Back to the track, finally :)

With Junior well into his GCSEs, May had until now been a no karting month for us. We missed the club round (although, had I not been cheering my team on at Wembley, I may have put in a very late entry). With Junior already revising to the max and in need of a welcome break, the May holiday gave us a chance to run in our race motor.

We had a very troubled morning. Junior stopped next to me on track after only two laps to say his brakes weren’t working properly. Not that old chestnut I hear you shout! Not really: the nut holding the brake pedal bolt had departed and both bolt and pedal were in the process of setting themselves free 😮 I told Junior to ease back into the pits and I’d sort it out but it was then that I noticed his exhaust hanging off. The extension bar had snapped, clearly a result of our big exit from the April meeting; during my kart prep I had checked everything was secured but the bar was damaged. And I so hate pushing the kart off-track on a trolley…

With the bar replaced, we got back to running-in. The next session went fine but afterwards I noticed some oil around the manifold so checked the bolts were tight (as I had swapped manifolds between my engines at the rebuild) and cleaned up the oil with the intention of checking this after the next session .You don’t need me to tell you what happened next. I couldn’t be certain that the kart *was* sounding rough. When you focus on something it always seems worse. I stood next to Hangar Straight and listened intently. It was sounding a little rough. Three corners later the manifold snapped.

Lesson #246: when your exhaust has been hanging off, ALWAYS REMOVE THE MANIFOLD FOR VISUAL INSPECTION 🙁

It was lunchtime before we got some good track time and 3pm before running-in was complete (Bambinos!). Just for the running-in (and because all of my practice tyres are rubbish), I had put on some EasyKart tyres that I had been given a year ago and that had been sat in the garage since. They had a lot of tread left and, in his first session at full chat, Junior had beaten his old (pre-transformation!) PB on them which, after running-in, was my only real goal for the test day. He was keen to move onto the Maxxis Slicks to get a more representative time but was 2/10ths slower on older tyres that I had mounted onto a set of Gillard full mags that I had been shelved since last summer. I’d have used our Douglas rims had I not been too lazy to remove last month’s race tyres from them (far too good for non-race weekend practice!). I had negated to check pressures after our first session on the Maxxis tyres but noticed the front left was running at 2.5psi before we went out for the next session!?! I quickly corrected this and Junior then went out and enjoyed a good tussle with one of his friends with whom he’d raced against last year but who had moved to Junior Rotax (boo!). When he came back in, his tyre showed 2.8psi. Houston, we have a problem… A leaky bead retainer was to blame. We switched back to the EasyKart tyres and found the missing 2/10ths. Although lonely practice days are good for track time, it’s always a bit of a shame when there is nobody from your class against whom to gauge your speed. The Llandow track has definitely lost a little of it’s pace since April so I think our times were fairly good, certainly there was no sign of us losing the pace we found last month 😀

A couple more sessions and our day was done. The morning problems had been irritating but the afternoon was good enough and my new push start bar worked very nicely. I had bought it because my back was still bothering me from the April race weekend and I never want to be in a position again where my fitness (or lack of) threatens to ruin Junior’s weekend. I have to give credit to South Wales Karting Centre: we had packed up and left at 6:15pm and there will still owner/drivers on track. I know a lot of circuits who’d be kicking people off as soon as the clock struck 5pm!

*Very* impressed with the image quality on the 4k GoPro I borrowed...

*Very* impressed with the image quality on the 4k GoPro I borrowed…

Cost of day: Practice fee £40, petrol £12, fuel £10
Spent since last post: Push start bar £40, 2x Shell M Oil 15

Total spent this year: £2,078

Our 2015 shakedown

Although we made an early start to the year in a borrowed kart, it was really good to get Junior out in his own kart at the weekend for a shakedown ahead of the opening round of the club championship next week. Having had the chassis stripped right down for a respray (that I susbsequently deferred in favour of touch-up), it’s always a welcome relief to see the thing remain in one piece! I had spent a good chunk of the Saturday trying to get my action camera optimally fitted. The Sony HDR-AS30V has so far seemed like a very nice piece of kit but it is woefully let down by Sony’s lack of mount options: No tilt mount was available at release date and when they did attempt to correct that omission, they produced a tilt mount that lacked full 180 degree movement, opting for one that rotates in 30 degree increments (which sucked on the nassau) 🙁 So I had bought some M3 bolts and rubber spacers in a bid to make something that at least worked for me.

It was a wonderfully sunny day considering the time of year. The track was already dry and grippy at 10am even if there were patches of frost remaining on the kerbs. Our first mission was to run in the practice motor. On the recommendation from my builder, we shortened the run-in time compared to the process we undertook for our race engine; Opting to spend a 10-minute session at 11,000rpm, 10-minutes at 13,000rpm and then a final 5-minutes at 15,000rpm. Running in after a full chassis strip was a good thing since the kart wouldn’t be worked too hard and I could check over all of the nuts and bolts whilst the engine was cooling down. After that we got on with our goal for the day: Improving Junior’s lines.

We’d talked about this. I don’t ever criticise Junior’s driving but there was a point a few weeks back where I told him that he needed to up his game if he wanted to compete this year. I’d be perfectly happy to carry on as we were if he was going to be happy finishing towards the back of the pack but, even allowing for some incompetence on my part, there were huge savings to be found in his driving. He didn’t like it at the time but I pay a lot of money in support of his enjoyment of this sport so, from time to time, I say my piece and expect him to listen to it! We walked the track first thing and agreed that we’d work on getting The Dell sorted. It is an important corner at Llandow, especially for Junior as he tends to lose time in Sector 1 so is often under pressure here as they enter the main passing zone.

Things went pretty well for us, lap-wise. Although the track was disappointingly busy so there were two groups of owner/drivers (2-strokes and 4-strokes) in addition to the odd arrive/drive session, which meant that we only got in 61 laps, Junior worked really well to the extent that he lapped within a tenth of his personal best time. The camera worked really well, the mount didn’t snap (for now) and the Alfano continues to impress me. Video footage of one of his sessions can be found on YouTube although I still haven’t mastered the quality loss that YouTube’s encoding process seems to inflict and I have no idea why I am the only one who can view the video at 1080p 60fps :S

Sony video footageWe had a couple of mishaps: one of Junior’s friends wanted to try our kart as he had some issues with his own but he only got in two laps before the chain snapped. Not really sure what caused it – I’d never had a chain snap until we got a shunt towards the end of last season, when we lost our reliable Panther chain but this EZ chain lacked the longevity (and just as I was singing the virtues of our switch to Silkolene chain lube after two years tolerating the mess caused by my purchase of a job lot of tins of Rock!). I hadn’t realised that the Alfano wasn’t switched on so we don’t have any data to suggest whether or not the engine revs went through the roof. Following this our day ended prematurely when, in plunging temperatures, Junior lost it on the out lap and snapped the bumper bolt. This did annoy me, probably more than it should have, especially since I had put the tyres up for a test without forewarning him!

Cost of day: Practice fee £40, bridge toll £6, fuel £10, petrol £10, new chain £20

Total spent this year: £757

An early start to 2015

Although our kart was stripped in preparation for having the chassis powder coated, I took up the offer of a rolling chassis loan and we headed to Llandow for our first practice of the year. We had a few things on the agenda: make sure the Alfano ADM data logger (an eBay Christmas purchase) worked, test the case of carbs (another eBay purchase) that I had bought and sent straight off for cleaning and rebuilding and also to try out my own Christmas presents: a Sony AS30 Actioncam and a digital tyre pressure gauge.

We got a bit of a surprise when we turned up and the circuit was locked but we were still on track for the day’s first session a little after 10:30. It was a beautifully sunny winter’s day but there was a bitter wind and I opted to don the waterproofs to keep warm. We had a few early hiccups: Junior complained the seat was too small and that he was unable to turn the wheel! This was the seat that was two sizes bigger than his seat and that I had used for the IKR Parent’s Race but, once we had moved the steering column forward, he was happy. Thankfully the Alfano system worked perfectly so we could actually see what we were doing on track! We were with another JTKM and, despite the presence of a couple of Honda cadets, it was nice that the circuit maintained an open pit lane as it meant that we could pretty much come and go as we pleased, only having to make way for a handful of arrive/drive sessions. The cadets weren’t a problem either and Junior gave them plenty of space when he caught them.

The day went reasonably well; although I’m not sure that Junior is really consistent enough to get reliable data on the carbs (having said that, he did manage to post consecutive identical laps and follow them up with another 3/100ths slower!), he found one that he thinks that he had a preference for – it was the first time we’ve used an 820 although I wasn’t telling him the series as we tested them (I’ve not yet had a chance to look at the data from a carb perspective). He was getting much needed track experience and was trying some different lines in various parts of the track. On the downside, I didn’t really give the digital tyre gauge a proper test (I need to read the manual again! :S) and the Sony camera didn’t really do itself justice owing to a lack of mounting options – the flat mount that we had to use was too flat for the FP7 nassau and I think just moved to one side (the curved mount curved the wrong way to be of any use), it really needed screwing to the nassau. The footage was underwhelming too but this might be down to my laptop’s ability to playback 1080p @60fps. The Alfano data was, once I managed to install the software on Windows 8 and to get it talking to my laptop bluetooth, really impressive – after getting home, I was entertaining myself watching Junior’s laps racing themselves into the early hours.

Alfano's VisualData analysis software

Alfano’s VisualData analysis software

You can click the above pic to open a larger version. Clockwise from top-left is the RPM range histogram; lap deltas (entering the final hairpin both yellow and blue laps are ahead of his red lap, which was our fastest on the day – Junior’s blue lap loses 3.35m here!); the RPM (top) and speed (bottom) line graph; sectors table; track map showing acceleration/decceleration. As you can see, there is a gold mine of data in there! 😀

On the flip side, check out the Llandow track map according the Sony camera GPS:

This isn't actually the shape of the Llandow track :S

This isn’t actually the shape of the Llandow track :S

Cost of day: £35 practice fee, £6 bridge toll, £16 petrol, £6 fuel, £9 chain lube

Costs since last post: £70 carb cleaning and rebuilds, £30 cost of new OTK steering wheel after selling the F1 wheel

Total spent this year: £172