Can you spare any change for the swear box?

Given that Junior had unwrapped the new frame on Wednesday evening, it had been a mad rush to get the kart built for the Llandow race weekend. I’d stripped the kart the previous weekend under the cover story that I was embarrassed to look at the old chassis and that I was going to respray it. Junior’s response was to ask if I was going to do it properly this time!?! That’s my boy…

To give me extra time and space (half a cramped garage doesn’t really work that well), I’d even been given permission to use the dining room 😀 so I worked a couple of long evenings and did what I could until I had to take the kart outside before it became too wide to easily leave the house!

I actually got permission to build the kart indoors - I shit you not!

I actually got permission to build the kart indoors – I kid you not!

A late decision to patch the kart seat and drill fresh holes meant we weren’t ready to head for the track until lunchtime but we managed to be late enough to miss the Bristol Rovers v Newport *and* Wales v Italy traffic 🙂

Haven't gone topless in a while...

Haven’t gone topless in a while…

I was pretty confident in my work but history has shown that a newly built kart will lose at least one bolt on its installation lap and so it proved this time (side pod bolt) but Junior came in smiling and exclaimed it was easily the best kart he had ever driven!!! I didn’t tell him that it was easily the most expensive he had ever driven also… The rest of the day went really well, we made a few tweaks and tested used vs new rubber for the race day but Junior looked much more comfortable at the wheel, as if he was having to fight less to get the kart to hit the apexes. It was a good day 🙂

Sunday promised much. Again we had four heats and a final. We had fresh rubber and a new kart and, given the club’s struggles, a grid of seven was very pleasing. For the second month running the karting gods had given us a decent grid draw and heat #1 saw us start in third with the quickest karts in front of us. The odd-numbered half of the grid made their usual better start so Junior got into second but then inexplicably went for a pass on the leader into The Hook. The leader flashed across the front of him and Junior clipped him and span. I don’t know what he was thinking!?! It took some time for his pushers to right him and he ultimately finished well adrift. Luckily for him it happened on the first lap as I had eight minutes to swear at him under my breath before he came in, thereby adhering to my promise never to criticise his driving. He knew he’d screwed up so it wasn’t like it would have achieved anything. Amusingly, one of the pushers/dads had knocked his bumper in on one side when they tried to right him and bumped a kerb so he unclipped the bumper clamp and reseated the bumper before sending Junior on his way… in front of the clerk, bless him! I didn’t see the official result to know if we’d gotten a penalty but what’s another 10s when you are 30s behind?

Pac Man on the data logger!?!

Pac Man on a data logger!?!

Heats 2,3 and 4 were notable for one thing: we took the lead in each race, we were caught and passed by the same driver each time and each time we caught back up and but could not make the move (or, when we did, it did not stick). We made the obvious tweaks between each heat and, by heat 4, didn’t fall away at all but Junior never looked like getting past the winner. We were clearly bang on the pace and possibly a fraction quicker but not in those early laps when we lost out most of all. We decided to gamble on a couple of bigger changes for the final but that is where the day took a big turn for the worse: when the karts came back into view on lap one, Junior wasn’t among them. One of the dads signalled to me that he was off so I ‘abandoned post’ and ran over to find out what had happened. Junior came stomping up the paddock waving his arms like Mr Tickle and I assumed he’d been punted off. It turned out that the fuel tank cap had come off and, despite it being one of the few things that my driver does between races, it was evidently my fault. Worse, he’d bailed out in a stupid place and left the kart for others to clear up. Worse still my new frame was hoisted up onto some tyres!!! And, to cap it all off, everyone assumed I was a numpty for not putting the cap on!!!!!! I wasn’t at all happy. Over the close season, I had promised myself that the days of things coming off were over: my friends can keep their kids on track for a weekend with no dramas and, after our dramas at the final club round last year, I was going to make damned sure we’d be in that boat in 2016. This stung and I wasn’t in the mood to have it pinned on me. I accept that people make mistakes and, since I’d only realised on Thursday that my old fuel tank wasn’t compatible with the new frame, I’d borrowed one from a friend. There’s a chance it was one of those tanks whose lids tighten and then, if you tighten them too far, lose the thread and loosen right off. Of course, I’m well aware of the viewpoint that the mechanic ultimately responsible for absolutely everything…

There wasn’t too much said after that. The car journey was quiet until we were about 5 minutes from home when I said my piece! It is done now. We’ve hopefully both learnt something. We’d otherwise had a good weekend and the kart felt great. We’ll move on so long as nobody mentions fuel caps anytime soon… 😉

The chassis decision

Having originally planned to upgrade after our first year in the sport, if you had told me that we’d start 2016 on a 7-year old chassis my response would have been “I bloody hope not”! Such is karting… we’ve been running on a low tank, fund-wise, for a long time and there are always other things that you need to spend money on just to keep you on-track, especially if you want to compete. I stupidly sprayed the chassis at the start of last year and didn’t give it a lacquer coat(!) so oil and dirt have been clinging to the parts of my spray job that haven’t already flaked off and our chassis… well, it was a bit embarrassing. Something had to change!

Goodbye old friend; you were bloody quick for us last year but it's time to move on!

Goodbye old friend; pound per second, I don’t think many £25 purchases have been around Llandow quite as quick as you but it’s time to move on!

Junior’s birthday was fast approaching and I’d been looking at chassis for quite a while: whereas sellers could barely give them away 12 months prior, the rise of TKM Extreme in Super One have seen tidy Tony Kart Vipers on the used market have become a thing of the past. So what about the Racer 401? For me, this was a more serious consideration: unlike the Viper, its CIK counterpart has evolved in recent years and I couldn’t help but wonder if at some point they might become the chassis of choice for OTK runners in TKM. In addition, they became fairly abundant on the used market at the end of last season although the majority have the “usual scrapes” which typically means running without chassis protectors (have you ever noticed how the underside of the front bar is always the last pic in the listing – if it is included?). A good rolling chassis would still cost £1800-£2000 and then I would have to get a front bar welded in, effectively ruining my investment (I know you don’t *have to* weld a bar in but I would have wanted to). Were there any other options? The Tal-Ko Veloce/TAG engine combination has seen a big rise in sales thanks in no small part to a certain cadet that stepped up last year and was instantly on the pace at most of the big meetings (you know – the bookies favourite for the title this year) 😉 It’s great for the class that more cadets have gone down the TKM route but a non-OTK chassis would mean replacing all of my spares, much of which would not quite be as readily available as the OTK parts.

In the end I opted for a new bare Viper frame: it was cheaper than a rolling chassis and didn’t involve me taking a welder to an almost new kart. I normally find that I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t so let’s just hope it all goes well and we avoid any mishaps that might threaten my investment.

Good job I bought four rolls of wrapping paper!

Good job I bought four rolls of wrapping paper!

 

Tyres. Again…

I’d mostly finished writing this and only realised that I hadn’t actually posted it when somebody messaged me to tell me that they hoped I hadn’t stopped writing the blog! My apologies folks, especially since we are closer to the next race weekend than the last one but here it is…

It was the start of a new era. All of our closest chums had gone: to Super One and to TKM Extreme 🙁 The loss of the twin-sized awning that I shared with another Dad at Clay Pigeon IKR in November left me with two choices: a heavy duty, compact awning with a £500 price tag or the rental of a garage space at Llandow for a more modest £160. Awning pros: I can use it anywhere, anytime. Awning cons: I’d need a compact awning that aren’t quite as strong as the heavier awnings that carry a 5-year warranty and it would leave me needing to find space in an already packed camping trailer or Clio. Garage pros: Warm. Dry. Sheltered. Enough said!

Our friends have gone :(

Our friends have gone 🙁

It started raining as soon as we hit Cardiff and didn’t stop until we passed Cardiff again on the way home! We arrived to find our spot for the season and then unpacked as quickly as possible. Following our incomplete mission to run-in the practice motor earlier in the week, the first half of the day wasn’t a lot of fun for Junior: not only was it cold, wet and windy but he was having to potter around for the first four sessions at limited power. On a positive note it was the perfect opportunity for him to explore different areas of a very, very wet track to find what grip he could. I didn’t really help him that he was running with our worst inters (he didn’t complain so I didn’t make a big deal of it!) but I was preserving the better sets, particularly as our hitherto new wets had seen duty a couple of times in December. The track itself was very quiet; entries at the club were the lowest I had ever seen, despite the club offering four heats and a final on the Sunday!!! The grid would be a small one but we’d see a hell of a lot more track time than some clubs I could mention… Junior enjoyed himself anyway. An open track on a practice Saturday was a unique experience and we were one of handful of drivers remaining on the track when the weather made a further turn for the worse and we called it a day. Drying the kart was a lengthy process :/

Inters?

Inters?

Race Sunday. The track was still wet and it didn’t look like the new slicks I had bought would be seeing any action. This would be our first races with the new MSA ‘droopy bumper’ fittings in place. With there being no problem with the driving standards at Llandow, I was already not a fan. Since the regulations weren’t kicking in until the March round this was just a testing opportunity to see how we got on with them. The karting gods had been kind to Junior and, starting 5th, 3rd, 1st and 3rd, he had a very kind grid draw. Did I already mention that there were FOUR HEATS? 😉

It wasn’t long before we were back into familiar territory however: with the two quickest drivers from last year having moved to Extreme, we should really have been contesting the win. Our performance on track indicated that was unlikely. Starting 5th, Junior quickly moved up to 3rd position and held 2nd for exactly one corner but we were 0.7s off the pace of the comfortable winner who was on fresh wets. In heat #2 our fate was pretty much confirmed. Junior started on pole but, with both his main rivals now on new tyres, dropped to third within two laps and was 9s adrift by the end of the race. He just didn’t have the grip that he needed and there was very little that I could do about it (I did try!). Significantly, despite no contact in either race (no – I didn’t just take his word for it, yes – I did check the GoPro) his bumper had ‘drooped’ in both heats. I thought I had made an even better job of tightening the clamps after the first heat but clearly not enough. It didn’t help that the brackets did not properly fit our kart so the bumper was only fully seated in half of each bracket. I cursed the ABKC and MSA (again) and, as the new brackets were not mandatory at this round, I took them off: I just didn’t need the distraction.

Heat #3 was a minor highlight. Junior won but only because his rivals failed to complete the race. Heat #4 saw us finish third again and you don’t need me to tell you where we finished the final!

Our day was done. The four heats was nice, would have been better still if we were on the pace. Junior picked up another trophy which was about the only consolation for an otherwise disappointing day. We’d clearly be needing new wets for the next round and some investigation into improving the bumper bracket fitting.

Costs: I need to find some receipts and quickly get this counter running before it’s too late!