little things that don’t get written up here!).

So what has been going on in my world? I’ve really just been trying to get everything sorted for the new season. I’ve mentioned before my deliberations over what to do with our chassis, in the end I decided not to get it blasted and powder coated – it just didn’t seem worthwhile. I also came to learn that it (what I thought was a 2010 EVR) was really a 2009 EVR! If you’ve been here a long time, you’ll remember that my original 2009 EVR was suspected to be a 2008 EVXX! There is a lesson to be learned here – remember, you can always ask Strawberry when they imported a chassis. So with two 2009 EVR chassis (I was given one in 2013 that was bent and that I had straightened but never used), I have decided that I’d quite like to test them against one another. We won’t be replacing either anytime soon so I might as well see if Junior finds any difference between them. I sanded, primed and sprayed both (after breaking the nozzle on my first can of OTK paint and covering the lawn) – and they look pretty good unless you get up close so good enough for me at least.

No - this is not the Strawberry Racing paint shop...

No – this is not the Strawberry Racing paint shop…

The ‘spare’ has also gone to the welders to get the front torsion bar welded in. In the meantime, I’ve built up the chassis that we used at the back end of last season and it’s pretty much ready to go. I was hoping to get to the track at the weekend but Llandow’s owner/driver availability can be patchy, especially at weekends and they were mostly full with arrive/drive bookings.

No bodywork - the extremists would approve ;)

No bodywork – the extremists would approve 😉

We’re also sweating on our MSA licenses after my tardiness in getting them sent off – the MSA quote a 15-day turnaround and we needed them 14 days from the day of postage! Fingers crossed…

Costs since last post: £28 – 2x OTK spray paint plus something else that escapes me! £20 – wedge for OTK steering boss; £15 – Strawberry Mychron/Alfano support for OTK wheel.

Total spent this year: £235