*That* race

Although the Festival seems like an eternity ago and the kart hasn’t been touched since, the excellent Motors TV coverage (the track action starts five minutes into the video) courtesy of Alan Taddei and TDi Media this week brought things back to the fore. I didn’t really expect the Festival Cup to get much coverage but it did and I’m now looking back at the Festival Cup final much more positively than I had originally: Had we made the Elite final we might have made the top ten but we’d certainly have gotten nowhere near as much coverage as we did running at the front of the Festival Cup. The video is there for all time and it is one of those things that we can always look back on. I think that Junior only made three passes in the race but the moves he makes are good ones and the dummy he sells to take the lead always bring a smile to my face, not least because I had told him to do it 😉 The block two turns from the end was a necessary evil unfortunately. I didn’t like it at the time (I was only yards away at a nearby marshal post) and I don’t really like it now but it had to be done: It was way too deep into the race to simply give it up. The lesson is that the best way to shut the door is not to open it in the first place! Of course the Tal-Ko and Argos vouchers, coupled with a set of slicks and some nice trophies also makes it worthwhile 🙂

It might be our only win but I’m not sure I’d go as far to say it was our finest hour. I think that honour still goes to the time we finally found *the* pace 😀

The consolation prize

Thursday was going to be a busy day: With the newly welded chassis meeting me at the track, Junior and I set sail for Kimbolton at lunchtime hoping to be ready to build the kart as soon as it arrived. We were sharing three large paddock spaces between six of us and we were the first to arrive. We put the tents up and waited for the chassis. Three hours later we got to work on the kart assembly!

I've made loads of friends in JTKM. At least I *think* I have...

I’ve made loads of friends in JTKM. They just, um… aren’t here yet. Something missing on the trailer too!

There wasn’t really any rush and I spent more time than I had intended faffing about with the seat position. By 10pm it was time for a beer and an hour later it was time for bed. I’d brought ear plugs this year to try to avoid any repeat of both of our previous camping stays at Kimbolton which saw Junior unable to sleep either due to snoring or strong winds and then attempting, unsuccessfully, to sleep in the car. It worked 😀 Bringing my regular pillow also helped me a lot; I was unable to remember anywhere near the same amount of the night as previous months. Result!

Time to get cracking!

I wouldn’t say I was unprepared but I was further behind than some of those who hadn’t even departed for Kimbolton at this point!

Friday was a long, hot day. It was clear early on that we were nowhere near the pace that we had shown at the club round in July: Our 0.4s deficit had doubled! Lots had happened since then though: Junior had been sick and lost so much weight that we’d dropped down a restrictor, the engines had both had issues repaired, the chassis had been welded and there was simply no way of knowing how good our practice tyres were compared to those of our rivals. Our setup was a little out for the start of the day but, basked in glorious sunshine, I knew that the track would come to us so I didn’t really tinker other than changing the exhaust flex length. We chipped away to find a couple of tenths but it was hard to be confident about our chances for the Saturday:  We would just have to bolt on the fresh rubber, hope Junior could nail his [still not altogether consistent] lines and see where we were at. On the plus side, it was refreshing to run the entire day without any engine problems and, having bought the proper OTK side pod bar fixings, we hadn’t broken our new side pod bar!

This year, I was adamant that we wouldn’t be eating MacDonalds every night: We’d stopped at the services enroute on the Thursday for some cooked food (I love Harry Ramsden’s!) and had meatballs on Friday thanks to some of our awning buddies. It was only after that he asked if we had been OK overnight as he and his lad had felt a little rough!!!

Saturday was the start of the serious stuff. We elected to scrub in our slicks during warm-up so that we would be able to attack qualifying from the outset. I wasn’t happy with the qualifying grids: Almost every single bit of pace appeared to be in the first group,so much so that there was little chance that the groups had been drawn randomly. I almost complained but didn’t… it transpired afterwards that someone had apparently decided to give the ‘O’ Plate entrants more time between their Festival and Plate qualifying sessions (although I never heard this officially). More on that later! The kart was a little slow to start so our intended target escaped us (with his TaG engine) but Junior still found himself in a good group of three drivers and put in some decent laps. With the TAG Heuer timing system, everyone on the balcony was glued to their phones watching the live timing. Junior was prominent early on but dropped to 7th, seemingly unable to better an early 43.3s: 0.2s off the pace in his group but a massive 0.7s off of the Super One boys and girls in the first session. It wasn’t too bad, confirming our pace deficit from the Friday but, on the final lap, Junior finally hooked everything up with a 43.1s of his own: qualifying third of his group and an impressive ninth overall 😀

I knew that a boost was coming courtesy of the 101% rule. It is intended to address situations where track conditions change between qualifying groups and is a perfectly valid and useful rule in my opinion. The grids were published and Junior was due to start in 5th position for every heat, which was great for us 🙂 And then somebody spotted that the 101% rule had not been applied! The heat grids and official qualifying results were taken down and the club announced that their software had not initially factored the rule into the official results. The qualifying positions were decided by taking the fastest driver in group #1, then the fastest in group #2, second in group #1, second in group #2 etc. It only bumped us up from three places to 6th but many of those who had qualified well in the first group were badly affected. Cue the storm of protest. It didn’t really have much effect on us: We would now start 2nd, 3rd or 4th instead of 5th in every heat although it did mean that we would have one or two quicker drivers behind us. The complaints went on; One dad even blamed the second group of drivers for being too slow!?! OK, mate – whatever you say! Had there not been any bias shown to the ‘O’ Plate entrants, we’d likely have had two standard groups with pace in each and there would never have been more than 0.4s between the two. Although well intended, setting the groups had done more harm than good. Here’s hoping this is a lesson learned…

Heat #1. Junior’s brief was to accept that he had some quicker drivers behind him, to let them past if they were quicker and bring it home. Unfortunately our race was soon over: We dropped from 4th to 7th before getting fired off on lap #4 as we exited Dan Wheldon Corner. Let’s give our opponent the benefit of the doubt and call it clumsy. Junior rejoined but was so far back the he found himself having to concede ground because of blue flags. Junior doesn’t take these things lightly and, as I had been on track to restart him, only caught the end of the ‘discussion’ in parc ferme: Junior should apparently have looked behind him as he exited the corner and noticed someone wafting their nose on the outside of his rear bumper!?!

Heat #2 was a really poor race for us. Junior started second and he just needed to drive with his head. He didn’t. He soon got in a battle for 3rd as the front two made the most of it and scooted off. Junior would get passed at the Bus Stop and re-pass into Turn 1. All the while he got more and more defensive, entering the corners ever earlier and, almost inevitably, somebody hit us from behind. They flipped up onto our engine and wiped out our spark plug, ending our race. Junior was furious at the incident. I was furious at Junior’s driving: He could easily have let these people go, just tucked in and see where they were quicker than us. Instead he had to battle and lose his composure (not to mention his lines) completely. I could see the incident coming five minutes before it happened. I’ve never criticised Junior’s racing, not in our time in owner/driver racing at any rate: I’d tell him if I thought he was doing something wrong but leave him to make the final decision. Driving a kart on the edge is hard enough without people beating you up over things. This time, however, I gave him my frank opinion whilst he was sat on track: The incident wasn’t his fault but he’d brought about his own demise. Not making the Elite final would be disastrous but our chances now were remote to say the least.

I didn’t see too much of Junior after that. Having booked a table at a nearby pub to ensure that he had a proper meal at least once over the weekend, the talk over dinner was going to be… interesting! Before we got to leave for the restaurant, I was accosted by an entourage demanding action over the advantage of the TaG engine!?! I’m not sure who they thought I was or what I was going to be able to do. I pointed out that I had done little more than set up a Facebook group for the class, that I had no links into Tal-Ko and I certainly had no intention of boycotting Sunday’s racing!!! There has been a lot of debate about the TaG performance: You couldn’t visit the Gents on Saturday without overhearing a conversation about it. The works drivers were a long way ahead in Juniors. My own personal opinion, based on no facts whatsoever, is that an off-the-shelf TaG is a match for most DD engines. There is great consistency between the new TaGs and, conversely, a lot of variance in DD engines so some of those drivers on older/lesser engines have seen their rivals switch to a TaG and jump them on track. The concerns in my mind surround the team engines, those built from a much wider pool of parts than your average driver might have access to. It is clear that the best drivers have switched to the TaG so, ignoring why they have ditched already strong DD engnes for TaGs, does this account for the obvious advantage that the top drivers currently hold? Is there time to be found in weighing, measuring, testing and selecting parts? There is no way of knowing for sure; I have friends who are very close to the teams and they’ve not necessarily convinced me yet! One thing is certain: It isn’t good for a single engine type to dominate any class, especially one as fragile as TKM. Dinner at The George in Spaldwick was very good by the way – I can recommend the fillet steak and chocolate torte 😀

It was something of a solemn start to Sunday. Back of a fag packet calculations told us that we would need at least a top seven finish in heat #3 to stand a chance of making the Elite pre-final. Junior start in third, had a great start and was soon in second. He was unable to hold onto it however, got into some tussles and his 6th place finish felt about right. He’d posted his best time of the weekend since qualifying so we couldn’t really have any complaints about  the performance. It wasn’t enough though: we missed the cut by two places 🙁

I was gutted. I would have much rather started the Elite pre-final on Row #17 than start the Festival Cup pre-final in second. Looking at the lap times of our rivals, one other driver was very quick and had also had two bad finishes. Purely on paper, they’d be the one we had to beat. Junior got hung out at the start of the race, dropping to 5th on the opening lap. The two-horse race soon transpired. Junior was a fraction under 2s behind but closed at 0.3s/lap. His rival went defensive a long way from home and, although he had five laps to try to find a way past, the leader held on to take pole for the final with the two finishing 5s clear of the field.

We made a couple of tweaks for the final. So did the pole-sitter, as she swapped the DD engine that she’d won the pre-final on for the TaG that she was using in the ‘O’ Plate. Game on! We got another poor start, dropping to fourth. The final wasn’t proving to be a repeat of the two-horse race I had expected and, when Junior finally hit the front on lap #5 (selling an impressive dummy into Turn #1), third came with us offering us a small cushion over our main rival. At this point I hoped that Junior was going to drive away but our tyres started to go off a little and Junior had to show his own defensive metal for the final three laps. He almost opened the door too wide entering Kestrel, two corners from home: He quickly realised and shut it again, squeezing his rival somewhat aggressively but needs must, eh? I’d have been annoyed had he given it away that late on!

We won a 'thing'! Nice pic by Bethanie Lawson :)

We won a ‘thing’! Nice pic by Bethanie Lawson 🙂

Scrutineering was by far the most thorough I have ever experienced: The engine had to cool then off came the head, manifold and barrel with me needing to send Junior off to our awning every time that I realised I was missing another tool! Winning is great. Rebuilding your engine after scrutineering, not quite so! You wouldn’t want it any other way though, this is the TKM Festival after all…

I missed most of the other finals although both of the ‘O’ Plate finals had dramatic finishes. One of our closest friends proved to be the surprise package of the Extreme final and challenged for the lead on the final lap before making contact with the leader and finding themselves in the tyres. It was a real shame as second place would have been such a fantastic result. With the last of the finals run, it was time to pack up. We had taken the tents down on Sunday morning but had been hand-tied really until racing was over, the trailer could be packed, the kart strapped on top, the trolley put in the car and then everything else packed around it. It was difficult to make any real progress until the trophy presentations had been completed. Both of them (one for TV, the other, um… not for TV)! We didn’t leave the track until 7:30pm and, after stopping with the boys (and girls) at a nearby KFC for tea, it was 11pm by the time we got home.

So this was our last TKM Festival in juniors… A bit sad in a way as Junior has gotten to know the grid pretty well despite only seeing them on a handful of occasions. I’m unsure which of them are moving up to Extreme next season. Although we did end up with the consolation prize, it’s hard to not be disappointed with our results. We would never have contested the podium but I think we could have challenged for a top ten position. Junior has to learn when to battle and when to give it up and work with the pack. If we enter Extreme in the same manner I think we’ll DNF more often than not; Extreme doesn’t tend to take any prisoners!!! The social side of the Festival is always great. We had shared paddock space with five of our closest friends and most of our other friends could be found not too far away. We wouldn’t have been there without them: They had welded our chassis, lent us an awning, fed us, helped transport our stuff to the track, kept our food/drink chilled and charged our phones! It was one of those times when you realise how much richer your life is for the new friends we’d made since starting karting. This might have been our last national event in JTKM but I’m leaning towards the event at Whilton Mill in October, especially since we’ve now got a set of new slicks for it 🙂

I should also add a note of thanks to the staff at Hunts Kart Racing Club, all of whom had been very welcoming to us over the past two months at the track. I know that it can be a very officious place but it really is needed for a weekend such as the Festival and, barring the odd blip, was a thoroughly well run event.

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.

Clarity

I have to be honest: I really didn’t have a clue where we would be racing in 2016. With the race motor due a rebuild, the practice motor suffering a problem (why do engine bills always seem to come in twos no matter how well you plan your rebuild schedule?), an imminent awning purchase and aspirations for a newer chassis, the Super One series that Junior wanted to contest is out of reach (probably for the best in such an important schooling year). With the prospects for a Junior TKM grid at Llandow looking bleak, I was thinking that we’d see out the Clay Pigeon IKR winter series, go a little quiet in spring to allow Junior some exam preparation time and get a few summer rounds at Kimbolton under our belts ahead of the Maxxis TKM Festival.

And then we attended the Llandow Kart Club end of season awards dinner. I really like LKC; the people, the track… it’s a small club that tries hard. Of course, I’m not the easiest person to please(!) and there are some things I’d like to change but the club have demonstrated a willingness to listen: permitting cameras having previously been steadfastly opposed to them, boosting numbers with offers that saw a really impressive Celtic Challenge round in December. On top of that, I’ve not seen another club offer such huge trophies and award trophies down to third (and often fourth) place regardless of grid size. I had felt as though we had to leave just to find a decent race but on the journey home, after Junior had picked up a huge trophy for his third-placed finish in the club championship and I’d bid a fond farewell to my pit buddies and their overweight kids 😉 😉 😉 who are having to move up to Extreme this year, Junior and I revised our plans for 2016.

Kimbolton is an immensely enjoyable, must-drive event but we don’t have much of a chance there. We could, however, be competitive at the Llandow Super One round and the Welsh Championships and contesting the club championship would put us in the best position to really compete in these races. Contesting the visiting Super One round as a guest will be dependent upon having the required funds available but I have applied for a National ‘A’ license just in case. With Super One taking place in June and the Welsh Champs in July, our plans to get a couple of rounds practice at Kimbolton will have to sacrificed but you can’t have it all!

It was clear that the club needed a core of last season’s drivers to remain to stand a hope of retaining a JTKM grid so I have set about finding out who’s in and who’s out in my normal hassle-free manner 😉 It’s looking encouraging so far (I started the process yesterday): we’ve four drivers remaining from 2015 and, pleasingly, three or four more graduating from cadets. Hopefully the resurgence of TKM at a national level, combined with what looks like a guaranteed club grid will encourage a few more before the season gets underway. Fancy joining us? 🙂

How big is your trophy cabinet?

How big is your trophy cabinet?

The Maxxis TKM Festival: Simply the best race weekend

I’d been having some second thoughts about entering the Festival, particularly since seizing the engine #2 at Llandow Saturday practice. It wasn’t just a financial challenge: we left for Birmingham airport the day after Llandow and flew off for a two-week holiday the following day. Upon my return there would be one day to get everything cleaned (from Llandow) and prepared for the Festival. No time to run the engine in and we really did not want to waste Friday practice at the Festival doing that instead of learning the track. There were numerous other little concerns; the distance, camping, the ability of our nosecone to pass scrutineering (I had left a new nosecone with KartDavid, who were printing and fitting the decals ready for me to collect on my one and only prep day) but we’d signed up already and, although my prep time was sub-optimal, I was still quite excited about the prospects for the weekend.

Initially, I hadn’t been able to get the Friday off of work. I had arranged for Tim Wilson, of TWMotorsport, to take the kart up to Kimbolton. We had done a coaching day with Tim back in February (in the dark times when I was starting to doubt Junior), Junior had gotten a lot out of the day and I had become good friends with Tim. Junior would get a lift with a friend to Kimbolton and would spend the day being run by Tim. With my being away, Tim had arranged to have the engine repaired and run-in on the dyno at Dave Klaassen’s and we’d spend the weekend running in his awning. “You ran in a team???” I hear you shout! I’m afraid so 😮 As strong a supporter as I am of the dad/lad ethos I had decided that, as this was already going to be an expensive weekend, I was going to ensure that we had support. The primary reason was for coaching Junior on an unfamiliar track but I wanted that safety blanket just in case I found myself drowning in a sea of woe and needed someone there to bail me out!

I had slept like a baby for the first ten days of our holiday but had started waking up at stupid-o’clock towards the end, my mind switched on working through everything that needed doing on the kart. We got home at around 8pm on the Tuesday and I set about ticking things off of my list of things to do. In the end I did manage to get the Friday off. Things were starting to come together but the schedule was insanely tight. Having returned to work on the Wednesday, I had only the evening to get everything sorted: kart cleaned from Llandow/set up for Kimbolton, trailer packed, everything that would go in the car had to be ready including racewear, tents, bedding clothes, toiletries, food. A Renault Clio isn’t the exactly an optimal solution for a stay-away race weekend and we’d never travelled as heavily loaded before. I got home from work at 4pm on Thursday and we had set off for Kimbolton by 5pm.

One stop and three hours later, we were at the track. We quite a lot to do before it got dark: unload the kart and all the bits and pieces I’d be keeping with me in the team awning, then we needed to get the tents up but I was sat down with a beer by 10pm whilst Junior was on track somewhere doing whatever junior drivers do when they get together on a dark race track!?! Football in this case, I think…

Kart track camping was a new experience for us. In fact we’d only ever camped once before way back when the kids were small and I wasn’t really sure how Junior or I would get on. Badly would be the answer if the Thursday was anything to go by: we were camped next to a tent from which emitted the loudest snoring I had ever heard! It quickly woke Junior up and that woke me up. Once awake, it was impossible to ignore. Junior was getting really annoyed; it certainly wasn’t the perfect preparation for a busy day at the track. One good thing about being awake early is that you can get up and start working on the kart. We were ready in good time. I went for a setup similar to that which Junior would be familiar with from Llandow although dropped down to a smaller rear sprocket to account for the straights. Kimbolton is a very different track to Llandow and the plan was to let Junior just get out there, enjoy it and see how his times fared through the day. Junior first walked the track with former TKM Extreme British champion Will van Es, who had been employed by TWM to do some coaching. I know that Junior found this really useful. Better still, being the only junior entrant in the awning, we benefitted from 1:1 coaching when we were on track 🙂

With seven sessions there was no shortage of track time. Junior started with a 45.6s PB but instantly knocked 1.4s off of that and I was really pleased with his progress as he whittled that down to 43.8s on the newly rebuilt practice engine and on tyres that, having been used for the 2-day Welsh Championships and the subsequent club race day, were well past their best. Things became a little confusing in the day’s final session: we bolted the race engine on and went two tenths slower :S Although the track certainly wasn’t getting quicker our peers didn’t appear to suffer. Our practice engine had dyno’ed pretty well and the builder had made a couple of tweaks to optimise the settings to his preferences but our race engine is strong and its performance concerned me a little.

Not normally stopping overnight at the track, it was nice to sit down and have a beer with friends. As my friends were scattered around the track this meant several beers and some dashing around. The atmosphere in the TWM awning was pretty unique too: music, barbeque, beer and plenty of people – it was a social event like nothing you’d see elsewhere in the paddock!

I hadn’t done anything about the sleeping arrangements but I was fast asleep well before the snoring started. That is until I awoke to hear Junior getting stressed about it… This time he was adamant that he wanted to sleep in the car. I handed him the key and that brought about ten minutes of him messing about in the car which I then I heard him lock!?! I didn’t want to get up (why does the unzipping of a tent wake everybody up?) and could only keep my fingers crossed that he wouldn’t set off the internal motion sensor. He did. After ten more minutes he decided that he need the toilet. I told him to go behind the car but without appreciating quite how much noisier things sound when you are in a tent! If you’ve seen the scene in Police Squad where Frank Drebin visits the men’s room with his microphone still attached, well it sounded something like that. It was hard not to see the funny side at this point and I started laughing out loud! We all got back to sleep: Junior, me and our snoring neighbour. I got up at 6am to find Junior curled up on the back seat of the Clio; everything else that had been there was now strewn across the car. He clearly did not realise the front seats actually recline quite far!

Race day started with a 3-lap warm-up. I left the race engine on to see how it fared but we were a little adrift of where I felt we should be so the practice engine went back on for qualifying. We would be scrubbing in the race tyres over the first lap and then looking for a tow around the track, the problem was that the quick drivers dropped us too quickly and Junior got mixed up with another pack of drivers that weren’t necessarily quicker than him. After our qualifying experience at the Welsh Championships I was hoping he’d have known better than to let himself get bogged down in traffic. Clearly not. We qualified 12th of 22 in the first qualifying group but weren’t helped by the track quickening a fair bit by the time the second group went out and we found ourselves bumped down to 28th overall.

Heat #1 was very good. Despite being drawn on the outside and getting stuck behind somebody who bogged down badly, allowing every odd-numbered starter bar the back marker to pass us, Junior worked his way back up through the field. He defended a bit when under pressure from one of his good friends but I couldn’t begrudge him that 😉 With a couple of the front runners taking each other out, we finished 10th with a PB of 43.2s – only 0.4s off the pace 🙂 We got summoned to the clerk’s office as we’d been the subject of a complaint about contact before the start but we’d suffered similarly and were just being pushed along by other drivers frustrated at how our side of the grid had been allowed to fall so far back compared to the odd-numbered starters. There wasn’t much Junior could have done about other than brake on the run-up to the start line!

Heat #2 wasn’t quite so good: Junior made a good start, going around the outside of Stow to make up several places but then tried to defend his position for *far* too many laps than he should have and succeeded only in holding himself up and being passed by four of those behind him. Still, 13th was another respectable finish and we were on course to make the Elite Final! 😀

I couldn’t afford for Junior to have another poor night’s sleep so we unpegged the tents and moved that evening. We got some strange looks as we dragged the tents down the field but people saw the funny side when I explained the predicament! We also had to venture off in search of fuel. I kind of assumed that the village of Kimbolton would have some facilities – a chip shop and a petrol station perhaps but this didn’t seem to be the case. Passing numerous very nice looking gastropubs enroute made me hungry and I decided that I needed a cooked meal. There was a steak out there somewhere with my name on it 😉 Junior wasn’t best pleased by this since he just wanted to get back and play football but I wouldn’t be deterred. As we passed places, Junior would check out the reviews on TripAdvisor and then pull up the menus on the pub’s website (mostly to ensure they sold something plain enough for Junior). We called into one place who only had tables left in the garden; that was fine by me but, when we tried to order, we were told that there was a 45 minute wait time (before your request was even seen by the chef) because they were full. Umm… goodbye! Unfortunately, Saturday evening at a gastropub seems to be a popular thing in Cambridgeshire and the next two pubs we tried were both full. This was the steak that got away but, for the record, The George at Spaldwick would have been my preferred venue. Even with a banana shake, my McDonalds seemed even more bland that evening…

Sleeping outside on a still summer’s evening was suprisingly relaxing. That was until a domestic kicked off metres away from our tent :/ I won’t waste too much of my web space on this, suffice to say it was pretty disgraceful considering there were kids around. It went on long enough but, eventually, we got some sleep. Junior slept right up until the point that I tripped over his guide rope after my morning shower!

Sunday started fairly badly. Junior was targetting another 10th place finish in his final heat to secure a relatively strong pre-final spot. I urged caution – we just needed to complete the race in our starting position to pretty much guarantee we made the Elite Final. Of course, you can guess what happened next: somebody went diving up the inside, skittled out a few karts a Junior had nowhere to go as he entered the first corner. He got going again but was well adrift and only made a couple of places as others crashed out, finishing 17th of 22. Our nosecone had suffered extensive damage and had been dragging along the floor for the entire race. I absolutely did not want to put the new nosecone on for the pre-final and final; that just seemed like asking for trouble. I fixed it up with duct tape (not forgetting some colour matching insulation tape to retain the Caterham stripes!) and applied our fourth Maxxis nosecone sticker of the weekend. It was just as well that the office had a good supply of these!

Considering that we didn’t actually crash, the pre-final was even more of disappointment. We had qualified in 26th of 34, had a poor start and found ourselves shuffled back early on – partly through some poor racecraft (making a pass but leaving the door open at the next corner for the immediate re-pass) and partly getting roughed up a bit. Things got quite defensive considering we were running at the very back and Junior only beat two finishers home. We both thought that he had been passed under yellows on the final lap but nothing had been reported. He was beating himself up when I got to him in parc ferme. “We might as well not bother”, “What’s the point?”, “I was rubbish” were a few of the many things he was spouting. My more pressing concern was our pace; we were almost a second off :/

We had a chat back at the awning. I knew that Junior had not had enough time or experience of racing people (we’d found front-running pace overnight at Llandow in April and were quickly having to learn racecraft that most learn as they rise through the pack) and that this would be exposed in a grid with the top TKM drivers in the country. Even at the back things were still competitive (they don’t call it the Elite Final for nothing) but this was an opportunity: if you cannot develop your racecraft in the middle of a grid of 34 drivers, where can you? Junior would start the final on row 13 of 17, again on the outside row (we didn’t start on the inside row the whole weekend!) but this may be the last time he got to drove Kimbolton – he had to go out and just have fun driving the track and competing with those around us that we on a similar pace. Besides that, if you had offered us 26th place on the Elite Final grid on Thursday we’d had bitten your hand off!

As far as the kart was concerned, I was ready to gamble on some major changes since the day was quickly going downhill. We had gone down a tooth for the pre-final so went back up again, on went the race engine – I didn’t really believe it could be slower and we replaced the carb since the one we were racing on had been leaking pressure. So onto the final! It was nice that all six of the Llandow drivers had qualified for the Elite Final; two at the sharp end, one in the middle and three of us at the back. We only lost the one place at the start (I think that qualifies as a good start on the outside) and Junior found himself in a six-kart battle for 19th place. It was really good to see him duking it out with those around him. He gained and lost the odd place in the pack, making up places mostly through attrition as those ahead fell by the wayside but I enjoyed watching him and it looked like he was having fun too. He finished 15th – a very pleasing, if flattering, result. He had a big smile on his face and was busy shaking hands with the hitherto unknown drivers he had been racing with. It was a really good way to end the day.

I would like to have watched more of the finals but there was an awful lot of packing up to do and, of course, I didn’t see Junior once during this time. He did finally re-appear to help pack up the tents and we left as soon as we were ready. It was at this point that I realised I hadn’t eaten a single thing since my bowl of Special K and an apple for breakfast so I had Junior feed me for the first part of journey home. Only now was there a time to reflect upon the weekend: it had been a great experience. There is something special about a TKM-only event, three days away with your karting mates and watching Junior develop even if nowhere near the sharp end of the grid. Hunts Kart Racing Club had done a great job of hosting the event and it was very hard not to be impressed by the efficiency, the work (and numbers) of volunteers and a fantastic track.This was the kind of club that others should aspire to me more like. Our first experience in a team awning was a good one. Although I’d not paid for a mechanic, support was never far away and it was nice to be able to call on assistance when needed to ensure that everything was ready before the next race – having my race tyres fitted, getting the front end lasered or the brakes bled – the little things that just saved me time and, in the case of tyre fitting, worry!!! The help that Junior received was massive: the track walk, a review of his lines etc after each session/race, pointers for the next race, that bit of moral support when it was needed. I was never really party to much of this but Junior rated it 9/10 so I guess he was happy! I’d love to return more regularly but it’s just that bit too far and I think it’s fair to say that we are fair weather campers. If we are in the class/sport next year, we’ll definitely be back. Racing at Llandow won’t quite seem the same again…

Copyright Oli ;)

Copyright Oli 😉

Cost of race weekend: Entry fee  and transponder hire £155, petrol (car) £30, fuel (kart) £16, control tyres £140, Spellfame bill for weekend (sprocket, 2x chains, bumper bolts, 2x spark plugs, wheel bearing, numbers) £102, Three days with TWMotorsport £125

Costs since last post: Engine rebuild £450, New nosecone and decals £72

Total spent this year: £3,770

 

Festival bound

The TKM Festival hadn’t been on the radar at all for this year. We were a) nowhere near good enough and b) away that weekend (if ever karting threatens to come between my wife and a beach, that will be when the amnesty ends!). I was wrong on both counts as it turns out; our brake-related woes are at an end and Junior actually has some decent pace… at least at his home track 🙂 As for the beach, I’d gotten the dates wrong! There were still some logistical and financing issues but they have largely been overcome. Junior has agreed to forgo the new slicks I would have purchased for this month’s championship round at Llandow to fund the Festival tyres and I’ve begrudgingly tapped into the Extreme engine/new chassis pot to fund the entry fee. WE’RE GOING TO THE FESTIVAL!!! 😀

Having only every raced at Clay, Dunkeswell and Llandow, I think it’s unlikely we’ll be troubling the scrutineers but, with most of Junior’s friends going, it should be a great weekend. I’m having to take a tent so please just let it be dry…