Setting the bar too high?

Saturday started horribly. Having discovered, when repairing the seat last weekend, that the chassis had snapped (seat tab snapped off), I’d spent most of the week working to move everything to our spare chassis. It was another 2009 EVR but had a slightly bent yoke. I’d had it jig-checked and the chassis was straight even though it was not possible to straighten the yoke entirely. It was clearly sub-optimal but, with only 5 days to go before we would be racing, it was going to have to do and we’d just have to see how we fared.

Arriving at the track with a newly rebuilt chassis, the first thing you (or more accurately, I) want to do is just complete the first session without issue. The reality was far from this and we broke down at the third corner: Junior complained that the steering felt too free, the accelerator pedal was either on or off and then the kart just stopped. Not too bad then! :S First things first; the axle moved and the piston was still going up and down! 🙂 Our engine issue was down to a snapped wire on the spade connector on the PVL. The problem was that neither I, nor the shop had a replacement connector. One of the other dads had one that was a little larger but, by the time I had messed about trying to fit it with a borrowed crimping tool, we’d missed the second session entirely (the crimping tool wasn’t the best but neither was my mechanical tekkers). I could have just put the race engine on but this needed fixing and I did not want to put time on the race engine unnecessarily. With some spare time in hand before the third session, I looked at Junior’s other complaints. The accelerator pedal was a weird one: the pedal appeared to have plenty of range and it isn’t like one can really tighten the pedal bolt to provide additional tension – you tighten it as best you can without restricting its ability to close. The new seat position (I’d refitted the seat to accommodate Junior’s growth since the seat was fitted in December) may have meant that the position felt unusual but he was just going to have to get used to this. Junior also didn’t like the slack feel in his steering wheel and wanted to give it a weightier feel. You don’t want the wheel rotation to feel obstructed but I wasn’t really sure how it should have felt. I conducted a quick test of steering wheels in the immediate vicinity: one felt exactly like ours but the other definitely had some resistance. Renewing the rose joints on one track rod helped as did tightening the steering column bolt a fraction. This was as good as it was going to get anyway so Junior was just going to have to get used to it.

The rest of the day turned out to be the complete opposite of our initial woes and we went really well: again practising on our Festival tyres from Kimbolton, we were pretty much as quick as we could have hoped and lapping the 45.5’s. We switched to an older practice set that featured a front-left that had come with retirement package we’d bought at the start of 2013, had been sat in a garage cupboard ever since and which we dated to 2011!!! We shaved off a couple of tenths and we ran pretty well for the remainder of the afternoon, with Junior enjoying some close racing with one his friends in one session (he actually claimed it was the most fun he’d had karting, I don’t think he realised that this was how it should be all of the time but we’d always been a little off the pace!). We also managed to actually do some testing (as opposed to trying to find solutions to problems) and it was pleasing that the race engine was a little quicker than the recently rebuilt practice motor.

So onto the race Sunday and you’d never guess what: having completed a Karting Magazine article (we’ll discuss whether or not I am still contributing to the mag at some later date) earlier in the week in which I discussed/moaned about our lack of pole positions, JUNIOR ACTUALLY GOT HIS FIRST POLE AT LLANDOW!!! Having not started in pole position anywhere for over a year this would be something of a novel experience. It didn’t really go to plan though: an early mistake on cold tyres meant he ran wide and conceded the lead. After that it was clear that our pace wasn’t good enough. We slipped to fourth and stayed there. With the runner-up equalling the four year old lap record, we were a huge 0.5s off of the pace 🙁  The track was clearly lightening quick and our first-heat setup was a little too conservative. On top of that we were in a minority of drivers on used slicks; fresh rubber each month has become the norm at Llandow this year much to Junior’s chagrin. I’ve always insisted that we would use tyres for two races no matter what, I can’t and won’t use a set of slicks for one race day on principle alone. Our experience has been that the new tyres start with a distinct advantage but, by the afternoon, the gap narrows and Junior had even been quickest on used slicks in the July round.

Heat #2 was marginally better: we started eighth but made up some nice places to finish fourth again, 7s in arrears and 0.3s off of the pace. Heat #3 was more of the same: fourth, 6s back, 0.3s off the pace and someone else equalled the lap record! This time it was our resident Super One driver who was on USED tyres! Fair play to you, Sir…

I had noticed that our tyres were taking too long to come in. In part this may have been because we were fighting through the pack but the Alfano wasn’t lying; it looked like we needed to raise the tyre pressures. The problem was that the final would be two minutes longer and the sun was now shining. Too high or too low? I settled on a compromise and brought them up 0.5psi. We had qualified in… surprise, surprise: fourth! The sh*ttiest place on the grid bar for those with any desire to get a podium place. Since Llandow Kart Club had moved the start line, the even-numbered side of grid has become a real graveyard; if you aren’t in second (where at least you are in control of your own destiny), then you are pretty much screwed. And screwed we mostly certainly were: pole, third and fifth took the first three places into The Hook, things got messy and Junior dropped to seventh! He made up a couple of places but was adrift of fourth until they binned it into the tyres on the exit of The Dell. This brought out the battenburg flag. It was the right call (quite refreshing to see it instead of a red flag) but Junior had never experienced one in a race before and I wondered what he would do. My money was on him holding his ground whist everybody else caught him! Wrong: everybody backed up as if there was a virtual saftey car!?! What the… ??? :S Still, at least they would have to exclude everyone except the front man if they were going to act upon this breach of protocol 😉 So… a chance to fight for third. Or not as it proved; Junior was half asleep at the restart and was quickly dropped by the front three. He complained that the tyres and brakes had just gone off and he had nothing to fight with. The winner broke the lap record with a 44.715!!!

Junior was peeved that our second month on the tyres had coincided with the track being ultra-quick, pretty much denying him of any chance of fighting for the win or setting a PB. I could sympathise as we’d been the fastest driver at the track in a three month spell during the summer although we hadn’t really looked at the races in the two months since then. It was nice that the club had a fourth placed trophy (although it meant that we had to stay for the outcome of an appeal before the presentation). We were just going to have to take the positives. I think the problem is that we’ve tasted some small amount of success in the past six months and have raced at or near the very front, even if only inconsistently, so the bar has now been set quite high. We’d have been delighted with fourth at the start of the year especially considering the level of the quickest drivers. We were on an unknown chassis, on used tyres and we just don’t have the seat time of those against whom we are measuring ourselves. Lack of seat time, tyres, six year-old chassis, possible engine rebores… At a time when there are so many questions surrounding where and in what class we compete in 2016, it really struck home that most of our woes our budgetary. I know that this would hamper us if we were to contest a regional championship next year as we would like to ideally. My preference would always be to choose MSA over IKR and I am sure that Junior would consider IKR a step down and would want to continue racing his friends but IKR really does call out to me. At least he’ll have his fresh slicks next month!

Cost of race weekend: Practice fee £35, entry fee £55, petrol (car) £15, fuel (kart) £8, bridge fee £13

Costs since last post: Chassis weld £10

Total spent this year: £4,335

Is it just me or do these things happen to everyone?

One week to go before our next race weekend and I had a seat repair to make (amongst other things) after the visiting scrutineers went to town on the kart last month. To be fair, most of the comments were valid: the seat was looking a little thin and I hadn’t noticed that the brake disc protector was almost down to the metal fixing bracket. I’m still certain that there is no requirement to have your seat fitted no lower than the underside of the chassis (and I’ll fight that battle if and when the time comes) but it was time to fix the seat.

I’d never used a fibreglass repair kit before. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it either but needs must. I got a unwelcome surprise when I removed the seat and on the chassis seat tabs snapped of in my hand. The week before a race weekend is no time to be needing a weld. I looked at tab for a few minutes wondering “WTF?!?” My plans were derailed and the week ahead instantly became a busy one. This is why the most competent mechanics are stripping their kart after each race. But not me, huh?

I’d have to deal with the chassis later. With the appropriate precautions, the fibreglass repair was ok. I probably didn’t apply quite enough of the adhesive based on the glass shards sticking out here and there but it was good enough.With family chauffeuring duties, it was all I could do on Saturday. Sunday was pretty busy too; there would be no time to get the chassis fixed and prepare the kart for Llandow next weekend. I was going to have to revert to the old chassis. Things were going ok until I realised that we hadn’t used the larger seat in the old chassis and the gap between the seat mount bars was about 20mm narrower. This was another first for me: how the hell do you open that up without damaging the chassis. A quick phone call to my trusted advisor addressed that although I think we’re still 5mm or so shy. I decided to postpone the seat fitting and focused on getting the rest of the kart sorted.

With the kart barely fitting in the half of our garage that we cleared to squeeze it into back on Day 1, I work on the kart out on the drive. That’s great in the daylight but dusk brings a few challenges (I had the kart I was stripping on the drive and the kart I was building in the garage) and had to call it a day at 9pm. There is still a lot of work to do and, worst case scenario, we’ll have to miss the practice Saturday if I am not able to complete the rebuild. The moral of the story is: prepare your kart more than one week ahead. Or get an outside light fitted in your drive!

These working comditions would be described as sub-optimal!

These working comditions would be best described as sub-optimal!

Costs since last post: Fibre glass repair kit: £16, fresh bolts £20 (including expensive bumper bolts!)

Total spent this year: £4,199

Christmas Karting 2015 is go!!!

Christmas Karting has become something of an annual fixture; when mums and dads attempt (and fail miserably) to put their kids in their place, the dads get all competitive with one another and the kids just jaunt around like they own the place. From 12 drivers in 2013 and 36 in 2014, we’ve now expanded to 48 drivers for this year (14 parents, 9 senior drivers, 12 junior drivers and 13 family/friends). That’s A, B, C and D finals!!! It’s a lot of ball-ache to set up, mostly down to having to collect money from everyone but the end result is worth it. Last year we smashed the TeamSport Bristol leaderboard and the locals still haven’t beaten any of the top seven times we set last year 😉

Think you're quick around TeamSport Bristol?

Think you’re quick around TeamSport Bristol?

Only 82 days to go… 😀