A Sad Farewell to Llandow Kart Club

We’d not attended the final months of the 2016 season at LKC; Our championship was aspirations were finished and, after the TKM Festival, our season ended in October with the Britain’s Finest event at Whilton Mill. LKC were already struggling and their season also came to a premature end through lack of entries. Although the end of season AGM brought about a new committee and (finally) Alpha Timing, the writing was very much on the wall: It would take some turnaround to attract the 50 entries needed to see the club break even. The season would begin with a new slot for the Celtic Challenge, a non-championship event which would then lead into the championship proper. That was the theory at least and, on the back of another disappointing entry, the committee announced last week that LKC would cease to hold meetings after the Celtic. Perhaps holding onto that bombshell for a couple of weeks may have brought a few more to the Celtic, maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference to a club that just seems to have struggled to hold onto drivers from South Wales. The current and previous committees couldn’t really be faulted for trying things to attract people: hosting Super One, offering prizes, reduced entry, free entry, even the amazing (if I say so myself) four heats and a final made no difference to the stagnant entry numbers.

We had practiced on the Saturday and, despite a first session last-lap crash as Junior seemed intent on breaking the lap record, we looked very quick early-on. But we needed a set of inters for the raceday and spent the rest of the day trying to make slicks work! Fortunately we had a nice, dry garage spot and some friends to scrap on track. It was a decent day in weather that could have been a lot worse. Sunday felt very sombre. To stop and look around the place; The familiar faces of the officials, staff and hardcore members stirred what has easily been our best memories of junior karting. It really did feel very sad. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t reaching for the Kleenex but I knew even before we’d raced that I’ll really miss Llandow Kart Club.

There were 20 or so entries merged into three libre classes: cadets, junior and senior two-strokes. As you can imagine, the racecard threatened to turn into quite a rush so there were 5-minute intervals between races (and, event then, it was still a rush!). This was our first TKM Extreme race meeting and our first chance to see how the engines had fared after being converted to Extreme. Conditions in Heat #1 weren’t ideal. Neither was my setup: Having had so much time to prepare in the morning, I noticed on the dummy grid that I had negated to change the rear width from the very narrow setting we were using on slicks, in the wet, on the Saturday! How long have I been doing this!?! The three entrants in our class meant the grid positions would be straight-forward! It was a strong line-up too with our fastest rivals from juniors in 2016. On top of that, they had both switched to TaG for 2017. Today would be *very* interesting…

Junior started on pole but it was clear that we were holding the others up and they three of them were strung out by the finish with us at the back. Heat #2 was better but Junior ended up scrapping his principle rival from last season and they allowed the leader to clear off. Heat #3 was pretty much a case of deja-vu. Pleasingly there was no contact between them (historically, there has been!) and they seemed to enjoy the tussle even if they were missing the point somewhat. I’m sure the leader appreciated the license to bugger off into the distance!

We started in P3 for the final and, finally, conditions were good enough for slicks. We were on our Whilton tyres from October and our rivals on nice, slippery fresh rubber. We would need to make hay while the sun shined. I really am gutted about what happened next: Junior went up the inside as they entered Surtees on the opening lap and the leader tried to hold it around the outside, as had been done on numerous occasions through the day. This time they touched and our rival span. In the final TKM race at Llandow Kart Club and against friends we’d been racing for several years, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to see. The incident seemed pretty innocuous; Things had clearly become tight but I devastated one of them span. Junior was looking pretty quick and he drove away from his remaining rival but there was no celebration. Junior didn’t feel as if he’d done much wrong and, whilst this was clearly going to The Office, I wouldn’t be: the not-so-little-bloke turned 18 on Thursday so I left him to it! Junior kept the race after his rival said he’d leant on Junior a little and not left him enough room. It was a surprising and impressive display of honesty when we were more less over a barrel (the marshal report had us making a ‘late move’ and taking the leader out which was never the case) but I guess their friendship shone through the disappointment. It wiped all the gloss off of the win though: There were no fist pumps, high-fives, not even a smile from Junior. Even now it feels like a loss and, to be honest, I’d have preferred it that way if it meant we could have been treated to a three-way duel for nine minutes plus one lap.

And that was that. Junior is the TKM Extreme Celtic Champion for what it’s worth although, with no further club events, the ‘CC’ plate will never be carried in race action. I really do hope that, against all odds, the club can rise again from the ashes at some point in the future. Maybe the MSA and ABKC can learn something from club’s demise about their inward focus on their own big clubs and national championships. I shan’t hold my breath…

You never know how much you will miss something until it’s gone…

RIP Llandow Kart Club 🙁

*That* Channel 4 program

All the talk today is of last night’s airing of ‘0-60mph: Britain’s Fastest Kids’ on Channel 4. I hadn’t intended to watch it: It was clearly covering an aspect of karting that I have little time for but such was the subsequent reaction on social media that I had to see it for myself (mostly on the back of some bloke describing TKM as a ‘bandit class’). I shouldn’t really have been surprised: We’ve rocked up with the kart on a camping trailer behind the Clio and parked next to the most luxurious motorhomes imaginable a few times now and the money being spent on karting at the ‘top’ level should be obvious to anyone who has seen a British Championship event. Admittedly, it is still staggering when you hear someone is paying 26 times more than you are to participate in the same sport! You could argue that behind every wannabe sports star is a pushy parent and that dedication comes at a cost. The production staff clearly had a narrative but I don’t think it was an inaccurate representation of national racing for 8-12 year olds from what I have seen. Motorsport, above all other sports, is the place where money talks. A poor driver will ultimately never make it but success can be bought at almost any level with sufficient kit, coaching, contacts and seat time.

There were a few OMG moments. Some of the things the drivers had to say about their efforts to please their dads were quite shocking. You really hope they are able to derive some enjoyment from those times when they don’t make the podium. It is a shame that, whilst the show never set out to be a reflection on karting as a whole, those who don’t know any differently will come away thinking that the sport is largely the domain of spoilt kids, pushy dads and footballer’s wives. The show sampled life for those prepared to do whatever it takes to follow in Lewis Hamilton’s footsteps when the sport is so much more for the other 99% of us. The saddest moment for me was when the dad suddenly choked up when reflecting upon the good times he had with his own dad, karting out the back of the van, before quickly dismissing the emotion as the ‘the old days’ of karting as if completely unaware that’s exactly how karting is for many today. The dad/lad experience is alive and well, it hasn’t changed one bit. Karting dads make a choice; I’m certain that, when Junior looks back on his karting career, he will know those same feelings that hit the dad so hard in the program. You just wonder whether those kids with the shattered dreams will look back on those times quite so fondly…

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 😀

*That* race

Although the Festival seems like an eternity ago and the kart hasn’t been touched since, the excellent Motors TV coverage (the track action starts five minutes into the video) courtesy of Alan Taddei and TDi Media this week brought things back to the fore. I didn’t really expect the Festival Cup to get much coverage but it did and I’m now looking back at the Festival Cup final much more positively than I had originally: Had we made the Elite final we might have made the top ten but we’d certainly have gotten nowhere near as much coverage as we did running at the front of the Festival Cup. The video is there for all time and it is one of those things that we can always look back on. I think that Junior only made three passes in the race but the moves he makes are good ones and the dummy he sells to take the lead always bring a smile to my face, not least because I had told him to do it 😉 The block two turns from the end was a necessary evil unfortunately. I didn’t like it at the time (I was only yards away at a nearby marshal post) and I don’t really like it now but it had to be done: It was way too deep into the race to simply give it up. The lesson is that the best way to shut the door is not to open it in the first place! Of course the Tal-Ko and Argos vouchers, coupled with a set of slicks and some nice trophies also makes it worthwhile 🙂

It might be our only win but I’m not sure I’d go as far to say it was our finest hour. I think that honour still goes to the time we finally found *the* pace 😀

The consolation prize

Thursday was going to be a busy day: With the newly welded chassis meeting me at the track, Junior and I set sail for Kimbolton at lunchtime hoping to be ready to build the kart as soon as it arrived. We were sharing three large paddock spaces between six of us and we were the first to arrive. We put the tents up and waited for the chassis. Three hours later we got to work on the kart assembly!

I've made loads of friends in JTKM. At least I *think* I have...

I’ve made loads of friends in JTKM. They just, um… aren’t here yet. Something missing on the trailer too!

There wasn’t really any rush and I spent more time than I had intended faffing about with the seat position. By 10pm it was time for a beer and an hour later it was time for bed. I’d brought ear plugs this year to try to avoid any repeat of both of our previous camping stays at Kimbolton which saw Junior unable to sleep either due to snoring or strong winds and then attempting, unsuccessfully, to sleep in the car. It worked 😀 Bringing my regular pillow also helped me a lot; I was unable to remember anywhere near the same amount of the night as previous months. Result!

Time to get cracking!

I wouldn’t say I was unprepared but I was further behind than some of those who hadn’t even departed for Kimbolton at this point!

Friday was a long, hot day. It was clear early on that we were nowhere near the pace that we had shown at the club round in July: Our 0.4s deficit had doubled! Lots had happened since then though: Junior had been sick and lost so much weight that we’d dropped down a restrictor, the engines had both had issues repaired, the chassis had been welded and there was simply no way of knowing how good our practice tyres were compared to those of our rivals. Our setup was a little out for the start of the day but, basked in glorious sunshine, I knew that the track would come to us so I didn’t really tinker other than changing the exhaust flex length. We chipped away to find a couple of tenths but it was hard to be confident about our chances for the Saturday:  We would just have to bolt on the fresh rubber, hope Junior could nail his [still not altogether consistent] lines and see where we were at. On the plus side, it was refreshing to run the entire day without any engine problems and, having bought the proper OTK side pod bar fixings, we hadn’t broken our new side pod bar!

This year, I was adamant that we wouldn’t be eating MacDonalds every night: We’d stopped at the services enroute on the Thursday for some cooked food (I love Harry Ramsden’s!) and had meatballs on Friday thanks to some of our awning buddies. It was only after that he asked if we had been OK overnight as he and his lad had felt a little rough!!!

Saturday was the start of the serious stuff. We elected to scrub in our slicks during warm-up so that we would be able to attack qualifying from the outset. I wasn’t happy with the qualifying grids: Almost every single bit of pace appeared to be in the first group,so much so that there was little chance that the groups had been drawn randomly. I almost complained but didn’t… it transpired afterwards that someone had apparently decided to give the ‘O’ Plate entrants more time between their Festival and Plate qualifying sessions (although I never heard this officially). More on that later! The kart was a little slow to start so our intended target escaped us (with his TaG engine) but Junior still found himself in a good group of three drivers and put in some decent laps. With the TAG Heuer timing system, everyone on the balcony was glued to their phones watching the live timing. Junior was prominent early on but dropped to 7th, seemingly unable to better an early 43.3s: 0.2s off the pace in his group but a massive 0.7s off of the Super One boys and girls in the first session. It wasn’t too bad, confirming our pace deficit from the Friday but, on the final lap, Junior finally hooked everything up with a 43.1s of his own: qualifying third of his group and an impressive ninth overall 😀

I knew that a boost was coming courtesy of the 101% rule. It is intended to address situations where track conditions change between qualifying groups and is a perfectly valid and useful rule in my opinion. The grids were published and Junior was due to start in 5th position for every heat, which was great for us 🙂 And then somebody spotted that the 101% rule had not been applied! The heat grids and official qualifying results were taken down and the club announced that their software had not initially factored the rule into the official results. The qualifying positions were decided by taking the fastest driver in group #1, then the fastest in group #2, second in group #1, second in group #2 etc. It only bumped us up from three places to 6th but many of those who had qualified well in the first group were badly affected. Cue the storm of protest. It didn’t really have much effect on us: We would now start 2nd, 3rd or 4th instead of 5th in every heat although it did mean that we would have one or two quicker drivers behind us. The complaints went on; One dad even blamed the second group of drivers for being too slow!?! OK, mate – whatever you say! Had there not been any bias shown to the ‘O’ Plate entrants, we’d likely have had two standard groups with pace in each and there would never have been more than 0.4s between the two. Although well intended, setting the groups had done more harm than good. Here’s hoping this is a lesson learned…

Heat #1. Junior’s brief was to accept that he had some quicker drivers behind him, to let them past if they were quicker and bring it home. Unfortunately our race was soon over: We dropped from 4th to 7th before getting fired off on lap #4 as we exited Dan Wheldon Corner. Let’s give our opponent the benefit of the doubt and call it clumsy. Junior rejoined but was so far back the he found himself having to concede ground because of blue flags. Junior doesn’t take these things lightly and, as I had been on track to restart him, only caught the end of the ‘discussion’ in parc ferme: Junior should apparently have looked behind him as he exited the corner and noticed someone wafting their nose on the outside of his rear bumper!?!

Heat #2 was a really poor race for us. Junior started second and he just needed to drive with his head. He didn’t. He soon got in a battle for 3rd as the front two made the most of it and scooted off. Junior would get passed at the Bus Stop and re-pass into Turn 1. All the while he got more and more defensive, entering the corners ever earlier and, almost inevitably, somebody hit us from behind. They flipped up onto our engine and wiped out our spark plug, ending our race. Junior was furious at the incident. I was furious at Junior’s driving: He could easily have let these people go, just tucked in and see where they were quicker than us. Instead he had to battle and lose his composure (not to mention his lines) completely. I could see the incident coming five minutes before it happened. I’ve never criticised Junior’s racing, not in our time in owner/driver racing at any rate: I’d tell him if I thought he was doing something wrong but leave him to make the final decision. Driving a kart on the edge is hard enough without people beating you up over things. This time, however, I gave him my frank opinion whilst he was sat on track: The incident wasn’t his fault but he’d brought about his own demise. Not making the Elite final would be disastrous but our chances now were remote to say the least.

I didn’t see too much of Junior after that. Having booked a table at a nearby pub to ensure that he had a proper meal at least once over the weekend, the talk over dinner was going to be… interesting! Before we got to leave for the restaurant, I was accosted by an entourage demanding action over the advantage of the TaG engine!?! I’m not sure who they thought I was or what I was going to be able to do. I pointed out that I had done little more than set up a Facebook group for the class, that I had no links into Tal-Ko and I certainly had no intention of boycotting Sunday’s racing!!! There has been a lot of debate about the TaG performance: You couldn’t visit the Gents on Saturday without overhearing a conversation about it. The works drivers were a long way ahead in Juniors. My own personal opinion, based on no facts whatsoever, is that an off-the-shelf TaG is a match for most DD engines. There is great consistency between the new TaGs and, conversely, a lot of variance in DD engines so some of those drivers on older/lesser engines have seen their rivals switch to a TaG and jump them on track. The concerns in my mind surround the team engines, those built from a much wider pool of parts than your average driver might have access to. It is clear that the best drivers have switched to the TaG so, ignoring why they have ditched already strong DD engnes for TaGs, does this account for the obvious advantage that the top drivers currently hold? Is there time to be found in weighing, measuring, testing and selecting parts? There is no way of knowing for sure; I have friends who are very close to the teams and they’ve not necessarily convinced me yet! One thing is certain: It isn’t good for a single engine type to dominate any class, especially one as fragile as TKM. Dinner at The George in Spaldwick was very good by the way – I can recommend the fillet steak and chocolate torte 😀

It was something of a solemn start to Sunday. Back of a fag packet calculations told us that we would need at least a top seven finish in heat #3 to stand a chance of making the Elite pre-final. Junior start in third, had a great start and was soon in second. He was unable to hold onto it however, got into some tussles and his 6th place finish felt about right. He’d posted his best time of the weekend since qualifying so we couldn’t really have any complaints about  the performance. It wasn’t enough though: we missed the cut by two places 🙁

I was gutted. I would have much rather started the Elite pre-final on Row #17 than start the Festival Cup pre-final in second. Looking at the lap times of our rivals, one other driver was very quick and had also had two bad finishes. Purely on paper, they’d be the one we had to beat. Junior got hung out at the start of the race, dropping to 5th on the opening lap. The two-horse race soon transpired. Junior was a fraction under 2s behind but closed at 0.3s/lap. His rival went defensive a long way from home and, although he had five laps to try to find a way past, the leader held on to take pole for the final with the two finishing 5s clear of the field.

We made a couple of tweaks for the final. So did the pole-sitter, as she swapped the DD engine that she’d won the pre-final on for the TaG that she was using in the ‘O’ Plate. Game on! We got another poor start, dropping to fourth. The final wasn’t proving to be a repeat of the two-horse race I had expected and, when Junior finally hit the front on lap #5 (selling an impressive dummy into Turn #1), third came with us offering us a small cushion over our main rival. At this point I hoped that Junior was going to drive away but our tyres started to go off a little and Junior had to show his own defensive metal for the final three laps. He almost opened the door too wide entering Kestrel, two corners from home: He quickly realised and shut it again, squeezing his rival somewhat aggressively but needs must, eh? I’d have been annoyed had he given it away that late on!

We won a 'thing'! Nice pic by Bethanie Lawson :)

We won a ‘thing’! Nice pic by Bethanie Lawson 🙂

Scrutineering was by far the most thorough I have ever experienced: The engine had to cool then off came the head, manifold and barrel with me needing to send Junior off to our awning every time that I realised I was missing another tool! Winning is great. Rebuilding your engine after scrutineering, not quite so! You wouldn’t want it any other way though, this is the TKM Festival after all…

I missed most of the other finals although both of the ‘O’ Plate finals had dramatic finishes. One of our closest friends proved to be the surprise package of the Extreme final and challenged for the lead on the final lap before making contact with the leader and finding themselves in the tyres. It was a real shame as second place would have been such a fantastic result. With the last of the finals run, it was time to pack up. We had taken the tents down on Sunday morning but had been hand-tied really until racing was over, the trailer could be packed, the kart strapped on top, the trolley put in the car and then everything else packed around it. It was difficult to make any real progress until the trophy presentations had been completed. Both of them (one for TV, the other, um… not for TV)! We didn’t leave the track until 7:30pm and, after stopping with the boys (and girls) at a nearby KFC for tea, it was 11pm by the time we got home.

So this was our last TKM Festival in juniors… A bit sad in a way as Junior has gotten to know the grid pretty well despite only seeing them on a handful of occasions. I’m unsure which of them are moving up to Extreme next season. Although we did end up with the consolation prize, it’s hard to not be disappointed with our results. We would never have contested the podium but I think we could have challenged for a top ten position. Junior has to learn when to battle and when to give it up and work with the pack. If we enter Extreme in the same manner I think we’ll DNF more often than not; Extreme doesn’t tend to take any prisoners!!! The social side of the Festival is always great. We had shared paddock space with five of our closest friends and most of our other friends could be found not too far away. We wouldn’t have been there without them: They had welded our chassis, lent us an awning, fed us, helped transport our stuff to the track, kept our food/drink chilled and charged our phones! It was one of those times when you realise how much richer your life is for the new friends we’d made since starting karting. This might have been our last national event in JTKM but I’m leaning towards the event at Whilton Mill in October, especially since we’ve now got a set of new slicks for it 🙂

I should also add a note of thanks to the staff at Hunts Kart Racing Club, all of whom had been very welcoming to us over the past two months at the track. I know that it can be a very officious place but it really is needed for a weekend such as the Festival and, barring the odd blip, was a thoroughly well run event.

WHAT IS GOING ON???

Saturday was an early start. The plan was to arrive at HKRC by 9am, put in the fuel, bolt on the Alfano and be ready in plenty of time to make the first session. The kart had been set up for dry weather (the prep work had been done the previous weekend) but the wet journey to the track from the Birmingham area told me that we’d be on the back foot for much of the morning as we switched to a wet setup as time permitted :/ Worse, with a good set of wets and some inters, I’d opted to leave another decent set of wets at home; I‘d never gone through three sets of wet tyres before and had no intention of doing so here for what really was just a practice weekend for us. Of course that hadn’t really accounted for what we would be doing for tyres on the Saturday… 😮

We fudged our way through a wet Saturday morning on tyres that had 1mm of tread on at the start of the day! I hadn’t really heeded my own lesson about only gaining from wet practice if you are actually on wet tyres that allow you to push and find the limits. We were off the pace but that was just one of those things. I managed to smash the knuckles of both hands into the rear sprocket whilst removing the front sprocket. That bled more than I expected! The afternoon brightened up and we were much more at home with a familiar setup on a decent set of slicks and a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the track as we’d found it at last year’s Festival. It felt like we hadn’t learnt much from the morning session but Junior was looking much more racey in the afternoon. The only negative was that we didn’t get the final session (either I miscalculated or the club cut a session, I think the latter) and that meant that we hadn’t got to run the race engine. How costly that would prove!

With strong winds forecast, we setup the tents between a couple of caravans and I put the car in front of both tents to offer further shelter. It did the job and, with the humid conditions, things were fairly cosy. At least as much as they could be sleeping on a 1” camping mattress! And then the winds came: It sounded as if we were sleeping next to tallest trees in the world! Being soft, southern indoor types it was pretty hard to sleep. Junior repeated his getting-out-to-sleep-in-the-car antics and then spent 20 mins chucking things around in the car to make space for himself. He was back in tent within 3 hours! It was only at around 5am that I seemed to get any real sleep and then it was soon time to get up 🙁

The forecast was again mixed (we had the British GP weather). The track had been dampened by early morning rain but it was slicks for the warm-up. Our tyres had been used at the Welsh Champs but were in reasonable shape (for Llandow tyres) because of the wet Sunday. Junior had been off of school since Wednesday with a stomach problem (relax, it wasn’t contagious). We’d only made the decision to go ahead with the weekend on the Friday night. Although he’d been fine on Saturday, he was poorly again on Sunday! Five minutes before we were due to head out for warm-up, he was sat in the awning with a sick bag. I convinced him to head out, get at least one lap in to ensure that all was well and we’d see how things went after that. The kart started slowly but thereafter Junior’s pace was respectable: around half a second off but, having been slow away, he’d had nobody to follow. The kart cut out as he entered the pits, blocking the entrance gate. I assumed it had just dropped revs and not been able to pick up. Alarm bells should have been ringing!

Junior continued to feel bad and looked even worse ahead of qualifying. Wretching in the holding area isn’t a good look and I sent him back to the awning until it was almost time to race. When he returned, he looked absolutely dreadful! Hopefully racing would take his mind off of things!!! The dummy grid for qualifying was the usual political game of bagging a spot amongst the pace. We were very nicely placed with the quick TAGs although we obviously have a bit of a starting deficit with a DD engine. The gate raised, the engine fired and I turned to put the start bar away… only to see Junior spluttering around Stow. I had  left my official HKRC pusher’s hi-vis vest in the awning so I couldn’t go out to help him. Others tried valiantly but it was pretty evident that he wasn’t going anywhere. He watched qualifying from the marshal post and I was unable to get the kart until after the next session (trolley park jam) 🙁 We still had to weigh (if ever there was a time to come in underweight, this was it) and, to top off a fantastic session, I got another exhaust burn as I stopped to look over my shoulder as Junior continued to walk the front of the kart towards me. I swear that I’ll have no freckles on my left arm by the time I quit this sport!

We got the kart back to the awning and tested the carb: it was popping but losing pressure quite quickly (my carbs are cleaned post race and tested during race weekend preparation). We replaced the carb and started the engine on the stand (in the designated starting area – we’re good like that). Missing qualifying wasn’t as bad as it could have been however since the finishing position for Heat #1 would determine our start position for the pre-final. There was still much to play for… provided my driver was well enough!

Junior looked a little perkier for Heat #1. The start was a real dog’s dinner: Starting on the back row, the driver in front bogged down even before they reached Kimbolton Corner and his kart never picked up, yet the race started with Junior crossing the line well adrift of the field! Earth to Starter!?! Hello??? We crossed the line after lap #1 still last and 6s behind the leader. Junior drove really well from there on in, cutting through the field and was running in 10th when he came together with another kart entering Dan Wheldon Corner: With Junior on the inside and on the apex, their front wheel touched our pod and rear wheel, flipped our kart up over their Nassau and dumped us off in the long grass. Do you have any idea how long it takes to retrieve a kart from Wheldon? It’s a good job I’m still young and fit 😉

The real problems began when we returned to the pits: The spark plug was stuck in the head, with only ~10 degrees rotation either way. We removed the head and the piston was bone dry. Our fuel was freshly mixed before that heat and definitely had oil. The carb was used yesterday and correctly set. I really had no idea why the engine was looking so lean. I couldn’t risk the race engine, it was going to need to see a builder for a check-up. The practice motor had snapped the finger guard on the Saturday so, to hasten things, we took the finger guard and coil from the race motor and bolted everything on. With the regular spark plug stuck in the other head, I pulled out a spare from the toolbox. Was this one any good??? There wouldn’t be time to test so I borrowed one from a friend that had been used the day before. On top of that, it had starting to rain heavily and the kart was in full dry trim. Things were a bit rushed as you might imagine.

We opted for inters, some of the field went for slicks. We would have been proven correct if only the kart had started. It was blatantly obvious that there was no spark. Junior’s kart was dragged off of Stow once more. Junior flapped his arms around as they gallery looked on. This was a long way to come to have more DNS’s than we’d expect in an entire season.

Back to the awning: There was indeed no spark. We put in another plug to no avail. The wiring looked good, the spade connectors were well seated but what about… the coil? To save time when swapping the finger guard, we’d brought the coil across from the race motor. I wonder if…? We put the practice motor’s original coil back on: The spark returned! The engine fired first time in the start area. With just the final remaining, I crossed everything that the bloody thing started and we actually took part in a race. Even the Chairman (with whom I’d had enough chances to become acquainted with whilst stood at the grid gate with my trolley, waiting for various races to end so that I could fetch our kart) was wishing us well! On the dummy grid, I reflected on our day thus far; it felt like amateur hour, the kind of day you might expect when your lad is running novice plates – definitely not the kind of day to be habitually fetching your kart from Stow Corner in front of all of the dads on the viewing platform! The only positive was that Junior was feeling much better and this wasn’t the Festival..

The kart fired quickly but *again* struggled to pick up. I had noticed that the practice motor appeared to be lacking compression when I happened to kick it along the dummy grid on the Saturday. It was already going to be heading to the engine builder for investigation. I held my breath, ready to quit the sport immediately if this went tits up! Junior pinched the pipe to clear the fuel build up and finally headed off down towards the Bus Stop 😀 The race itself went really well: Starting 19th, Junior got an amazing run around the outside of Stow as the inside runners concertinaed up and he had gained seven places by the end of the first lap. He continued to pick off the mid-field with some nice moves. I was a little disappointed that he got himself into a real scrap for 8th that went to and fro for 11 laps; every time he passed, he’d start looking over his shoulder compromising his lap times. We need to work on that but, on the whole, you couldn’t help but be pleased with a 6th place finish (unfortunately we lost the front two at the final corner).

So our day was done. Packing up took some time and we were reliant on friends to help us get the camping stuff back home (camping gear always packs much smaller on the outward journey than it does on the homeward one!). We’d had a lot of setbacks. To be fair (to myself!) the engine problem wasn’t immediately obvious and it was only by freak chance that we’d moved what appeared to be a problem coil to the second engine when we swapped them over. I’d found a new way to injure myself (along with an old way) and Junior hadn’t felt that great at times but it was still a more positive weekend than not, especially with his pace only being pretty good on only our second visit to the track. We would definitely hope to improve further at the Festival.

I need to say a special thanks to several sets of friends who provided us with a roof, refreshments, company, support during our Sunday woes and even a free set of inters. TKM really does have the best community in karting by some distance 🙂