Wondering what might have been

Yesterday was a *long* day and a lot happened; Some things great, others not so. Over time, I know that I’ll look back on the weekend (and the month as a whole) as a defining moment where Junior developed all of the skills that a successful driver needs. Right now though, it’s hard not to feel despondent: You don’t get many chances to win a special plate as it is but we were so strong this weekend. I won’t go quite as far as saying it was there for the taking as we’ll never really know but we had a big, big chance.

Our overnight fears of a wet day in the office were confirmed as soon as we crossed The Bridge and it was only getting wetter as we neared Llandow. Although we had the luxury of no scrutineering (that having taken place on the Saturday), I was keen to get there early and get the kart ready. It was just as well since there was a lot to change from the Saturday setup. Junior was already writing off his chances. I have always been impressed with his confidence and self-belief: He just gets on and does things when I would be full of doubt. This has never applied to driving in the wet, however. I think this is mostly my fault: I’ve never really found the perfect (arguably even a good) wet setup and he’s been sent out to compete on tyres well past their best. Inters have very much been the norm for us. That said, he has form in the borderline dry/wet conditions and had done well in our last wet visit to Llandow. Privately I shared his doubts but now was not the time to be showing them: He’d had a fantastic day on Saturday and, on our shiny new wets fresh from Super One, we’d be a different proposition this time! My biggest concern was our lack of an intermediate set of wets. It was either new or very used, just-about-legal tyres (which I like to call out ‘very-inter inters’).

Not sure we've ever had two new sets of tyres for a race weekend! :-o

Not sure we’ve ever had two new sets of tyres for a race weekend! 😮

The day started with a 3-lap practice and it was damp enough that, with a little care, we could scrub-in the new wets. Qualifying was going to play a massive factor in the day and this was one of the biggest calls of the weekend: inters or slicks? I’d normally have bolted on the inters without question but one of our good buddies in Extreme had bucked the trend and opted to practice on slicks: He was all over the shop to begin with but showed some pace towards the end. The track was drying but there was still drizzle in the air. He had been adamant that the slick tyre was coming good and that convinced Junior that this was a punt worth taking. Unfortunately for us, the other front-running club regular thought similarly: we were 1.2s clear of the rest of the field but 0.2s off of the pole-setting time. This was the start of Junior’s new-found confidence in all things wet: getting the slicks up to temperature and finding the grip to keep them there was a real booster for him 🙂

The mission in Heat #2 was simple: finish second to guarantee starting the pre-final on pole. This is also where Junior’s starts were becoming a bigger deal for his rivals. I’m probably about to go off on one now which I shouldn’t really particularly since it may help you, dear reader, if you happen to be racing us but here are some simple facts which are you welcome to argue *if* you’ve watched as many TKM starts at Llandow from Raymonds as I have (yes, I was there again):

  1. The faster the start, the more stretched the grid. The pole-sitter could well be on their way into the The Hook whilst the back-markers are left to wonder ‘WTF?’ as they exit Raymonds. And Clerks like bunched starts.
  2. If the front row are side-by-side coming up Hanger Straight, karts on the even side will exit Raymonds at least two kart lengths ahead of the odd-numbered side of the grid since the pole-man *will* run as wide as they can around Raymonds, effectively hanging the second-placed driver (and the entire even-numbered half of the grid) out to dry: P2 will *have* to back off to avoid a jump-start, the pole-man then gets starts his run to the start line and the first four into The Hook will be those starting in the #1,3,5 and 7 grid slots as the entire even-half of the grid bog down having had to back right off just ahead of the start line.

Back to the start of the race: Junior was hanging two kart lengths off of the pole-sitter, who was dictating the pace as is his right. At this point one of drivers behind drew up alongside Junior to make a point. I’m not sure which point: That he was hanging back or was he going too slow??? One of the parents, who was on-track as a push-starter, was angered by the fact that Junior was pinching the fuel pipe (a tactic used in karting to prevent your engine from bogging down ever since the direct drive engine was invented) and was complaining to the Clerk. The start was aborted; I think there was a straggler off the back of the grid (I’m not sure how he managed this, they were going slowly enough!). Second formation lap: the same thing happens. One of the officials is telling Junior to speed up (see point #2, above), the dad goes absolutely mental the second Junior’s hand moves to the pipe (bear in mind we’re still two kart lengths off of the pole-sitter and moving at the pace *they are controlling*). Junior speeds up and is told to slow down by the next official, stood 40m further up the straight. The dad storms up and informs me that Junior’s behaviour was disgraceful!?! I swear you couldn’t make this stuff up. A few more points to bear in mind:

  1. Last year’s Clerk spent the entire year telling the JTKM grid to slow down on the formation lap
  2. When the Tal-Ko Racing boys (on their TAG engines) were doing the pace-setting at their S1 practice round here in April, the karts were doing 1,000rpm *less* coming up the straight than we were at the weekend. I think that would have put some people into cardiac arrest!!!
  3. It’s common practice (arguably common sense) in TKM!

There is no getting away from the fact that LKC’s decision to move the start line to the other side of Raymonds has pretty much entirely removed first corner contact (unless you are in Extreme, where pretty much anything seems to go) but the starts can often be very messy and it is impossible to please everyone. It doesn’t help if the Clerk changes every month, nor if he is unfamiliar with TKM.

I’ve said enough, let’s move onto the race. Junior found himself in a battle to hold onto the lead and wasn’t too pleased to find himself being shown the cut-through as he and second came together entering The Hook. Junior waited for his opponent and allowed him to pass. They were both shown a black/white flag (which seemed harsh for us at least) and then battled over the next several laps for the win. There was a fair bit more contact on both sides (definitely worthy of a black/white flag!) but nothing I’d have considered out of order. Junior then pulled clear and won with a comfortable 6s cushion.

It’s at this point that we received a truly crushing blow: Junior weighed in 400g underweight. We had weighed our intermediate setup, complete with half a tank of fuel, in the morning since we almost used it for qualifying and were 1.1kg overweight! I didn’t see this coming for a moment: We had been running 1kg over for the entire weekend. At any other time over the weekend we could have handled this, such was our pace but not now: We would start the final last. I was stunned. We re-weighed for the sake of curiosity (we were closer but not close enough). I’m not pointing at the scales;The fact is that we were underweight but, having never done so before, it couldn’t have happened at a worse moment. I still cannot explain it. I don’t know if it was familiar resignation but Junior didn’t seem as angry as he might rightly have. We had the ‘let’s go home’ moment but we quickly moved onto ‘we can still win this’.

The final was properly wet. We had the benefit of new, freshly scrubbed-in tyres and Junior was determined to contest the win. Oddly enough, nobody complained when Junior reached down for his fuel pipe in P8 on the grid! Junior had a good start and was 4th at the end of the first lap. We were in the game but the hard work was to come: Junior had to act decisively if he was going to fight for the win. He allowed third to get the cut-back after we had sat behind them for a lap and, by the time Junior had made the pass stick, the leader had pulled 2s clear of second and we were a further 2s adrift. We caught second with a little help from the sole Junior X30, who was slicing his way through the field in a manner that we could only dream of. Junior had a chance to make a quick pass into Raymonds but, again, his rival got the cut-back. He was finding it really hard to get the kart stopped on the slippery line 🙁 Junior was held up further and the driving was getting tough: Both drivers were shown a black/white flag for the second successive race. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Junior leaning on his opponent coming down the hill into The Hook; a move you see a lot of but of which I’ve never approved. If you know your opponent is alongside, you simply have to give them the room in my book. On the flip side, if you give them room, there’s a strong chance they’ll lean on you in the middle of The Hook. Sometimes you cannot win…

I think the biggest problem is that these are two drivers who never want to give up *any* corner. You know there are times when you need to use a bit of foresight: Do you make an early move which allows your rival to fight for position over a series of corners or do you wait and pass cleanly at the straight towards the end of the lap? Are you better off tucking in behind and using the tow to catch the drivers in front? These are questions that don’t seem to come into consideration currently! In part, I can understand it: this was a fight for second and, if Junior got past, his opponent’s chances of the runner-up spot were gone. Throw into the mix Junior’s desperation to overcome the exclusion and you’ve got a battle royale. I know that Junior can drive with his head, I’ve seen in at Super One, I just fear this is the tone for the rest of the club championship however.

Junior did finally pass but the leader was long gone. The race was done. Junior had fought from the back to finish in P2 but it was scant consolation. To be fair, the winner had driven a very good, consistent final and shown some great wet pace; it would be wrong to assume we’d have won it but we would have been entertaining race of it. We dried/dismantled the kart with little enthusiasm, picked up the runner-up trophy and headed for home.

The drive home was a solemn one. I reflected on the day’s events as we headed back through the rain and plenty of ifs, buts and maybes: This had been the chance to give my son one of the best days of his life and we had come up short because of an oversight on my part. It was a tough one to shoulder. The DiRT2 soundtrack played in the car and, with impeccable timing, played The Subways “I won’t let you down”. Probably just as well that Junior was asleep at that point as the stresses of the day, lack of food/drink/sleep on top of the disappointment were all coming to bear. It was a ‘something-in-your-eye’ moment that are best had alone 🙁

I know with certainty that there are many positives to have come out of the weekend: I’d had the chance to work together with our friends in Extreme to share setup ideas as the track evolved. We’d each seen the effect of how the other’s kart had performed and, as a result, our wet setup had improved massively. Junior’s confidence in his ability to handle any conditions has sorn. He had driven stunningly well for most of the weekend. Our pace on used tyres in previous months had been impressive; This was confirmation that, on new tyres, we could match anyone.

We watched the GoPro footage today (Monday) and the camera ran through the pre-final weighing-in. That one will take a little time for us both to get over. I’m still feeling flat, moping around with that heavy heart feeling. I’d like to forget about the kart for a few weeks but I need to get that axle out and remove any water deposits. I’m also disappointed that, having seemed to make up with his rival after a month of ignoring one another, they still ended up falling out after the final. I like a happy grid! I’m not too proud about bickering with other dads on-track in front of the Clerk either but you do what must be done to defend your lad and his chances.

Congratulations to all of the ‘C’ Plate winners. We’ve still yet to enjoy the top step on the podium. This wasn’t our time. What it is time for is some Father’s Day chocolate… 😉

Not much of a Father's Day if I'm honest...

Not much of a Father’s Day if I’m honest…

 

 

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