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?

Ending the season on a high

With the member/guest half-priced offer and a bit of a push on Facebook courtesy of yours truly 😉 the Celtic Challenge had grown into something that promised to be quite special: the biggest JTKM grid of the year, the visit of a few of next year’s Super One entrants looking for some early practice, cash prizes and the biggest trophies I’ve ever seen at a club meeting made this something we were all looking forward to.

For us, Saturday was carb test day. We ran a new carb every session, making sure that they worked properly following rebuild (or not in the case of one). Our pace was a bit mixed but perhaps that was to be expected given our carb swapping activities. Our strongest carb that had gone down in June was still our strongest carb (here’s a free tip for you: when your best carb goes down, don’t leave it in your carb box for five months before realising that was your race carb sat there!) :/ We left knowing that we had fresh (in a one- heat-old-fresh kind of way) rubber and our race engine to bolt on. We just needed the forecast overnight rain to disperse quickly. Oops…

We were up at 5:30 on Sunday and en-route an hour later. The West Country was dry, as was Wales east of Cardiff. The closer we got to Llandow, the worse the weather looked. We wouldn’t be seeing many dry races today 🙁

Qualifying was poor: Junior quickly found himself isolated and it was obvious that we wouldn’t be troubling the front rows, qualifying 7th of 13, just under half a second behind the pole sitter. Before the first heat we had some setup assitance from our friendly Welsh Champion who had just moved up to Extreme and was demanding to know why Junior had only qualified in 7th (cheers, Ryan!). I heeded the advice and made the changes since our default wet setup was looking average. We didn’t help ourselves though as Junior bogged massively at the start, losing three places and leaving himself a mountain to climb. He made up some nice places and would start the Pre-Final in 6th.

We were on the receiving end of more friendly tips ahead of the Pre-Final, this time courtesy of the driver coach we had used at the start of the year and with whom we had run at the Festival (thanks, Tim!). Our wet setup was improving slowly 😉 The Pre-Final was eventful mostly for the fact that it was the worst TKM start I had ever seen. The pole-sitter was running a TAG engine and Plan A was clearly to bog down the direct drive runners. You couldn’t really blame them, I’d have been doing exactly the same thing in their shoes, but I’ve never seen the grid approach so slowly. Junior looked in trouble and was pushed by the lad behind to keep him going. The leader then took an early run out of Raymonds causing an aborted start. This restart was even worse… the field were going so slowly that three karts stalled coming up the straight before the pack turns for the start line, two got pushing assistance from those behind (that won’t happen when the new bumpers are introduced!) and one simply stopped at Raymonds. You had dads complaining to the officials and there was disgruntlement aplenty on track as the race was red-flagged and the pack stopped (on an upward slope – just a little something to cheer the direct drive pushers!) before being sent to parc-ferme. As the dad that stands at the final corner for push start duties, I see the pole man try to run a slowly as he dare on the formation lap to cause the man in second to bog down but, when they are all direct drive runners, there’s a common theme and nobody wants to go too slowly. A TAG runner on pole is in a powerful position, with the potential to put the direct drive karts in a spot of bother as were were seeing here. It will be interesting to see how officials at different tracks view this. Fortunately for us, the Clerk called everyone in and stipulated that the starts could not be too slow. With everyone now on the same page, the start went well generally speaking although not for us: 6th is a dog of a starting position and we slipped to 7th. As Junior got himself up into 5th, I was starting to look towards the final: 3rd row on the favoured line, a 5th-placed finish could really put us in the mix for the podium positions. It didn’t quite go to plan. Instead of pulling away from his pursuers, Junior didn’t seem able to shake them off. He lost and then regained 5th as they set off on the final lap but, when the karts came back into my view, Junior was 6th. The lad that had pipped us, punched the air as he took the flag: I was pleased for him; he’s a really nice lad who had travelled a long way but I just wished it hadn’t been us! We were also a full second off of the leader’s pace although, admittedly, she was 0.6s clear of the field!!!

The pre-final had badly hampered our chances of a good result in the final: a 5th-placed almost guarantees you’ll take The Hook in 4th, putting you right in the race. Sixth is a totally different affair: you’ll very likely exit The Hook in 7th at best and, even if you make it into 5th, the front four will  have cleared off, as they had been doing all day. Tyre choice had become the critical factor: the track was still damp, we’d switched to inters for the pre-final but Junior didn’t have the grip he wanted. The track was continuing to dry although the clouds were getting lower once again and rain looked a distinct possibility. Time for some more help! This time from my pit buddy who had given us a roof for the day (I’m as endebted as ever, Mr B!): we talked tyres for a long time but, even after that, we reached the dummy grid not really knowing which way to go. We a couple of minutes left before race time, I made something of a left-field proposal to Junior and we made some quick changes. It wasn’t really like we had much to lose and, having seen the size of the trophies, Junior really wanted one!!!

As expected, Junior slipped to P7 from the start. He was 6th by lap #3 and 5th by lap #5. He then made a mistake challenging for 4th and it looked like our game was over as 3rd and 4th pulled a 2-second gap on us. Losing that place in the Pre-Final was going to prove costly. Or so I thought! Junior was looking so much quicker than at any other time during the day. The gap was closing but it looked as if the chequered flag would come too soon. Junior entered the final lap a couple of kart lengths adrift but made a nice move into The Hook. The other lad wasn’t going to give this one up though and the two squeezed through The Hook side-by-side and disappeared from my view. You know those moments when your lad disappears from view and you just have to wait for what seems like an eternity before he comes back into view, a bit like that moment in Apollo 13 where Mission Control wait for radio contact after re-entry without quite the same level of drama or peril? It was just like that 😉 The karts were still side-by-side when they came back into view! I’m not sure how they got around The Dell together but Junior had the inside line as they ran up Hangar Straight for the final corner. “Go on, son: just hang him out here”. Would Junior cutely run him wide to prevent the cut-back? Oh yes!!! Junior hung on by half a kart length; it was one of those dad-silenty-fist-pumps-to-himself moments 🙂 We haven’t had too many of those. In fact this was probably only the third after our maiden 3rd place as a novice when Junior completed the last four laps with his exhaust hanging off and our maiden heat win at Llandow in September. Junior was really pleased, he even wanted to give me a hug! To give him his due credit, I think it was the best he’s ever raced. It was so nice to see him racing hard, racing cleanly and coming out on top (I say ‘see’ but, since I was stood on Raymonds, I missed most of the lap). He earned lots of plaudits too from those who had watched from the viewing balcony. I’d really loved to have seen it first hand!

And that was that: the end of our MSA season at Llandow. My thanks should go out to the club who put on a really enjoyable event and whose offers attracted TKM drivers from far and wide 🙂 and especially to those who, over the course of the day, helped me to dial-in what was in hindsight a pretty poor wet setup. I’m not surprised that Junior struggled in the morning! Never mind the driver, *I* lacked wet setup experience and this was probably the most important learning we’ll take from the weekend. With the fastest three drivers all moving to Super One and Extreme, the future for the TKM grid at the track is uncertain 🙁 With said driver’s dads being my closest chums at the track, it seemed like the end of an era too. It was really nice to spend the weekend amongst almost all of my karting friends (there were quite a few old faces from Clay racing in Extreme or Senior Rotax). Where we go from here is uncertain: Junior is 16 and could go to Extreme but, after Bambinos and Formula Blues, lead weight is my next pet hate!!! I only learnt recently that he’d like to do Super One although there are several reasons why this isn’t going to happen; cost and equipment being the main ones although I think he’s proabably a little inexperienced also: he’s very keen but he’s set the bar quite high with racing against very quick friends who started long before he did. We’ll contest the Clay Pigeon IKR Winter Series to give him build on his racecraft and assess the state of the Junior TKM grids in the vicinity. Luckily for us, we aren’t likely to come across the Celtic Challenge winner too often in 2016 😉

Cost of race day: Practice fee £40, Entry fee £27 :), petrol (car) £10, fuel (kart) £12, bridge toll £13

Total spent this year: £5,036 < Holy sh*t, our most expensive year to date!!!

Disaster at Llandow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costs since last post: Front sprocket £13

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

Setting the bar too high?

Saturday started horribly. Having discovered, when repairing the seat last weekend, that the chassis had snapped (seat tab snapped off), I’d spent most of the week working to move everything to our spare chassis. It was another 2009 EVR but had a slightly bent yoke. I’d had it jig-checked and the chassis was straight even though it was not possible to straighten the yoke entirely. It was clearly sub-optimal but, with only 5 days to go before we would be racing, it was going to have to do and we’d just have to see how we fared.

Arriving at the track with a newly rebuilt chassis, the first thing you (or more accurately, I) want to do is just complete the first session without issue. The reality was far from this and we broke down at the third corner: Junior complained that the steering felt too free, the accelerator pedal was either on or off and then the kart just stopped. Not too bad then! :S First things first; the axle moved and the piston was still going up and down! 🙂 Our engine issue was down to a snapped wire on the spade connector on the PVL. The problem was that neither I, nor the shop had a replacement connector. One of the other dads had one that was a little larger but, by the time I had messed about trying to fit it with a borrowed crimping tool, we’d missed the second session entirely (the crimping tool wasn’t the best but neither was my mechanical tekkers). I could have just put the race engine on but this needed fixing and I did not want to put time on the race engine unnecessarily. With some spare time in hand before the third session, I looked at Junior’s other complaints. The accelerator pedal was a weird one: the pedal appeared to have plenty of range and it isn’t like one can really tighten the pedal bolt to provide additional tension – you tighten it as best you can without restricting its ability to close. The new seat position (I’d refitted the seat to accommodate Junior’s growth since the seat was fitted in December) may have meant that the position felt unusual but he was just going to have to get used to this. Junior also didn’t like the slack feel in his steering wheel and wanted to give it a weightier feel. You don’t want the wheel rotation to feel obstructed but I wasn’t really sure how it should have felt. I conducted a quick test of steering wheels in the immediate vicinity: one felt exactly like ours but the other definitely had some resistance. Renewing the rose joints on one track rod helped as did tightening the steering column bolt a fraction. This was as good as it was going to get anyway so Junior was just going to have to get used to it.

The rest of the day turned out to be the complete opposite of our initial woes and we went really well: again practising on our Festival tyres from Kimbolton, we were pretty much as quick as we could have hoped and lapping the 45.5’s. We switched to an older practice set that featured a front-left that had come with retirement package we’d bought at the start of 2013, had been sat in a garage cupboard ever since and which we dated to 2011!!! We shaved off a couple of tenths and we ran pretty well for the remainder of the afternoon, with Junior enjoying some close racing with one his friends in one session (he actually claimed it was the most fun he’d had karting, I don’t think he realised that this was how it should be all of the time but we’d always been a little off the pace!). We also managed to actually do some testing (as opposed to trying to find solutions to problems) and it was pleasing that the race engine was a little quicker than the recently rebuilt practice motor.

So onto the race Sunday and you’d never guess what: having completed a Karting Magazine article (we’ll discuss whether or not I am still contributing to the mag at some later date) earlier in the week in which I discussed/moaned about our lack of pole positions, JUNIOR ACTUALLY GOT HIS FIRST POLE AT LLANDOW!!! Having not started in pole position anywhere for over a year this would be something of a novel experience. It didn’t really go to plan though: an early mistake on cold tyres meant he ran wide and conceded the lead. After that it was clear that our pace wasn’t good enough. We slipped to fourth and stayed there. With the runner-up equalling the four year old lap record, we were a huge 0.5s off of the pace 🙁  The track was clearly lightening quick and our first-heat setup was a little too conservative. On top of that we were in a minority of drivers on used slicks; fresh rubber each month has become the norm at Llandow this year much to Junior’s chagrin. I’ve always insisted that we would use tyres for two races no matter what, I can’t and won’t use a set of slicks for one race day on principle alone. Our experience has been that the new tyres start with a distinct advantage but, by the afternoon, the gap narrows and Junior had even been quickest on used slicks in the July round.

Heat #2 was marginally better: we started eighth but made up some nice places to finish fourth again, 7s in arrears and 0.3s off of the pace. Heat #3 was more of the same: fourth, 6s back, 0.3s off the pace and someone else equalled the lap record! This time it was our resident Super One driver who was on USED tyres! Fair play to you, Sir…

I had noticed that our tyres were taking too long to come in. In part this may have been because we were fighting through the pack but the Alfano wasn’t lying; it looked like we needed to raise the tyre pressures. The problem was that the final would be two minutes longer and the sun was now shining. Too high or too low? I settled on a compromise and brought them up 0.5psi. We had qualified in… surprise, surprise: fourth! The sh*ttiest place on the grid bar for those with any desire to get a podium place. Since Llandow Kart Club had moved the start line, the even-numbered side of grid has become a real graveyard; if you aren’t in second (where at least you are in control of your own destiny), then you are pretty much screwed. And screwed we mostly certainly were: pole, third and fifth took the first three places into The Hook, things got messy and Junior dropped to seventh! He made up a couple of places but was adrift of fourth until they binned it into the tyres on the exit of The Dell. This brought out the battenburg flag. It was the right call (quite refreshing to see it instead of a red flag) but Junior had never experienced one in a race before and I wondered what he would do. My money was on him holding his ground whist everybody else caught him! Wrong: everybody backed up as if there was a virtual saftey car!?! What the… ??? :S Still, at least they would have to exclude everyone except the front man if they were going to act upon this breach of protocol 😉 So… a chance to fight for third. Or not as it proved; Junior was half asleep at the restart and was quickly dropped by the front three. He complained that the tyres and brakes had just gone off and he had nothing to fight with. The winner broke the lap record with a 44.715!!!

Junior was peeved that our second month on the tyres had coincided with the track being ultra-quick, pretty much denying him of any chance of fighting for the win or setting a PB. I could sympathise as we’d been the fastest driver at the track in a three month spell during the summer although we hadn’t really looked at the races in the two months since then. It was nice that the club had a fourth placed trophy (although it meant that we had to stay for the outcome of an appeal before the presentation). We were just going to have to take the positives. I think the problem is that we’ve tasted some small amount of success in the past six months and have raced at or near the very front, even if only inconsistently, so the bar has now been set quite high. We’d have been delighted with fourth at the start of the year especially considering the level of the quickest drivers. We were on an unknown chassis, on used tyres and we just don’t have the seat time of those against whom we are measuring ourselves. Lack of seat time, tyres, six year-old chassis, possible engine rebores… At a time when there are so many questions surrounding where and in what class we compete in 2016, it really struck home that most of our woes our budgetary. I know that this would hamper us if we were to contest a regional championship next year as we would like to ideally. My preference would always be to choose MSA over IKR and I am sure that Junior would consider IKR a step down and would want to continue racing his friends but IKR really does call out to me. At least he’ll have his fresh slicks next month!

Cost of race weekend: Practice fee £35, entry fee £55, petrol (car) £15, fuel (kart) £8, bridge fee £13

Costs since last post: Chassis weld £10

Total spent this year: £4,335

Maiden heat win + first ever exclusion + bad final = Disappointment :(

It’s unusually soon for me to be writing up our race weekend hours after getting home but I’m still peeved and I’m hoping to type away my frustrations. I’m not intending to rant but let’s see where it goes…

Saturday started badly; Junior’s first session looked pretty good but he was complaining that the kart wasn’t picking up quite as it should. I changed the carb over to one I had tested the night before and which I again tested before putting it on the kart. Of course, you know what it coming next: the kart wouldn’t start. It was as if we had no spark – we did but the kart clearly had no intention of going anywhere. With the kart safely off track behind the marshal post on the start line, I quickly ran back to base and picked up the necessary bits to switch the carb over. We got it going again… just in time for the in-lap!!!

Apart from our loaned GoPro defaulting to video burst and my not noticing until the final session and then us breaking down because a carb bolt came loose(!), the rest of the day went as well as we could have hoped given that we were again using our Festival tyres. The mass setup change that we had made for the August final but never gotten a chance to put to use worked well and made up for the complete lack of grip we were getting from the tyres. Junior looked to be driving fairly well and a 45.5s lap was decent all things considering.

We've been overtaken by some celebrities in our time but Ghost Rider?!?

We’ve been overtaken by some celebrities in our time but Ghost Rider?!?

Race day brought a welcome return to fresh rubber, a first since the Welsh Champs!?! Budgets, huh? Scrutineering was unusually rough! It started with some concern about our rose joints, progressed to exposed threads on the seat bolts (I’d removed a kilo and need to weigh after the warm-up to know whether we needed it back on), touched on my camera mount (there was some concern I may be planning on using the camera) and then to the seat where we were informed that the seat had to be level with the chassis?!? I questioned this but another scrutineer confirmed the same belief. Umm…I’m really not sure about that! There is obviously no sense in upsetting the scrutineers so I nodded in confusion and we moved onto the amount plastic left on the brake disc protector!!! My kart isn’t that bad (honest) although I’d sooner have thorough scrutineers than slack ones! Feeling somewhat bruised, I noted all of the bits I’d soon need to attend to and wished them all the best 🙂

Junior strangely decided he’d come in after two of his three warm-up laps. I don’t know if this was because he’d made a mistake (since the drivers come in after being shown the last lap board on a practice day rather than complete the lap and then come in) or intentionally. He claimed the latter.

Heat #1. What can I say? 😀 😀 😀 We started third, behind a fairly new driver making his first appearance at Llandow. A pole on his first race? I guess a 100% pole/heats record is not to be scoffed at, especially compared with our 0/33 – the grid generating system at Llandow really does suck! I could understand it if the grid numbers were in the thirties but in an average grid of eight? :S I digress… Junior has become proficient at his starts and managed to split the front row starters, jumping into the lead at the first corner. He gained a 10m lead, gradually lost it, saw himself passed into Raymonds on two occasions to different drivers but cut back immediately both times and then pulled a small gap that he held until the last couple of laps as second, third and fourth fought it out. He had to defend the final corner but, unlike as the Welsh Champs, did a decent job of it despite bogging a little and took the win. I’ve never seen a heat win celebrated before but Junior gave it some fist pumps as he crossed the line, bless him (keeping one hand on the wheel of course!). I had to laugh 🙂

Scrutineering was a minor drama: having weighed in at 135.8kgs post warm-up and finished Heat #1 with more fuel, the scales varied between 136.2 and 134.7kg! The scrutineer let us go with the scales reading 135.1kg. I’ve never trusted the scales at Llandow but it was clear we’d have to bolt on another kilo.

Our Alfano was playing up (although I since heard that others had issues so maybe there was a problem at the track) so we had no timing. The results were printed only just before the second heat and I was surprised to see us 0.4s off the pace. We’d been running the practice motor to see how it compared to the race engine post-rebuild. We’d have to get through Heat#2 and consider putting the race motor on. We started third, got passed soon into the race and then again mid-way through. Junior sought to get the cutback from Raymonds and the two karts appeared to enter The Hook together, Junior on the inside of the right-handed first section but soon-to-be on the outside of The Hook proper. There was contact and the other kart spun onto the grass, rejoined the track backwards and clipped Junior. Junior carried on to finish third and the other kart retired with a bent bumper. Shortly after we were summoned to the office. It gets a bit random from here on. Junior and the other driver had their views, neither of which matched the report from the marshal’s post. The Probationary Clerk discounted the marshal report and decided to exclude Junior because, in his opinion, he’d had the chance to avoid causing the accident (since he was not in front) and the other driver had to retire from the race. I’m still bothered by this. It has nothing to do with the other driver: the kids will race, sometimes they’ll come together and sometimes one or other will feel aggrieved. Sometimes there will be fault and a driver punished, sometimes wrongly so. Everyone will inevitably have differing views, especially where contact ends one driver’s race and, having had a distant view of the incident, my opinion was based completely on what I’d heard from others. Although you take it on the chin and move on, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth: the original report was discounted (should that have been the end of it?), the driver views conflicted (although perhaps Junior exposed himself by committing the cardinal sin of saying his bumper was only alongside the front wheel of the other kart when he and others had originally told me they were side by side) and the severity of the penalty issued was determined by the other kart not being able to continue rather than the standard of driving (which sounds a bit wrong but I’ve no idea whether or not there is any guidance on this).

I spoke to several people afterwards who had seen the incident – they were all surprised he’d been excluded. You see some poorly executed moves that rightly get punished but I’m not convinced this was one of them. The incident itself sounded very similar to the one we had in July when Junior was in the other driver’s position, the other kart had spun, retired and the same official (who had witnessed the incident on that occassion) deemed it a racing incident. An exclusion for side-by-side racing seemed very harsh and it’s a shame that Junior will now receive penalty points on his license for it. Junior was livid. I was just disappointed. I didn’t feel that the incident was as clear cut as it was made out but there we go. I certainly appreciate how hard it is to make an accurate assessment in the heat of the moment. Kicker #1 was our chances of challenging for third in the championship suffered a massive blow. Kicker #2 was that, having spent an age in the office, the chance to the change our engine was gone.

Heat #3 was interesting. Junior moved from sixth to fourth and there followed some pretty close racing between Junior and his Clerk’s Office cohort. Junior made what can only be described as an accidental pass into Raymonds as he took avoiding action only to be retaken at Chandlers and eventually finished fourth.

All of this excitement resulted in us starting fourth; *the* worst place to start on the grid if you are among the top five. Fourth inevitably became fifth despite a little attempt at a cheeky around the outside of The Hook attempt which the inside row were having none of! We briefly raced for third but just dropped away. It was almost as disappointing as the exclusion as I really can’t explain it. We’d cleaned the carb and switched to the race engine. Although our best was only 0.13s off of the quickest, we really lost pace in the second half of the race. Tyre pressures? I still need to check the data. It has me scratching my head for now.

So that was our weekend. A first ever heat win. A first ever exclusion. A disappointingly uncompetitive final. Junior is still learning racecraft but I wonder if he would benefit from tucking in after being passed and at least gauging for a corner or two whether his passer might help tow himforwards. There is a time to fight but it isn’t necessarily all of the time. I’m not going to criticise him for it; he’s just going to have to find that happy medium. Onwards and upwards?

Cost of race weekend: Practice fee £35, entry fee £55, petrol (car) £15, fuel (kart) £8, bridge fee £13

Costs since last post: Oil £20, new trailer cover/cargo net £25, new slicks £148

Total spent this year: £4,163

When your day goes from bad to worse

Ok, I couldn’t really leave the blog as I left it with the last post although it felt good at the time so here is what happened…

The writing was on the wall as early as Saturday evening. We hadn’t practiced but I spoke with a friend who had and was told that they had struggled to break 45.5s on their Festival tyres and found 0.4s when they bolted on the fresh rubber. This hadn’t gone unnoticed and was enough to convince one of the other front-running dads who had been planning on running his Festival tyres that they were also going to have to get the wallet out! We were just going to have to make the most of it.

Imagine the setting: it’s time for the three lap warm-up. You put your kart down and admire the new nosecone that you fitted overnight but had already said your goodbyes to. You wonder what the chances are of seeing it come back in one piece by the end of the day. Off Junior goes but, wait a minute, what’s he doing… HE’S USING HIS NEW NOSECONE TO HELP START HIS MATE WHO IS STRUGGLING!?! 😉

Other than putting a bumper bolt down his nosecone before he’d even reached one corner, the warm-up was memorable for Junior driving around slowly and looking like he was coming in every lap. He didn’t but it turned out that he was driving around without any brakes! I had replaced the axle at home on Saturday and had noticed when preparing the kart at the track that the bearing hanger bolts hadn’t be tightened. I had attended to that but not the disc, which had been having its own Mini Adventure back and forth between the pads 😮 With little time between the warm-up and first heat, I was rushing to resolve this and fix the loose chainguard bolt that I had noticed when I was summoned to the race tower!?! The grid printing computer wasn’t printing and, working in IT, it was one of those “Help me Obi-Wan Kenbobi, you are our only hope” moments!!! Who was I to turn down the lead role? 😉 I’ll be frank the grid printing software is rubbish; it sends the grids straight to a printer without displaying anything on screen (although this is far from my only gripe with it!) so the club were in a bit of a bind. No grids, no racing. Twenty minutes, some quick printer testing, a reboot and some Windows sysadmin magic later we were back racing 😉

Heat #1 revealed our utter lack of pace. Junior had not grip whatsoever and was easy pickings for all those following him bar the novice. Our best lap was a full second off of the pace and the track was ultra-quick. He still had brake woes and we found the seal in one of the pots was stuck and the fluid had become very dirty. That was easily addressed by bleeding that side of the brakes.

Heat #2 was better. We started third (which is as good as second with the start position as it is for this year) but drifted back and again beat only the novice home. The brakes were good but our deficit was 0.4s.

Heat #3 was the highlight of the day if there was one. Junior started second and got the best start I’ve seen anyone make from second all year. Despite the pole man backing the grid right up, Junior crossed the start line alongside pole and almost became the first person to take the lead from second into the first corner. Normal service then resumed. We finished closer than we had done in the previous heats but we were still 0.4s off of nearest rival and 0.8s off of the pace.

Junior wasn’t happy. At all. He knew that, having competed at the Festival and spent three months kart budget in the space of two weeks, we had to make some compromises but still needed reminding of this! We just needed to get the day over and come back next month with shiny new slicks. Despite this, I really rolled the dice over the lunch break just to see if anything improved: different engine, new carb, different restrictor, lead back on, raised ride height. I realised that I hadn’t eaten (again) so my sandwich and fruit were eaten on the dummy grid. Our misery was not yet complete: Junior’s kart started perfectly – he was off in a matter of strides. I put the push bar away only to turn and see him slowing to halt behind a kart that had stopped immediately in front of him on the dummy grid exit. With another struggler to his left and a dad to his right, Junior had nowhere to go other than stop. I started him again but the kart was really struggling to pick up. I ran after him to try to get him to stop so that we could try again but, despite another two attempts, the kart wasn’t going anywhere. On a practice session, someone would have just pushed him off but the grid was on the other side of the track. I think the engine had simply flooded. Our day was done. Junior was seething and, to be honest, I was pretty cross too. It was one of those things that, on reflection, you are glad happened then when we were really struggling rather than another day when we were competing for a podium.

There were a couple of positives, despite what I said last time: the lad that had been injured when Junior had flicked up over at the previous round was back competing and at least we were home by 6pm! The kart will now spend four weeks untouched in the garage, it’s been a bit of a mental time with Llandow-holiday-Festival-Llandow so I plan to take a bit of a karting break…

Half a race weekend

Having spent several month’s karting budget already this month, I decided that we’d skip Saturday practice at Llandow this weekend. I could really have done with going as there are a few post-Kimbolton setup tweaks that I want to try but, on the plus side, it is nice to be able to get the kart sorted at a more leisurely pace. I’ve had to put on the new nosecone, to which I have added some of the TKM stickers I got from the Festival. Applying them made me wonder why Tal-Ko don’t include stickers with every order they ship like some other companies do. It cannot cost much and the more publicity that TKM gets, the better it is for everyone. Of course it isn’t something that would turn the class around but every little helps as they say. Maybe this could be the start of a new campaign to get TKM stickers on every kart in the class 😉

Farewell nice, new decals! :/

Farewell nice, new decals! :/

A mixed weekend at Llandow

It isn’t often that I wonder whether or not to take the kart to the track but Saturday was one of those days; the entry numbers were small and the chance to save a few quid for the Festival was tempting. I put the question to Junior and we decided to go to get some race practice in with one of our friends. As it turned out, I really wish that we hadn’t bothered.

The plan for the first practice session was to bed in a set of brake pads ahead of the  Festival, only the kart had other ideas and it was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere even though Junior insisted upon my pushing him halfway down the straight! The carb that had been duly tested before I put it on the kart on Friday was no longer holding any pressure. With the carb replaced we got the pads bedded in during our second session before disaster struck in the third when we had our first ever engine seize. It happened on the outlap and, from watching the on-board footage, the engine makes an unsual whirring sound exiting MacWhirters before seizing on entry to Chandlers. You know something bad has happened when your driver comes running across the track to tell you about it. We recovered the kart (why does it always stop in the opposite corner of the track?) and assessed the damage: the crank pin had snapped, the piston had hit the head and caused some minor marking on the head although the barrel was undamaged. Happening weeks before what is already an expensive Festival weekend, this was definitely not what the doctor ordered.

I’d never had an engine seize before and was unsure what to do next: the spark plug looked lean but could this have been as a result of the seize rather than the cause. We’d not deviated from our standard carb settings and the carb was popping off ok both before and after the seize. I decided to replace it anyway but what about the fuel? I know for sure that I’d just mixed it and it was freshly purchased only the night before. I’d continue with it.

So on went the race engine. Junior did a couple of laps of the next session but came in after three laps: the pipe had come off of the fuel overflow bottle. A simple fix, only then the kart did not want to restart on the dummy grid. It was starting to look like amateur day at the track 🙁 The carb was fine, we had a spark and the fuel was flowing as you would expect. The engine started with no problems on the stand and we finally got our heads down and set about finding some missing tenths. I don’t think we got closer than three tenths off of the pace but our front tyres had little tread depth indicator remaining by the end so we put it down to tyres.

We were at the track early on Sunday and, if I’m honest, was surprised to see how few people had stayed over. The car park was almost empty. After the early season entry numbers had been boosted by Super One drivers practising and, once the Super One tour had been and gone, the TKM Southern Championships had rolled into town, this was the first month for club drivers alone. Of course it was also the first weekend of the school holidays so that will certainly have taken its toll but the entry numbers were in the mid-thirties, the lowest we’d seen in our year at the track. The JTKM grid was six, probably the minimum you’d want to see but it represented a good chance for us to scoop our biggest points haul, possibly even a trophy! If this were a horse race we’d have started second favourite and a top two finish was our aim for the day.

The first heat marked another low point for the weekend. Junior started in fifth and was stuck in fourth when he was caught by the sole Junior Rotax entrant that was running off the back of the JTKM grid. Normally the Rotax drivers clear off into the distance but the classes were very evenly matched in these track conditions; the Rotax was quick enough to make the lunge into the hairpin off the straight but then held up the TKMs through the rest of the lap. He was certainly having an impact on the TKM race and Junior lost out more than most as he was pushed wide and lost a place to another TKM. He soon made up the place but then fifth challenged again, attempting a move around the outside of The Hook. The karts locked wheels and flipped Junior’s back end around and into the other driver. The race was red flagged and there was a lengthy delay as the driver was treated on track. You don’t want to see any driver getting hurt racing, especially in an incident involving your own lad. The nature of the injury was very similar to the one that junior suffered in April and I know that one of my issues at that time was that neither dad nor lad had come over to wish Junior well as we were packing up to head to the hospital. In this case the driver and his dad were in the ambulance until another came to take him to hospital. You always wonder whether or not to say anything and I feel that you should even if, as in this case, I didn’t know the other dad particularly well. The chance never arose but we wish the driver a speedy recovery.

The incident put a dampener on the rest of the day for me. Back on track, the grid was down to five and our fourth place finish in Heat #1 had put us on the back foot. We had successive second-placed starts to come (we weren’t able to secure what would have been a first pole position draw at Llandow in a field of five license holders and one novice driver so I’m not banking on us ever getting one!) which is a very poor place to start and, indeed, Heat #1 had seen all of the odd-numbered drivers take the first three places into the The Hook. We got dropped to the back after contact in The Hook on the first lap of Heat #2 but Junior drove really well to recover on take second. In Heat #3, Junior had a great start – almost too good as he was too close to the leader to tuck in and third managed to get enough of his kart up the inside that Junior had to give up the place but again drove well, secured second and, for the first time of the day, set the fastest lap.

Junior was tied for second on points and, luckily for us, lost out on second owing to an inferior Heat #1 finish 🙂 He started third for the final, secured second in the first corner and made up 10m or so on the leader to be in his tow after three laps. Having been widely slated for battling too early last month, he was happy to tuck in and pull clear. Things looked promising but it wasn’t to be. Junior had a poor lap in which he lost a good 20m and then found himself losing more ground with each lap. Whether he was trying too hard to make up that ground or whether his tyres, which had done the two days of the Welsh Champs, were just going off I couldn’t say. Possibly it was a combination of the two. We finished three seconds adrift although again set the fastest lap and had at least kept the leader (who won every race) honest for a bit.

Our best-ever podium finish is not something to be scoffed at even with the depleted grid. We’ll take that and the positives from some more strong pace and hope to add a little more consistency next month. For now, I’ve an engine repair to address before the Festival.

Cost of race weekend: Entry fee £100, petrol (car) £12, fuel (kart) £8

Total spent this year: £2,690

Looking at the data

After all of the preparation and the hectic three-day karting weekend, it’s been a case of leaving the kart well alone and enjoying free time this week. I’ve no enthusiasm to clean the kart at the moment but I did get around to downloading the Alfano data to take a look at the data logging.

I’ve said it before but the Alfano ADM BOX4-GPS really is a fantastic piece of kit. It lays all of the data out in front of you, in a single window and it’s great to see how the sessions unfolded, when the tyres came on and how we fared in the traffic against how we ran with some clear track in front of us.

ScreenShot 035The data itself is a little surprising; the rev range suggests that we might have considered a sprocket change, Junior’s fastest laps don’t look that clean in terms of the nice, smooth acceleration out of the corners that you’d expect to see. Most surprising was a string of laps that Junior put in when running with his pals in the second heat: four laps within 0.04s and a theoretical best amongst those that would have missed the track record by only 0.05s! Of course a theoretical best means very little and it goes to show the benefit of having a tow. If anybody is going to break the lap record any time soon they’ll be doing it on their way to front rather than simply driving away from the pack! It is pleasing but largely meaningless if you lack the race craft to put your kart on the podium. It’s almost as if the second phase of Junior’s karting education begins now and I can’t help but wonder if this is where the hard part begins…

Nice theoretical!

This is what we should be aiming for!