When your day goes from bad to worse

Ok, I couldn’t really leave the blog as I left it with the last post although it felt good at the time so here is what happened…

The writing was on the wall as early as Saturday evening. We hadn’t practiced but I spoke with a friend who had and was told that they had struggled to break 45.5s on their Festival tyres and found 0.4s when they bolted on the fresh rubber. This hadn’t gone unnoticed and was enough to convince one of the other front-running dads who had been planning on running his Festival tyres that they were also going to have to get the wallet out! We were just going to have to make the most of it.

Imagine the setting: it’s time for the three lap warm-up. You put your kart down and admire the new nosecone that you fitted overnight but had already said your goodbyes to. You wonder what the chances are of seeing it come back in one piece by the end of the day. Off Junior goes but, wait a minute, what’s he doing… HE’S USING HIS NEW NOSECONE TO HELP START HIS MATE WHO IS STRUGGLING!?! 😉

Other than putting a bumper bolt down his nosecone before he’d even reached one corner, the warm-up was memorable for Junior driving around slowly and looking like he was coming in every lap. He didn’t but it turned out that he was driving around without any brakes! I had replaced the axle at home on Saturday and had noticed when preparing the kart at the track that the bearing hanger bolts hadn’t be tightened. I had attended to that but not the disc, which had been having its own Mini Adventure back and forth between the pads 😮 With little time between the warm-up and first heat, I was rushing to resolve this and fix the loose chainguard bolt that I had noticed when I was summoned to the race tower!?! The grid printing computer wasn’t printing and, working in IT, it was one of those “Help me Obi-Wan Kenbobi, you are our only hope” moments!!! Who was I to turn down the lead role? 😉 I’ll be frank the grid printing software is rubbish; it sends the grids straight to a printer without displaying anything on screen (although this is far from my only gripe with it!) so the club were in a bit of a bind. No grids, no racing. Twenty minutes, some quick printer testing, a reboot and some Windows sysadmin magic later we were back racing 😉

Heat #1 revealed our utter lack of pace. Junior had not grip whatsoever and was easy pickings for all those following him bar the novice. Our best lap was a full second off of the pace and the track was ultra-quick. He still had brake woes and we found the seal in one of the pots was stuck and the fluid had become very dirty. That was easily addressed by bleeding that side of the brakes.

Heat #2 was better. We started third (which is as good as second with the start position as it is for this year) but drifted back and again beat only the novice home. The brakes were good but our deficit was 0.4s.

Heat #3 was the highlight of the day if there was one. Junior started second and got the best start I’ve seen anyone make from second all year. Despite the pole man backing the grid right up, Junior crossed the start line alongside pole and almost became the first person to take the lead from second into the first corner. Normal service then resumed. We finished closer than we had done in the previous heats but we were still 0.4s off of nearest rival and 0.8s off of the pace.

Junior wasn’t happy. At all. He knew that, having competed at the Festival and spent three months kart budget in the space of two weeks, we had to make some compromises but still needed reminding of this! We just needed to get the day over and come back next month with shiny new slicks. Despite this, I really rolled the dice over the lunch break just to see if anything improved: different engine, new carb, different restrictor, lead back on, raised ride height. I realised that I hadn’t eaten (again) so my sandwich and fruit were eaten on the dummy grid. Our misery was not yet complete: Junior’s kart started perfectly – he was off in a matter of strides. I put the push bar away only to turn and see him slowing to halt behind a kart that had stopped immediately in front of him on the dummy grid exit. With another struggler to his left and a dad to his right, Junior had nowhere to go other than stop. I started him again but the kart was really struggling to pick up. I ran after him to try to get him to stop so that we could try again but, despite another two attempts, the kart wasn’t going anywhere. On a practice session, someone would have just pushed him off but the grid was on the other side of the track. I think the engine had simply flooded. Our day was done. Junior was seething and, to be honest, I was pretty cross too. It was one of those things that, on reflection, you are glad happened then when we were really struggling rather than another day when we were competing for a podium.

There were a couple of positives, despite what I said last time: the lad that had been injured when Junior had flicked up over at the previous round was back competing and at least we were home by 6pm! The kart will now spend four weeks untouched in the garage, it’s been a bit of a mental time with Llandow-holiday-Festival-Llandow so I plan to take a bit of a karting break…

Half a race weekend

Having spent several month’s karting budget already this month, I decided that we’d skip Saturday practice at Llandow this weekend. I could really have done with going as there are a few post-Kimbolton setup tweaks that I want to try but, on the plus side, it is nice to be able to get the kart sorted at a more leisurely pace. I’ve had to put on the new nosecone, to which I have added some of the TKM stickers I got from the Festival. Applying them made me wonder why Tal-Ko don’t include stickers with every order they ship like some other companies do. It cannot cost much and the more publicity that TKM gets, the better it is for everyone. Of course it isn’t something that would turn the class around but every little helps as they say. Maybe this could be the start of a new campaign to get TKM stickers on every kart in the class 😉

Farewell nice, new decals! :/

Farewell nice, new decals! :/

The Maxxis TKM Festival: Simply the best race weekend

I’d been having some second thoughts about entering the Festival, particularly since seizing the engine #2 at Llandow Saturday practice. It wasn’t just a financial challenge: we left for Birmingham airport the day after Llandow and flew off for a two-week holiday the following day. Upon my return there would be one day to get everything cleaned (from Llandow) and prepared for the Festival. No time to run the engine in and we really did not want to waste Friday practice at the Festival doing that instead of learning the track. There were numerous other little concerns; the distance, camping, the ability of our nosecone to pass scrutineering (I had left a new nosecone with KartDavid, who were printing and fitting the decals ready for me to collect on my one and only prep day) but we’d signed up already and, although my prep time was sub-optimal, I was still quite excited about the prospects for the weekend.

Initially, I hadn’t been able to get the Friday off of work. I had arranged for Tim Wilson, of TWMotorsport, to take the kart up to Kimbolton. We had done a coaching day with Tim back in February (in the dark times when I was starting to doubt Junior), Junior had gotten a lot out of the day and I had become good friends with Tim. Junior would get a lift with a friend to Kimbolton and would spend the day being run by Tim. With my being away, Tim had arranged to have the engine repaired and run-in on the dyno at Dave Klaassen’s and we’d spend the weekend running in his awning. “You ran in a team???” I hear you shout! I’m afraid so 😮 As strong a supporter as I am of the dad/lad ethos I had decided that, as this was already going to be an expensive weekend, I was going to ensure that we had support. The primary reason was for coaching Junior on an unfamiliar track but I wanted that safety blanket just in case I found myself drowning in a sea of woe and needed someone there to bail me out!

I had slept like a baby for the first ten days of our holiday but had started waking up at stupid-o’clock towards the end, my mind switched on working through everything that needed doing on the kart. We got home at around 8pm on the Tuesday and I set about ticking things off of my list of things to do. In the end I did manage to get the Friday off. Things were starting to come together but the schedule was insanely tight. Having returned to work on the Wednesday, I had only the evening to get everything sorted: kart cleaned from Llandow/set up for Kimbolton, trailer packed, everything that would go in the car had to be ready including racewear, tents, bedding clothes, toiletries, food. A Renault Clio isn’t the exactly an optimal solution for a stay-away race weekend and we’d never travelled as heavily loaded before. I got home from work at 4pm on Thursday and we had set off for Kimbolton by 5pm.

One stop and three hours later, we were at the track. We quite a lot to do before it got dark: unload the kart and all the bits and pieces I’d be keeping with me in the team awning, then we needed to get the tents up but I was sat down with a beer by 10pm whilst Junior was on track somewhere doing whatever junior drivers do when they get together on a dark race track!?! Football in this case, I think…

Kart track camping was a new experience for us. In fact we’d only ever camped once before way back when the kids were small and I wasn’t really sure how Junior or I would get on. Badly would be the answer if the Thursday was anything to go by: we were camped next to a tent from which emitted the loudest snoring I had ever heard! It quickly woke Junior up and that woke me up. Once awake, it was impossible to ignore. Junior was getting really annoyed; it certainly wasn’t the perfect preparation for a busy day at the track. One good thing about being awake early is that you can get up and start working on the kart. We were ready in good time. I went for a setup similar to that which Junior would be familiar with from Llandow although dropped down to a smaller rear sprocket to account for the straights. Kimbolton is a very different track to Llandow and the plan was to let Junior just get out there, enjoy it and see how his times fared through the day. Junior first walked the track with former TKM Extreme British champion Will van Es, who had been employed by TWM to do some coaching. I know that Junior found this really useful. Better still, being the only junior entrant in the awning, we benefitted from 1:1 coaching when we were on track 🙂

With seven sessions there was no shortage of track time. Junior started with a 45.6s PB but instantly knocked 1.4s off of that and I was really pleased with his progress as he whittled that down to 43.8s on the newly rebuilt practice engine and on tyres that, having been used for the 2-day Welsh Championships and the subsequent club race day, were well past their best. Things became a little confusing in the day’s final session: we bolted the race engine on and went two tenths slower :S Although the track certainly wasn’t getting quicker our peers didn’t appear to suffer. Our practice engine had dyno’ed pretty well and the builder had made a couple of tweaks to optimise the settings to his preferences but our race engine is strong and its performance concerned me a little.

Not normally stopping overnight at the track, it was nice to sit down and have a beer with friends. As my friends were scattered around the track this meant several beers and some dashing around. The atmosphere in the TWM awning was pretty unique too: music, barbeque, beer and plenty of people – it was a social event like nothing you’d see elsewhere in the paddock!

I hadn’t done anything about the sleeping arrangements but I was fast asleep well before the snoring started. That is until I awoke to hear Junior getting stressed about it… This time he was adamant that he wanted to sleep in the car. I handed him the key and that brought about ten minutes of him messing about in the car which I then I heard him lock!?! I didn’t want to get up (why does the unzipping of a tent wake everybody up?) and could only keep my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t set off the internal motion sensor. He did. After ten more minutes he decided that he need the toilet. I told him to go behind the car but without appreciating quite how much noisier things sound when you are in a tent! If you’ve seen the scene in Police Squad where Frank Drebin visits the men’s room with his microphone still attached, well it sounded something like that. It was hard not to see the funny side at this point and I started laughing out loud! We all got back to sleep: Junior, me and our snoring neighbour. I got up at 6am to find Junior curled up on the back seat of the Clio; everything else that had been there was now strewn across the car. He clearly did not realise the front seats actually recline quite far!

Race day started with a 3-lap warm-up. I left the race engine on to see how it fared but we were a little adrift of where I felt we should be so the practice engine went back on for qualifying. We would be scrubbing in the race tyres over the first lap and then looking for a tow around the track, the problem was that the quick drivers dropped us too quickly and Junior got mixed up with another pack of drivers that weren’t necessarily quicker than him. After our qualifying experience at the Welsh Championships I was hoping he’d have known better than to let himself get bogged down in traffic. Clearly not. We qualified 12th of 22 in the first qualifying group but weren’t helped by the track quickening a fair bit by the time the second group went out and we found ourselves bumped down to 28th overall.

Heat #1 was very good. Despite being drawn on the outside and getting stuck behind somebody who bogged down badly, allowing every odd-numbered starter bar the back marker to pass us, Junior worked his way back up through the field. He defended a bit when under pressure from one of his good friends but I couldn’t begrudge him that 😉 With a couple of the front runners taking each other out, we finished 10th with a PB of 43.2s – only 0.4s off the pace 🙂 We got summoned to the clerk’s office as we’d been the subject of a complaint about contact before the start but we’d suffered similarly and were just being pushed along by other drivers frustrated at how our side of the grid had been allowed to fall so far back compared to the odd-numbered starters. There wasn’t much Junior could have done about other than brake on the run-up to the start line!

Heat #2 wasn’t quite so good: Junior made a good start, going around the outside of Stow to make up several places but then tried to defend his position for *far* too many laps than he should have and succeeded only in holding himself up and being passed by four of those behind him. Still, 13th was another respectable finish and we were on course to make the Elite Final! 😀

I couldn’t afford for Junior to have another poor night’s sleep so we unpegged the tents and moved that evening. We got some strange looks as we dragged the tents down the field but people saw the funny side when I explained the predicament! We also had to venture off in search of fuel. I kind of assumed that the village of Kimbolton would have some facilities – a chip shop and a petrol station perhaps but this didn’t seem to be the case. Passing numerous very nice looking gastropubs enroute made me hungry and I decided that I needed a cooked meal. There was a steak out there somewhere with my name on it 😉 Junior wasn’t best pleased by this since he just wanted to get back and play football but I wouldn’t be deterred. As we passed places, Junior would check out the reviews on TripAdvisor and then pull up the menus on the pub’s website (mostly to ensure they sold something plain enough for Junior). We called into one place who only had tables left in the garden; that was fine by me but, when we tried to order, we were told that there was a 45 minute wait time (before your request was even seen by the chef) because they were full. Umm… goodbye! Unfortunately, Saturday evening at a gastropub seems to be a popular thing in Cambridgeshire and the next two pubs we tried were both full. This was the steak that got away but, for the record, The George at Spaldwick would have been my preferred venue. Even with a banana shake, my McDonalds seemed even more bland that evening…

Sleeping outside on a still summer’s evening was suprisingly relaxing. That was until a domestic kicked off metres away from our tent :/ I won’t waste too much of my web space on this, suffice to say it was pretty disgraceful considering there were kids around. It went on long enough but, eventually, we got some sleep. Junior slept right up until the point that I tripped over his guide rope after my morning shower!

Sunday started fairly badly. Junior was targetting another 10th place finish in his final heat to secure a relatively strong pre-final spot. I urged caution – we just needed to complete the race in our starting position to pretty much guarantee we made the Elite Final. Of course, you can guess what happened next: somebody went diving up the inside, skittled out a few karts a Junior had nowhere to go as he entered the first corner. He got going again but was well adrift and only made a couple of places as others crashed out, finishing 17th of 22. Our nosecone had suffered extensive damage and had been dragging along the floor for the entire race. I absolutely did not want to put the new nosecone on for the pre-final and final; that just seemed like asking for trouble. I fixed it up with duct tape (not forgetting some colour matching insulation tape to retain the Caterham stripes!) and applied our fourth Maxxis nosecone sticker of the weekend. It was just as well that the office had a good supply of these!

Considering that we didn’t actually crash, the pre-final was even more of disappointment. We had qualified in 26th of 34, had a poor start and found ourselves shuffled back early on – partly through some poor racecraft (making a pass but leaving the door open at the next corner for the immediate re-pass) and partly getting roughed up a bit. Things got quite defensive considering we were running at the very back and Junior only beat two finishers home. We both thought that he had been passed under yellows on the final lap but nothing had been reported. He was beating himself up when I got to him in parc ferme. “We might as well not bother”, “What’s the point?”, “I was rubbish” were a few of the many things he was spouting. My more pressing concern was our pace; we were almost a second off :/

We had a chat back at the awning. I knew that Junior had not had enough time or experience of racing people (we’d found front-running pace overnight at Llandow in April and were quickly having to learn racecraft that most learn as they rise through the pack) and that this would be exposed in a grid with the top TKM drivers in the country. Even at the back things were still competitive (they don’t call it the Elite Final for nothing) but this was an opportunity: if you cannot develop your racecraft in the middle of a grid of 34 drivers, where can you? Junior would start the final on row 13 of 17, again on the outside row (we didn’t start on the inside row the whole weekend!) but this may be the last time he got to drove Kimbolton – he had to go out and just have fun driving the track and competing with those around us that we on a similar pace. Besides that, if you had offered us 26th place on the Elite Final grid on Thursday we’d had bitten your hand off!

As far as the kart was concerned, I was ready to gamble on some major changes since the day was quickly going downhill. We had gone down a tooth for the pre-final so went back up again, on went the race engine – I didn’t really believe it could be slower and we replaced the carb since the one we were racing on had been leaking pressure. So onto the final! It was nice that all six of the Llandow drivers had qualified for the Elite Final; two at the sharp end, one in the middle and three of us at the back. We only lost the one place at the start (I think that qualifies as a good start on the outside) and Junior found himself in a six-kart battle for 19th place. It was really good to see him duking it out with those around him. He gained and lost the odd place in the pack, making up places mostly through attrition as those ahead fell by the wayside but I enjoyed watching him and it looked like he was having fun too. He finished 15th – a very pleasing, if flattering, result. He had a big smile on his face and was busy shaking hands with the hitherto unknown drivers he had been racing with. It was a really good way to end the day.

I would like to have watched more of the finals but there was an awful lot of packing up to do and, of course, I didn’t see Junior once during this time. He did finally re-appear to help pack up the tents and we left as soon as we were ready. It was at this point that I realised I hadn’t eaten a single thing since my bowl of Special K and an apple for breakfast so I had Junior feed me for the first part of journey home. Only now was there a time to reflect upon the weekend: it had been a great experience. There is something special about a TKM-only event, three days away with your karting mates and watching Junior develop even if nowhere near the sharp end of the grid. Hunts Kart Racing Club had done a great job of hosting the event and it was very hard not to be impressed by the efficiency, the work (and numbers) of volunteers and a fantastic track.This was the kind of club that others should aspire to me more like. Our first experience in a team awning was a good one. Although I’d not paid for a mechanic, support was never far away and it was nice to be able to call on assistance when needed to ensure that everything was ready before the next race – having my race tyres fitted, getting the front end lasered or the brakes bled – the little things that just saved me time and, in the case of tyre fitting, worry!!! The help that Junior received was massive: the track walk, a review of his lines etc after each session/race, pointers for the next race, that bit of moral support when it was needed. I was never really party to much of this but Junior rated it 9/10 so I guess he was happy! I’d love to return more regularly but it’s just that bit too far and I think it’s fair to say that we are fair weather campers. If we are in the class/sport next year, we’ll definitely be back. Racing at Llandow won’t quite seem the same again…

Copyright Oli ;)

Copyright Oli 😉

Cost of race weekend: Entry fee  and transponder hire £155, petrol (car) £30, fuel (kart) £16, control tyres £140, Spellfame bill for weekend (sprocket, 2x chains, bumper bolts, 2x spark plugs, wheel bearing, numbers) £102, Three days with TWMotorsport £125

Costs since last post: Engine rebuild £450, New nosecone and decals £72

Total spent this year: £3,770