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!

 

Out with the old, in with the new [engine]….

With our practice engine on it’s final bore and approaching eight hours, I’d been contemplating putting it up for sell and putting the funds and the saved rebuild money towards another engine. I had come across an engine for sale that was a Super 1 practice engine, had a CNC barrel with a small crank case (paddock-talk would suggest that this is the preference as the newer crank cases are slightly bigger and, therefore, heavier) and had only 90 minutes on it. I pondered this for a few weeks and decided to go for it, adding some extra funds from kart bits that I had bought with the retirement package but never used to relieve some of the ‘peer pressure’ from my nearest and dearest!

So goodbye Engine #3553 – we have still never bettered the 36.01s lap that we set on you last September and hello to Engine #43xx (I cannot remember the number). We look forward to racing on you soon, since the race engine in also in for it’s rebuild :S

Cost of engine and carb: £600
Funds from spares sales: £175 (engine), £20 (old side pods), £10 (old bars)

Total spent this year: £2,321

Buying a kart (2nd Edition)

This comes up a lot on the forums so I thought I would update the articles I wrote on this in February and March last year! So what do you need to consider?

It is worth pointing out firstly that, if you are new to karting, you aren’t going to take all of this in straight away – it’s hard to write a guide that doesn’t bamboozle newcomers but is complete at the same time! Read it, learn from the forums (Karting1.co.uk is a very friendly place for noobs to ask questions), talk to some kart owners at the track, start to build up an idea for what you want – things might be a little clearer when you return!

1. What class of karts are raced at your local track or what are your mates driving?

Even if you have no plans to race now, you should bear this in mind. Why find that you need to replace everything in 9 months once you are bitten by the bug and want to start racing? Visit the local tracks on a practice day and chat to the other owners – you’ll find they have much more time to chat on a practice day compared to a race day. Ask everything and anything but bear in mind that everyone will have a different opinion – what works for one driver will not necessarily work for you! Contact the local kart club to get some expert advice and ask if they run open days where potential new owners can test drive a kart – why turn down the chance of a free go? Of course, if you already have mates who are owners then this may well answer this question for you.

2. Set your budget

Before you can go about finding the right kart, you need to set your budget. A Formula TKM kart from 2009 will start at around £600, a RotaxMax-engined kart nearer £1000 (if you are considering Rotax, you need to know that the engines must be sealed by a licensed engine builder if you are considering MSA racing). You can obviously spend more and look at much newer karts. You will also see older, cheaper karts around, many of which will be described as TKM 100cc karts. The key is whether the kart has a Tal-Ko BT82 engine – if not, you are looking at a much older engine for which part availability may be limited, as may your race options.

When I use the term ‘TKM’ from here on, I mean Formula TKM…

3. I’ve picked a class but how do I buy the ‘right’ kart?

Your options will be to buy a complete kart which just needs you to add fuel or a rolling chassis (everything except the engine) where you must source the engine parts yourself. The benefit of the former is that you can arrange to meet the seller at the track and test everything for yourself. With the latter, you can more easily perform a visual inspection (of the chassis without the engine mounted) but you won’t get to feel how it handles and, when buying the engine, you will really want to see it running to be sure it at least fires up ok.You may also need to source the carb/exhaust/starting system separately.

4. I’m going TKM, what engine type should I get?

You have three TKM engine options: Direct Drive, Clutched, TaG (Touch and Go). Direct Drive is the cheapest and simplest but the downside is that it needs a push start – either doing it yourself (and then jumping in) or having someone to do the pushing. If you can overcome this (it’s easy once you know how, apparently!), then you’ll find troubleshooting a whole lot simpler. Bear in mind though that, if you spin out on track, the engine will cut out and you will need to push start yourself once again. A clutched engine uses a centrifugal clutch and requires an external starter. If you spin, the engine should not cut out. Both Direct Drive and Clutched engines will have either cast or CNC-machined cylinder liner ports. Cast ports were used on the older engines. CNC-machined ports feature on engines after serial number 6500 (and all TaG engines) although you cannot use the engine number alone as a guide as the previous owners may have swapped the parts around. CNC-machined engines are generally considered to be better and command a price premium.

A TaG has a touch-button start system using an on-board battery. The wiring loom for TaGs has seen numerous upgrades, each more reliable than the previous version – you will want to know the age of a TaG engine and also whether the loom has been replaced at all. Because of the loom and battery, there are some tuning modifications to the TaG engines to offset the excess weight.

Engine prices for Direct Drive engines will fall into one of three categories: non-CNC £250-£350, CNC £500-£600, an ex-Super 1 (the national race series) engine (with some proof to back up any lofty claims) £750-£1000. Bear in mind that a new Direct Drive engine costs £1200, a Clutched engine £1300 and a TaG £1650.

5. What make of chassis should I get?

This is all a matter of personal preference. If you are buying from a manufacturer or trader, you can test drive the options and see what feels best. You may find it really boils down to availability of spares – is there an on-site shop at your preferred track and, if so, which manufacturers parts do they stock? Will you be buying replacement parts direct from the manufacturer or looking to buy used from eBay? There are plenty of options but you’ll find that OTK (a brand that encompasses the TonyKart, Kosmic, Alonso and Exprit brands of kart) parts are by far the most commonly available in the used markets.

6. Where should I buy?

You have a few options here. You can buy new or nearly new karts direct from the manufacturer. Obviously, this is the most expensive option but you should be confident of getting a decent piece of kit. You can buy from a trader – they are generally very helpful in making sure you get something that suits you, you’ll have some comeback if you encounter problems in the short term and, if they are based at the track where you drive, you’ll have a source of assistance in those times of need (and there will be plenty). You can buy from an individual – either through contacts i.e. the local club, via one of the big two UK kart forums (www.karting1.co.uk and www.karting.co.uk – the latter tends to have a more active ‘for sale’ area) or via eBay. Avoid eBay if possible – that’s the place where the karts that haven’t sold anywhere else end up. It’s a great place for spares but not necessarily for karts and engines. You may also see retirement packages up for sale from time to time; these can offer very good value for money and the spares can prove to worth their weight in gold in the long run.

7. How do I avoid buying a dud?

If you are new and do not have expert friends, it’s very hard to be certain. Buy from a trader would be the easy advice. You need to ask the right questions but, even then, you will ideally need to visually inspect the kart and then test drive it.

8. What questions should I ask?

  • What make, model and year is kart?
  • Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives)
  • Is the engine Direct Drive, Clutched or TaG?*
  • What is the serial number of the engine?*
  • When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
  • Does it have a cast or CNC-machined barrel?*
  • How many hours since the last rebuild? (a TKM engine needs a rebuild after 8-10 hours and cost between £300-£400!)
  • On what bore is the engine? (TKM engines have a range of bore sizes, the maximum bore size for a Junior TKM engine is 51.40mm, for a Senior TKM engine it is 54.75mm. The point here is that, if the engine is on it’s final bore, it may be needing a new barrel at the next rebuild and that’s not cheap)*
  • Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
  • Does the chassis have any cracks/re-welds/rust/flattening? (yes to any of the above will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
  • What size rear axle does it have? (30mm tend to be found only in older karts, 50mm is the standard nowadays, converting from one to the other will cost extra)
  • What sized seat is included? (if it isn’t your size, you’ll be needing to buy one before you get out on track)
  • In what condition are the tyres?
  • What is the condition of the bodywork?
  • Exactly what spares are included?

* TKM specific questions – I am sure there will be other questions specific to other classes, it’s just that I cannot help you with them!

9. What are the essentials?

You will need:

  • An external starter (if going TKM Direct Drive or Clutched)
  • A kart trolley – to push your kart from the pits to the track
  • A data logging system (Mychron or Alfano) – the Mychron 4 is generally recognised to be the best of the affordable bunch
  • Some fuel cans, preferably different colours (one for mixed fuel, one for unmixed)
  • Fuel filters

10. What spares do I ‘need’?

You will want spare:

  • Tyres
  • Hubs
  • Sprockets
  • Chains
  • Carbs

You might want to consider spare:

  • Axle
  • Bodywork
  • Stub axles
  • Track rods
  • Bearings

11. What about perishables?

  • Chain lube
  • Carb cleaner
  • Brake cleaner
  • WD40/GT85
  • Engine oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel hose
  • Mechanics gloves
  • Cable ties
  • Hose clips
  • Nuts/Bolts

12. And tools?

  • Spark plug spanner
  • T-Bar socket (for wheel nuts)
  • T-Handle Hex/Allen Key set
  • Ratchet spanner set
  • Snippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Metal ruler

Feel free to post questions or suggest improvements 🙂

All these bits soon add up!

Three orders placed with Spellfame inside the first week – that’s planning for you! I ordered:

  • Spark plug spanner – £7.50 (the handle is too short for my liking)
  • T-Bar socket for wheel nuts – £7.50
  • Mechanics gloves – £4.75 (hands still freeze in them)
  • Carb cleaner – £3.45
  • 3m fuel pipe – £3.45 (fuel pipe on kart was very brown and hard to see where the fuel was so it’s been replaced)
  • Pulse pipe – £1.56 (seemed like a good idea to replace the piping but that little wire tie on the engine looks delicate – not yet installed)
  • 3x Fuel funnel filters – £2.25
  • Fuel tank brass filter – £9.50 (recommended by a friend to help avoid getting dirt in the carb)
  • 9v battery – £2.50 (spare Mychron battery, necessary to make up minimum order for free postage!)

Including VAT, Spellfame are £50 better off for my custom. In addition, I have also splashed out on:

Total spent so far: £2068!!!!!!!!! (£568 over budget – hope the missus isn’t following this blog)

 

Junior Karting Helmets

I hadn’t budgeted on getting my son a karting helmet: he already had a really funky motorcycle helmet that he had used for arrive/drive karting and, as he wasn’t going to be MSA racing for some time, I saw no need. Unfortunately I then started thinking about it more – if I was going to get him an MSA-approved helmet later in the year, I might as well get it now and rest assured that he has the best protection possible. Of course there is always the question “How much do you value the contents of the helmet?”. It’s hard to argue with that so which helmet to get?

For MSA racing, under-15s require a helmet certified to the Snell-FIA CMR2007 standard. The most common choices are the Arai CK-6, the Bell KC3, the Koden CMR2007 and the V2 CMR. Next you want to find out what size you need – the SHARP Helmet Safety Scheme Guide is a great resource for finding out how to measure your head and how to test a helmet’s fit. Then you want to find a shop that sells not only your preferred helmet but as many as the others as possible – don’t just order one off the internet as I did!!! Head sizes differ and it may be that your head isn’t good a fit for the helmet you thought you wanted and returning helmets via the post is an expensive business – I speak from experience 🙁

I discounted the Koden on appearance and comments from Dads whose lads had upgraded from Kodens to other more highly regarded helmets and opted for the Arai – partly on reputation and the fact that you see a lot of them on the track and I ordered online as it was the best price and came with a free spoiler kit. When it arrived, my son complained it was tight on top of his head. After making him try it on at least a dozen times and keep it on for 20 mins in a bid to get used to it, I stupidly ordered a bigger one assuming it would be fine – it was too big. Needing to resolve this because my 14-day return deadline on the two Arai helmets I now owned was rapidly approaching, I went to my local shop, had my son try the Bell in comparison with the Arai and bought the Bell in the size that fitted the best. The good thing about the Bell helmets are that they come in individual sizes i.e. 54cm, 55cm, 56cm etc whereas the Arai comes in size ranges i.e. 54-56cm, 57-58cm etc. The Arai also has a larger visor area compared to other Arai motorsports helmets (I was told they had to have a little less helmet/make the visor larger than their other motorsports helmets in order to stay within the maximum weight permitted under the standard) which, to my eye, makes it look a little more WSB and less F1. Returning the two Arai helmets, including insurance for £800 cost me £30. The kicker was the store charging me £5 to cover the ‘free’ postage they had offered. After all of the haggling I’d been doing to save money, I’d just wasted £40! We won’t talk about this again, ok?

Total spent so far: £1935

Buying a kart (part 2)

I’ve done nothing but spend my spare time on karting stuff since Christmas – the whole towing/kart finding/learning/bartering process has been more stress than I typically have to endure but… here she is!!!

kart

It’s a 2009 Tonykart EVR which, as you can see, is sitting on top of my fairly low-tech trailer lid!!! Having it in the garage takes a huge weight off of my shoulders! I’d been monitoring two karts for some time: this one, which was offered to me before Christmas through one of the Karting forums, and a 2011 Wright which had been relisted on eBay in numerous packages with varying levels of completeness. Unfortunately both sets of negotiations came to a head at the same time: I agreed to buy the Wright, got cold feet and luckily this one was still available (always go with your gut feeling!).

I had negotiated a price/package with my seller over the prior weeks that included the rolling chassis, complete engine (from airbox to exhaust), used slicks on rims, used wets on rims and a trolley for £700. In addition I was buying the following extras to the tune of £300: Mychron 4, remote starter, new slicks, kart cover and a comprehensive spares package. I don’t feel at all comfortable haggling with people so did it all via email rather than in person so that I could negotiate harder than I otherwise would. If I were the seller, I’d have told me where to stick my initial offer but there is no point in starting high – it will just cost you more!

The day began with my second towing journey – no problems there although I did have to learn how to use ratchet straps (tip: much easier to figure out when you are actually wrapping it around the trailer than testing them on the lounge floor). Met the seller at Clay and spent the day learning what I could about being a mechanic whilst my son set about trying to find the 10 seconds that he had been off of the pace when we had rented a kart a few weeks earlier. Bump starting was a much harder task with this kart compared with the rented kart and I soon had to make way for the seller and his to do the starting (and even then they were running around the first bend trying to get him going). We also had to spend some time adjusting the things, including installing a smaller seat, to accomodate the difference in size between the new and former owner which necessitated a first ever purchase from the shop at Clay (pedal extensions – £25). The timing of the purchase wasn’t great – my contacts were unable to make it on the day to give me an expert opinion on the chassis, which was a concern as the kart had been involved in an accident in it’s last outing in October. I had been assured that the kart was straight and that there were no cracks, rust or flat spots – everything looked ok to my untrained eye and, unless was prepared to spend the £50 to get it checked on a jig, I was going to have go on trust/take a punt.

So after a day’s testing, in which my son was still 8 seconds off the pace (but had a great time which was far more important in only his second day in a ‘proper’ kart), I parted with the readies and also bought a couple of extras that weren’t part of the original deal (spare carb – £30, transponder – £40, Tillett R4 rib protector – £25). Then, as if by magic, one of my contacts came along and started inspecting the kart and asking a lot of questions – and then he pointed out a small crack just off a weld on the front end. Gutted!!! What could I do? I’d paid for the kart and, although I trying to back never crossed my mind, I knew that a crack or weld *significantly* impacts the value of a chassis. I pointed it out and the seller offered my another carb – basically 10% off the chassis. That didn’t make up for the crack but I didn’t feel I had much choice but to take whatever charity was offered. So I loaded all the bits in the trailer and the boot and the back of the Clio and the footwell around my son’s feet. Then we set about fixing the kart to the trailer before heading for home, £1120 poorer but with a pretty decent entry level kart (with crack) and two feet firmly entrenched into the world of karting. The journey was a little nervous – checking my mirrors every 15 yards to see if the kart moved and we got all of 25 yards down the road before pulling over to remove the kart cover which was clearly going to disappear very soon! Other than that the journey was a smooth one.

Total spent so far: £1610 (£110 over budget!!!)

Buying a kart (part 1)

There is *so* much to consider when buying a kart. You need to set a budget and pick a class (see ‘How Much Does Karting Cost?‘). Having spent two months watching karts sale on the karting forums and on eBay, I developed a reasonable picture of how much things would sell for and the kinds of questions that must be asked when enquiring about karts for sale.

Which class – rotax or TKM?
My budget (£1500 in total – £650-£700 for a complete kart, moving upto £1000 depending upon how comprehensive the spares package was and £500 for a trailer/towbar) essentially ruled out rotax so I only looked at Junior TKMs.

A complete kart with spares package or a rolling chassis on which to build the kart?
I settled on a retirement package – they seem to come up frequently enough that finding one within reasonable travelling distance should be possible and they offer great value for money when compared to buying the necessary bits individually (rolling chassis, complete engine (airbox > exhaust), slicks/wets, Mychron, trolley, starter, a spare carb and a few chains/sprockets – it soon adds up even if you decide you don’t need all of the above) although I was wary of over-valuing any spares package (as sellers tend to do) given I might not end up ever using some of the bits (or even identify them!). If you know what you are doing and are happy to wait for the right prices then the rolling chassis route may be more feasible for you than it was me!

Which engine type – direct drive, clutched or TAG?
I favoured direct drive as they are cheaper (a bit less than clutched and a lot less than TAG) and require less maintenance. Some say they are quicker but cost was the primary consideration. The only downside is bump starting – I rented a direct drive kart from a member at the local track to satisfy myself that this would not be a problem so never really considered the alternatives.

Where to buy?
I’d recommend the local kart club first of all – they may know of members selling up or changing classes and I found them *extremely* helpful (thanks, Derek!) and full of very good advice on what you might want to be looking out for. I definitely would not have decided to go for it were it not for the help of the kart club and members whom I met in the karting forums. Failing that then the best sources are the Karting.co.uk Market Place and the Karting1.co.uk For Sale forum (the former seems to get more items listed) and, of course, there is eBay. I watched a lot of karts go on eBay; the impression I get with is that you really need to know what you are looking for here as, whilst there may be the odd bargain to be found, there is probably an awful lot of stuff that nobody else wanted (although it’s a great source for spares and some of the little things that you will find you need later on). Your best bet is to find something that the seller is happy to bring to your local track, where you can try it out, see what you are buying and hopefully have one or two friendly members pore over it before you hand over your money.

Questions to ask when buying a kart/chassis:
Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me!) but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives
What is the serial number of the engine?
When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
How many hours since the last rebuild?
Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
Does the chassis have any cracks/rewelds/rust/flattening? (any chassis issue will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
What sized seat is included?
In what condition are the tyres?
What is the condition of the bodywork?
Exactly what spares are included?

If I was going to spend my full £1000 budget, I wanted to ensure that my spares package included a decent set of slicks and wets both on rims (the MSA approved wet tyres changed for 2013 so, whilst you can practice on anything, you need this year’s wets to race in any MSA events after April 1st), a Mychron 4, a trolley (*essential*) and a remote starter.