Farewell to JTKM

Saturday had all the hallmarks of a tough day: The 5am start was sub-optimal but learning a new and tricky track was always going to be the real challenge for Junior. This would be where his relative inexperience (both in terms of seat time and experience of different tracks) compared to a lot of his national rivals would potentially be exposed. His task wouldn’t really be helped by our need to use our newly Extreme’d practice engine since we wouldn’t truly know where we were pace-wise until we switched to our sole remaining junior engine and our race setup. We spent the first session running-in the engine which had already spent time on a dyno. Junior spent the second mostly drifting back through the pack and, at somewhere like Whilton Mill, this meant spending most of his time being forced off of the racing line as karts passed before he could get back onto the line. He was also having a confidence issue with Oblivion, an aptly named corner with a very welcoming tyre wall should you get it wrong, and it was only in the afternoon that he was confident enough (with some stern prodding from his mates!) to take it flat-out. Having a couple of sessions ended prematurely by being punted off didn’t really help and we were some way off throughout the day. We did bring the gap down to ~0.4s in the final session running our race trim, which was quite encouraging all things considering, but we were clearly going to be off of the pace on race day. To top it all off, I’d caught some October sun[burn]. Again…

This is *not* the right line to be on :/

This is *not* the right line to be on!

We had a rare hotel stay booked for Saturday night so we had plenty of time to prepare the kart after practice with the added bonus of no 50+ mile trip home and associated early Sunday morning start. We even had the comparative luxury of a Premier Inn 🙂 Best of all though was that eight dads/drivers were joining us for some cow at the Beefeater next door. It was a really enjoyable evening, as these things tend to be, even if it did double the cost of the stay. There was plenty of good TKM gossip to be had also 😉

Race day. It is said that what you get with one hand, they take with the other and that was certainly the case with our grid draw: The karting gods had given us a good starting positions, just not in the ideal order for a Whilton Mill virgin. Junior would start the first heat in P2. This would be his hardest race; His lines had been inconsistent on the Saturday and it would be a case of seeing how many places we would lose. It was hard to know what a good result would be and I really feared the ‘lost 15 places’ scenario, which would be a real blow to Junior’s confidence. As it turned out my fears were unfounded 😀 Junior got the perfect start (crossing the line 0.02s ahead of pole), held the outside line around the first part of Oblivion which gave him the inside run through Turn #2 and onto the run up the hill. Junior held a five or six-length lead entering Christmas Corner and, aided by most of the national racers having lower gird position starts, he was able to pull a lead which he maintained until the fifth lap when he was caught, forced wide and passed by two karts. He tussled for second at one point but his move didn’t work out and almost sucked him back into the chasing pack. He hung on though for a fantastic third placed finish. His pace was good too: He was only a couple of tenths off of most of his rivals so a great result and a real confidence-booster. It was funny how the brakes, that had only been so-so throughout practice, were now spot-on 😉

I had never seen a start quite like that of the second heat: There was so much weaving around as the pack entered Oblivion. Junior was in the thick of things and had made up seven places by the end of the first lap 🙂 He had climbed to P12 by the end of lap three but there his progress halted; He got into some tussles, lost his consistency when he had opportunities to break away and his P13 (11th after bumper penalties) finish was a little disappointing given that he had made so much early progress.

The third heat saw us start what was to be an unlucky 13th on the grid. Junior gained four places on the opening lap, consolidated over the following laps and was looking set for a solid top ten finish when he got Christmas Corner all wrong and whacked the kerb of the left-hand kink on the exit hard, knocking off chain. He had a little moment where he flapped about before the realisation of what had actually happened and why dawned upon him! Worse was to come: Back at the awning, I had checked the crank alignment and got everything ready for the final when I noticed that there was almost no compression in the engine. The rear axle was rotating almost freely. With 30 minutes to go before the final and our last race in JTKM, had we really damaged the engine? I removed the head: The piston had lost a ring of carbon around it’s outer edge. Not a good sign. Removing the barrel confirmed it: The ring was pinched tight. The piston had hit the head when the chain came off. And this was our only remaining JTKM engine 🙁

Don’t fret, readers! We had received a generous offer from one of the dads who had been at Clay with us a couple of weeks earlier. He had seen that we were all set to abort the race day after our practice motor had seized (and not wanting to push the race engine much beyond the ten hours it was approaching) and offered to bring an engine to Whilton just in case something disastrous befell us. We didn’t have much time to fetch and fit it before the final so Junior rushed off, cap in hand whilst I hastily removed the engine. Whilst I was fairly certain that mechanical failure had not been the cause of our engine damage, I couldn’t take any chances with somebody else’s engine: I bought a new chain, cleaned the carb, checked and double-checked the pop-off and triple-checked the settings to ensure we were rich enough! We were even in the assembly area with a few minutes to spare 🙂

Junior started 13th in the final and had yet another a great start, this had become something of a trait of his this year. Climbing to 8th after the first lap, Junior was running in sixth by lap #3 and things were going well. The lead pack had gotten away but Junior was at the head of the chasing pack until, with three laps remaining, he got forced wide in The Boot and lost *four* places!!! To his credit, Junior got his head down and the final laps saw some frantic tussling. Running in ninth as the he entered The Boot for the final time, Junior made a bold attempt to pass two karts around the outside of the left-hand entry to take the inside line for the right-hand run into the final corner. He managed it but ran in too hot to avoid conceding one of the places and he finished a very respectable eighth. It had been a really enjoyable race to watch although he got some criticism from one of his friends for turning across them as they looked to make passing moves on him. Whilst I had watched the race, I hadn’t really seen any problems. I think it stems from having come from a track where we been excluded on a couple of occasions for collisions where Junior had made a move up the inside but was found not to have been 90% alongside a rival when they turned into the corner and it was deemed that Junior should have backed out of the move. Junior’s driving has evolved accordingly; He’ll concede if a kart is alongside but a whiff of the nose up the inside isn’t going to make him jump out of the way. The other dad and I are very good friends and we chatted afterwards; He made the point that his rivals won’t back out so readily in Extreme and that Junior will find himself getting taken out a lot more often. I couldn’t say that we saw the race the same way but his racing in Extreme is a concern to me: Junior will need to evolve. He has to find a way to avoid scrapping, to get his head down and drive consistently without losing his composure when under pressure. For now though, we’d enjoy what was a good final race for us, with some good pace and some close racing whilst being thankful for the loan engine that ensured our JTKM career didn’t end with a DNS.

 

Check out CPKC!

This month was our first visit to Clay Pigeon Raceway in almost a year, during which time the new reception/café/bar/toilets/viewing balcony had opened. It’s mightily impressive, I would go as far as to say the facilities are the best at any kart track that we have visited and that includes PF International: new, clean toilets that were well-maintained throughout the weekend, hot food and drinks served all day in the café (which remained open to become a bar in the evening) and a viewing balcony affording a fantastic view across the entire track (provided you were stood in the corner). They could do with enforcing a gap between the fence and the paddock on the entrance to Billies to stop the awning roofs obscuring the view, however 😉 It was great to see what was obviously a significant investment bearing fruit, hopefully grids will grow as people see and feel the benefits. All it needs now is a track extension and it could become the PFI of the south!

The facilities aren’t the only thing that I like about CPKC however, they have the social engagement side of things spot on: Regular web site updates, live race commentary as well as Facebook/Twitter updates throughout raceday and Alpha Timing for those that want to follow the racing from home. They are the yardstick by which I judge other clubs*.

We will race there at least once next year and I see that they’ve now reinstated the Wessex Championship in the first half of the season. I wonder if the club might be tempted to have another look at Super One… 🙂

* It still disappoints me that the club don’t offer a 3rd-placed trophy for grids of eight. Come on, CPKC – you should even do this with six entrants, third is and always will be a podium finish!

A happy return to CPKC

Racing at Clay Pigeon Kart Club’s feature round, the annual Cancer Research weekend, hadn’t previously been a consideration for our season-ending schedule. Having initially ignored the appeals of one of their more enthusiastic members, who had taken it upon himself to drum up the TKM support (which, from my efforts at Llandow, I could empathise with!), it became a lot more appealing as I thought about the amount of time between our last race (the TKM Festival in August) and our next (the TKM Britain’s Finest event at the end of this month). Ten weeks without any seat time wouldn’t put us in the best position to compete at Whilton Mill. With Junior never having raced there, I know that we aren’t likely to compete at the sharp end anyway but you don’t want to be too rusty from a race perspective. Junior was keen so we decided to put in a late entry. In contrast to the Extreme grid, which had attracted some Super One entries, the Junior grid was fairly small comprising mostly of the newer Llandow drivers and a couple of other guest entrants, one of whom had earned a top ten finish at the Festival so I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have it all our own way. We’d also be holding back on our race engine (with 9.5 hours on it and destined for the race day at Whilton before being converted to Extreme) and tyres (our prize slicks from the Festival are also reserved for Whilton). This meant that we’d be taking a punt on the tyres we had used at the Festival and, based on our experiences at Llandow last year, could prove a serious disadvantage. It didn’t really matter though; This was all about keeping Junior race-fit and helping our old club to support a great cause. It was almost exactly three years to the day since making our race debut here and two years since we had left the club for the final time, our spirits crushed once again.

We arrived at the track nice and early to find TKM Corner was a bit of a ghost town! What had once been the life and soul of the paddock was largely empty; The area surrounding the new reception/café/viewing area was now the place to be. That was fine, this was about old times so we pitched up and peered into the fog across the track. Some things never change! By the time the first session arrived, the mist had gone. From the minute he hit the track Junior appeared to be on it!

Welcome back!

Welcome back!

The day went perfectly. The JTKM drivers had been grouped with Mini Max/ Formula Blue and Junior appeared to be the fastest in his group even without our race setup. Perfectly that is right up until the final session of the day when the practice engine seized entering Billies. With us nursing our race engine to Whilton, this was absolutely the last thing we needed to happen. Junior knew this and was leant against the tyres with his head in his hands. I feared the worst but hoped that he had just spun out and was disappointed in himself. That wasn’t the case unfortunately and we wheeled the kart back to the paddock. As soon as I saw the dry spark plug, I knew what I would find when I removed the head and barrel: The piston head was bone dry and the ring clearly pinched at the rear. The barrel was scored but only lightly. The piston had an inch shaving on the rear where it had clearly hit the barrel. Our day was done and, almost certainly, our weekend too. I had paid the race entry fee at the start of the day against my better judgement and it looked like we’d be writing that off. I daren’t risk the race engine in such a small race, so close to rebuild time and with Whilton only weeks away.

We had some very generous offers of engine loans but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them: If you aren’t prepared to risk your own engine, you cannot really take someone else’s! We began to pack up and then one of the dads offered to take an engine to Whilton for us just in case anything happened to our remaining engine. With the race engine having had a bottom end build a few hours ago, I was happy to give it a go knowing that we had a backup plan in case the worst happened at Whilton; It isn’t as if seizing engines is common for us (he said touching lots of wood) and we were here to race after all!

We arrived at Clay on race day to see the track basking in glorious sunshine, something of a contrast to the practice day. Our GoPro failed scrutineering for the first time ever: The scrutineer didn’t like the tether being drilled through the case and wanted me to knock the metal bar out of the hinge and run the tether cable through there. Forget that! We just took it off instead. Ahead of the warm-up, one of our rivals pointed out to Junior that used slicks would cost us around 0.3s around Clay. We knew that, the question was whether we’d be competitive… not only on used slicks but Festival-used slicks. Our experiences last year had suggested this would be a factor. We’d soon find out.

What is this?

What is this?

If things had gone pear-shaped from a tyre perspective at this point, I had a brilliant headline already planned: “What goes on at Kimbolton, stays at Kimbolton”. It wasn’t obvious over the three lap warm-up but Junior was adamant that we’d need to drop a tooth before the first race. There is a small difference between our race and practice engines and, since we hadn’t intended to use the race engine at all over the weekend, we hadn’t done any test sessions on it. Heat #1 would set the tone for the day: We’d either be on the pace or not. Starting on pole was a good thing since it would allow us to properly gauge our pace. Junior got a good start and soon eased clear, helped by our main challengers having a really entertaining tussle for the last half of the race, and we won by a little over 5s. Our tyres were clearly good enough and it would be interesting to see how we fared starting in less optimal grid positions in the following heats. As we were in parc ferme one of my friends, a Tal-Ko henchman no-less 😉 , thought he would point out that it would be my fault if Junior lost today! I’m not one to count my chickens (and, if you’ve read my blog, you’ll understand why) but I could see his point: There was a chance that the biggest risk to our chances would be me (or a mechanical failure, which is still my fault!).

Heat #2 was better still: Starting in 4th, Junior found an inside line through Billies and emerged in the lead. You don’t see that very often! The race proceeded to play out just like the first heat; Junior pulled a 5s lead as his two rivals again duked it out and he had eased things down as he approached the finish. Heat #3 would be the biggest challenge. Starting 7th, Junior just had to make sure he didn’t get caught up in anything and we’d assess the scale of our task once we had the leader in our sights. Again, he got another great start and was second entering The Esses. He whiffed at a couple of moves before taking the lead on lap three, pulled clear and managed the gap to second to take the win.

So far, so good. We would start on pole for the final and everything was looking rosy. Why then was I feeling so much pressure!?! I had checked and double-checked everything, checked the side pod bars, bumper bolts, even inspected the exhaust brackets for cracks! The final looked as if it was ours to lose. Lunch was quite late and our final was at the tail end of the card by which time, the temperature had dropped significantly. The first time that Junior ever had a pole at Clay, he completely messed up the start: Carrying far too much speed in his excitement, running wide and dropping to last. I wouldn’t blame excitement this time (and he blamed my bleeding of his brakes giving him more stopping power than he had expected) but the result was the same: He locked up and had to save the back end. Fortunately it had a knock-on effect on almost everybody else as their corners were compromised and he managed to deny second a passing move on the entrance to The Esses. Once clear, Junior was under instruction to again manage the gap and avoid the bolt-snapping potential of the rumble strip exiting The Esses. He did enough to win by a little under 5s 🙂

So that was that! It wasn’t as close as we thought/I hoped it might have been and, although they went off a little at the end, the tyres held up well all things considering. The trophies for the event were pretty impressive: We’ve never been given a solid wooden storage box for a trophy before and Junior was now the custodian of a second large, perpetual trophy 😀

A trophy that comes with it's own cupboard!

A trophy that comes with it’s own cupboard!

My lasting memory of this weekend will be watching Junior absolutely nail Billies time and time again. This won’t sound impressive to you but I spent countless hours stood in the centre of the track watching Junior taking this corner thousands of times over a year and a half; Entering The Kink too early, running too far across the track, not able to get back to take the right line and having to get on the brakes all too early. He had always been a sitting duck. In the time that we had been away we’d finally stumbled into the brake issue that had hindered Junior for *so* long and it should be no surprise that Junior has improved in his time away from Clay. His woes, our woes, at the track had been in-grained into my mind ever since and, watching him now, really hit home how significantly he has improved (or how poor we had been!).

There was a stark contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home this time and those journeys home in 2014. We’d contested the Cancer Research weekend back then and been awful. It would have been amazing to have had the 2014 grid here: Many of them have moved onwards and upwards and I’d love to have seen how we fared against them. With the Extreme races having been the highlights on the on-track action all through the day, we’ll definitely return for the event in 2017.

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago!

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago almost to the day. Can anyone spot the noob?

Three years on and he's starting to look the part!

Three years on and we’re starting to look the part. I think the helmet, hubs and stubs are all that remain! Fantastic pic courtesy of Steve Wood Kart Photography

It’s Clay time!

It has been two years since we left the Clay Pigeon MSA scene. I’ve not missed the weather (Clay has a micro-climate all of its own) but you always have a soft spot for your first club. Although we hadn’t originally been considering contesting their annual charity meeting, it would have been nine weeks without a race had we gone straight from the TKM Festival to the Britain’s Finest event at Whilton Mill at the end of this month. One of the drivers there had been pestering me about it and, with the forecast looking suitable for the awning-less, we’ve decided to go for it. It will be good for Junior to have another race and obviously it will also be nice to go back and sample the fantastic new facilities 😀

The awning conundrum (Part 2)

So a little under a year on, we’re back to this again. It seems crazy to think that we’ve managed almost four years without an awning of our own. The way we roll (Clio + camping trailer) just makes getting one to the track something of a challenge. A standard 3m awning would fit in neither car, nor trailer so we’ve been pretty much dependent upon friends for much of the close to four seasons that we’ve spent in karting (although in our early months we just went without and got soaked if it rained!).The 50% stake in a 6x3m awning was great while it lasted (with the co-owner or another friend kindly transporting it around!). It was at this stage last year that somebody pointed me in the direction of some companies that made compact versions of their heavy duty gazebos, the only option if you are as restricted for space as we are. In the end we went for the cheaper option of renting a garage spot for the season at LKC. It simply was the best: Plenty of space, shelves, a place to store the trailer overnight – even heating; I’d definitely recommend it to those racing at Llandow 🙂 The trouble is that we’ve not raced there since July (our championship aspirations were finished courtesy of a couple of exclusions). Focus shifted to the TKM Festival and we were back to friends putting us up in their awnings. This obviously works when you are at the same tracks (and your friends are extremely generous and accommodating) but that looks unlikely for 2017 (the same track bit – not the generous friends!), as does the potential for an Extreme grid at Llandow. It’s time to bite the bullet. This time I mean it 😉 So, once we’ve done our final Junior TKM event at Whilton Mill, had the engines converted to Extreme and contested our first senior race at the Celtic Challenge, it will be time to save for a compact awning. My friends will be delighted!

It goes without saying that I am indebted to all of those who have helped us out during this time, either letting us share their awnings or storing our kart overnight in their team awnings ; You know who you are 😀