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.

One step forward. Two steps back.

Sunday. Six days until the Festival. A chance to make the kart shiny and set it up for an unquestionably sunny weekend in Cambridgeshire. I splashed on some Factor 50 and got to work. And very quickly there was this…

Perhaps you could just kick me in the balls one more time?

Oh karting, perhaps you could just kick me square in the nuts one more time?

There is no such thing as a good crack but this was particularly unsatisfactory. I’d go as far to say that we probably wouldn’t have gotten through Friday practice before this sheared. OTK place a sleeve inside the tube rails to provide additional support beneath the engine mount. Unfortunately the sleeve ended just short of the side pod weld and the crack occurred immediately after the sleeve. Hey, OTK: How about another two inches of sleeve for those of us who prefer our chassis to last a season or two?

countdown

This just about sums it up…

To say I’m a tad brassed off would be an understatement! With the underweight exclusion dashing our Welsh championship hopes (did I mention that already?), engine repairs, more engine repairs and now our five month old chassis that’s seen very little use relatively speaking getting cracked!?!

I’m a nice, amiable bloke, I put quite a lot into karting and I think the community is a better place for my being here. One day karting is going to give me a break…

A cheeky Llando(w)s

Do you see what I’ve done with the title? Clever, huh?

It seems like we’ve been on the back foot a fair bit this year and, just a week ahead of the Festival, now seemed no different: problems with both engines at Kimbolton last month meant that they’d both had work done on them. Even after a bucket test(?) to identify any potential air leak, nothing had been found to explain the race engine looking badly lean after Junior’s off in one of the heats. Luckily the head needed nothing more than a slight rethread to cure the minimal damage caused by the spark plug getting stuck. The #2 engine had had new piston rings fitted in a bid to resolve the lack of compression. And then we’d buggered off on hols, the #1 priority as per Mrs Karting Dad’s control of the family budget!

V__0AD7I’d collected the repaired engines before we went away and, on the evening of our return to the country, spent the evening ensuring they were both fine, spark-wise before a weekend visit to Llandow. Having had such an awful weekend at Kimbolton from a performance point of view (two DNS’s and a DNF!), I couldn’t leave anything to chance. We’d had spark issues with the race motor but now there was no spark on the practice engine!?! After swapping over everything from spark plugs, to HT leads and coils, there was either a wiring issue or a stator/rotar problem. Back to the engine builders. A voltmeter check and some wiring work later (not to mention an hour’s labour), we were back on track (although not in the literal sense).

To Llandow! The track was running an IKR meeting and had Saturday afternoon dedicated to practice. Perfect for a spot of engine testing. The plan was: Run in the new rings on the practice motor, ensuring the compression problem was resolved. Bolt on the race motor. Do two laps and check the spark plug looks healthy. Do five more before removing the head to ensure the piston looked good. Run one further session to be certain. Bolt the practice motor back on. Do a bit of carb testing.

Everything went really well. We’d done everything that we needed to within 3 hours and we spent the rest of the afternoon dabbling with carbs and playing with restrictors (Junior has lost a stone since getting sick last month!!!). That was until we suffered *another* sheared side pod bar; in exactly the same spot as we did last time out. Now there’s a head scratcher for you! Since this was already our spare bar and the other was away getting fixed, our game was over. It wasn’t the end of the world since there was only an hour left and it wasn’t as if Junior needed the practice.

 

 

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 🙂

 

A rare weekend away

We almost never do away weekends. As I’ve said before, this is almost entirely down to the way we roll: Clio, camping trailer, no awning… it’s ok, I don’t need your sympathy 😉 But this month is different. Our goals for Llandow are done: Super One and the Welsh Championships saw Junior make giant strides towards becoming a more accomplished driver even if both were disappointing to varying degrees. 2016 was always going to be a case of seeing where we were in the club championships once we had gotten this far. I had hoped we’d have been a little bit higher than fourth at this point but two exclusions have proven very costly. Add that to an expensive June and we really needed to look at the finances and consider how best to spend them from here on. Our only remaining goal is the TKM Festival (nothing too lofty, we’re hoping to make the top ten) and it made sense to take in a practice round at Kimbolton in the hope that we can make up some of the ground we’d obviously be conceding to the local drivers next month. Having had the luxury of three sets of new tyres last month, it’s been a bit of a scramble to source some intermediate tyres. I had several sets of just-about-legal inters that have all been worn out in recent months and I would hate to have to ruin our wets because of a light shower at an inappropriate moment!

So armed with a couple of sets of newly purchased intermediates and a borrowed a tent we’ll head off early tomorrow. I’ve only just realised that our route would normally take us past Silverstone and, on a British Grand Prix weekend. One would definitely consider that to be sub-optimal! We’ll be taking the route through the Midlands instead and hoping the forecast for the journey continues to improve. I’m not against a few sessions on track (in fact, I would quite like to get a few under a belt ahead of the Festival) but a straightforward journey to Kimbolton would be the best start to the weekend.

Wondering what might have been

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Fearing the forecast!

The Welsh Championships: Day 1 was a case of ‘so far, so good’. We had decided to spend the morning testing different things; not really bothering that we were two or three tenths off of the pace. That was until someone put in a much quicker time that had both Junior and I wondering whether we had done the right thing! The fourth and final practice session was notable for my attempt to bring Junior in half-way through the 7-minute session to change onto our race tyres so that we could get a few laps on them (with a view to spending less time scrubbing-in during qualifying). I enlisted the help of another of the Llandow dads and his lad (thanks again to our good buddies, Lou and Ryan Edwards!): they had a wratchet gun; Junior and I were on T-bar sockets. As we all stood clear with our arms raised and Junior left the pits, I think we had lost 100 seconds: Not bad but I’m sure we could shave a few more seconds off! 😉

Qualifying went very well: Since we had been off the pace during practice, nobody wanted to follow us! Junior got his head down and put in some nice laps to bag pole position by 0.15s. Heat #1 went similarly well: A nice start, the next two drivers had an early tussle and Junior scooted clear; winning with a little in hand and the fastest lap to boot. Day 1 had been pretty much perfect 🙂

The Welsh Champs are unique in that they have qualifying on both Saturday and Sunday, along with a heat on each day: The combined points from those heats determine your pre-final grid position. Junior and I are definitely not the type of people to crack open the bubbly prematurely even if the forecast for tomorrow had been dry. Unfortunately, the forecast is far from dry 🙁 It isn’t that Junior is particularly poor in the wet, it’s just that his confidence is sky-high in dry conditions at the minute. When you’ve bagged pole and a heat win, you just want conditions to remain exactly the same. Our rivals will likely be doing rain dances tonight and, judging by the forecast, I’m not sure they’ll have to dance that hard.

Just this one time, *please* let us escape that shitty forecast, pleeeease!

Super One learnings

Super One is impeccably organised

I guess it should come as no surprise for the pinnacle of karting in the UK but I was thoroughly impressed with the way the event was run. I felt very welcome as a guest; there was no clique factor or being officious for the sake of it. Officiating standards were generally very good, helped by the Clerk retaining GoPro cameras after each race so that any incident could be reviewed swiftly. There was some contact that went unreported but they were on top of most of the big incidents and there were plenty of contact warning flags.

Privateers

The grey area on this one is huge but there is no getting away from it: Some of the privateer entries are a joke. I do feel for organisers on this one: If someone enters as a privateer, how do they challenge them? You have drivers carrying the team decals that run themselves, drivers without team decals in the awning; Are they just renting a roof over their heads? What if you just get the odd bit of ad-hoc team support? Or someone who has been a team driver all season then does one round on his own? A real privateer is a dad/lad combo, the bloke running out the back of his own van, doing his own thing but how do you ensure that you hand the privateer prizes to these people and not the driver who’s enjoying the paid support who is just looking to bag another trophy? Some of my closest friends run team decals but would legitimately consider themselves privateers. The appearance of team decals doesn’t help the impression. If you are in, you are in. If you are out, you should probably consider replacing the decals if only for appearance’s sake.

I’d make entrants declare their status at sign-on, something like “I declare myself to be running as a privateer. I am not running in a team awning, have employed no support service, nor will I be in receipt of any ad-hoc support from a race team.” It’s either that or stop awarding a privateer prize IMO.

The only time that I felt ripped off was…

When I had to pay £7.50 to buy a bracket to fit the transponder that I had rented!!! I know it was only £7.50 but it should be included in the £10 rental.

The only time I was cross was…

When the juniors were made to carry/push/shunt their karts through scrutineering for weighing after qualifying. JTKM drivers should not be treated the same as everyone else: A Direct Drive engine doesn’t work like other karts. Some of these kids are 13 and expected to be able to lift their karts from the end of the queue in parc ferme through the weighing area and out the other side and then somebody moans that they’ve left their karts in the way! It’s great if you have the technique right but, if not, you’re going to be putting a big hole in the nosecone in the not-too-distant future. Parents should always be permitted into parc ferme to help move the karts, putting them on the trolley if necessary. It’s just common sense…

A 20 minute tyre window is not long enough for some

20 minutes to remove old tyres and fit a new set of slicks would be a bit of a rush for me at any time but, as a guest, I had a set of wets to fit also!!! Fortunately, tyre fitting was open throughout the practice Friday so I was able to work at my own pace 😉

I really miss Henry Beaudette’s commentary

When we arrived at Llandow in 2014, the first thing that struck me was how awesome Henry’s commentary was. Not only hearing him commentate on Junior’s race but also to keep abreast of what was going on out on track whilst I was working on the kart. Race weekends have been poorer for his absence since he left ‘home’ a year ago to work on bigger and better things. The club’s loss has been a gain for the bigger national karting events. Can we book him for The Festival? 🙂

Super One cadet racing is so entertaining

Even as a race observer at the final corner when the S1 circus visited last year, it was hard not to get dragged into the rollercoaster that was the cadet races. I made sure I took a little time out from the mechanic duties to catch the finals this year. *Way* too much money being spent there though…

I’ve grown to tolerate Bambinos

But only since they afforded me extra time to work on the kart!

TKM is definitely the people’s class

TKM is grass roots karting in a nutshell. At the driver line-up, you could spot the TKM drivers a mile off: they were ones where standard retail suits and plain white helmets were prevalent! It is great to see healthy grids at Super One (the impact on the club scene is another matter). I did wonder whether they might get treated like the paupers when it comes to paddock spots but, having only been to one round, I couldn’t possibly comment any further! 😉

No Friday practice for TKM makes a club weekend essential

I had this debate with dads who were telling me at the start of the year how cheap it would be to do the series. What, you mean you won’t be attending a practice round??? It just isn’t possible to do the Super One weekend only. Not without being in the position where you are still learning the track on the Sunday.

Junior TKM lacks a little strength in depth this year

I mean no disrespect to anyone but you could probably pick the race winner from one in four or five drivers this year. The lead still changes hands a fair bit but the front group seem to have that bit in hand over the rest of the field. It is something of an evolutionary time for the class having lost so many drivers to X30 in 2014 and then to Extreme at the end of last year. The grid number is healthy and this year’s rookies will undoubtedly be all the better for their debut season.

The TAG and Direct Drive engines are very close (if your DD is strong enough)

I’ve said plenty on this before but the fact is that we were pretty close to the country’s best JTKM drivers and very likely the best engines that money can (or perhaps even couldn’t) buy. I believe our engine to be strong but it certainly wouldn’t be the best around. I think there are several reasons why DD might be falling behind: The outlawing of those ‘golden’ motors that were legitimately within fiche but fell foul of the updated regulations after the engine scandal effectively removed those select few DD engines that had been held in such esteem. The best of the rest are slowly being Extremed as their owners move up. The pool of the smaller bottom end DD engines gets smaller each year and I’ve never seen a new DD engine (DD owners tend to be buying second-hand although I’d love to compare one with out engines). I do believe that the variance in DD engines is wider than the variance between TAG engines (age alone would one reason for this). You definitely need a strong engine to *compete* on a DD at this level.

I’m glad we didn’t move to Extreme

Staying in JTKM in Junior’s 17th year has proved a wise move and our final year in juniors has been an enjoyable one thus far. I look at my friends whose lads have moved up and it seems like a struggle at times. The racing is definitely much harder, especially in the pack. I think that Lady Luck plays a big part is navigating the weekend without incident. I think we’d have struggled in Extreme. And I’d be gutted if our race engine didn’t Extreme well!

Alan Turney lurks in the TKM Owners Group

I met Alan Turney for the first time and he was very pleased with the way in which the TKM Owners Group has evolved. You could argue that’s obvious, since a successful class bosts profits but I felt it went further than that. More interesting was that he actively follows the group. Anyone spot the lurker? 😉

You need to try a Super One round

I was really nervous ahead of the weekend but it was a really enjoyable experience. Of course it helps that Junior did so well and I think he it really helped him take his driving up the next level (actually I think it forced him to!). If you are half-decent at your club and Super One pay a visit, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it 🙂