NKC vs MSA

So, after Hooton Park at the weekend and with our missing the next round at Rowrah, the NKC season for us is already 40% done! I hope to write up a Hooton report at some point but I’m also hoping that the results appear on Alpha Timing at some point so that I can see lap times etc :/ Has NKC been the right move? Yes… mostly… Am I too MSA for non-MSA? I think so in some respects! It is still too early to tell but, since I returned to the blog with the new-found purpose of chronicling the journey into non-MSA racing, here are my current thoughts on what’s good and what’s not-so-good on the greener grass that is NKC…

The Good

  • The People: Although we have only spent five days in the company of the folks on the NKC tour, we’ve seen no animosity towards fellow drivers whatsoever. Drivers do make the odd mistake (after the weekend, we can vouch for that!) but they are quick to ‘fess up, shake hands and move on. TKM was renown for having a strong community and that is still the case to a large extent but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it to be the budget class any more and I think the community has suffered for it. NKC has that old TKM community feeling in abundance. It’s full of people with one goal: to enjoy a weekend’s racing. You probably could spend your way to the top but nobody is arsed enough to bother. Both Junior and I have have made some very good, new friends and, when we actually get some sun, I’m looking forward to some evening beers with the boys. Whilst there is strong competition at the front of the grid, the determination to win at all costs is refreshingly absent. We don’t use the drop-down bumpers at NKC. They just aren’t needed…
  • The competition: If I’m honest, part of me feared we’d be 10s down the road in every race but there is a really strong group of drivers at the head of the grid. I think we have had four or five winners in the opening two rounds. Better still, they get on really well with one another.
  • The organization: NKC is run by a couple of drivers who combine trying to run a race weekend with trying to race a race weekend. It’s an unenviable task; you’ll never please everyone (me) all of the time but the gents do an admirable job. The weekend itself runs as part of the Bambino Kart Club, who have been very welcoming towards a bunch of budget racers with their ‘dodgy’ push start engines 😉 I thought we may be seen as second-class citizens but certainly hasn’t been the case.
  • The tyre: I cannot pretend to sit here typing as it if I really understand how this tyre works best and I cannot tell you what they’ll be like at the final round but I don’t lose any sleep over whether I can stretch a set of slicks to a second race day. This is how TKM should be.
  • The tracks: Ok, so I wasn’t that enamoured with Hooton Park but you cannot really complain about GYG, Lydd, Rowrah, Whilton Mill and Clay Pigeon (even if we won’t be heading to Rowrah on principle of driving seven hours to race a go-kart!).
  • The budget: Some of the drivers have a single set of slicks and a single set of wets. That’s an annual tyre budget of £260 for *the season*. The MSA in me had to buy another set of wets so that we have an intermmediate tyre option and, being new to the grid, we had to buy a set of hard slicks for practice (there really wasn’t any point in practising on the Maxxis tyres!).
  • Live Streaming: The season opener was streamed on Alpha Live. Although they were otherwise engaged for Hooton, it looks likely we’ll be streaming again at Rowrah 🙂

The Not-So-Good

  • The rules: One of the MSA dads I was chatting to at the end of last year was knocking non-MSA racing as the rules ‘change midway through the season’. I’d discounted that; this non-MSA, where the ony red tape attaches your rev counter to your HT lead. The regs were posted in October for all to see but there is a little more to them than first met the eye! My beef is with the ruling on restrictors, it is one of things that will bother few but the need for lead weights has always been a real bugbear of mine. In NKC, you need to declare your restrictor at the start of the race day. The regs state that this can be changed with approval from the CoC so I figured that was just to notify them that your weight would be changing. Um, nope – we found out on race day that you run what you declare with no changes.  Restrictors are considered a tuning aid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m a bit dumbfounded to be honest. After the engine parity, the restrictor system is the class’s greatest selling point. You might argue that I’m still acting like a JTKM dad but bolting stupid amounts of lead onto your seat has always been a big issue for me; our kart is typically ~20% heavier than most others. Sure we could run the restrictor where we’d be at a disadvantage on half of the tracks and anywhere it rained. The restrictor is tried and trusted. Although there has always been what is considered an ‘optimal’ restrictor in Junior TKM, this is Extreme… you could put a poll on the Facebook group and 95% of respondents would tell you that unrestricted is the way to go. Pointless rules are for the CIK/MSA. It almost feels like a ruling made out of fear of the unknown.
  • Tuning aids: Ironically, you are actually allowed tuning aids in the form of torsion bars and caster/camber kits. The deviation from the normal TKM rules was enough of a deterrent for at least one person I was attempting to sell NKC to just because they didn’t want to be buying torsion bars and wasting time testing camber kits. We run the caster/camber kit (great for aligning your wheels in the absence of a jig!) but they have a point – NKC would benefit from being simple TKM with harder tyres and no droppy bumper. Job done.
  • The warm-up lap: You may have seen the amount of time it takes for the grid to join the track on the Whilton live streaming. Let’s just say that it takes a bit of time for us all to get off the dummy grid! We now have two rolling laps (although we needed a third on occassion at Hooton!). I’ll get used to this. Eventually 😉
  • Alpha Timing: I have no idea why (I’m assuming that we pay for a full service) but we only get Live Timing and no results on race day. You get used to being able to analyse sector times minutes after a race on Alpha Timing’s Results service. I’m struggling to get used to not having it…

Despite the negatives, I’ll defer whether or not we are doing the right thing to my driver. After Whilton, he would definitely have moved back to MSA racing had I offered him the chance. After Hooton, I gave him the choice of racing next at Kimbolton or Lydd. He chose Lydd…

Race 16: When you pick the wrong tyres…

Our final outing of the season took place at Llandow at the weekend. It was a very strange one weather-wise and nothing like the mild 12 degrees sunshine that the Met Office had promised us. I had opted for a warm setup on the back of our experience last month, where we were setup for changeable conditions that never came on what turned out to be a fairly grippy track. I also opted not to cover the kart on the trailer for the journey across the bridge as untangling the cargo net can take an age and I’d covered the kart unnecessarily for the past couple of months. Driving through the early morning mist and seeing how wet the kart was in the rear view mirror, I was already irritated by the time we arrived and the brake disc was already rusted! We arrived early as I wanted to get the chassis checked before getting the front bar welded in during the post-season. It was one of those things where I was in two minds whether to do it before or after the weekend but we were at the track and I wasn’t sure that Nigel would be wanting to do it after racing on the Sunday. Pleasingly, it was straight anyway.

Junior getting unusually artistic with the camera!

Junior getting unusually artistic with the camera!

I had assumed that the sun would burn through the mist quite quickly but it never really happened: the first couple of sessions were definitely wet and Junior enjoyed overtaking people he wouldn’t normally overtake, albeit with them treading their way around on cold slicks! The third session was more questionable and we went for slicks, not because I really cared whether or not it was the optimal choice but I wanted Junior to get a feel for the trickier conditions. This went badly: Junior really struggled and I just knew that, when he indicated that he was coming in, there was no mechanical issue – I almost waved him on but didn’t in case there really was a problem. There wasn’t and I was annoyed! There was clearly a large gap between his pace on the wrong tyre and those of his more experienced rivals but when was he planning to make a start on bridging this gap – midway through a final when it suddenly started raining??? I should have sent him back out but didn’t, instead making him watch the others to see how they still attacked the corners and made the most of the grip that was available. The conditions continued to affect our practice through the day; although the track had dried, the mist lingered, the track was cold and we really struggled to get the tyres up to temperature. We had another disagreement when Junior decided he’d had enough of my telling him where he was losing time. At that point I really just wanted to be somewhere other than at the track, away from some ungrateful kid that didn’t seem to appreciate how much time and effort I put into trying to make him drive around in circles that fraction quicker. I went for a walk but there isn’t really anywhere to walk in a place as remote as Llandow. Even the cars on the circuit next door were on their lunch break! I went back on got on with it.

It wasn’t until we hit 15psi (I’d never before exceeded 12psi) that there was any real sign of wear and, of course, we had to get off of the warm setup! At that point, our pace was looking ok; it was clear from last month that there was a fair chunk of time to be found from some of the lines that Junior was taking and he seemed to adopt a conciliatory approach in looking like he was actually making an effort (as opposed to disappearing with his mates between sessions). He did show some improvement. Our straight line speed looked quite good but we just didn’t seem to be getting the power down early enough when exiting onto the straight. I’ve often wondered whether Junior is just trying too hard: taking too much speed into the corner, forcing him to enter early and compromising his exit speed. With regards to this particular corner though, his heavy crash into the barriers back in August may have been/may still be inhibiting him. After our earlier disagreements, it was a positive end to the day.

Race day came and although we were at the track by 8am, I still found myself rushing to get the kart ready for scrutineering (note to self: remove the sprocket protector after practice to make aligning the chain with the race engine that bit quicker!). The track was damp first thing but, by the time we got to the warm-up, it was clearly a track for slick tyres. After our back-to-back 2-6-6 draws, it was very nice to be drawn 3-5-7 😉 I had passed on my instructions (the amount of time and money I put into this ‘hobby’ of ours, I expect the right to say what I think and for him to listen to it, whether or not he chooses to take any notice) and, in this case, he ignored it: gifting away the inside line as he sought a wider entrance in the hairpin and getting passed by the bloke in fifth. This allowed the second placed kart an easy move to cement his position and we started the race in earnest in fourth place. We gradually fell back through the field with Junior complaining of massive understeer. This is where my inexperience was becoming a factor – we’ve not really had to contend with unpredictable conditions until Clay the previous weekend, where we had performed similarly poorly. I brought the front end in and moved the back out, the thinking being that we had too much rear grip and it was pushing the front end on. Our tyres pressures, not as high as they were on Saturday but still higher than I’d normally have been racing on, could well have been a factor.

Heat #2 was disappointing: The first eight karts were separated by 2.5s and we lead home the final three some 6s adrift and 0.7s off of the pace. This time the problem was power – we had none, apparently. Anywhere. I checked the carb, which was fine and I was left scratching my head. It wasn’t just Junior struggling – I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I’d normally have phoned a friend at this point to talk through the symptoms only, this week, he was next door racing us!!!

I changed the engine for Heat #3; we had been running fairly well towards the end of the Saturday on the ‘practice’ engine and, with little to lose, I wanted to see if there was really a performance problem. If I am going to take a punt, I find the third heat to be the perfect time as you can revert to your former setup over lunch. The race saw a fairly well strung out field and us in a close battle for sixth with a couple of karts that were quicker than us. Junior was clearly harder to pass and only lost sixth place on the line. Although he had had a decent tussle, the people we were fighting with were 0.5s quicker and we were now a full second off of the pace!

So onto the final: I was considering what changes to make over lunch and, as we had been slower in Heat #3, the race engine was back on. With the times coming down, I was considering changing the axle to lose some grip but then the rain came. The first three finals saw the grids all opt for wets but it hadn’t rained since lunch and didn’t look like it was going to rain any further. This really would be a close call. With two laps of the other class final remaining and everyone waiting on the dummy grid, nobody had any wheels on. At Clay, I’d have been glued to the Alpha Timing screen that faces out of the office window at this point, glued to the lap times for clues. Unfortunately, Llandow doesn’t have a screen in the office window and I’ve banged the Alpha Timing drum before now. From what I have seen at Clay and Llandow, it’s simply miles better than MyLaps. I will have to do my own timing in future but the track still looked damp, in contrast to how it had looked when it really was drying on the Saturday, and Junior had shown a preference for an inter tyre in similar conditions only the day before. Someone behind us blinked first and went with inters, my mind was already made up – we were off the pace anyway and had little to lose (other than our third choice wets) – and we fitted inters as the rest of the grid went with slicks. I was quite pleased with this as it meant that, if the gamble worked, we’d have a real chance. Having only ever having had to toss the coin once before, in our very first face thirteen months ago, I had a 100% record with my tyre punts. Until now! The race started and I knew almost immediately that this was going to backfire; the speed that the leaders carried into The Hook proved beyond doubt that this was absolutely not a slippery track :/ Being ‘guided’ off onto the grass moments later didn’t help our cause although it proved to be the only opportunity we’d have to get any moisture into the tyres! We fell further away from the main pack, leading the back three but losing two seconds per lap. The leader’s times were insanely quick – the track seemed faster than it had been all weekend. Junior held off the challenge of the only other runner on inters but that was little consolation although at least he could see the funny side when he came in. Speaking to the other Dads after it appeared that it really had been a very close call but we were one of only two who had gotten it so badly wrong :S It was another learning experience and my only regret was that I had upgraded our ‘worst’ inters the previous week!

Oops!

Oops!

It was a strange weekend – I don’t normally fall out with Junior (although we bicker like a couple of old women) and, although Saturday ended well enough, I was still a little peeved. Sunday had again shown up a lack of race pace but whereas the previous week at Clay I had been convinced that it was Junior’s lines and/or him trying too hard that was the main issue, this week I was looking a little closer to home – it had shown up my lack of real understanding of how to deal with grip (both the lack of and when to lose it). Could this have been the reason that Junior was again struggling?

So our season is over and I am looking forward to six weeks off. Karting really does dominate my personal time so it will be nice to take a bit of a break. I will be working to get a better understanding on the grip issue though: longer/shorter axles, axle types and front versus rear widths as I was struggling at times – it certainly wasn’t my finest hour. I don’t get that much in the way of detailed feedback from my driver but it could also be that I am not asking the right questions. It would be one thing for Junior to be taking his time to get the track right but it would bother me a lot if I were impeding his progress so I will be spending a fair amount of time researching and my good friends can expect a question or twelve in the not-too-distant future 😉 I’ll also be spending a little money on our chassis: I was unsure whether or not to spend any money on a £25, four year old chassis but I don’t like it looking tatty. I’ll be glad to get the front bar welded in as it is a nagging doubt in my mind as to whether Junior has suffered for my not getting it done sooner and then I plan to have it blasted and powder coated. In the New Year, we’ll get everything together and look to get a few practice days in, perhaps even some coaching! 😮

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £26 petrol, £13 fuel, £34 – jig check, bead retainers, throttle spring

Total spent this year: £4,375