After another early start we arrived at the track at around 7:45 and the brief was to get the race engine on, get through scrutineering and then worry about how the Hell I was going to manage push-starting with my bad back! I had had the the loan of a push-start bar at Saturday practice but I had no idea how it would work on a race day as there aren’t normally any ‘spare’ TKM dads about. Having applied four lots of sun cream and still caught the sun the day before, I was glad we stayed behind after racing on Saturday to get the awning up, slotting into one of the many gaps that appeared when the bambino dads left for the day taking everything with them.
I had the offer of help from the dad and/or mechanic of one of Junior’s friends (thanks, Team Johns!) so, number by half a tube of Deep Heat, push-starting turned out to be ok. With his newly adjusted brakes Junior was under instruction to just make sure he got a good feel for them. He didn’t look particularly quick but came in beaming like I had never seen after a session (it was a unique sight given his normal attitude towards his kart): he had lapped within a tenth of his PB without really pushing and loved the feel for the brakes 🙂
The club had changed the start line for this meeting, starting and finishing on the finish line instead of starting on Hangar Straight and taking Raymonds as the first corner. I had some reservations about this but the change went really well, the drivers seemed to sort themselves out nicely and I saw no contact going into The Hook. We started 9th for Heat #1, made a reasonable start but got caught up with one of the Super One boys who was practising ahead of their series opener at the track next month; he made a move up the inside going into The Hook, there was a bit of a squeeze exiting the right-handed kink on the exit and they were side-by-side before their wheels got locked together and both karts went off. Junior caught and passed the last-placed kart but finished adrift. Positively though, the kart felt excellent and we were closer to the pace than we would normally be. Junior set a new PB of 45.4s 😀
We made very little change to the setup for Heat #2. Junior started 7th and found himself on the back of the front pack of six drivers. Amazingly, he wasn’t getting dropped and was even being held up by one of the quicker drivers! Although he observed the ‘follow me, let’s catch the leaders’ gesture for a few laps, he soon felt the need to make a move. It took a couple of laps to make the move stick as he kept losing out to the cutback and, when he did finally pass, the leaders had flown. He finished 5th and set another new PB of 45.2s. Overnight, Junior had gone from lapping at 45.8s on the Saturday to 45.4s in the warm-up and now 45.2s! Needless to say I was very thankful to the dad who had sorted his brakes – those 3/10ths he had promised were beginning to look like a conservative estimate!!! I cannot tell you how great it was to see him competing in the pack. We were still a couple of tenths off of the leader’s pace but that was irrelevant; we were properly competing for the first time *ever*, not because we were defending or scraping a result because of DNFs. This appeared as though it could be our true pace! I could have kissed the dad who had helped us there and then. But I didn’t… 😉
Heat #3 saw us start in third. Junior made a good start, holding off some early moves from the visiting Super One driver and tailing second. He was able to follow second through as he passed the leader at Chandlers and the next few laps were the highlight of my time as a karting dad so far: Junior and the leader were lapping within the same tenth of one another and, as third and fourth tangled, they pulled a little clear at the front. I’ll forever remember the commentator’s words as Junior set a new fastest lap of 44.929! A sub-45s lap?!? A few of the others had done this at previous rounds and I remember them being really chuffed but Junior to join the club so suddenly… initially I thought the commentator had gotten the wrong driver but, as Junior continued his pursuit of the leader, a grin spread across my face – a *really* big grin. There probably four laps remaining before things started to go wrong; third and fourth caught us and we got pushed aside entering Surtees, as third went for a gap that was always going to be closed. Junior controlled the kart but lost ground and the place and was now under threat from fourth; the driver we had tangled with in Heat #1 and who had proven to be pretty aggressive throughout the day. We survived one more lap and then, as Junior saw it, we just got wiped out entering Raymonds. He didn’t see the other kart at all but said he felt his rear wheel get whacked as he was on the entry apex. The other kart kicked up and span over Junior, hitting the engine, Junior and the steering wheel on the way over. I quickly ran up from the viewing area (with my bad back I had committed the cardinal sin of being a direct drive dad that wasn’t signed on as a pusher) as the race was stopped and the ambulance came out. The paramedics had Junior’s helmet supported (a technique I learnt at the marshal training day!) but, thankfully, the kart had missed his head with his shoulder taking most of the impact. They wanted him x-rayed and so our day was done. I picked up the broken parts of the engine (I had always wondered what it took to snap an engine fin) and, because we finished third after the count back, went through scrutineering (who proceeded to record everything that had broken!). I spoke to the Clerk after who reported it a ‘racing incident’. Hmmm… there had been a lot of those through the day; lot’s more than you would normally see at Llandow. I’ve some things to say on this but we’ll leave it for another time.
We had a choice: leave everything at the track and go to the local hospital, pack up and go to the local hospital (leaving the kart on the trailer in the hospital car park) or go home, unload the trailer and then head to hospital. Junior had limited movement in his shoulder at that point but I chose the latter – at least I could safely leave everything at home before heading to A&E. Whilst I was relieved that Junior was ok, Junior was gutted that he’d miss the final especially after having finally found some astonishing pace. I felt bad at having doubted Junior. There have been lots of thoughts about the future in my mind during our struggles but to think that we might have sold up and moved on had we not almost stumbled into the fact that his brakes weren’t good enough when, overnight and after a 5-minute adjustment, he had found 9/10ths of a second (I initially typed ‘we found’ but he derserves all the credit here). Of course, we had the race engine on and better tyres than we had used the day before but regardless – we had found so much pace and I was so glad that it wasn’t the driver that was the problem, as it had seemed for so long. I was pleased too that although our chassis is six years old, Junior had proven his equipment is good enough to compete.
So that was that! We packed up in record time. Junior had plenty of visitors whilst he was sat waiting for me to get a move on – partly because of his injury, partly because of his pace! The other party involved in the accident wasn’t one of them though, they just got sorted for the final! Maybe it was one of those awkward decisions whether or not to say something after an incident between drivers, maybe that’s the difference between those who compete for fun and those that *have* to win. We watched the live timing of the final in the car enroute to A&E – it wasn’t the result we would have wished for but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Two hours later we had left hospital with no broken bones confirmed – just an difficult conversation with Junior’s rowing coach that he would not now be available for the eight at a big competition this weekend.
I usually tend to keep things largely anonymous (although you don’t have to work in Cyber Security to figure out the names of most of the people discussed in the blog!) but I have to thank Lou and Ryan Edwards of RED Motorsport for spotting the issue and sorting the brakes out for us. Who knows how quick we’ll be when we return in June (given the predicted influx of Super One drivers for the next round, driving standards that were certainly more aggressive than are the norm at Llandow and Junior sitting his GCSEs, we’ll be skipping May regardless of whether or not Junior is fit to race) but it really does feel that we have just made a massive leap forward. It is unfortunate that I could have sorted this out months ago had I known better but, in my defence, a good few people much more experienced than I had looked at them! Maybe all of that time driving with sub-optimal brakes will now be an advantage 😉 We may not find ourselves competing at the very front of the pack but all we have ever wanted is for Junior to be able to race with his mates and it looks like we might be there at last. I’ll be found crying into a beer somewhere if proves not the case…
Cost of weekend: £100 practice/ race entry, £13 petrol, £12 fuel, £13 bridge fees, £20 new chain
Total spent this year: £1,961