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 🙂

Stepping up to Super One

Saturday had been a positive day: we’d narrowly missed out on our target of qualifying in the top 5 and, despite a horrible draw bias against the even-numbered side of the grid, had done really well to finish 4th and 6th in the heats. The heats are one thing though; the real work was to come and we’d need some luck in running to be in with a shout at a podium place in the final.

Practice went badly: 14th fastest and Junior complaining of brake issues. The brakes did look a little suspect and I bled them again but that wasn’t the end of the problems: As I stood in the queue for the tyre bay ahead of the pre-final I noticed that both track rods were loose. I had lasered the front end the previous evening but had clearly only tightened the nuts by hand!!! :S  I had to rush the kart back to our awning where a couple of the Extreme dads were on hand to help me get the lasers back on and get the kart front straightened up. That was a close one, especially since I was desperate not to be responsible for any failings this weekend!

The pre-final was critical: do well and we’d be in with a shout at the final. Fare badly and our weekend would effectively end here. We’d managed to find ourselves in 6th place once more: a single point behind two other drivers tied in fourth 🙁 It was unlikely that we’d be able to get third good start from the ‘bad side’. And so it proved. Junior had the worst start I’d seen him make in a long time: bogging down badly and losing three places as the leaders scooted off. We gained a couple of places back before dropping away and having to desperately hang on for a 9th place finish. It could have been worse: tenth and an even-numbered draw would have ended any hopes we were clinging onto.

Junior hadn’t really been happy with anything about the kart and we made some extensive changes for the final. After what seemed like an eternity on a hot dummy grid we took the karts onto the starting grid (on track) from where they would start their formation lap. This in itself was novel to us and really made the event feel that bit more special than your average club meeting (perhaps something to consider for the Welsh Champs, LKC?). We didn’t really have any game plan but Junior *had* to start well. And start well he did: we made up a couple of spots off of the line and then fifth and sixth proved that two around The Hook very rarely works and came together. Junior passed sixth and had a fantastic run at fifth, who was bogging down, as he recovered from the contact. I’ll always wonder how we might have fared had we made the pass stick (I was keen to see if we could have lived with the pace of the leaders having spent the weekend just that bit too far back). It wasn’t to be: we got a nudge and were soon doing a spot of grass karting. All credit to Junior, he followed the off-road mantra to ‘keep it lit’ and re-joined in tenth place. I had abandoned my pushing post at Raymonds for the final (yes I know I said I would never be the push-start guy at this post but the fact is it needs somebody as had been proven on the Saturday) and was stood with the spectators, only metres from the action. My heart was sinking fast. It was to sink further: the three karts in front of us came together again in The Hook on lap #2: It was a big incident. Junior dived right but the karts slid slowly into his path, one hooked up on top of another and, as he struggled to get the engine to pick up, the entire field sailed by 🙁 I was crushed. You never, ever want to see a red flag because of a driver injury but the subsequent flag did us the biggest of favours. There was quite a delay whilst the paramedics attended to the injured party (who I hope makes a speedy recovery btw) before we were informed that the race was being moved to the final race of the day. So much for that roast dinner!

I have never seen Junior so relieved. What had been a nightmare start to our biggest race would quickly become a memory: The race was being restarted in full and we’d take to the grid in 9th  place once again. I spent 90 minutes pouring over the kart making sure all was well, took in the Extreme final (some dodgy stuff going on in that one!) and got ourselves set once again.

Unfortunately, the lad who’d been injured was unable to make the grid. The bad fortune continued since that moved us up to 8th and back onto the bad side of the grid. To cap it all off, the drier starting directly in front of us had an absolute stinker of a start, bogging massively and forcing Junior, who was now tucked right up behind him, to sit and wait whilst those behind flashed by. We crossed the line in 10th (the lad who started behind us crossed the line in 7th!!!) but that was the end of the bad news. What followed was undoubtedly the best driving performance I had ever seen from Junior. He’s never lacked in determination and it wasn’t his smoothest performance, as he had clearly decided to give it all he had, but he showed a clinical edge that I had not seen before. You could almost see that the penny had dropped: That, at this level, you can’t just be fast and expect drivers on your pace to give up their places, you have to *take* their places from them. He passed karts in six of the next seven laps before finding the gap to fifth that bit too much (although he arguably could have gone for it at the final corner!). It was a fantastic drive and he was chuffed to bits with the result. I was thrilled to see him step his game up to a level where he could compete with national drivers. You could argue he should be able to do just that at his home track but he was taking on the best and most experienced JTKM drivers in the country, on the best kit in the country. I’ll rue not getting the chance to see if he could have held onto the leader’s coat-tails at any point of the weekend but the simple fact is that we’re not really at that level as a package to be taking on the big teams.

There were a few little bonuses yet to come: Junior got the best privateer trophy (after some question of the fifth placed finisher’s presence in a team awning!) and I was generously given a free set of tyres from Alan Turney for my efforts with the TKM Facebook Group 😀 😀 😀 In our most expensive month ever in karting, faced with a £200 engine bill and another new set of slicks needed for Welsh Championships, this was very welcome 🙂

Rest assured, dearest readers: I’ve not been bought off, however! 😉

S1_trophy

Yay!

An impressive Super One debut! :D

Now I should point out that I am very aware that the finals are still to come but what can I say about today but… take a bow, son! Junior was a little annoyed to have lost out on 5th position in qualifying on the final lap, condemning us to the dreaded even-side-of-the-grid start but he’s driven beautifully in the day’s two heats: 4th place in Heat #1, only 0.7s adrift was the highlight. It could have been better still: We were running in 4th in Heat #2 before Junior was passed by two karts in one move at Raymonds. It could also have gone tits up! We were punted on the final lap; luckily the other lad fared worse and we escaped without losing position.

Of course tomorrow is when it counts and I’ve seen enough over the day to be very aware that it only takes a split second to end your dream weekend. We’ve been a little unlucky to find ourselves in 6th place again for the pre-final; I’m not sure we can expect to see a third good start from a woeful grid position but we’re in the mix and there is still a chance of that dream podium finish 🙂

Time for an early night!

Chilling at Super One

I had booked today off to prep the kart for the weekend. My plans had evolved to heading to the track in the afternoon to get our tyres fitted and then, with the tempting offer of some awning space, I departed at 8am to arrive with my chums (mostly to ensure they bagged themselves a spot large enough for me to park in also!). As it turned out I passed them as they were getting their McDonalds breakfast. I arrived at the track to be greeted by the man at the gate. Imagine seeing some bloke on his own in a Clio (Junior was at home revising) towing a kart on a camping trailer: I am 99% certain he was all set to turn me around and tell me that the track was closed for practice!!! I wanted to bag enough space for three awnings and blurted out that I needed 9m of awning space. I think he took this more literally than I had intended and sent me into the premium spots where there was still space for a team – result! Looking a bit conspicuous opposite the AIM ‘tent’ 😉 I did go back and confirm my intentions but we were cleared for paddock parking 🙂

Unsurprisingly, the sight in the paddock was a stark contrast to the view at a club meeting and I was instantly struck by how similar all of the cadet mechanics looked (are they clones?). It felt like there was a lot of money being spent ans I didn’t see anyone else arriving with their kart on a camping trailer 😉 It was great to have the Llandow dads from last year back together: The banter started pretty much as soon as we parked up. I didn’t really have a lot to do in terms of preparation: I’d deferred removing numerous sets of tyres from rims since I was going to be staying until 6pm, when the tyre fitting window opened, and I had planned to just check the carbs and head out to get the control fuel. Fortunately the organisers allowed the tyres to be fitted throughout the day. Not only did it mean no hanging around into the evening but I didn’t have to fit two sets of tyres in 20 minutes (I would have failed!). With the tyres sorted, the sponsors stickers attached, the control fuel purchased and another handful of Factor 60 applied, it was time to sit and chill out. It was a nice feeling to be able to get the kart ready in your own time with no pressure to get out on track. Although the TKM classes do not practice on a Friday, I think you’d have to arrive the day before the race; Rocking up and having to do everything in the morning would be a tad mental for my liking.  I was even able to leave early enough to be home for tea with the family (despite every car in South Wales seemingly headed eastbound on the M4 at the same time as me).

It will be an early start tomorrow since I want to be at the track at 7am to be ready in plenty of the for the morning activities. Since I’ve been awake by 3am for the past two nights, getting up shouldn’t be too difficult. Wish me luck!

 

On the back foot already?

It was supposed to be fairly straightforward: a lunchtime trip to see JC at Revolution and get the head volumes checked on both motors (to ensure there would be no surprises if did well enough to get scrutineered at the weekend). The practice motor was borderline and needed a thorough cleaning to get the head volume to a safe reading. The race motor was fine as far as the head volume was concerned but there was no longer any end play in the crank shaft. We opened up the crank halves; the pin had moved a fraction and the bearings weren’t spinning very freely at all. It wasn’t the news I really wanted to hear this close to the weekend. The race motor has been sat around since the last club round: I had had the head and barrel off for a visual inspection post-race but not noticed the lack of end play. Another learning for next time…

Fortunately, JC was able to sort everything out for me today and I collected the engines from him this evening but, with this and the weather, I’m a little behind where I would like to be if we are setting off for the track on Friday. Tomorrow evening will be a busy one :/

The countdown to Super One

The goal was a simple one: “Prepare the kart for the Super One weekend. You’ve got all day”. Is it just me or does kart prep always take longer than you think? Stripping and cleaning the kart was easy enough and revealed a loose brake pedal bolt in the process! Trimming the previous owner’s custom carbon/kevlar floor tray (one of the few original parts from our retirement package that is left on the kart) so that the front of the floor tray sits on top and not benath the chassis tabs (something I’d been meaning to do since we got the new chassis) took several hours of messing about with me mostly trying not to trim too much off. It wasn’t easily sanded down funnily enough. Even then I ended up enlarging the tray bolt holes slightly because I’d had enough! The new disc carrier was put on the wrong way around but not spotted until after I’d locktite-ed the grub screws :S Welcome to my world. At least this was the time to be wasting time rather than a race day. Almost everything had been cleaned, lubed, bled and fastened. I called it a day at tea time although there were still a few things left to do. I would like to get the engines checked over to ensure the head volumes are good just to be on the safe side (in the hope that we might do well enough to be spending some time in the scrutineering bay this weekend). We’ve normally got a fair bit of leeway so I wouldn’t envisage any problems but now isn’t the time to leave anything to chance!