I have to be honest: I really didn’t have a clue where we would be racing in 2016. With the race motor due a rebuild, the practice motor suffering a problem (why do engine bills always seem to come in twos no matter how well you plan your rebuild schedule?), an imminent awning purchase and aspirations for a newer chassis, the Super One series that Junior wanted to contest is out of reach (probably for the best in such an important schooling year). With the prospects for a Junior TKM grid at Llandow looking bleak, I was thinking that we’d see out the Clay Pigeon IKR winter series, go a little quiet in spring to allow Junior some exam preparation time and get a few summer rounds at Kimbolton under our belts ahead of the Maxxis TKM Festival.
And then we attended the Llandow Kart Club end of season awards dinner. I really like LKC; the people, the track… it’s a small club that tries hard. Of course, I’m not the easiest person to please(!) and there are some things I’d like to change but the club have demonstrated a willingness to listen: permitting cameras having previously been steadfastly opposed to them, boosting numbers with offers that saw a really impressive Celtic Challenge round in December. On top of that, I’ve not seen another club offer such huge trophies and award trophies down to third (and often fourth) place regardless of grid size. I had felt as though we had to leave just to find a decent race but on the journey home, after Junior had picked up a huge trophy for his third-placed finish in the club championship and I’d bid a fond farewell to my pit buddies and their overweight kids 😉 😉 😉 who are having to move up to Extreme this year, Junior and I revised our plans for 2016.
Kimbolton is an immensely enjoyable, must-drive event but we don’t have much of a chance there. We could, however, be competitive at the Llandow Super One round and the Welsh Championships and contesting the club championship would put us in the best position to really compete in these races. Contesting the visiting Super One round as a guest will be dependent upon having the required funds available but I have applied for a National ‘A’ license just in case. With Super One taking place in June and the Welsh Champs in July, our plans to get a couple of rounds practice at Kimbolton will have to sacrificed but you can’t have it all!
It was clear that the club needed a core of last season’s drivers to remain to stand a hope of retaining a JTKM grid so I have set about finding out who’s in and who’s out in my normal hassle-free manner 😉 It’s looking encouraging so far (I started the process yesterday): we’ve four drivers remaining from 2015 and, pleasingly, three or four more graduating from cadets. Hopefully the resurgence of TKM at a national level, combined with what looks like a guaranteed club grid will encourage a few more before the season gets underway. Fancy joining us? 🙂
Three years ago today, at a wet Clay Pigeon Raceway (some things never change), we rented a 2-stroke kart for the day. This was to see a) if Junior definitely enjoyed it and b) if I could manage push starting a direct drive engine. Junior was very slow and our host advised that it might be better to stay in arrive/drive karting for another year! £14,513 later… there are times I wish I had heeded that advice!!!
We had a hectic couple of days with testing at PFI following only hours after our annual Christmas Karting event at Teamsport, Bristol. This year was our biggest yet with 45 drivers. It was good fun although the event did become a bit of a black flag-fest, something several of the dads (and the track) have commented on since. This was the first year I’ve seen races red flagged and drivers asked to leave their karts!!! I don’t exactly speak from a position of strength since I got a black flag in the A Final for spinning someone but I’ll need to think of something to rein it in a bit next year. As for our performances… Junior was hampered by being spun a few times at important moments and finished 6th.I was spun in my first heat, got black flagged for speeding under yellows when leading by miles in my second heat (duh!), bagged an A Final spot with a decent drive in the semi-final and was doing ok in a duff kart before seeing black in the final 🙁 Getting home at midnight wasn’t the best preparation for a day at PFI…
With nowhere near enough sleep in the bag, we headed for PFI. Logistically, we had a few challenges: I was already taking the wife out for a meal in Gloucestershire at 8pm and not being back in time for that wasn’t an option. I would never make it with the trailer so I’d booked a practice day with TWMotorsport which included rental of one of their Tony Kart Vipers and packaged it up as a Christmas present from Junior’s nan. There were lots of other benefits to running with TWM for the day: with their scouts deployed around the track we’d benefit from their tuition at an unfamiliar track, it would give Junior the chance to compare the Viper with our EVR and I’d be able to ditch everything and run away at the end of the day! Since we were travelling without the kart and trailer (and with the added incentive that this was a present from her mum), I’d prised the keys to the Kia Sportage from my wife’s hands (a karting first!) to accommodate our tyres, spares and tools. Its ability to get us back that little bit more quickly was of course welcome 😉
The kart had been prepared the day before. The engine, Alfano and GoPro were all ready to go. I just needed to bolt on some wheels and add fuel. We were at the track at 8:30 and navigated the sign-on process ready in plenty of time to hit the track in the opening session. It was a wonderfully sunny day and the track looked awesome; I don’t generally wish I could have a go but I’d love to have done a couple of laps to sample the long, flat out section from the start straight, under the bridge and into the banked curve. Unsurprisingly we weren’t particularly quick in the opening session although the engine sounded a little flat; I just put it down to Junior not really getting out of the corners. When he came in, both rear hubs had loose bolts!?! I’d been setting the rear width and, um, I might not have done up the bolts tightly enough (or perhaps just not done them up!). Good job those hubs were a really tight fit on the axle, huh? :/ Just ahead of the second session Tim (the ‘TW’ in TWM) noticed that the compression on the engine was poor enough that you could push the kart along the ground. Junior was pretty slow again so we went for the sledge hammer approach and swapped both the carb and engine, this was not the time to be troubleshooting issues. The third session was much more satisfactory as Junior bettered his previous times by three seconds! With a happier driver we were able to focus on enjoying the rest of the day. Other than tweaking the tyre pressures, we just left Junior to it and I took the opportunity to take some photos. I very rarely use my camera (a fairly old Canon EOS 400D) these days but I’d borrowed a very nice lens from one of the boys from the photography club at work: an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 and wanted to get some shots that would hopefully be worthy of printing out. For the most part, my pics were a bit disappointing: I struggled to get the sharpness that I was looking for but I did get one shot that I was very happy with… 🙂
Junior had been hovering just over the 63s mark for most of the afternoon and desperately wanted to get a 62.x. I’d taken some one race day-old tyres and it seemed harsh not to let him have a go on them, even if I’d sooner have kept them for a race day somewhere down the line. He found a couple of tenths to get a 63.0s and I thought he’d probably have missed his best chance with the sun setting and things starting to get chilly. I almost swapped the practice tyres back on. Luckily for him I relented as he bagged a 62.9s in the penultimate session of the day, still a fraction under a second slower than the quickest JTKMs (there were some very fast drivers in attendance) but plenty good enough for us on a first visit 🙂 It was 3.30pm and, at that point, we faced a choice: leave and get home in time for my meal or stay and drive under the floodlights. Not much of a choice really, is it? We did as much packing as we could and waited for our turn on track. As we watched from the dummy grid one of the senior X30 drivers was lapping with LED lights fitted onto his nassau – it looked very cool, one of those things that you’d need to very quick to pull off (not a problem for one of the countries leading drivers in this case)!
Driving under floodlights is something that Junior has always wanted to do. I’m not sure his tinted visor would have done him many favours but Junior had a blast: PFI under the lights is now officially the most fun he has ever had in a kart! He had a minor concern when he came around the bottom bend to find his mate parked on the exit kerb but, fortunately, the grass was forgiving and Junior was able to take evasive action without binning it. With that session over, our day was done. The team got to work on removing my engine, airbox and exhaust in double quick time and we left PFI 20 mins after coming off-track! Although we knocked 20 minutes off the Waze ETA (I have my limits) and were home by 7:30pm, we were still 25 mins late for our dinner reservation!
It was a fantastic day. Thanks to TWM for hosting us; Junior thoroughly enjoyed himself and progressed markedly over the course of the day. Being the social animal that I am 😉 it was good to catch up with some of the dads that I’d met when they came to practice at Llandow ahead of the Super One round there. Potential engine problem aside, the day had gone very well and Junior had found some respectable pace on his first visit. Because the track was unfamiliar it hadn’t really been possible to gauge the Viper against our EVR. The track is our new favourite track. Although the toilet facilities are in the Clay Pigeon league 😉 I’d encourage any driver to sample PFI as least once no matter where they normally race, especially in one of the winter months with the prospect of a floodlit session. Here’s the GoPro footage in case you are interested:
Cost of race day: Practice fee £50, petrol (car) £56, fuel (kart) £13, numbers for the rental kart (just wouldn’t have been the same in Extreme #66!) £3