Race 14: A first podium!!!

I know that putting the plaque/sticker onto 30-odd trophies must get dull very quickly but they could have put ours on straight!

I know that putting the plaque/sticker onto 30-odd trophies must get dull very quickly but they could have put ours on straight!

Ok, so it wasn’t the most glorious of podium finishes: adrift of the front two and only claiming third following an unfortunate mechanical flag for the driver who was holding us off fairly comfortably but we aren’t fussy! Junior got a great start from fifth to keep out those on the even numbered side of the grid as they looked to stop the odd-numbered train steaming through. His starts have really improved over the past few months and gaining places has become quite common but this was the most impressive start I have seen him make so far – there really was only three kart lengths separating the first, third and fifth placed starters in the final. He was never going to deny the S1 driver that was behind him for very long though – Junior’s pace was good considering it was only his third race at Llandow but we had been at least half a second off the real pace for most of the weekend. Llandow is a pretty tough track to master and, although I was hoping that we might be a couple of tenths closer than last time, our tyres (on their third race day) definitely had their best days behind them and I hadn’t changed the kart setup to accommodate the track which was a fair bit quicker than I had expected (the rain that had been passing over us for most of the day only finally arrived after racing had finished). As soon as the race was over, my focus switched to hoping/praying that we made it through scrutineering, having never gone through anything more than a brief carb measurement check before – our weight was perfect, only 300g over minimum weight and then it was onto the the engine check. Although I had had the engines confirmed legal only the previous week, it was still one of those moments where you just hope there is nothing wrong and, happily, that was the case!

The rest of the weekend had been somewhat uneventful, barring a major mechanic’s faux pas – we’d spent the Saturday on the practice engine and switched to the race engine for the final session of the day. Surprisingly we were three tenths slower and I’d spent most the journey home pondering which engine we should start with for the race day; had the track slowed that much? Had the bigger bore that was enforced upon us at the last rebuild affected the performance of the race engine? We decided to go with the practice motor for race day and were at the track nice an early on the Sunday morning to get the kart ready. I put the engine on and was just boasting to one of the other dads how nice a feeling it is when you get your engine mount bolts in the right place first time (if there is a secret in doing this consistently, please let me know!) as Junior was filling out the scrutineering form. As I went to confirm the engine number (the engine is still relatively new to me and has a two-digit combination of numbers that I keep getting muddled), I realised that I had put the race engine on. I couldn’t understand how this could be – the last engine we used on the Saturday still had the Mychron rev wire attached. It was then that I realised we had spent most of Saturday putting unwanted hours on the race engine!!! That also explained why we were three tenths off in the last session :S Our race engine lives in a certain box and, when then engines had had their cranks aligned, they must have gone back in the wrong boxes.

As for the heats, we were drawn 2-6-6 for the second successive month, which Junior really was unhappy about. I had emailed the club after last month’s meeting to express my dissatisfaction about a) having received the unfavoured even-numbered draw in all three heats (everyone should get at least one odd-numbered start) and b) receiving the same grid position for two of the three heats (a new experience for us at the time). The club assured us that the draws were random and I have no qualms about that but the process for doing so is clearly pretty poor, doing only the minimal to keep the drivers grid draws adding up to roughly the same whilst taking little else into consideration (our 2-6-6 draw being vastly inferior to the 7-3-3 of another driver, for example – especially once you consider their placings after the first bend). The club use the MyLaps timing system, a poor substitute for Alpha Timing in my opinion but it does its primary job (timing) and is probably a fair bit cheaper at a time when the clubs entry numbers are worryingly low (42 this month!). MyLaps does not have the grid draw functionality and the club are using something called Super Sports, which I know nothing about! I’ve been in touch with the club again since and I might even try to write something that might be able to do a better job but I was also at pains to point out that, whilst this could be improved, we’ve really enjoyed every other aspect of racing at the club since we came for the first time in August.

Back to the racing, Junior started on the outside in heat one and losing only one place around the first hairpin was a minor success in itself! We lost a couple more places over the course of the race to the quicker drivers but held onto fifth which was a decent result. Heat two was a low point, Junior had a driver all over him although we clearly had the legs on them in the straight. As he disappeared out of my view (somehow my ‘pushers’  bib was a different number to last time but was still assigned the post in the furthest corner of the track!), I heard a thump and the commentator announced excitedly “And he’s gone off, that was a huge impact”, there were an anxious few moments before Junior came back into view – his rival’s brake disc had snapped and he had hit the back of Junior before ploughing into the tyres. A few laps later our chain snapped – our very first chain snap and very likely a result of the incident a few laps earlier. Heat three saw us continue to trail the pace by half a second. We gained a place to finish fifth again and match our fastest time of the day. The day was nothing more than ok until the final and I really wonder whether a set of Maxxis slicks are good for racing anywhere more than twice – I had hoped it might just have been Clay, although the first race on these tyres at Clay had taken a surprising amount of tread from them. I still hope we can do three races on a set at Llandow alone.

So a second trophy for the Junior’s shelf (no signs of needing a cabinet just yet!).

Cost of weekend: £95 race entry and practice, £24 petrol, £10 fuel, £13 bridge toll, £160 new slicks (for next month), seat strut and new chain

Spent since last post: £170 crank alignment, a new seal and a sprocket

Total spent this year: £4,130 :S

Things that break when you want it least…

You gave yourself that afternoon to prepare the kart (in daylight) for the weekend. You did something else first that took an hour and you have a parent’s evening at 6pm but it’s ok: all you need to do is change the axle, clean a few things up and put on the engine, carb and exhaust. You’re tightening the brake caliper bolt. You go to give it one final turn and then ‘CLUNK’ – the brake caliper bolt shears midway between the bearing hanger and caliper!!! Cue repeated heavy swearing…

Luckily I managed to drill out the bolt and reassemble the kart, rush my tea and get Junior to school! I’m still not fully comfortable with the disassembly of the brake system and am yet to ‘fly solo’ when it comes to bleeding the brakes but this will change tomorrow since it’s my only free time before the weekend – just one of those things that I have to learn to become competent at.

Other semi-interesting things that have cost me money this week: I stopped by the local engine builder to confirm that the engines were legal following the illegal engine modification scandal. I was pretty certain they were good – the previous owner is easily the most knowledgeable person I’ve met in TKM (I guess when you are spending Super One money, you have to be!) and had assured me that there was nothing to worry about but it was one of those things that you just have to have done so that you know without the slightest element of doubt that your engine is legal. Both engines were legal. Unfortunately both had crank alignment issues – we almost certainly damaged the newly built race engine when we ran it in with what I suspect to have been a bad hanger/bearing combo. It’s been a tight month karting budget-wise and I could definitely have done without any engine bills 🙁

Push starting a TKM Direct Drive engine

It was really nice to see some noob JTKMs practising at Clay on Friday who were either first or second time out but, in the damp conditions, spinning was inevitable and I found myself becoming the Push Start Guardian for the morning. I didn’t mind, it’s a JTKM Dad rite of passage 😉 Each time I helped a Dad get their lad going, I’d look around to see him on the floor as his lad drove off(!) so here are my tips on how to start and direct drive engine without tasting the tarmac…

Firstly, it’s documented in way more detail than I will offer on Karting1.co.uk in their post ‘How to Bump Start a Kart‘. I’ll just summarise the basics and the golden rule:

In your pit bay, you need to properly prime the carb. To do so:

  1. Disconnect the short piece of fuel hose from the small overflow tank
  2. Disconnect the long piece of fuel hose from the carb
  3. Blow into the short hose until fuel runs out of the long hose (that is connected to the fuel tank but no longer connected to the carb)
  4. Reconnect the long hose to the carb
  5. Remove your spark plug (but leave it in the spark plug cap and sat on top of the engine to avoid any potential for electrical damage)
  6. Remove your airbox
  7. Cover the carb with your hand and rock the engine-side rear wheel back and forth to draw fuel into the carb until you feel the fuel on the hand covering the carb
  8. Your preparation work is done – you’ve done your bit to ensure that there is minimal air in the system. Optionally, you are ready to fire up the engine with a handheld starter if you seek additional piece of mind. Obviously, you want to replace the spark plug before doing so (and you will find that you will leave it out and you will look daft when you try starting your driver – it’s just one of those noob things!).

Now push is going to come to shove, quite literally so with the kart on the grid…

  1. Get the driver to lean forward (it helps lessen the mass you’ll be lifting)
  2. Hold the rear bumper in the right hand (which will be doing most of the lifting)
  3. Hold the back of the seat with the left hand (which won’t be doing much lifting)
  4. Lift the kart – you don’t need to lift very high, in fact the lower the better
  6. Run as fast as you can for 5-10 yards
  7. Drop the kart down
  8. Keep pushing until it picks up. Driver will need to feather the throttle pedal until the engine starts to pick before accelerating away.

An engine with a properly primed carb should not require ‘choking‘ but an unwilling engine can be helped by the driver placing their hand over the airbox trumpet momentarily to increase the fuel to air ratio. Do this too much and you will flood the engine!

There is one other tip that I found helped us greatly (when we bought the kart it took a long run to get going and, after this tweak, it took a matter of yards). It’s a little more technical so please seek expert advice if you are unsure!

You can help yourself by ensuring that your carb butterfly is slightly open so that, when you hold it up to the light, you can just see daylight around the outside of the butterfly. This is the butterfly:


It is adjusted by the idle adjust screw as illustrated on p27 of Tal-Ko’s BT82 Parts and Drawings Guide. It’s worth emphasising that inappropriate changes to carbs can be seriously damaging to your wealth! Again, if in any doubt, please ask a more experienced TKM mechanic.

Hope this helps!

Running in @Clay: featuring Mr Erratic Rotax

Having had the race engine back for a couple of months and still finished running it in, we headed off to Clay on Friday for a host of reasons; primarily to get the engine run in but also to compare the engines, work on lines and test some theories regarding grip (or the lack of it at the last race day). It was nice not to be rushing around madly as we do on a race weekend and the journey down wasn’t too bad for a week day. Unfortunately, the forecast had worsened through the week and it seemed we wouldn’t get the perfect weather for getting through the list of things to do. On top of that, there were a couple of four stroke events on over the weekend so the track was much busier than I had been hoping.

The first few sessions went well enough as we worked through the mid-range of the engine revs but then we hit a snag – anything over 13.5k revs seemed to start some kind of noise that I couldn’t explain even if I thought I knew what Junior was talking about! He was sure that it was an engine problem, which is the one problem area that fills me with dread 😮 I spoke with a few people – my engine builder and the guy I bought the engine from both of whom suggested it was four-stroking. It didn’t seem like it was four stroking but I tweaked the jet settings a touch and we tried again – the problem got worse the more revs Junior gave it. I changed the carb in case it had gone bad (and in the process discovered that my carb popoff tester was faulty and I had very likely been getting my carbs rebuilt unnecessarily!) but still we had the same problem. I was about to give up and fit the other engine so that we could at least get something out of the day but it was then that my own ‘karting dad’ (figuratively speaking) asked if my axle was bent – now this struck a chord!!! We had crashed at Llandow last time out but had competed in a race after the crash without any such problem (even if we only managed 2 laps before our exhaust manifold snapped) but it wasn’t the axle I suspected, rather a bearing hanger I had bought used and fitted the night before. When attempting to refit the axle after fitting the hanger, the axle was a good few inches away from aligning with the bearing hanger on the brake side. It turned out that the bearings seemed to have suffered some damage and were out of alignment. I had removed them at home, knocked them straight and refitted the axle – seemingly without issue. I was desperate to give the engine another chance so replaced both the bearing hanger and the axle just to ensure we could prove that the engine was/was not to blame. Luckily, the problem disappeared 😀 I am still not 100% sure that it was the bearings in the hanger but the axle looks good and I’ve refitted for our next outing.

After that our day was a bit hit and miss. The rain came and went and, although Junior seemed to be enjoying the conditions following a confidence boosting wet heat at Llandow, it meant we didn’t get the consistent weather that we needed to be able to back-to-back the engines. Nor work on lines. Nor test grip theories. We also broke both our bumpers – one when a prokart ran into the back of us into The Hairpin and another time courtesy of a bloke in a Rotax who was clearly very quick but was driving  erratically and making moves as though his life depended on every corner – bear in mind that this was just a practice day! If you had asked ten bystanders to point out which of the 30 karts on track looked most like the driver was under the influence of something, I guarantee everyone would have picked the same bloke!!! I am normally a fan of having large, mixed grids but seeing this bloke push us wide and then punt a prokart into the very next corner made me go and request the sessions were divided. It didn’t rid us of Mr Erratic Rotax but it did give us enough space we could steer well clear of him. Although you will inevitably see contact in karting, I don’t normally expect it at practice days!!!

In the end, we had achieved the main goal of running in the engine. Both of my bumpers have been snapped but at least my emergency bumper retention system (some rubber hose and hose clips) proved their worth.

I’m not sure where we’ll be headed next – Junior wants to do the next round at Clay but it’s looking like a very busy weekend with three additional classes taking part and that sets off my ‘track time alert’!!! It’s likely we’ll race unless there is a chance of a repeat of the ‘slower karts starting in front of the faster karts‘ fiasco we saw earlier in the year (the last time that there was a big Formula Blue event at the track). That lead to us/me getting into all sorts of bother – I won’t be doing that again…

Cost of practice:£35 practice fee, £12 petrol, £6 fuel
Spent since last post: used bearing hangers, £30, two used carbs £70

Total spent this year: £3,657


Race 9: The good, the bad and the ugly

The past week has been a mad rush – Junior had a work experience placement at Codemasters so this meant getting as much of the kart preparation as possible done last weekend. We travelled up to Warwickshire on Monday, I dropped him off and then went to collect my new engine and also drop our race engine off for a rebuild. Whilst doing this, it was pointed out to me that the barrel on the race engine had a scratch between the inlet ports that it was feared could be a crack!!! Having to fund the new engine and a rebuild in the same month, I’d have been screwed had it needed a new barrel. Fortunately it this was not the case although I’ve yet to get it back.

Anyway I stayed away with Junior during the week and only on Friday did I decide we would do both days of the Clay Pigeon Kart Club Charity Race Weekend, as opposed to just the standard club raceday on the Sunday. Friday night was a late one and I think I got the tyres changed at around 11:30pm and then set the alarm for 6:00am :/

The Bad

Saturday was definitely the bad day – it started off with my pit neighbours encroaching into our spaces to the extent that we couldn’t get our 6x3m awning up. So, whilst they enjoyed lunch in the shade, my ginger ass was melting in the sun – cheers for that! 😛

The club used a GP format for the Saturday, with practice, qualifying, one heat, a pre-final and a final. Qualifying went badly: Junior lost his transponder on lap #2. Fortunately, it didn’t hit anybody (but only just). Then I upset the scrutineer who, when checking the kart over, started marking up the carb and asked if this was the engine I would be racing on. I replied that I’d be changing that carb (it was the first time we had used it and Junior hadn’t looked particularly quick), at which point he told me to get my kart out of the way and muttered something which I assumed meant he wanted to see the carb I would be using. I came back and fitted the replacement carb!!! Doh! He wasn’t happy at all. It was an honest mistake – we’d only been scrutineered once before (last year when we finished third of three at the Turkey Trot). At this point he wanted to speak to the Chief Scrutineer? (this may not have been her title) and, after ignoring me whilst he scrutineered the entire senior grid that had now come in, I went and checked with her myself. Obviously I realised immediately what I had done wrong (as in not touching the kart whilst it is in scrutineering) and I was fortunate that the Chief Scrutineer only wanted both carbs checked and told me not to do it again! :/

Worse, was the fact that we had no pace whatsoever – we were just being driven past for fun. Junior was complaining the engine was not picking up out of the corners and blaming the new engine. I thought it was a grip problem and did what I could to lose some. In the heat, we were last of the finishers, six tenths off of the pace. The pre-final was slightly more interesting as Junior nudged his friend (with whom we share an awning but also have what would sometimes be described as a little more than a friendly rivalry), gained a spot but then spent the rest of the race waving his arm at every nudge he received until he lost the place a few laps from the end. He was very angry but not as angry as me – how he could be so upset at being on the receiving end when he had gained a place from dishing it out? I was properly annoyed! We had a few words in the car (the words were mostly flowing in his direction). We finished sixth in the final although I have no recollection of it whatsoever. On a slightly positive note, we had lapped within a tenth of our fastest time at Clay but it was scant consolation given how far we were off of the pace.

The good

The drive to the track on Sunday was a long one. Not the time spent driving back down to Dorset but just the knowing that there really wasn’t much cause for optimism. We would be on slightly newer used tyres but, if the track conditions were the same, it was going to be another bleak day. I had a single setup change that I wanted to make (that  was inspired by a chat in the Gents with the MSA Steward after racing on Saturday!). Other than that, I was hoping there had been significant overnight rain to freshen things up.

The rain had been minimal but it was notably cooler. We got the kart setup and crossed our fingers. Junior noticed the difference instantly – he was still well off of the pace but the three lap warm-up has never been about pace for Junior, it’s all about making sure the kart is working (I think this is a leftover from the days when it often wasn’t). Although we finished last of the finishers in Heat 1, as Junior gradually dropped back from a good start, he did set a new personal best – breaking 36 seconds for the first time 😀

Heat 2 was a shame – Junior made another good start but got clipped and spun around in The Esses and then shunted into the tyres. He picked up a few places after an incident took out a couple of karts and another was excluded. We were a little slower but Junior assured me he was taking it a little easier – and, of course, I believed him 😉 Heat 3 was a decent result for us as, although we dropped from 2nd to 5th, Junior was clear of the back half of the grid and set another PB.

The ugly

Sunday had been a decent day for us up until this point. Junior started 7th out of 10 and all I wanted him to do was to keep his nose clean from the start and enjoy the race. He made up a place at the start when kart ran off at The Esses, another couple when a couple of the front runners fell over each other and was then in a fight over 5th place with his friend and awning companion. These are the moments I enjoy the least as I am basically waiting for one to take the other out. Junior got a run up the inside into The Esses and his friend maintained the outside line. At this point it was going to take some very good driving for there not to be contact. Junior was ahead and on the racing line but needed to leave enough space around the inside of The Esses exit to avoid contact. He didn’t. His back wheel hit the front wheel of his friend’s kart and, although they both carried on, his friend lost time in the incident. It was one of those scenarios where I know Junior would have tried exactly the same thing had the boot been on the other foot and would have complained just as bitterly when he lost out.

But this wasn’t the ugly part!!! It turned out after the race that Junior had been the one who got caught out as the pack entered The Esses and shunted the kart in front off of the track. A first corner (or second in this case) at-fault incident was exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Fortunately, it hadn’t been reported – although there had been a fair amount of contact during the day which included us losing out so, had we been called into the Clerk’s office, I’d have been a tad upset! We clearly still have a thing or two to learn about close racing, however…

Back to the positives: we set another PB and, unusually, the JTKM final was early in the running order which meant we were home for Sunday roast (via McDonalds for a shake) by 6:30 – round about the same time we had left the previous month!

Cost of weekend: £100 race entry, £24 petrol, £7 fuel

Total spent this year: £2,452

Out with the old, in with the new [engine]….

With our practice engine on it’s final bore and approaching eight hours, I’d been contemplating putting it up for sell and putting the funds and the saved rebuild money towards another engine. I had come across an engine for sale that was a Super 1 practice engine, had a CNC barrel with a small crank case (paddock-talk would suggest that this is the preference as the newer crank cases are slightly bigger and, therefore, heavier) and had only 90 minutes on it. I pondered this for a few weeks and decided to go for it, adding some extra funds from kart bits that I had bought with the retirement package but never used to relieve some of the ‘peer pressure’ from my nearest and dearest!

So goodbye Engine #3553 – we have still never bettered the 36.01s lap that we set on you last September and hello to Engine #43xx (I cannot remember the number). We look forward to racing on you soon, since the race engine in also in for it’s rebuild :S

Cost of engine and carb: £600
Funds from spares sales: £175 (engine), £20 (old side pods), £10 (old bars)

Total spent this year: £2,321

Time to start thinking about karting again

It’s been three weeks or so since I took Junior’s kart out and in that time I have done… absolutely nothing to do with karting! Sure; Junior’s kart needed re-assembling after I replaced large chunks of it a) to fit me and b) in case I broke stuff but I hadn’t really felt the inclination to put it back together again. The break has been good but it was time to address my lack of attention as we race again next weekend and I won’t have any free time next week. So the kart looks shiny and new again. Or as shiny and new as it can look after the contact we had last month!

Although I have spent no time on it, I could soon be spending a fair amount of money! Both the race and practice engines are coming up for rebuild 🙁 and with a few non-karting expenses to balance, I’m under a bit of pressure budget-wise. I have been considering for some time what to do with our practice engine: it’s on a 51.4mm piston and the options were obviously to just continue with it, rebuild it in a couple of hours’ time and, if/when the time came for a new bore, make the Extreme/new barrel/sell it decision at that point or to sell it now and use the funds from the sell, together with the saved rebuild money to buy another engine. I’ve decided to do the latter and have sourced a CNC-barrelled engine with 90 mins running time that I should pick up next week. That still leaves the race engine also coming up for rebuild and I might just have to retire that one for a month or two. The imminent costs have also spurred me into action to sell some of the stuff that came with the retirement package that I have no need for, so if you are after some tidy OTK M3 side pods/bars or some MXP rims, there are some an auction site near you 😉

Underneath there is a racing machine, honest!

Underneath there is a racing machine, honest!

Buying a kart (2nd Edition)

This comes up a lot on the forums so I thought I would update the articles I wrote on this in February and March last year! So what do you need to consider?

It is worth pointing out firstly that, if you are new to karting, you aren’t going to take all of this in straight away – it’s hard to write a guide that doesn’t bamboozle newcomers but is complete at the same time! Read it, learn from the forums (Karting1.co.uk is a very friendly place for noobs to ask questions), talk to some kart owners at the track, start to build up an idea for what you want – things might be a little clearer when you return!

1. What class of karts are raced at your local track or what are your mates driving?

Even if you have no plans to race now, you should bear this in mind. Why find that you need to replace everything in 9 months once you are bitten by the bug and want to start racing? Visit the local tracks on a practice day and chat to the other owners – you’ll find they have much more time to chat on a practice day compared to a race day. Ask everything and anything but bear in mind that everyone will have a different opinion – what works for one driver will not necessarily work for you! Contact the local kart club to get some expert advice and ask if they run open days where potential new owners can test drive a kart – why turn down the chance of a free go? Of course, if you already have mates who are owners then this may well answer this question for you.

2. Set your budget

Before you can go about finding the right kart, you need to set your budget. A Formula TKM kart from 2009 will start at around £600, a RotaxMax-engined kart nearer £1000 (if you are considering Rotax, you need to know that the engines must be sealed by a licensed engine builder if you are considering MSA racing). You can obviously spend more and look at much newer karts. You will also see older, cheaper karts around, many of which will be described as TKM 100cc karts. The key is whether the kart has a Tal-Ko BT82 engine – if not, you are looking at a much older engine for which part availability may be limited, as may your race options.

When I use the term ‘TKM’ from here on, I mean Formula TKM…

3. I’ve picked a class but how do I buy the ‘right’ kart?

Your options will be to buy a complete kart which just needs you to add fuel or a rolling chassis (everything except the engine) where you must source the engine parts yourself. The benefit of the former is that you can arrange to meet the seller at the track and test everything for yourself. With the latter, you can more easily perform a visual inspection (of the chassis without the engine mounted) but you won’t get to feel how it handles and, when buying the engine, you will really want to see it running to be sure it at least fires up ok.You may also need to source the carb/exhaust/starting system separately.

4. I’m going TKM, what engine type should I get?

You have three TKM engine options: Direct Drive, Clutched, TaG (Touch and Go). Direct Drive is the cheapest and simplest but the downside is that it needs a push start – either doing it yourself (and then jumping in) or having someone to do the pushing. If you can overcome this (it’s easy once you know how, apparently!), then you’ll find troubleshooting a whole lot simpler. Bear in mind though that, if you spin out on track, the engine will cut out and you will need to push start yourself once again. A clutched engine uses a centrifugal clutch and requires an external starter. If you spin, the engine should not cut out. Both Direct Drive and Clutched engines will have either cast or CNC-machined cylinder liner ports. Cast ports were used on the older engines. CNC-machined ports feature on engines after serial number 6500 (and all TaG engines) although you cannot use the engine number alone as a guide as the previous owners may have swapped the parts around. CNC-machined engines are generally considered to be better and command a price premium.

A TaG has a touch-button start system using an on-board battery. The wiring loom for TaGs has seen numerous upgrades, each more reliable than the previous version – you will want to know the age of a TaG engine and also whether the loom has been replaced at all. Because of the loom and battery, there are some tuning modifications to the TaG engines to offset the excess weight.

Engine prices for Direct Drive engines will fall into one of three categories: non-CNC £250-£350, CNC £500-£600, an ex-Super 1 (the national race series) engine (with some proof to back up any lofty claims) £750-£1000. Bear in mind that a new Direct Drive engine costs £1200, a Clutched engine £1300 and a TaG £1650.

5. What make of chassis should I get?

This is all a matter of personal preference. If you are buying from a manufacturer or trader, you can test drive the options and see what feels best. You may find it really boils down to availability of spares – is there an on-site shop at your preferred track and, if so, which manufacturers parts do they stock? Will you be buying replacement parts direct from the manufacturer or looking to buy used from eBay? There are plenty of options but you’ll find that OTK (a brand that encompasses the TonyKart, Kosmic, Alonso and Exprit brands of kart) parts are by far the most commonly available in the used markets.

6. Where should I buy?

You have a few options here. You can buy new or nearly new karts direct from the manufacturer. Obviously, this is the most expensive option but you should be confident of getting a decent piece of kit. You can buy from a trader – they are generally very helpful in making sure you get something that suits you, you’ll have some comeback if you encounter problems in the short term and, if they are based at the track where you drive, you’ll have a source of assistance in those times of need (and there will be plenty). You can buy from an individual – either through contacts i.e. the local club, via one of the big two UK kart forums (www.karting1.co.uk and www.karting.co.uk – the latter tends to have a more active ‘for sale’ area) or via eBay. Avoid eBay if possible – that’s the place where the karts that haven’t sold anywhere else end up. It’s a great place for spares but not necessarily for karts and engines. You may also see retirement packages up for sale from time to time; these can offer very good value for money and the spares can prove to worth their weight in gold in the long run.

7. How do I avoid buying a dud?

If you are new and do not have expert friends, it’s very hard to be certain. Buy from a trader would be the easy advice. You need to ask the right questions but, even then, you will ideally need to visually inspect the kart and then test drive it.

8. What questions should I ask?

  • What make, model and year is kart?
  • Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives)
  • Is the engine Direct Drive, Clutched or TaG?*
  • What is the serial number of the engine?*
  • When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
  • Does it have a cast or CNC-machined barrel?*
  • How many hours since the last rebuild? (a TKM engine needs a rebuild after 8-10 hours and cost between £300-£400!)
  • On what bore is the engine? (TKM engines have a range of bore sizes, the maximum bore size for a Junior TKM engine is 51.40mm, for a Senior TKM engine it is 54.75mm. The point here is that, if the engine is on it’s final bore, it may be needing a new barrel at the next rebuild and that’s not cheap)*
  • Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
  • Does the chassis have any cracks/re-welds/rust/flattening? (yes to any of the above will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
  • What size rear axle does it have? (30mm tend to be found only in older karts, 50mm is the standard nowadays, converting from one to the other will cost extra)
  • What sized seat is included? (if it isn’t your size, you’ll be needing to buy one before you get out on track)
  • In what condition are the tyres?
  • What is the condition of the bodywork?
  • Exactly what spares are included?

* TKM specific questions – I am sure there will be other questions specific to other classes, it’s just that I cannot help you with them!

9. What are the essentials?

You will need:

  • An external starter (if going TKM Direct Drive or Clutched)
  • A kart trolley – to push your kart from the pits to the track
  • A data logging system (Mychron or Alfano) – the Mychron 4 is generally recognised to be the best of the affordable bunch
  • Some fuel cans, preferably different colours (one for mixed fuel, one for unmixed)
  • Fuel filters

10. What spares do I ‘need’?

You will want spare:

  • Tyres
  • Hubs
  • Sprockets
  • Chains
  • Carbs

You might want to consider spare:

  • Axle
  • Bodywork
  • Stub axles
  • Track rods
  • Bearings

11. What about perishables?

  • Chain lube
  • Carb cleaner
  • Brake cleaner
  • WD40/GT85
  • Engine oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel hose
  • Mechanics gloves
  • Cable ties
  • Hose clips
  • Nuts/Bolts

12. And tools?

  • Spark plug spanner
  • T-Bar socket (for wheel nuts)
  • T-Handle Hex/Allen Key set
  • Ratchet spanner set
  • Snippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Metal ruler

Feel free to post questions or suggest improvements 🙂

Race 5: Our first trophy!!!

Here it is!!!

Our first trophy!!!

Totally unexpected and a fantastic end to a rollercoaster of a weekend…

The practice Saturday started off *really* badly: I spent the first 30 minutes getting people moved from my new pit space and then, when we were finally heading to the grid for the first session, we made it 15 yards down the road to the pit lane when we lost a circlip from the front trolley wheel and quickly had to catch the kart! Junior then came in reporting no brakes and no power out of the corners – just what every mechanic wants to hear :S Arghhhh – not on a race weekend!!! Luckily, there was a one-stop fix to both of these problems: TIGHTEN THE BLEEDING GRUB SCREWS PROPERLY. The axle had moved yet again. No such thing as once bitten twice shy in this household :/ I have now learnt my lesson and accepted that my axles won’t last as long when the screws are digging right in to them but that’s just one of those things.

After that, we looked really good – Junior was first out and had a fair lead over the likely pacesetters. Although they caught him by the end of the session, he wasn’t being totally mullered as has often been the case. The next session was also very encouraging as we were only four tenths or so off the pace but, as the afternoon went on, we lost something and were falling off of the leaders and running just behind the other novice. The turnaround was troubling but, in hindsight, it was something I should have seen as we continued to slip that little bit further back. It was on my mind the whole way home and I had a chat about it with a number of other racers and Dads – I think I was just moving in the wrong direction setup-wise as the track quickly cooled.

Race day and once again I was awake at 4am for my 6am start :/ I had set the kart up at the end of the practice day and it was still covered and ready to tow back down to Dorset so we left on schedule for a change. We made it to Clay in record time as the roads were so quiet. It seemed like the A37 has been doing a fairly decent job of culling badgers recently too 🙁 On to the main event…

Unexpectedly, we were the only entrants not to be running on new tyres! The fact that the debutant novice (and our good friends) had fresh rubber provoked Junior into a renewed appeal to be able to run on his new slicks but we have several ‘nearly new’ sets left still which I think are too good to only use on practice days. We did have our CNC barrelled engine on for race day though – Junior had felt it was better in the three sessions we did on it last week and, although his times had been no different, he felt that the track was slower by the time I had managed to switch the engines over. We were about to find out whether Santa had thought Junior had been good or really good when he sourced the engine at Christmas!!! My daughter sometimes reads this, so I have to keep this going 😉 The three lap warm-up seemed ok – we did a spot of sparring with one of the quick boys and weren’t disgraced although we were the slowest of the six runners (the Alpha Timing System really is very good, by the way). Junior was moaning that he wanted to go up a sprocket as we had been a fraction quicker on the practice day with it. I was reluctant as the weather was beautifully sunny and the forecast was very good. In the end I relented. Or at least I did to the extent I removed two sprocket carrier bolts whilst Junior was looking, pretended to be busy for a couple of minutes and then told him it was done 😉

Heat 1: Started really well, Junior quickly got up to 4th and, although the front three had pulled away, had dropped 5th and 6th when he had a heavy crash coming out of the top bend; he lost the back end which caught the tyres which spun him hard back into them right in front of the pit lane audience. He was out of the kart quickly and his kart lifted into the pits. My first reaction was “Holy sh*t” (I can over-react at times), the second “That could be expensive”. I deserted my pusher spot at The Hairpin and legged it over to him (not sure if that’s permitted but…) – he was shaken and had hurt both his arms but he was more upset at having just gifted away the points for a fourth place finish. Luckily we had only bent a track rod. My spares same to the rescue once again and I borrowed some lasers to ensure that we were straight (hopefully I can do this on my own next time – thanks, Sam!). On a positive note, we were relatively competitive for the first time *ever* and Junior really liked the kart with the ‘bigger’ sprocket 😉 One look at his Mychron told me he didn’t need and wasn’t getting the bigger sprocket!

Heat 2: Junior started last of six and was up to fifth when he had to run wide to avoid an accident into The Hairpin, losing the place he had gained but gaining two more as the other karts rejoined. This was one of more disappointing moments of the weekend for me as this was my corner for pushing and I had been so absorbed in what Junior was doing, I neglected my responsibilities as a pusher – it was only when the other Dads ran over that I remembered why I was out on track… Sorry to a certain racer if you are reading this 🙁 We finished third and were only two tenths off of the pace!

Heat 3: We got up to 4th early on but struggled to shake off fifth and sixth. Having finally managed a small gap, we actually caught third. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get past and were caught by the others but held on for fourth.

Final: We started fifth of six because, although we tied for fourth,  the result in the first heat is used to decide grid positions (did anybody else know that?). We started well, moved up to fourth and built a healthy enough gap over fifth. The three pacesetters were starting to hamper their pace quite badly as they duked it out up front and Junior was visibly catching them for a few laps.That was until he got a bit over-excited! Some of his lines became very erratic and any chance of glory (which I am sure he believed was a possibility!) soon evaporated. That was not the end of the drama though: one of the front runners seized an engine promoting us to third but, as the clock ran down (it was a ten minute plus one lap final), we were being caught by fourth. I was flicking my attention between the clock (it read 55s) and Junior when something happened at the back and our exhaust was suddenly dragging along the ground under the bumper. I was absolutely devastated – this was sure to end our race!?! Umm, well he was going round again with 22s remaining, which still meant this was the penultimate lap – the marshals by now were looking very interested – the kart was obviously very noisey but still no black/orange flag. Junior passed my post and looked up at me as if to ask “What do I do?” I just urged him to carry on! We were onto the final lap and the question now was whether we could hold onto third – fourth seemed to have overcome his hesitancy that our exhaust may fall off at any minute and was right behind us. I think a tenth separated the two as they crossed the line with Junior just about holding on 🙂

Although there were only two podium spots for the six runners, Junior won Best Junior Novice which was a fantastic achievement. His lap had clearly come on massively over the weekend – thanks, I am sure, in part to my track walk with him on the race morning 😉 The CNC-barrelled engine was also clearly much more to Junior’s liking than our non-barrelled engine, the two things combined (his improved lines and the engine, not my track walk!) to him making up six or seven tenths since our last race in December. We aren’t on the pace yet but, on this evidence, we are close enough now to be in the mix (wet weather excluded!!!).

So a great start to our championship although we won’t be defending the trophy next month as we are now off of novice plates.

TKM exhausts aren't meant to look like this!

TKM exhausts aren’t meant to look like this!

I can't say how grateful I am that these two exhaust sprungs hung around!

I can’t say how grateful I am that these two exhaust springs stuck around!

Cost of day: £30 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £39 race entry fee

Items purchased since last post: replacement bolts – £1!

Total spent this year: £916

Year 1 spend: £4,594

Practice 15: Somewhat in the dark

Last week seemed liked an ok week based on the little data we had available – we were a three or four tenths off one of the more seasoned drivers (who was on old tyres) and six or seven tenths ahead of the our good friends (and closest rivals!!!), who are looking to race for the first time this month. It was probably where I’d imagined we would be. This week the picture was much more uncertain…

The day started off with the customary dirtying of the kart en-route to Clay; despite the sun shining for most of the journey, we met a lorry on a flooded dip in the road who was kind enough to spray us and the trailer. I am definitely going to revisit the covering of the kart in transport! Unusually, despite having to turn around when I realised I had forgotten my wallet, WE WERE OUT IN THE FIRST SESSION!!! 🙂 The track started damp but it was nice and warm in the sun. The track soon dried and we were quickly into the low 37’s, two tenths off of our quickest time last week. This week was all about improving our line through Billes and I spent most of the sessions there watching Junior run wide over and over and over… It seemed as though he was braking early but not able to scrub enough speed so he’d hit the first apex but stood little chance of making the second. The carrot of not buying any chocolate from the shop until he got it right seemed to spur him on; at least he now looked like he was trying! Lo and behold, he got it right… twice in sucession! It brought a massive smile to my face and, although the session then ended, I felt we’d made a big step forward and duly coughed up some coins so that he could show me how quick he was at scoffing Smarties 😉

Stupidly, I thought that was that. I returned to the middle of the track for the next session but wandered back to Billies when he again looked a little wide from my poor vantage point. Consistency is thing we lack but I can’t hark on about it forever – he’s going to have to learn it sooner or later! At this point, our times were not improving like I had hoped – we were lapping in the mid-37s when I was hoping to push on into the 36s. Our front tyres were bald in places so we put another set of practice tyres – this found us three tenths and we were consistently lapping in the 37.1s.

At this point I decided it was time for another momentous occassion:  the testing of the CNC barrelled engine that Junior got for Christmas 😮 I was hoping it was going to be faster but nothing is guaranteed. Before that though, we had a few issues to overcome: the throttle spring hole in the barrel was much lower than on our other engine and this caused the butterfly in the carb not to close fully as the throttle stop bolt was too close. Then the exhaust needed moving. And the new engine mount took different length bolts compared to the old engine! After an hour spent mostly arsing around, the moment of truth had arrived. 1 – the engine started on the stand 🙂 2 – the engine push started as easily as our other engine 🙂 🙂 🙂 3 – it *looked* quick 🙂 But our times were the same! Junior felt the engine was quicker out of the corners but that the track was now slower. We were lapping in times very close to our friends over whom we’d had a bit in hand last week and there were no other Junior TKMs on track so nothing else to measure against. Where this leaves us with regards to the opening round of the championship next weekend, I have no idea – whether we’ll be closer than the second off the pace that we were last year, whether we’ll be quicker than the new novice, whether our CNC barrelled engine is quicker than the cast barrelled one? It would have been nice to know roughly where we were but, unfortunately, that is not the case 🙁

At least we ran all day without any problems.

Cost of day: £16 petrol, £11 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Total spent this year: £804

Year 1 spend: £4,594