Disaster at Llandow

The weekend had been non-stop: an early start at Clay for IKR coupled with the need to dry the kart along with all of my tools and spares that had gotten soaked when the awning gave up meant there wasn’t time to do much other than a quick shower before getting everything ready for Llandow. Having a one-point lead in the battle for second spot in the championship, the conditions really went against us in so far as we’d been doing quite nicely with a very settled setup for approaching six months. At least we had the luxury of fresh rubber (back-to back days, no less!).

We arrived to a depressingly deserted paddock and, with more rain forecast, got a similarly depressing answer when I enquired about a potential space in one of the garages 🙁 Considering the options, we decided upon a tiny spot which had protection from the wind on the two most important sides although it meant working in the mud for the day. I’d changed little from the Clay setup in anticipation of further rain but, although the track was wet, there hadn’t been any further rain since the early hours. For the warm-up, we faced a choice: scrub in the slicks in what could best be described as sub-optimal conditions or find the grip on the inters. We were alone in opting for the former much to the amusement of some of the others but I felt we’d benefit by having the slicks scrubbed in if and when we came to bolting them on. Junior lapped at his own pace and kept it on the grey stuff although reported that he didn’t think that the carb was picking up as it should. This was where not having taken part in Saturday practice was coming to bear; it was the carb that we’d ran on all day at Clay and that I had cleaned and tested the evening before. No matter, I bolted on the race carb that I’d also tested the previous evening.

Disaster struck in Heat #1. Junior started his formation lap but, as the grid slowed coming out of The Dell, I could see Junior struggling to keep the engine running. I ran from Raymonds to join the dad and the marshal that were trying to get him going: it was clear the kart wasn’t going to restart even though Junior was desperate for me to keep trying to get the engine started. Although I was gutted for him, I didn’t expect the outburst that I received as I pushed the kart up the straight: it was embarrassing both from the perspective of other dads hearing him talk to me like that and to see him losing the plot completely. We had had a DNS on two occasions before: once when I had put a carb gasket on upside down back (!) in our time at Clay and more recently when a stalled kart in front of him at the dummy grid exit gate forced him to stop and his kart just never restarted; each time he’d been frustrated and I absolutely understand it but I’d never seen anything like this. We had a few quiet words back at the car to ensure that this never happened again. For me, our karting career is not about winning: we absolutely seek to be competitive but I put in all of my spare time and money into something that we both have to enjoy. If he ever stopped enjoying it, we’d retire in an instant but it’s something I do for the enjoyment of us both and, at that point, I wasn’t having much fun. It got worse…

The carb wasn’t holding any pressure whatsoever. We swapped it over, bolted on the race engine (given the drying conditions) and spent a good amount of time in the starting area making sure that the carb and engine were revving as best they could. Junior started on pole and we agreed that he just had to go out there, race, enjoy it and see how things panned out. As he approached me at the final corner of the formation lap he was shaking his head and holding the airbox. I knew in an instant what was wrong. Although I didn’t blame myself for the carb going down there was only one person responsible for this: the jubilee clip around the airbox hadn’t been tightened. Every mechanic will make a mistake from time-to-time but why now??? This might well have been a new low. Junior started and quickly dropped through the field; he was driving one-handed and holding the airbox in place until he reached the hairpin where he had to use both hands on the wheel and would then need to find and re-attach the airbox and carry on. He was in a tussle for last place, lapping 0.8s off the pace when he got the mechanical with three or four laps remaining. What could I do other than apologise? Just when we had needed to be at the very top of our game, a mechanical and then a mechanic problem had sunk our challenge for second place. After our discussion following Heat #1, Junior was understanding: we win or lose as a team. Luckily he was still feeling bad about the outburst earlier!

The day couldn’t really get much worse although we tried our best. Heat #3 was the cutover to slicks. Or was it? Why is it always the JTKM grid that seem to face that crucial decision first? Every other race before us had seen the grids on wets. There hadn’t been any rain all morning but it looked pretty bleak. The forecast was for more rain to come. It was too close to call so I left it to Junior. It wasn’t as though it would cost us the championship anyway! We bolted on the ‘very used’ inters as every other drive bar one went for slicks. And then it rained!!! But not for long enough and the sky was suddenly looking brighter as the drivers went out on track. Junior started in third and used his grip to make into The Hook in first. He quickly had a 2-second lead but that soon began to deteriorate and our misery was complete as we found ourselves adrift by the end of the race. To add insult to injury, it rained as we pushed the kart back to the paddock. Shit happens, huh?

There was no chance of making the wrong tyre choice for the final which would see us start in an impressive last place! Junior would have to make speedy headway if he was going to challenge for the podium but the pack quickly stretches as the rear of the field try to sort themselves out through The Hook at the start, even when the field is fairly small as it was here. Junior was 4th after the first lap but the front three were clear and Junior was making little impression. To his credit he plugged away and caught the third-placed driver late on as he dropped away from the front two. It was a minor consolation for such a bad day in the office.

We just about managed to get packed up before the inevitable rain arrived. The McDonalds tasted ever more dour than usual and it was nice to get home, pack up, shower and crack open a beer. With our participation in the Clay IKR winter series, we wouldn’t be taking December off as we had done last year. As I would really have like to have done at that moment…!

Cost of race day: Entry fee £55, Maxxis slicks £147, petrol (car) £10, fuel (kart) £9, bridge toll £6

Costs since last post: Front sprocket £13

Total spent this year: £4,855 < I think we could be heading for a new annual record!!! 🙁