Race 11: And it was going so well…

This wasn’t really ever intended to be a race weekend – I had planned to bring Junior to Llandow during the holidays for a change of scenery and a bit of fun but, when I had mentioned this to one of the Welsh dads at Clay the previous weekend, he had suggested coming along to the club practice day instead. This was very tempting as it provided a great opportunity to gauge our pace (a nice quiet practice day can be useful but you never really how good your times were if you’ve no peers to compare them with) but we had so much to do to get the kart ready. We managed it so off we set to Wales…

Another nice early start but it at least ensured that we were ready for the first session (unlike the last time we came on a club practice day). The day went better than expected – with his newly built kart, Junior didn’t stop on track and only came in early the one time when he found himself sitting on one of the seat stay bolts! Our pace was fairly good also, knocking a couple of tenths off of the time we set on our last visit although we still found ourselves 0.6s off of the pace at times. It was also a good opportunity also to test the new chassis with the more rigid floor tray and new seat position; you would have thought Junior might have noticed some difference, right? :S How about when the torsion bar was removed? [Tumbleweed…]. We did have to bring the back end in when running without the bar but his times were only 0.06s apart and, if we were to race the following day (it was a possibility I stupidly mentioned to Junior earlier in the week), we’d be running without the bar anyway!

In the end, an offer from one of the Clay dads (for whom this was their ‘home’ track) to store our kart overnight and then to let us share their awning on the race day (rain was forecast) clinched it. We’d start at the back but it would be good to see how we fared on a track that Junior was starting to like a lot.

Having had our rain dances ignored last at Clay last weekend, we were really hoping for a dry day on an unfamiliar track. We had driven in the wet at Llandow but not for over 12 months, long before Junior was racing – or even experienced! You know how things go though… we looked a fair bit off the pace in the warm-up as Junior found himself having to learn the wet line PDQ! Although the track was drying, it didn’t do so anywhere near as quickly as Clay 🙁

Now I’m the type of bloke who likes to take up a pushing post on track but that is mostly to get a good viewing point. Llandow have an unusual system whereby the pushers draw a ball from a tin to select their posts. I was the only person who stayed on after the drivers briefing to sign in and yet the scrutineer in charge of post allocation almost seemed to be considering making me draw a ball :S In the end, he decided I could take my pick – I asked which post was in the middle and he told me it was Post 2. I was little peeved when I got to Post 2 to be told that it was actually Post 1 and that Post 2 was in the far corner of the track! Not only was I going to have a pretty poor view but I was going to doing a bit of running today – at least I was going to see Junior in corners that I had not previously observed from.

Heat #1 was still wet but Junior coped really well – the pack split into two groups and he was dicing with a couple of others for the lead of the second group. The order chopped and changed with Junior not quite managing to make it stick until, when it looked like he’d pulled it off, he left the door open for a late move into Chandlers and ended up on the grass. The following lap another kart spun into the same corner and Junior spun whilst taking evasive action. We had a bit of a race – me pushing against the fast approaching novice!!! – but there was only ever going to be one winner there! It was a good start to our day though and it was pleasing to see us ‘racing’, which was something we’d not really done at Clay for a while.

Heat #2 wasn’t exactly memorable – we were 5th quickest and finished a little adrift of the front group, who were all pretty much on the pace. Still, it was nice to see Junior overtaking and he even seemed to be able to outbrake people on occassion :-O

Heat #3 was the highlight, Junior managed to jump from 7th to 3rd after the first corner and had put a bit of a gap on those behind, as a couple of the front runners were held up a little. Unfortunately, they weren’t for long and we soon found ourselves back in 5th which became 4th following a mechanical flag and 3rd after an exclusion. We dipped under 46s for the first time 😀 although we were a little lucky not to see a mechanical ourselves as our exhaust bracket extension bar had snapped but the exhaust had only sunk a few inches and was propped up on the bracket bar itself.

We started a satisfying 5th for the final. The leaders soon put a gap on us but we were comfortably holding position until Junior got his exit from The Dell badly wrong and ploughed into the tyres. It was a big accident as they are looking to get up to top speed as quickly as possible – I could only see the top half of him from my post but it seems he hit his head on his steering wheel before it whiplashed backwards and hit some tyres. Cue red flag and ambulance trip back to the pits. Junior was stiff and shaken but his hand seemed to be the most painful part – I think he hit it with his helmet. His kart didn’t fare too well though: he had pushed the nassau bracket bolt up through the nassau, bent the steering column and track rod, snapped the brake pedal bolt and had also managed to punch the steering wheel bolt right through the steering boss. He was ok though – that was the main thing.

Llandow have a novel and pretty cool twist that they offer at the end of a race day – an extra race, run in the reverse final positions that costs £5 and each class races for a voucher at the shop. We (I say we but I had borrowed the money!) had already paid our entry and Junior would now start on poll courtesy of not finishing the final. I had already discounted our chances of taking part but our awning hosts suggested it could be done as their kart was already sorted and I did have most of the spare bits. Junior was open to the idea so we got started. I’ve never had four people working on my kart before but it came to typify the kind of relationship between Dads/mechanics at club meetings – the kart was ready to roll inside 15 minutes (thanks, Gents!) 🙂 I was glad I had packed the old wheel and boss – I hadn’t expected to be using it again quite so soon! The race itself was poor – we lost the lead quickly and retired on lap #2 with a snapped exhaust manifold (it had clearly been damaged in Heat #3, so it seems unlikely we’d have finished the final anyway). Interestingly, Junior’s only real feedback on our changes came after this race when he said he preferred the F1 wheel to the OTK!

Junior was very sore and his hand wasn’t to good but it had been a really positive weekend – we’d tested the new chassis, got more experience of a track that was really growing fond of and we’d spent the day racing in the pack. *Huge* thanks to our awning hosts (you know who you are!) – for kindly sharing your awning space, giving us track advice, your company and for the bacon sandwiches! 😉 We had a great time and it’s given us a lot to consider before we choose where to race next month.

Cost of weekend:£40 practice fee, £55 race entry, £24 petrol, £13 bridge tolls, £9 fuel
Cost of new parts: steering column, £42; bumper bolts, £21

Spent since last post: new seat, £40

Total spent this year: £3,504


Just when you think you’re ready to rock n’roll…

I’ve spent every dry weekend day this month (admittedly, that isn’t that many) getting the kart sorted for our first outing of the year. Cleaning, checking seat fitting, replacing worn nuts and bolts, new axle, new sprocket carrier, replacing tyres on rims, changing the brake fluid – it looked like we were set for a potential return to the track this week. That was until a friend confirmed that the crack in the paintwork around the engine side bearing hanger was actually a crack in the chassis and would need welding 🙁 It is in a common spot for TKM karts, maybe I paid the price for running the engine stop bolt too close to the engine mount – because of my early problems with engine mounts, I had always backed the bolt off by 1mm or so but, as one of the other Dads pointed out, the vibration alone will likely negate that. The fact that my stop bolt was just a bare hex bolt, with no plastic head to dampen any vibration may not have helped. Or maybe it was just one of those things with a 5-year old chassis.

Anyway, that necessitated taking a half day to get the weld done at Brightweld – it doesn’t look *too* bad and I need to rub down the paintwork and paint the repaired area. Whilst I was there, I stopped off at Hobzie Motorsport to pick up a better engine stop bolt and he also delivered the good news that my 2009 EVR looks more like a 2008 EVXX!!! Great news, huh? :S

The icing on the cake was, of course, the inevitable rain that soaked the kart less than a mile from my house. Still hoping to make it out this weekend. The engine stop bolt might be a tad looser too…

The rear view

Leaving home with this in the rear view mirror normally gives me a buzz. It’s a shame we were going to the welding shop. In the rain.

Total spent this year: £244 – new axle £72 (funded by my finding a wodge of cash in Junior’s money tin courtesy of Junior’s Nan!), weld £10, engine stop bolt £2

Total spent so far: £5,668

Practice 12: Engine test

I picked up the engine from the builders on Friday: he had had good look at the electrical side and could find no issues – the thing sparked every time. The crank misalignment had been resolved and some bearings replaced. My wallet was £138 lighter but more concerning was the uncertainty this left us with over the state of the engine and it left me with a decision: practice this weekend so that I could check the engine out or next weekend on the practice Saturday before we race. No really a choice, huh? It meant that the kart, which I’m a little bit ashamed to say had gone untouched since Dunks (I know… but you know I am usually *very* prompt at cleaning up), was going to need a fair bit of work done to get it ready. In the evening. In my dingy garage. With minimal lighting (even the street light outside my garage was broken!). Fours hours later and we were pretty much good to go – it was bedtime and I had barely seen the family although that seems to happen a lot since we bought this thing 🙁

Saturday – we were two miles from Clay when I realised I hadn’t actually checked to see if the track was open for practice!!! *Never* do this! Luckily, they were only two vans there when we arrived: there definitely was no event on 🙂 The track was bathed in the kind of glorious sunshine for which Clay is renowned:

If view when arriving at Clay October through April!

The view when arriving at Clay anytime from October through April!

There were two problems to begin with: when you are wanting to test a motor that has a suspected electrical issue, you really want to be able to test the spark. And for that, your starter really needs it’s battery, which I had left the battery at home on charge! Next problem was the flat tyre on our trolley: I hadn’t sorted it out which meant I’d be spending the day pumping up the trolley tyre between sessions. Ho hum – on with engine testing…

The kart started first time and we kept the kart to below 12,000rpm for the first session. That went smoothly and I pulled Junior in after ten minutes to let the engine cool and make sure all was well. The second session was hampered by a ‘feeling’. Junior has these from time to time and will drive straight into the pits and report them! Sometimes I really wish he’d just spend another lap trying to identify these ‘feelings’ although there are times when I wish he would just STOP THE KART IMMEDIATELY!!! You can’t have it both ways I guess 😉 It was time for slicks anyway so we took the kart off to check it out. I couldn’t find any real issues although the chainguard was knocking on the finger guard and he has objected to his side pods being too loose before so I tightened those a little. Typically, by the time our next session started it was starting to rain. Junior stuck in a handful of laps before coming in complaining about revs again. This was becoming a pretty big issue – he had reported it at Dunks last week and I really could have done without it becoming a persistent issue. It was raining pretty heavily now so we covered up the kart and sat in the car for an early lunch (scoff all you like – I bet you have an awning! ;)). Keen not miss two session, I got my waterproofs on an got the kart set up for the wet. The sun was shining by the time I had finished :-]

Anyway….we looked a little off the pace in the wet. I think fundamentally Junior doesn’t have the confidence to push as hard as he needs to. It’s one of things that comes practice I guess. It was a pretty windy day so, once the rain stopped, the track dried quite quickly. Junior was never going to be setting any PBs today and his revs never really got much above 15,000rpm but his lines *really* improved over the course of the afternoon – he clearly had a lot more confidence when the grip was there and I couldn’t really fault what he was doing (consistency excepted!). He looked pretty quick, which was really encouraging to see. I’ll be doing a Sun Dance on Saturday evening in a bid to keep the rain away – I am quite keen to see where were are in the overall scheme of things (I’ll be going by how many seconds off the penultimate finisher we are!). We had the odd problem – Junior came straight back in complaining something wasn’t right and, when we looked at it on the trolley, the engine mount bolts were loose and the chain had much more slack than it should. I think I may have only hand tightened the engine restraining bolt – I should be above this now 🙁 but at least I didn’t lose the mount brackets and bolts. The revs issue also raised it’s ugly head again although I think we might have solved this one – after changing the carb, he said it was fine for 15 laps before it happened again and he came in. At this point I noticed that the fuel was pretty low and, running a 3l tank, I am wondering if the fuel is moving from side to side around bends and we are starting to get air into the system. We kept the tank topped up and had no problems thereafter. Consider this a tip 😉

Of course it had to rain when we were 20 minutes from home, just to ensure I spend three hours rather than one tomorrow cleaning up :/

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £9 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Costs since last post: £138 engine repairs

Total spent so far: £4,140 (Ouch – we’ve broken £4k!!! If you see my missus, don’t mention this blog!)

Engine repairs

Following our Dunkeswell woes, I took the engine into John at Revolution Racing Engines to have the ignition stator checked out. The good news was that the stator looked fine and sparked consistently. The bad news was that the stator looked fine and sparked consistently! John is going to give a thorough examination but I could find we’ll be heading into the unknown at the next Clay race meeting. Could do with a practice session before I enter but money (especially karting money) is pretty tight. Our crank is also out of alignment and that will necessitate the engine to be stripped down.

I await news. And the bill… :/

Race weekend 2: Rescued from the depths of despair!!!

I’ve walked the valley of despair – it’s a long, thin piece of tarmac; big fence on one side, grass on the other, tyres dotted around to slow speeding karts and a big white coach halfway down with ‘Mansell Raceway‘ written on the side. Just like the pit entrance at Dunkeswell 😉 As I pushed Junior’s kart off the track for the fourth or fifth time of the weekend, I had reached my lowest point as a karting Dad so far. There are plenty of observant folk around the paddock and I wondered what they would be thinking of my inability to keep my lad on track. My embarrassment was complete.

Practice Saturday was a day when, pound for ounce of enjoyment, I lost out even though the day was free because of a Dunkeswell offer for novices!!! It was one of those days when you were continually setting the kart up for one weather condition and then changing it back again and nothing whatsoever went right.

We’d luckily found three spaces for myself and two other Dads who we were travelling down with, avoiding parking at the far end of the top car park where it would have been a 10-minute walk to the pit lane. We missed the first couple of sessions setting up the awning and the kart. It went south from there on – Junior broke down at Hangar Bend (the furthest part of the track from the pits!) on the out lap of his first session. I got to him and got him going again before immediately cutting out again. Back at the pits, I was about to whip the carb off before I got the advice to check the spark first. I would urge you always make this your first troubleshooting step! We had no spark. This first problem was a loose wire on the PVL coil – easily fixed but our day was hampered by Junior constantly complaining of the kart not picking up from low revs and frequent failures of one type or another – we had a chain snap which, on investigation appeared to be caused by the front and rear sprockets being inexplicably out of alignment (they were definitely aligned at the start of the day and there was no sign that the axle or the rear sprocket had moved – none of those tell-tale dirty circles where something has moved on the axle). I couldn’t explain that one. We then lost a front wheel in front of everyone stood at the pit exit (I had negated to check the wheel nuts that Junior had tightened). And our misery was completed by the engine going pop and Junior losing revs once again. Again, I could find no explanation – I took the kart back to the pits to give it a thorough examination but could see nothing wrong and it started on the trolley immediately. It capped off a pretty rotten day and I had a plan of work for the evening which involved replacing the ‘new’ exhaust, the airbox filter and checking carbs and really just hoping things were going to be better in the morning although we did have the offer of an engine loan from one of the other Dads (who would be our friendly rivals on race day) should my overnight efforts come to nothing.

Sunday was a chance to start anew. The English countryside looked pretty spectacular as we made our way through Devon to Dunkeswell. It almost seemed a shame we’d be spending the day driving a noisy kart in it. And that, if the forecast was correct, it was going to be raining heavily in a couple of hours! I’d told Junior to take the positives from yesterday and assume that the kart would work properly given the efforts to rectify the problem. There were only two Junior TKMs in the grid so I was a little uncertain what to expect even ignoring the questions over my ability to keep the kart running. We got there nice and early but still managed to find ourselves rushing to make the warm-up (there is no tannoy system at Dunks). Then the kart failed to start on the trolley with the remote starter! Again, we had no spark although my expert advisor (the other TKM Dad) quickly sussed that the electrical cable running into the ignition stator had an intermittent problem (you know one of those that you wiggle and they go away). We bunged it in place with a bit of rubber and it sparked and started fine. We lined up for the warm-up; there were 6 or 8 MiniMaxs and a Junior Blue in front of the two Direct Drive TKMs. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure out who was the only one not to start 🙁 There was no sign of the engine starting and we stopped as soon as we were off the Bottom Bend, I pulled the kart behind the barrier and crouched out of sight – partly to regain my breath, partly just to hide for a moment. The weekend was very quickly becoming a nightmare.

We got back and, together with the other TKM Dad (although make no mistake, he was in charge), set about putting their engine and carb on – we needed to get this turned around fast if we were to make Heat 1. It was a good job one of us had a kart that more or less maintained itself! We made it with a few minutes to spare. We had very generously been loaned their former race engine – having roped me into going to Dunks in the first place, it appears he felt some compassion towards my plight! So Junior took his place in the first heat: it was a bit odd seeing the Minimax grid charge past and then, 10 seconds behind, a Junior Blue and a pair of Junior TKMs – it would have nicer to see them a little closer and more involved in the wider race but there we go. Junior’s start was ok but, on cold slicks, he was caught out in the second corner and span, stalling the engine. He wouldn’t have lost quite as much time had he given me a chance to get out into the midfield from the pits! I got him going again and off he went, with me hoping he managed to keep it clean for the rest of the race, if only to appease the novice assessor! A few laps later somebody took a huge run-up and kicked me square in the b*****ks. Or they might as well have: the kart lost power gain, Junior looked over at me and held up a questioning hand as he pulled in right under the viewing area. The other Dad could not believe it and, if I had a pound for every time the other Dad uttered the words “I can’t believe it broke down”, I would have recouped my entry fee! 😉 Did we have another issue? I was thinking perhaps we had a fuel problem – maybe the filter or something. As I pushed the kart off track again, I started to think about what other mechanics were thinking of me – they are a pretty observant bunch and I’m sure my weekend troubles weren’t passing unnoticed. Every mechanic will have their lows but this left me pretty close to rock bottom. We got back and, would you believe it? One of the wires had come off of the coil. Different engine, different coil, same problem as the previous day! Then something happened that I had never before experienced: the racing stopped for an hour to observe the local church service. I don’t know what others made of this but I thought it was fantastic! How typically English 🙂

You can put the handkerchiefs away now, things took a *massive* turn for the better in Heat 2; in fact I’d go as far as to say it was my most enjoyable moment in karting so far. Both TKMs were on wets and Junior got a fantastic start – he could only have been centimetres behind the pole man as they cross the start line, denying the leader the opportunity of moving over to avoid the puddles on the inside of the track. Junior managed to undercut and take the lead! THAT’S RIGHT – WE LED A RACE 🙂 (I know there were only two karts but please humour me if you will – there hadn’t been many highs over the weekend). Not only that but we lost it and regained several times over the next couple of laps – it really great to see Junior racing in a manner that I’d not seen since his last arrive/drive karting exploits. It put a massive smile on my face although there were one or two occasions where I feared Junior would commit the cardinal sin and take out the person who had loaned us an engine and spent *a lot* of time trying to help fix our kart (and not only this weekend either!). It didn’t last long though – Junior’s excitement got the better of him, he didn’t quite lose the back end but did lose an awful lot of revs and the lead and that was pretty much that. His pace was decent though and we were only 12 seconds behind and our fastest lap 1.3s slower.

Heat 3 and the Final were both run on slicks; we didn’t get such great starts in those and Junior said he was caught out by some underhand accelerating early tactics (I jest, I am sure this happens all the time although our opponent was definitely mixing it up now!). Junior did pretty well though: we were 8 seconds off in Heat 3 and, although Junior really got put in his place in the final – finishing 21s adrift, his lines were still improving and his lap times were still coming down.

Not the most exciting grid ever to have adorned a kart track!

I have to be honest: I’ve seen more exciting Junior TKM grids!

So that was that. We handed back our loan engine (which turned out to be the one used to set the Junior TKM lap record at Dunkeswell!). Unfortunately, Junior said it felt a lot quicker than ours so I await all sorts of ‘my engine is not quick enough’ comments next time we are out :/ The enjoyment of watching Junior race (I mean really race) and visibly improve his lines on the Sunday afternoon had eradicated the pain of Saturday and Sunday morning. We had a decent amount of wet practice and Junior was never more than 1.5s off the pace so that was encouraging. Although the engine may have played the part, I think it will only have shown Junior’s true pace – I am kind of hoping our engine isn’t significantly slower but I guess time will tell. I have to thank my good buddy and fellow TKM Dad for all of his help, never mind his engine, over the weekend – we’d have been finished without the help of both him and his lad. I owe you many, many beers 😉

Now I have a poorly engine to get sorted… :O

Cost of weekend: £40 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £46 race fee, £23 chain, £5 marshal’s bib

Total spent so far: £3,946

It’s almost time…

So we’re on the eve of our first race weekend!!! The overwhelming enthusiasm that saw me wishing most of this week would pass as quickly as possible has been dampened somewhat by the weather forecast. I do share a 6x3m awning with another Dad but his lad is a couple of months behind us from a competition-readiness perspective (or rather – he shares my view on not chucking them in until they are ready) and I don’t have the space in the Clio or the trailer to bring it with us. We’re going to have to stick it out if it gets very wet although working out the back of a Clio in heavy rain is no fun I can assure you.

Having only just seen the worsened forecast, I got to the camping shop 15 mins before closing this afternoon to try to get some waterproofs. Unfortunately I arrived as the shop keeper was getting into her car having decided to call it a day and, after watching me for a few mins (presumably making sure I wasn’t about to throw a dustbin through the window and help myself), she wound down her window, told me she had just put the alarm on and that I’d have to come back. Customer service, anyone? :/

Anyway the past few weekends have been all about getting set for the race. It’s been an expensive time what with the repairs after throwing a chain and I’ve also bought several sets of used slicks that each had a day’s wear (I figure we’ll race on used tyres at least for the three meetings we plan to do this year), a set of Doulgas SE rims (I wanted another set of rims to avoid having to change tyres overnight between the practice and race days) and a couple of additions for the toolkit (deep 10mm sprocket, front sprocket remover). As far as actually doing things is concerned, the maintenance has gone something like this: new front and rear sprockets fitted, chain guard cut/fixings fitted, transponder mount fitted, bearing carrier replaced, exhaust springs and wrap replaced, new manifold holes drilled, sprocket carrier protectors put back on, HT lead replaced, kart cleaned, front and rear chassis height changed, seat stays adjusted, Tillett 40mm washers added (to comply with MSA seat mounting regulations), engine mount adjusted (the mount does not appear to allow the engine to sit perfectly square so the chain is pulled at a very slight angle – need a new mount but the kart pot was empty!), front and read chassis height corrected (stupidly moved it in the opposite direction, even after blogging about rear chassis height!!!) and finally… swapped the front practice tyres over! 🙂

The changing of the tyres was a minor success – the first time I had done this alone although, as the tyres were 200 laps old, it was easier than it might otherwise have been. I was pretty chuffed with myself as I admired the newly fitted tyre – until I realised that I had put it on the same way it had come off! :S

So we’re pretty much all set – the transponder (pleasingly seems to hold full charge even though its not been used since February!), cordless drill, starter battery and GPS watch are all sat on charge on Junior is getting focused (aka upstairs playing Codemasters F1 2013 – I can recommend the Classic Edition :)). I haven’t had a chance to ensure my HT lead is good having borrowed after our problems last time but we should be ok. Wish us luck… 🙂

Purchases since last post: £10 used sprocket puller, £120 three sets of used slicks incl postage, £100 used set of Douglas SE rims (might have paid a little over the norm for these but I really wanted before the race weekend so my ability to wait for something at the right price was lost), £4 10mm deep sprocket.

Total spent so far: £3,630

Practice 11: best laps and breakages

The second of back-to-back Saturdays. Once again I found myself awake in the early hours, brain totally engaged thinking about the day. Having found the benefits of an early arrival (i.e. plenty of time to get ready for the first session without rushing) to my liking last week, we arrived an hour before the track opened. Unlike last week however, I hadn’t really been able to do as much of the preparation at home the night before owing to the poor weather (the garage has insufficient space to actually work in it and the lighting is awful) so the tyres (a fairly decent ‘new’ used set bought from the forums some time ago) hadn’t been inflated, I hadn’t gotten the new carb gaskets fitted, nor check everything over properly after I had stripped the back end down to dry it last week. The preparation hour was a bit of a rush; I put the new 3l fuel tank on, corrected the kind of mistakes you make when working in the dark (i.e. a front wheel with three wheel nuts but only two bolts used!) and got everything set. We were on the grid when the cadets came off at 10:10.

Our first problem of the day: the kart wouldn’t fire. I gave it a couple of aborted push start attempts but there wasn’t even the hint of it starting. I took it back to the pits and checked the ignition box wire connectors were ok and then checked the spark plug and found that we were not getting a spark. I whipped out the new plug that I had bought in the week for just this purpose and things looked more promising. Hastily, I tossed the old plug in the bin and we went for another attempt at getting on track. Once again the kart is showing no signs of starting so back to the pits again – it seemed the sparking was intermittent. I had used my only spare HT lead at a recent practice at Dunks. Good job that Clay has a shop… only the shop didn’t have one! Fortunately, I was able to borrow one (from my good friend also known as KartingDad’s Karting Dad!), swap the lead over and get the kart starting reliably on the stand and running fine (shame about the plug I threw in the bin full of wasps but never mind).

Junior was on the grid for the start of the second session but only managed three laps before coming in to complain about his brakes. I could see that one pad was rubbing the disc engine-side and there was quite a gap brake-side but assumed, as he had been running ok, that it I could just adjust it at the end of the session. He did another 15 laps but with a slow best time of 39.3s and still complaining about the brake. Back in the pits, I was surprised to see the brake-side pad was rubbing the disc and the gap was now engine-side. If you are thinking “grub screws”, you would be correct: the grub screws had abandoned ship! Pleasingly, I figured that one out straight away too. Disappointingly, this was a mechanic error – I wasn’t overly tightening the grub screws knowing grub screw damage can severely weaken an axle. I have to admit that I hadn’t checked the grub screws at the start of the day so it could well have been that I hadn’t tightened them enough (even for my liking) after refitting the axle. Everything else was still aligned and looking good so it was just the grub screws required – you’d think these would be in stock wouldn’t you? As far as shop stock went, today wasn’t my lucky day so they gave me the only one they had. Having lost a couple at home recently, I only had one spare and my Karting Dad had one also. Cue wandering around the pits trying to buy spares! I managed to get some but it wrote off the remainder of the morning with only 18 laps under our belt and a best (and faulty brake affected) time of 39.1s.

The third session was more like it: 23 laps with a best of 36.6 and lots of time still evident in Junior’s lines. The fourth was better again: running with the camera on-board for first time of the day, Junior managed a 36.5s before the camera mount snapped :S See if you can spot the moment in my YouTube video. I am not convinced this punt on the camera is working – the camera itself is fine but the case and mounts haven’t looked up to the massive vibration that karting poses. For this session we were also running with the MyTach GPS watch. I’ve still not really read up on this but the watch gives you top speed readings and we were looking to test sprocket sizes. Running a 78 sprocket (what we had always run at Clay although I know the quicker guys run a fair bit smaller), we did a fastest lap of 36.57 with a top speed of 64.6mph (ironically analysis at home showed this was not on the fastest lap, which included a top speed of 60.8mph). With our problems seemingly behind us, we switched to a 76 sprocket and ran the GPS again. This time Junior put in a 36.42, the top speed on that lap was 63.8mph and his maximum speed during the session was 64.7mph. Not much in it, I am sure you will agree – I put this down to inconsistency, particularly out of the Top Bend but there was some interesting data in there: he was 3mph quicker down the straight into The Hairpin on the smaller sprocket.

The track then seemed to cool a little and I think my not increasing the tyre pressures a fraction may have cost us a few tenths as we drifted in the 36.6/36.7s laps before we encountered our biggest problem of the day: Junior had been holding up a couple of RotaxMax’s for a few laps and ran wide at The Horseshoe, matey decided to stick his nose up on the outside and, as Junior moved wider to get a line for the bend, they hit – flicking our back end up and causing Junior to run onto the grass. He rejoined the track and ran for another 8 laps. I was very surprised when he came in and I took the chainguard off – the chain looked blackened and dry (it had been freshly lubed) and was missing a few chunks, then I noticed the teeth on the rear sprocket (a brand, spanking new one that day) were wrecked which lead me to a front sprocket with some nice sharp spurs! At this point I needed KartingDad’s Karting Dad (again) as I had no idea how to remove a front sprocket and have learnt I need to buy some new tools :S With hindsight, either of two changes I made during the day may have contributed to this: I removed the sprocket protectors after deciding to use 6 sprocket bolts instead of three (it looked like the front sprocket alignment was a little uneven as the rear sprocket was rotated so I add the extra bolts in case this was the cause and the protectors have three warped holes that no longer easily facilitate the extra bolts) and the chain was running a little looser than I normally have it (on advice!). We went back to the 78 sprocket (now my smallest), a 110  chain (also now my smallest) and fitted a spare front sprocket (thanks again, spares :)).

The track was quieter now and Junior spent the last couple of sessions racing his friends. His lines through the afternoon had really come on – a screech and a lift entering Billies always looks good, taking The Esses with a decent amount of kerb was becoming more of the norm and, although his exit from The Hairpin was still a little tight and he had acquired a new, slower line through The Horseshoe, he was carrying [a little] more speed into and out of the Top Bend. New PB!!! 36.11 🙂 Racing was obviously paying off. For the final session of the day, he spent a few laps following the South West Junior TKM champion 😉 until said champion decided he had enough and wanted to put Junior in his place. Junior didn’t mind though, he was chuffed to bits with another new PB – 36.06s.

So we got off to the worst possible start, endured a pretty expensive day, breakage wise but ended up clocking 166 laps and Junior making further progress.He is definitely quick enough to race. I have no lofty goals/dreams about exactly how competitive he will be, it would be nice to be close enough to the pack to race someone but I doubt that will be the case initially. Whether I am ready to race is another question. I am still making mistakes but I think that is just human nature – I’ll make more than most mechanics, I just need to make sure I learn from them! The troubleshooting is a worry as, if things go wrong, there is no second engine to pull out the trailer, nor is there likely to be for some time. We’re just going to have to see how we get on 🙂

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £5 grub screws

Cost of replacement stuff: £10 ‘new’ chainguard from eBay, £100 new spark plug cap/spark plug/HT lead/6 grub screws/10-tooth front sprocket/Talon size 76 rear sprocket/Panther (I know I could have spent less but I am keen to see if it is stronger and longer lasting) 108 link chain (from Kart Parts UK/Spellfame)

Total spent so far: £3,396

I plan to limit outgoings to race weekends and associated running costs/repairs only for the remainder of the year so kick me if you see me post about new bits and pieces!

Practice 8: a step backwards :(

Just when it looked like our issues were behind us too! I blame Junior – he was the one who commented on how we had run trouble-free last time as we were enroute to Dunkeswell. We left at 7:20am; 20 minutes later than I was hoping and got to the track just before practice started at 9:00am. It took a while to get our ‘new’ awning up, on which I had gone ‘halves‘ with another Dad and which we were using for the first time. Once the awning was up, tyre pressures set (annoyingly, I had forgotten to do over-inflate the tyres the night before), fuel added, carb primed and the kart started on the trolley I had missed not only the first session but there wasn’t enough of the second session left to make it worthwhile going out.

As it happened, I wish we had: we lasted only one lap of the third session as Junior came in reporting that the engine wouldn’t rev over 8,000rpm. What do I do about that? I’ve learnt a lot in five months of ownership but troubleshooting is an area where I really need to improve. I started the kart again on the trolley and it seemed ok but I wasn’t keen on trying to rev it excessively to see whether it would get into the upper range. Changing the carb seemed like a reasonable option and that appeared to do the trick as we ran for the whole of the next session – our only real track time (a whopping 10 minutes) in the first three hours! Things then took another turn for the worse as Junior crashed in the next session, running wide as he accelerated out of a corner, hitting the plastic barriers and putting a nice bend into a track rod. My spares package saved me once again 🙂 I had what I needed to fix the kart although during the repair a helping Dad noticed we had a fuel leak. I had semi-noted this earlier but put it down to fuel being spilt when it was being poured into the tank without checking it out properly. Note to self: investigate everything unusual – you’ve done this before!!! The fuel was leaking from a hairline crack in the tank which appeared to have been caused by my previously refitting the tank without a spacer between chassis and tank and then over tightening the tank fixing bolt. Without a replacement, I ran the fuel below the fixing bolt to minimise any spillage – I did have a spare fuel tank at home but hadn’t envisaged any scenarios where I would need it trackside!

It was 2:00pm by the time we were back on track. With only 23 laps in the bag we then managed to string back-to-back sessions together although our day ended at around 3:30 when Junior lost power and pulled off the track (at the far end of the track too!). The carb wasn’t holding fuel – you could see it was just running back into the tank. My good buddy/advisor and fellow Karting Dad tested the carb with a pop-off tester – it didn’t look great. My other carb (replaced in the morning) had a loose spring although that might have been a result of my botched attempt at checking it out earlier in the day. With some tweaking, we got one decent carb together but the engine still would not start on the trolley and we concluded that we were losing pressure because of the crack in the tank. And with that, our day was done 🙁

There were a few positives: I took the camera and got some decent pictures of Junior and some of the other lads who ran with us (I was one of four Dad/lad JTKM combos who had headed down for the day), we ran the Action Pro for a few sessions (although suffered from some pretty bad vibration on the nassau) and I also started to make session notes so that I could gauge the effect of any setup changes (I was experimenting with different exhaust flex lengths). They were mostly outweighed by the negatives though: only 55 laps done, 0.8s slower than our only other visit to the track, a fuel issue to take home to troubleshoot and the realisation that we definitely aren’t ready to race at Clay next month. I was also bothered by my reliance on others to help me get to the bottom of the problems which, I felt on at least one session, meant their lads were sitting out as they tried to help (if you read this – sorry, mate!).

I need to work on my understanding of the carb and engine workings. I know you only really learn when you encounter a problem but I really want reduce my dependency on others generosity in helping. Mechanically inept? That is pretty much still the case – I’ve a still long way to go!

Cost of day: £18 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart (still plenty left from last time), £40 practice fee

Bits and pieces bought since last update: hose clips for exhaust end can: £2.50, 4mm self tapping screws for end can: £5, file for getting rid of deposits on axle (especially around my sprocket carrier!): £6, half-share of 6m x 3m awning: £30

Total spent so far (ouch – we’ve just passed £3k): £3,086

Practice 6: ARKS test

Thursday night was a bit of a rush, it being the first dry evening since the kart got soaked on Monday – I had dried the kart as best I could (given the constraints of working on a kart sat on a camping trailer inside a single garage) but there was still a fair amount of moisture around the engine mount so I chose to remove it and make sure everything was clean and dry. Not the best time for a first solo removal of the engine and exhaust perhaps but it needed doing. I also had to reset the front width after widening it at Llandow and I got as much ready for the day as possible: changed the sprocket, mixed some new fuel and slightly overinflated the tyres so that I could tweak them in the morning.

We got to Clay Pigeon Raceway about 20 mins before the track opened, signed in and were told to have a few runs and the ARKS examiner would come and get us when the time was right. I had been a bit worried on the drive down about the possibility of a repeat of the starting difficulty we had last time so I was relieved when it started first time. I ran my normal wheel, hub and chassis bolt checks and, unusually, we were out for the first session 🙂 We had a stuttering start though – Junior came in eight laps reporting the back end felt loose. I wondered if this was a tyre pressure issue so I dropped them down a notch. Second time out he complained it felt even worse! With his hesitancy from Llandow in mind, I assured him that nothing was loose so there was no safety issue and sent him back out to give the tyres a good warm up and see if the handling improved. I widened the back end by 5mm on each side when he came back and, from then on, he was happy with the handling and was soon pushing it. It was only during the fourth session that I realised the ARKS instructor was marshalling so that he could watch Junior, who by this time had beaten his previously best lap time from our February session. The instructor was more than happy with his speed and it was at that point I stupidly commented on it being nice to have the kart running without issue. No more than two minutes later, the kart is parked up on the exit of Billies and Junior is inspecting the back end. I made for the trolley park.

This was an interesting one: not only had the chain had come off but the sprocket was hanging on by a single bolt and one part of the sprocket protector was sitting on the axle, next to the chain. I had lost two of the three bolts from the sprocket carrier although one was bent and wedged in the back of composite chainguard. There were no nuts, including those that separated the sprocket from the sprocket protector (on which the fixing holes were now very worn to the point of being largely useless). I had lost parts on track yet again… 🙁 This was and still is something that I am desperate to see the end of – this particular problem was a new occurence and I can only assume that the nuts on the outside of the plastic sprocket protector had come loose. Just like the exhaust screws, it seems that once one goes it’s only a matter of time and the sprocket nuts were not nylocs, nor was I checking them between sessions. I removed all the relevant parts – there was composite chainguard ‘dust’ all over the engine, chain and chassis. The chainguard itself was cut up and the sprocket had worn on side of the teeth. I disposed of the sprocket, patched up the back of the chainguard with tank tape, bought six new sprocket carrier bolts (we – and every other kart I have ever looked at – had only three bolts in place before now) and cleaned everything up. We missed two sessions but at least it gave us some time to have some lunch.

As we were ready to head out again, Junior was called for his ARKS driving results and theory test – the only comment was that he needed to use the kerbs in the Esses and he got all his questions right in the test, meaning he passed his test 🙂

We made the most of the remaining four sessions, running until we were kicked off at 5pm. Junior had some fun racing with a couple of his friends he knew from Teamsport Bristol – one a Senior Max, the other in a Mini Max which made for a surprisingly entertaining spectacle and he was chuffed to post a new fastest lap of 36.92s, especially as his tyres were probably making a farewell appearance (they were used when we got the kart and he’s since done over 400 laps on them!). All in all, a good day – ARKS test passed, 157 laps ‘bum-in-seat’ time and a new fastest lap, only tainted by the sprocket bolt problem although I am now running six bolts (three of the holes on the sprocket and sprocket protectors are now badly worn) and checking them after each session (they do need tightening up every time, even with nylocs – I wonder if it is the plastic sprocket protector that doesn’t really allow for a firm tightening of the nuts).

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £85 ARKS test fee (including track practice), £1.50 for 6 sprocket carrier bolts

Total spent so far: £2,680

Replacement steering wheel: C-K-R MC4

Fortunately Junior’s hand is now fine after carelessly leaving it in between his steering wheel and an adult in a Rotax at the weekend! The steering wheel was pretty badly twisted and, with a new Tonykart steering wheel costing in the region of £150, we were always going to be looking at a used replacement.

I have always (I say always, I’ve only been in the sport for four months) been a fan of the steering wheels that allow the Mychron to fix flush to the wheel’s surface. Although Junior wears a Ribtec – it seems desirable from a safety point of view to have the Mychron sunken into the wheel if possible. There are several options in this respect – mostly manufactured by AiM and all demanding a premium on top of the standard OTK wheel so it was quite timely that I had seen one of the C-K-R F1-style wheels come up on the one of the forums the day before Junior’s accident. Aside from looking fairly cool (especially to a teenager), one of the nice things about this type of wheel is that is flat on top and potentially would allow Junior to see a little bit easier (his view over the wheel and nassau isn’t great at the best of times).

I got some pics from the seller: alarm bells ring when the pic is small and blurred – the only thing clear was that the wheel was not in A1 condition. Some of the carbon fibre paint effect was scratched off and it wasn’t being supplied with any of the accessories or even the steering wheel bolts. He wasn’t really answering my fairly explicit questions either but I took a punt figuring that I would be able to get my money back if I wasn’t pleased with the purchase. We struck a deal and the wheel arrived today (Mychron not included!):

You can see where the paint is coming off beneath the switches and it turns out that the one of the pins has snapped off the back of the starter button – good job we’re running in TKM! Now I just need to get a 3-hole steering boss and we can actually see how Junior thinks it compares with the original OTK wheel…

Cost of wheel: £50

Total spent so far: £2,422