Coming of age

This was our biggest race weekend of the year; the time to see how close we had gotten to the pace after our April front-running and a final year exam enforced break in May. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. Friday practice had been frustrating with Junior driving around largely alone and 4/10ths off the pace. I had booked overnight accommodation for the Saturday night without having really considered that scrutineering was taking place on Saturday and not Sunday morning so it was an early start as we headed to Wales.

With the awning already up, I got the kart built and had the relative luxury of an hours break before first practice. The morning was up and down; we were pretty close to the pace with the benefit of being able to chase one of Junior’s two friends who were clearly going to be setting the pace for the weekend but, when we were on our own and without a fast kart to follow, we were 3/10ths down. Junior was much too hot into a couple of the corners. Qualifying was always going to be interesting. The two pace setters were good friends of ours and have given us an awful lot of help over the months/years. One of the dads was the person who had ‘fixed’ our brakes and to whom I owe a life debt, the other had been helping me pretty much since Day 1! They knew that we’d be looking for a tow and you could sense a ‘cat and mouse’ type situation arising. We hung about waiting to see how the karts were forming on the grid. One of our potential suitors went to the very head of the grid, the other to the back. We stayed at the back and followed them out. I had briefed Junior that it was very likely they’d back off and let us pass; I told him to do likewise if that happened – at some point they’d both need to get their heads down since they only had 5 mins to put in a lap! As it turned out, our guide backed off and Junior just carried on. He was caught and passed and then the two of them started racing! It was one of those ‘WTF?’ moments that I was to have several of over the weekend. They diced and caught a pack of four drivers. Instead of backing off they just carried on!?! In qualifying it really did beggar belief.

Fortunately for them both, the timing sheets put them on the front row for Heat #1 with the my brake saviour’s lad in third. I felt awful! Although it would be rude not to acknowledge the benefit of the coaching we’d received in February, pretty much our entire karting turnaround was down them and Junior had just qualified ahead of them. Worse, I picked up the timing sheets from the office for the three of us (one of us or the kids  always does) but didn’t know what to say when I handed over the sheet. I couldn’t have looked more sheepish had you covered me in cotton wool and put me out to graze!!!

P2 is not a good place to be at Llandow, particularly since the start was switched from Hangar Straight to the finish line. In TKM especially, the karts bog down as they have to take a very tight hairpin and second can find themselves having to back off to allow the pole man to get alongside just as the pole man is thinking of going. Starting third is a much better place to be. That proved to be the case here and the race became something of a procession: junior dropped to third into the first corner and the three of them worked together, staying single file and finding themselves increasing their lead by half a second a lap. Junior was third but never challenged; to be honest we were really happy to finish there (matching our best ever finish but this time it was on merit and not reliant upon DNFs) and just wanted to continue in that vein. The rest of the field were nowhere near them. Perhaps it was a chassis thing, perhaps it was a track familiarity/setup thing for those visiting with the TKM Southern Championship (the field was missing a couple of very quick locals but those that were there were no slouches) or perhaps it was three very strong engines. I wasn’t bothered to be honest 😉

It was a great feeling to see Junior going so well. Saturday evening at the restaurant was a happy place even if my buddies stood me up and left Junior and I dining alone!

Considering we stayed over and didn’t have to scrutineer early, Sunday morning somehow became a mad rush. The kart was just about assembled for the 3-lap warm up although the fuel hose and tank were not cable-tied. I quickly sorted that out after the warm-up and soon focused on the strategic game that had become qualifying. This was to be probably the highlight of my weekend; on the Saturday we were clearly hanging on and trying to use our friends to tow us around. We took our kart to the back of the grid, alongside the friends with whom we’d qualified on the front row the day before and tentative discussions began over our plans. It was a little bit cagey as I didn’t want to be seen to asking for his help but it was clear that we’d been mutually beneficial to one another in Q1. We agreed to do something similar for Q2. We were joined by the other dad with whom we had formed the lead trio the day before. I think there was probably a point at which we were all wondering what each other was really thinking but we agreed to hang back, let the pack go and then we’d each do a stint at the front of our own group of three and just see how qualifying unfolded. The thing that struck me most was that we’d been accepted as equals, not as some leech to shake off 😀 Qualifying went really well and they were clearly going very quickly. The on-kart data loggers had Junior at the front and, pleasingly, it wa a lap he’d set when at the head of the group. Unfortunately, the circuit timers had him in second by 0.007s.

Heat #2 didn’t quite go according to plan: Junior had another poor start in second and lost two places but quickly worked his way back to third and had almost caught the leaders by the end, setting the fastest time in the process. Things were looking good.

The Pre-Final was the low point. The three drivers had been in a league of their own up until this point and, although things were starting to get a bit more serious, the plan remained unchanged: get clear without fighting, pull a gap then fight for the final grid positions. Unfortunately, Junior suffered a brain fade: he took the lead on lap #2 and initiated the kind of scrap the spectators enjoy seeing in JTKM (and that had been notable by it’s absence thus far) but that left the dads slamming their heads into walls. The pole-sitter fought back and was followed by third. I didn’t see any of this since I had stayed at the pit bend to act as a pusher if anybody span off (it’s funny how the closest post and the furthest post are largely unmanned with most pushers mid-track where the views are best!) but I think that Junior got miffed at some part of this process and the race mist descended. It ended with Junior losing momentum and position. He was third again by the final lap but defended the final corner poorly and was done on the line. I couldn’t believe it. ‘WTF’ doesn’t come near to describing my feelings. You could see it in the faces of the dads and their kids: “What was he thinking?” Junior couldn’t answer that one. I know that racers will race but there are times when you need to use your head and this one had cost us.

I’d have bitten your hand off if you had offered me P4 for the final at the start of the weekend and, although it was not disastrous, it was a huge setback. After a poor start to the weekend, P3 had made some serious inroads into what had been a comfortable advantage over the rest of the field and was now well in the mix. The start would be massive; Junior was going to have to take some chances in order to keep with the front row. Junior still looked a bit downhearted on the dummy grid and it was really nice that the person we’d had coach us in February left his own driver and spent a few minutes sat with Junior and gave him some encouragement 🙂 He made a good start, going around the outside of The Hook to maintain fourth and took third with a move down the inside in Surtees that continued to the entry to MacWhirters as P3 tried to hold it around the outside. There was contact and P3 touched the grass as Junior cut across into the corner. I couldn’t really see the incident properly from my pushing post at Chandler’s (do I sound like Arsene Wenger???) but P3 may have had reason to feel aggrieved with Junior cutting him up. As the race unfolded and the front four pulled clear Junior couldn’t shake off fourth, who was all over Junior up Hangar Straight. It was clear to me at this point we’d probably be ousted from the podium. Junior lost his place with three or four laps remaining, again into Surtees and again there was contact as it was Junior this time who tried to hold it around the outside, lost out and crucially lost momentum. It looked ok to me, just two drivers battling hard for the final podium place. He was angry when he came in but I think it was one of those very one-sided driver opinions; he’d given at least as good as he got over the course of the race. Our two other friends had duked it out on the last lap to take the ‘C’ Plate, with it going to our official Brake Advisors 😉 on the final corner.

It was a tough result to take and neither of us could help but feel a little gutted at coming home empty handed having been in the podium places most of the weekend. I was glad that we were third at one point in the final so that the Pre-Final nonsense was not the sole cause of our downfall. We held third and it was there for us if we were good enough. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Junior and I had an unusually long chat on the way home and he’s a little chirpier now that he realises what he has accomplished. From the back to the front in two race weekends. From not being able to put in a hot lap without following somebody to leading his homeboys and putting in some stunning times through the day, even without a tow and fastest in three of the final day’s four races including the final! At his cost he’s learnt how he needs to defend the final corner properly and that it is really important to know when to work together for mutual benefit. He has come a long way in a very short space of time. Being the quickest gets you nothing without good race craft and that’s something that will only come with experience of battling it out at the front. We never really looked like winning any of the heats all weekend.The hard work will start now as Junior seeks to rectify this but this felt like the meeting where we came of age. Hopefully we’re here now boys so watch your backs… 😉

Thanks to Llandow Kart Club for a very well-run weekend 🙂

Cost of race weekend: Entry fee £100, petrol (car) £12, fuel (kart) £6, accommodation £48, food £40, new fuel tank, chain lube, exhaust springs, £32

Total spent this year: £2,570

Competitive finally!!! Crashing back to earth literally…

After another early start we arrived at the track at around 7:45 and the brief was to get the race engine on, get through scrutineering and then worry about how the Hell I was going to manage push-starting with my bad back! I had had the the loan of a push-start bar at Saturday practice but I had no idea how it would work on a race day as there aren’t normally any ‘spare’ TKM dads about. Having applied four lots of sun cream and still caught the sun the day before, I was glad we stayed behind after racing on Saturday to get the awning up, slotting into one of the many gaps that appeared when the bambino dads left for the day taking everything with them.

I had the offer of help from the dad and/or mechanic of one of Junior’s friends (thanks, Team Johns!) so, number by half a tube of Deep Heat, push-starting turned out to be ok. With his newly adjusted brakes Junior was under instruction to just make sure he got a good feel for them. He didn’t look particularly quick but came in beaming like I had never seen after a session (it was a unique sight given his normal attitude towards his kart):  he had lapped within a tenth of his PB without really pushing and loved the feel for the brakes 🙂

The club had changed the start line for this meeting, starting and finishing on the finish line instead of starting on Hangar Straight and taking Raymonds as the first corner. I had some reservations about this but the change went really well, the drivers seemed to sort themselves out nicely and I saw no contact going into The Hook. We started 9th for Heat #1, made a reasonable start but got caught up with one of the Super One boys who was practising ahead of their series opener at the track next month; he made a move up the inside going into The Hook, there was a bit of a squeeze exiting the right-handed kink on the exit and they were side-by-side before their wheels got locked together and both karts went off. Junior caught and passed the last-placed kart but finished adrift. Positively though, the kart felt excellent and we were closer to the pace than we would normally be. Junior set a new PB of 45.4s 😀

We made very little change to the setup for Heat #2. Junior started 7th and found himself on the back of the front pack of six drivers. Amazingly, he wasn’t getting dropped and was even being held up by one of the quicker drivers! Although he observed the ‘follow me, let’s catch the leaders’ gesture for a few laps, he soon felt the need to make a move. It took a couple of laps to make the move stick as he kept losing out to the cutback and, when he did finally pass, the leaders had flown. He finished 5th and set another new PB of 45.2s. Overnight, Junior had gone from lapping at 45.8s on the Saturday to 45.4s in the warm-up and now 45.2s! Needless to say I was very thankful to the dad who had sorted his brakes – those 3/10ths he had promised were beginning to look like a conservative estimate!!! I cannot tell you how great it was to see him competing in the pack. We were still a couple of tenths off of the leader’s pace but that was irrelevant; we were properly competing for the first time *ever*, not because we were defending or scraping a result because of DNFs. This appeared as though it could be our true pace! I could have kissed the dad who had helped us there and then. But I didn’t… 😉

Heat #3 saw us start in third. Junior made a good start, holding off some early moves from the visiting Super One driver and tailing second. He was able to follow second through as he passed the leader at Chandlers and the next few laps were the highlight of my time as a karting dad so far: Junior and the leader were lapping within the same tenth of one another and, as third and fourth tangled, they pulled a little clear at the front. I’ll forever remember the commentator’s words as Junior set a new fastest lap of 44.929! A sub-45s lap?!? A few of the others had done this at previous rounds and I remember them being really chuffed but Junior to join the club so suddenly… initially I thought the commentator had gotten the wrong driver but, as Junior continued his pursuit of the leader, a grin spread across my face – a *really* big grin. There probably four laps remaining before things started to go wrong; third and fourth caught us and we got pushed aside entering Surtees, as third went for a gap that was always going to be closed. Junior controlled the kart but lost ground and the place and was now under threat from fourth; the driver we had tangled with in Heat #1 and who had proven to be pretty aggressive throughout the day. We survived one more lap and then, as Junior saw it, we just got wiped out entering Raymonds. He didn’t see the other kart at all but said he felt his rear wheel get whacked as he was on the entry apex. The other kart kicked up and span over Junior, hitting the engine, Junior and the steering wheel on the way over. I quickly ran up from the viewing area (with my bad back I had committed the cardinal sin of being a direct drive dad that wasn’t signed on as a pusher) as the race was stopped and the ambulance came out. The paramedics had Junior’s helmet supported (a technique I learnt at the marshal training day!) but, thankfully, the kart had missed his head with his shoulder taking most of the impact. They wanted him x-rayed and so our day was done. I picked up the broken parts of the engine (I had always wondered what it took to snap an engine fin) and, because we finished third after the count back, went through scrutineering (who proceeded to record everything that had broken!). I spoke to the Clerk after who reported it a ‘racing incident’. Hmmm… there had been a lot of those through the day; lot’s more than you would normally see at Llandow. I’ve some things to say on this but we’ll leave it for another time.

We had a choice: leave everything at the track and go to the local hospital, pack up and go to the local hospital (leaving the kart on the trailer in the hospital car park) or go home, unload the trailer and then head to hospital. Junior had limited movement in his shoulder at that point but I chose the latter – at least I could safely leave everything at home before heading to A&E. Whilst I was relieved that Junior was ok, Junior was gutted that he’d miss the final especially after having finally found some astonishing pace. I felt bad at having doubted Junior. There have been lots of thoughts about the future in my mind during our struggles but to think that we might have sold up and moved on had we not almost stumbled into the fact that his brakes weren’t good enough when, overnight and after a 5-minute adjustment, he had found 9/10ths of a second (I initially typed ‘we found’ but he derserves all the credit here). Of course, we had the race engine on and better tyres than we had used the day before but regardless – we had found so much pace and I was so glad that it wasn’t the driver that was the problem, as it had seemed for so long. I was pleased too that although our chassis is six years old, Junior had proven his equipment is good enough to compete.

So that was that! We packed up in record time. Junior had plenty of visitors whilst he was sat waiting for me to get a move on – partly because of his injury, partly because of his pace! The other party involved in the accident wasn’t one of them though, they just got sorted for the final! Maybe it was one of those awkward decisions whether or not to say something after an incident between drivers, maybe that’s the difference between those who compete for fun and those that *have* to win. We watched the live timing of the final in the car enroute to A&E – it wasn’t the result we would have wished for but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Two hours later we had left hospital with no broken bones confirmed – just an difficult conversation with Junior’s rowing coach that he would not now be available for the eight at a big competition this weekend.

I usually tend to keep things largely anonymous (although you don’t have to work in Cyber Security to figure out the names of most of the people discussed in the blog!) but I have to thank Lou and Ryan Edwards of RED Motorsport for spotting the issue and sorting the brakes out for us. Who knows how quick we’ll be when we return in June (given the predicted influx of Super One drivers for the next round, driving standards that were certainly more aggressive than are the norm at Llandow and Junior sitting his GCSEs, we’ll be skipping May regardless of whether or not Junior is fit to race) but it really does feel that we have just made a massive leap forward. It is unfortunate that I could have sorted this out months ago had I known better but, in my defence, a good few people much more experienced than I had looked at them! Maybe all of that time driving with sub-optimal brakes will now be an advantage 😉 We may not find ourselves competing at the very front of the pack but all we have ever wanted is for Junior to be able to race with his mates and it looks like we might be there at last. I’ll be found crying into a beer somewhere if proves not the case…

44929

My new favourite number: 44.929 😀

Cost of weekend: £100 practice/ race entry, £13 petrol, £12 fuel, £13 bridge fees, £20 new chain

Total spent this year: £1,961

The mechanically inept noob!

Saturday was a bad one, even by my own standards. We arrived to find that almost all of the perimeter pit spaces had gone, it was nigh on impossible to get the awning pegs into the ground where we had chosen to set up camp, we aborted and moved to the very far corner of the track only to find that the pathetic velcro straps on the sides of our awning were no match for the wind and ended up ditching the awning and slotting the car/trailer in somewhere a little more desirable!

Despite this, we were still ready for the day’s first JTKM session but, when Junior was sat in his kart on the dummy grid, I noticed that there was a lot more travel in the steering column than I was comfortable with. It looked as if the steering column bearing (which wasn’t that old) had worn. Caught between the desire to at least get a few test laps in and removing the kart from the dummy grid, I opted for the former (I’m not sure I would in future) with a warning to Junior to take it easy and come straight in if he had any concerns. He duly drove straight back into the pits, throwing his gloves into the seat and going off on one: the steering column wasn’t the issue, the fuel tank lid was leaking. This isn’t the first time we’ve experienced this – why is it so hard to make a fuel cap that fits correctly??? After finishing his little strop, I sent Junior off to get some hand towels from the toilets so that we could get back out for a few minutes. In my rush to get Junior started, I just grabbed the back end, started running and immediately felt something go in my back. I dropped the kart way too soon and had to carry on pushing until he got going but I was in agony! I like to think of myself as being pretty fit – push starting has certainly never been a problem but sometimes these things just happen I guess. It was one of those back injuries that catches your breath. Not good at the start of a race weekend 🙁

The rest of the day was about trying to cope with the pain whilst keeping Junior out on track. Engine mount bolts were the biggest challenge given my restricted mobility. I was able to borrow a push-start bar from one of the other dads; I’d never before used one but I quickly became a big fan! Our pace was disappointingly as has long been the norm: we were around 7/10ths off the pace. We tried a few things like altering the front width and bleeding the brakes which Junior felt made a little difference. I was talking to one of my good friends and, at one point, questioned whether perhaps Junior wasn’t up to this type of karting – we hadn’t progressed at all from the summer of last year; Clay had been replaced by Llandow and, although we had the novelty of a new track, we were now back to familiar struggles. Junior had never shown any sign of unhappiness and, as long as he is still enjoying it, we would of course continue but in the back of my mind still lingered thoughts of IKR and Prokarts 🙁

Although we weren’t where we wanted to be, at least we had run fairly smoothly. Until the final session at least. Junior came in after one lap complaining that ‘something happened’. He couldn’t explain what. We’d just replaced a carb but it didn’t tie in with anything he was trying to describe. Although I’ve said before how you should always listen to your driver, I sent him back out to get more information. This time he came straight back complaining of a loud noise from the engine. I removed the chain guard and couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the chain was as tight as you can imagine, with no flex whatsoever. A couple of friendly dads passed and I asked if they’d ever seen a chain go so tight before. It was then that I noticed that the engine had lifted off of the mount in one corner, skewing the chain enough to cause the problem. I removed the engine and was working with one of the dads to remove the snapped engine mount bolts (it turned out that three had snapped). At this point the other dad was playing with the brake pedal and commented that our brakes were rubbish (these weren’t his actual words!), calling his lad over to have a look. I was focused on checking the engine for significant damage but was more than happy for them to adjust the brakes since Junior has long complained about them. The engine was going to need to visit my builder to have the bolts drilled out and the casing rethreaded (timely since the race engine was going to be off for rebuilding after the Sunday) and, once that was dealt with, the dad showed me how much more release there was in the brake pedal, claiming there were 3/10ths of a second in the improved brake performance. To be honest, I took this with a pinch of salt at the time. He was also less than complimentary about my mechanic skills: a ‘mechanically inept noob’ I think was the description although I don’t know where he would have gotten that from 😉 To be fair, I had had the brakes looked over by a number of people much more qualified than myself. No matter, they definitely felt better and we’d see how they fared on race day…

bridge

A variation on a theme 😉

 

Leading a race! Albeit briefly…

With Junior’s 16th birthday falling the day after the race weekend, we decided that it would be nice to stay at the track on the Saturday night and grab a beer/some food with a few of the Dads/lads from the JTKM grid. This was partly just a really nice thing to do for Junior’s birthday but also in part because Junior had very little to open present-wise on the Monday! 🙁 Having had the engine problems so soon after a major rebuild, Junior’s main present was the engine repair. The new slicks, chain, sprocket and brake pads were all ‘gifts’ from the family although all were fitted and ready for the weekend.

Saturday practice was good enough. The pit lane was mentally busy with the club having attracted twice the number of entries mostly thanks to Formula Blue. Arriving on Saturday morning, we were very lucky to secure a nice pit spot with plenty of space to set the awning set up. Our tyres weren’t the best so our mission was just to try to implement some of the new lines that we had been practising. In that respect we failed really to find the consistency I had been hoping for but, to be fair, track time was in pretty short supply – we were on track once every 80 minutes! It was fairly uneventful barring us developing a habit it seemed of turning the action camera on *after* a session and recording nothing more than a long walk to the trailer (although we do have our wait in the scrutineering queue and the event itself – ping me if you are stuck for evening entertainment). Rather alarmingly, Junior’s kart got hit by a 1kg piece of lead that came bouncing down the track in the final practice session! :S

We were staying in accommodation about 5 minutes from the track. It was nice to drop off all of the kit and have a hot shower before heading out 🙂 Even better to spend the night amongst friends at a nearby hotel/restaurant – I can heartily recommend the gourmet burger at the St Mary’s Hotel, it was up there amongst the best I’ve ever had 😀 Sunday morning was blissful: getting up at 7:15 instead of 5:30 left me feeling *so* much more refreshed as we completed the 5-minute journey to the track!

Having scrutineered the night before we had plenty of time in which to prep the kart. The grids were posted and Junior was miffed to find that, now into his sixth race at Llandow, he still had no pole position! I can kind of sympathise – with only ten competitors, you’d be expecting a pole every three or four months. I understand that the club use a random system that does not take into account previous grid draws… if only Carlsberg made grid draw systems for motor racing, eh? 😉 With one of the entrants withdrawing, our starting positions were a reasonable 4th, 3rd, 9th.

Heat #1 was ‘ok’. Junior had a poor start, losing a couple of places at the first corner before gradually sliding back through the field, six seconds off the lead but ~0.3s off the pace, which I’d happily gave taken beforehand.

Heat #2 was the highlight of the day: Junior started third and, amazingly, LEAD THE FIELD INTO THE HOOK!!! I couldn’t tell you how it happened, as I was stood at the opposite corner of the track, but it was nice that we were leading on merit and hadn’t even started on the front row! 😀 Junior held the lead for into the second lap before he was passed by two karts but, even then, was doing really well in third until lap #4  when someone made a move into Surtees, running wide into Junior (who was attempting to hold it around the outside) and their wheels seemed to lock with Junior coming off the worst! 🙁 I started a conversation with the marshal about what he saw (I wasn’t overly pleased in the heat of the moment) before one of the deputy clerks told him to stop talking to me! With incidents elsewhere, Junior dropped to 7th before making up a place on the final lap. Junior was angry at the incident that had taken him out of the running but, having had a few laps to compose myself, I think it was more or less a racing incident. He’d come off worst and certainly wasn’t at fault (although I had thought that last month too) but I would never have lodged a protest over it… not unless the other party had previously called one on us, at least 😉 It was kind of a bitter sweet result since we had spoken about Junior getting his elbows out a little and not making it quite so easy for people to pass him but, in fighting for position, we’d lost out. Junior had also been shown his first ever black/white flag for an attempted move in Raymonds a few laps from the end! 😮

Heat #3 told us we still had a long way to go. Starting 9th, Junior made up a couple of places after an incident but we struggled to stay with the pack and annoyingly lost two places on the final lap. We finished 8 seconds adrift and were 0.6s off the pace which was blisteringly quick.

As seems commonplace for TKM, the clouds gathered over the lunch break and there were spells of drizzle ahead of our final. The track looked damp but I didn’t think that there was really enough to offer encouragement to anyone looking at the wet option. The pole sitter, however, opted for inters and pulled a little clear of the pack although took one challenger (on slicks) with him and was soon passed. The leader was really flying, pretty much in a class of his own, as he had clearly sussed that the track was there to attack. After a big slide early on, the penny dropped a little too late for Junior; who only really got going in the last couple of laps. He was adrift of the main pack but was quickly catching the pole sitter on his inters at the end, passing him after a final lap incident to finish in 6th place.

The race day was a mixed bag for us: we had lead a race for the first time and raced in the pack for large parts of the races in which we started in the top half of the grid but we still struggled with the lines and I know that one or two of the faster drivers weren’t fully appreciative of Junior’s fighting for position. It’s a tricky one. I can see their point of view: Junior is just holding them up and they will eventually pass but just dropping through the field is no fun. We’d gone from being very simple to overtake to being much tougher (relatively speaking) although we definitely need to find a happy medium and learn when to just tuck in behind after being passed. I cannot promise we’ll find that balance imminently but we’ll work on it.

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £13 petrol, £12 fuel, £45 accommodation, £40 food

Total spent this year: £1,701 and we’re only into the second month of the season!?!

Stuck in a rut

It would be fair to say that our karting career to date has been one of peaks and troughs. We’ve both enjoyed it but lately I’ve found myself spending more time dwelling on our struggle to get on the pace. You just really want to see your son (or daughter) get there – to cut that ~0.8s deficit and really nail those lines. To his credit, Junior just loves driving the kart but I’ve gotten wary of burdening him with my desire to bridge the gap that we seem to have had for as long as I can remember. Carrying more exit speed is far easier said than done and, on reflection, I wonder if I’ve overdone the ‘work on your lines’ thing at our practice day last weekend and ahead of the Llandow seasonal opener.

The weekend began with a wet track so Junior was out on the inters that we had ruined at the November round final, where we were caught out on the wrong tyre. Here they lasted just long enough to get us through the worst of it before they were too bald to be of any use and we switched to slicks. Unfortunately, Junior went off on his second lap – sending the kart backwards into the tyres at Chandlers and finishing off one of the bumpers that had done very well for us over the past two years (not to mention the two replacement bumper bolts that I had bought after our mishap the previous weekend!). We were doing some testing on a smaller sprocket but it wasn’t working for us. As soon as we went back up a tooth, Junior was much happier and a bit more competitive. The warning signs were there though as the day went on; The track was pretty quick considering the time of year and the early morning conditions but we weren’t able to get below 46.0s when the pace was low to mid 45s.

We were up and out early on Sunday to get the kart built for the race day. It was nice to see a couple of guest drivers who were here for a sighter with a view to the Super One Series round in May so we had a grid of eleven drivers. Heat #1 saw us start plum last. There was an incident at the start which took out a couple of drivers and we raced along in 7th – comfortably ahead of the rear of the field but adrift of the main pack. It looked like it might be lonely day for us. Heat #2 was where things started to take a turn for the worse: Starting in second, we managed to maintain our position around the outside of Raymonds and Junior set about his defence of his position. It was clear that we didn’t have the pace and Junior had been vulnerable on the run out of the Hook and into Surtees all day on the Saturday. We had spoken about it and decided that we’d take a narrower entry, try not to make it easy for other to pass and just see how things unfolded. It was going ok, especially for the pole man who was clearing off with haste! There were a number of laps where third lined up a pass as they headed up the straight but Junior’s is no slouch up the straight and is also pretty decent on the brakes into Raymonds so was able to maintain his position. That was until third place got the cutback and they headed into The Hook side-by-side: There was contact and it had to be Junior who lost out. He was clearly disappointed. The ‘offender’ was shown a warning but, from what I saw of it, it was rightly deemed a racing incident.

Heat #3 was where an already bad day went into meltdown. Junior started fifth and was hit from behind going into the first corner, punted the person in front who span and took out another driver. Junior dropped back and finished well adrift. Being the pusher who had volunteered to cover the furthest corner of the track, I’d not seen the incident but our finishing position and lack of pace through the day was taking its toll – I’d have quite happily packed up at that point. When I got back to the pits, Junior complained that he’d been hit and had his race ruined. I went to the Clerk to chat about the start and was told they were calling several drivers in. I was hugely surprised when only Junior and the driver that Junior had hit were called in (in relation to the start – two others were called in for another incident). This is where I can take two paths in my reporting of this – there is the ‘take it on the chin’ approach or the ‘redhead says what he thinks’ option!!! Given that the last time I publicly criticised officials, we were shown a straight black flag for contact two corners into our first heat at the subsequent round, I’ll try to stay on the cautious side…

In my attempt at small talk with the other Dad as we waited outside the Clerk’s office, he commented that this was what had happened in Heat #1 [Junior hitting his lad]. Junior’s look of astonishment at this little revelation told me all that I needed to know on this one. I am aware that with what follows I may be appearing to be wanting to have my cake and eating it but, in this instance, I can and I will – especially on my own blog, other points of view are available I am sure 😉 We were called in and the Clerk read out the report that suggested Junior had ploughed into the driver in front without braking. There was no mention of any other driver and I was already getting a sense of dodgy report Deja Vu. I had told Junior to just tell the truth – it hadn’t dawned on me for a second that we’d be taking the blame for this one. Junior said he’d been hit into the driver in front (naively, it also hadn’t occurred to me until this point that this might be an excuse the Clerks hear a lot) and agreed he’d caused the driver in front to spin. The driver’s explanations were pretty clear then the Dads got their chance to chime in; I questioned why the other party hadn’t been called in and Junior was asked who had hit him – as if he was going to have been looking behind him!?! I commented that it wasn’t fair for them to be asking him to name anyone as, although he could make a reasonable guess that it was the driver directly behind him on the grid, he couldn’t be certain of that. And that was that  – we soon got called back and were penalised on the back of a damning report as incorrect as it was incomplete!!! The contact behind had gone unspotted and the claim he hadn’t braked… I can only assume someone got carried away with the drama of it all!

It was a resigned feeling rather than an angry one after that. We’d always had a policy of Junior offering an apology to any driver he’d hit on track and, if at fault for any reported incident, he’d put his hand up and say he’d made a mistake. I’m not sure we’ll continue to adopt that policy – I know that the officials are doing their best and can only give what they see but we’ve been only the wrong end of a couple of duffers now and, in this instance, we would have been better off being less forthcoming and certainly naming the suspected third party. In the end, it was too easy for them to blame Junior.

The Final was all about getting as much packing up done as we could beforehand. The Clerk gave the grid the ‘loading’ speech after two incidents in three heats but, to be honest, I have never seen it at Llandow. Normally drawing the pushing zone furthest away doesn’t help in that respect! Of course the drivers like to point the finger… The majority of first corner incidents are caused by drivers getting caught out with the concertina effect as the grid steam into the first corner. We have been guilty of that a few times last year – it’s a mistake you wish they would learn from but there is no intent and it’s certainly not loading (which, to me, is when you are pushing someone into the first corner, denying them the chance to brake until you’ve shoved them wide enough to get by on the inside). The race itself was uneventful in so far as it was further confirmation of our lack pace. We stuck around to applaud the winners and then headed off the McDonalds for some Chicken Selects and a banana shake.

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £26 petrol, £13 fuel

Total spent this year: £891

MSA Bambino… when there isn’t enough daylight hours to finish the proper stuff!

When I watch the cadets racing, I really wish that we had discovered the sport sooner. We stumbled into karting purely by chance: having always looked for something different for Junior to do each birthday, karting was a natural progression from the quad biking party that Junior had when he was ten. He really enjoyed it and we soon started attending the half-term events at TeamSport. As soon as Junior was big enough for an adult kart (his friends had already moved up and he’d been trying to prove to the staff that he really was big enough for some time) we realised that he could drive with adults (i.e. me) and we began a monthly visit to Avonmouth for Sunday evening ‘Unlimited Karting’ (it used to be much more ‘unlimited’ than it is now!). One year on, Junior was up there among the faster drivers and I started looking for something that bit quicker and found that Clay Pigeon Kart Club hosted ‘open days’ where you could get some taster sessions in the club Tal-Ko kart. I had absolutely no intention of purchasing a kart – this was just about getting him a free go in a fast kart. Three months later I was clearing space in my garage

Getting back to topic, cadet racing is fantastic to watch. Ok, they are prone to the odd red flag (particularly at Clay) but, by and large, it’s good, close racing. I wish we had known about it – it’s the perfect introduction to junior karting. Which brings us to Bambino karting, something I had only ever seen at indoor karting venues (when I thought it was cute) until Llandow started hosting a class a couple of months back (when the bonus races stopped!). Obviously it is all about revenue – for the club (where it is much needed), the MSA (PG licenses – need I say more?) and the manufacturers but, for me, it just doesn’t belong on the MSA scene. A couple of infant school aged children driving around in their own time is just a waste of valuable track time, especially in the winter months. It’s a great introduction to cadets I am sure but the younger kids karting should remain within the confines of the arrive and drive tracks and their Sunday morning kart clubs. MSA karting should begin at eight years old.

Race 7: Disqualified!?!

Since our ‘bumper’ day last month, I have been pretty vocal on my thoughts regarding enforcement of the rules regarding ‘incidents’; here, on Facebook and on the forums. Perhaps it was just down to my naivety in expecting your average ‘Arrive/Drive’ circuit rules to be at least the as tough in MSA racing. I’d like to think it wasn’t solely down to me but no matter – a club official spent some time during the briefing explaining that the club had read what was said and what actions were being taking to address this (marshals being given radios and calling in any contact witnessed) and then the MSA steward made a comment about not wanting people complaining after every race! I think that one was aimed squarely at me although, like I say, maybe that was just my naivety – it was the first time I had ever spoken to an official and half of the time I was one of a number of Dads complaining about the very odd decision to start slower karts ahead of faster ones! Who could have foreseen what was about to happen?

Junior was really looking forward to Heat 1 as it was his first ever start on pole. He looked like a natural leader on the warm-up lap 😉 but that was about as good as our day got 🙁 He outbraked himself into the first corner, ran wide and was overtaken by everybody except the novices. It was probably the worse defence of pole position you’ll see this season! Then the field bottlenecked into The Esses, a kart was spun and they carried on. A few laps later, Junior pulled in the pits. I assumed there was a problem only to find HE HAD BEEN BLACK FLAGGED!!! Until this point, I hadn’t even realised he had made contact with anyone, then came the chat with the MSA steward. The next part was a bit of a blur, Junior was stunned to the point of not being able to give any reasonable explanation to the steward, who told us why we had been black flagged rather than allowed to continue and an inquiry held after the race (I didn’t really understand this bit) and then proceeded to tell us about drivers at Buckmore Park who wouldn’t be racing next weekend because they would be having their licenses revoked (I understood this but even less). I admit that I had no idea if or what penalties could be imposed. At least I do now 🙂

With the benefit of the internet, I surmise that Junior was penalised under rule C.1.1.5:

Driving in a manner incompatible with general safety, and/or departing from the standard of a reasonably competent driver.

Now this seemed somewhat harsh, not only to me, but to every other Dad who had assumed we had experienced a problem only to find we had been black flagged. I’ll quote the driver who lost out  just to prove I am not making this stuff up:

Was a racing incident, I tried to miss someone and slowed up a bit and ****** hit me, wasn’t his fault at all!”

It seems Junior found himself with nowhere to go when the pack bunched and a few drivers took evasive action. I would love to know exactly where Junior was supposed to put his kart in light of this but… the irony of having been so vociferous about not penalising contact and then becoming the first to fall foul of the new enforcement of the rules was not lost on me! It was very harsh but I could only take it on the chin and move on. I knew very well that my comments would put Junior in the spotlight. It was funny how, after last month, another Dad had warned me not to make a name for myself for complaining to the stewards and I admit that, at one point, during the conversation with the steward, I did find myself gauging whether there was any hint of retribution in his demeanour (there wasn’t!). He seemed like a nice bloke although I definitely left with the feeling of having been roughed up a little (I guess this is the intention!). Once we had got back to our pit space, Junior found his tongue and declared all of this to be my fault! Had I not said anything about last month, this wouldn’t have happened apparently. There is probably some truth in that (in so far as contact would still have continued unpunished) but I don’t play the blame game – we had a curt chat about what a team was and Junior had to decide whether we were staying for the remainder of the heats (as a team) or whether we were packing up and going home (as individuals). On with the day…

Heat two was almost as bad – we found ourselves behind a novice and they were racing closely when one of two things happened: the novice lost his back end in The Esses and we had nowhere to go except into him or Junior spun the novice in The Esses. Either way they took each other out. One driver had one view, the other driver had the other. I have mine but all that matters is that race observer didn’t report us as being at fault – things could otherwise have gotten much more, um… ‘interesting’!

Heat 3 was largely anonymous – we finished 6th in a pretty strung out field. Unsurprisingly, we started last for the final. I made a few setup changes and we actually made a decent start – passing the novices into/during Billies and were dicing at the back of the main pack. It was going really well – we gained and lost a place and were showing our best pace of the day and our fastest lap since September last year (still don’t quite get why we haven’t yet bested that having set it before we started racing!). Then our bumper snapped 🙁 There had been some minor contact a few laps earlier and my plastic ties had only lasted so long. Junior was shown (although didn’t actually see) the black and orange flag with a couple of minutes remaining and that was that.

A shitty end to a pretty shitty day. Our run of 23 races without causing an incident had come to an end just at the wrong time. I have no complaints about the strict enforcement of the rules although I sincerely hope that they will be applied in a consistent manner. On the plus side, I think our setup was good and we were pretty much on the pace at the end. Junior does need to improve his racecraft – I know that will come with experience. He also needs to be a little more sturdy in his defence – he is definitely considered a soft touch by some, who make the most of the knowledge that he’ll jump out of their way given any lunge into a corner. I think that regulation C2.3.3 sums it up nicely:

Gained an unfair advantage – You may not have actually made contact, but your position on the track may have unfairly impeded the other driver(s)

😉

Cost of day: £15 petrol, £49 race entry fee

Total spent this year: £1,716

 

Race 6: This is MSA racing???

As you may have gathered from my last post, our first race day off of novice plates didn’t really go to plan. The weekend began with one very lucky escape: Junior was carrying out the trailer light tests before we left home and then asked why there were no ratchet straps on the kart!!! I normally put the straps on loosely the night before and then tighten them up in the morning (I do this because so as not to stress the chassis for longer than I have to, whether this has merit or not I don’t know!) – I realised as I put the kart away that I hadn’t strapped it but decided to do it morning. I am so, so, so, so lucky that Junior spotted this – what might have happened doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Saturday was a decent enough day at the track. We were a little off the pace, maybe 3/10ths or so but I was content that the race engine would bring us a little closer. It was notable only for my getting sun burnt (again) and deciding to stay overnight at the George Albert Hotel next to the track in a bid to help me overcome jet lag having arrived from the US on the Thursday. It was nice to stay over for a few beers with the regulars although I would recommend the Karters Menu rather than the restaurant menu (or ideally, the Karters Menu then the white chocolate cheesecake from the restaurant menu 😉 ). I didn’t get any extra sleep though, as I didn’t nod off until 1:30am. The full English breakfast hit the spot however!

The first heat was a little disappointing; we started 2nd, quickly dropped back and then spent the remainder of the race fending off the lead novice. We got clipped once into Billies, as the novice flashed his nose down inside as Junior committed to the entry but he just ran up over our wheel and we continued unhindered. We made a couple of changes for heat two and we were doing ok until Junior allowed himself to be forced off on the entry to The Horseshoe on the penultimate or final lap. The driver that made the move had just performed the exact same move on someone else too. It was unfortunate but Junior should have held his ground and either let the karts come together – no point in letting yourself get pushed off! Both Junior and the other driver who had been persuaded off wanted to see the Clerk about it but nothing had been reported and it was then that we learnt any further action would cost us £110! 😮

Heat three saw the club make the ridiculous decision to put the slower, small Formula Blue grid ahead of the Junior TKMs. I still don’t understand why, it just seems like a stupid thing to do – why on earth would you start slower karts ahead of faster ones??? I asked the Clerk about it afterwards but he said that, having watched the race, he was happy that the JTKMs only caught one FB (conveniently ignoring the fact that the JTKM Dads had held back their drivers so that the Formula Blues had three-quarters of a lap head start!). It was an average heat – we comfortably held off the novices without ever really challenging those in front.

We started sixth for the final; last of the full license holders. It was a really good race. At least the first nine laps were. All bar one of the JTKMs were pretty much in a line. We weren’t falling off the main group but then we caught the Formula Blues(!), the pack got bunched up and we got clipped coming out of the Top Bend – the fastest part of the track. The kart behind stuck his nose up the inside (again) as Junior exited the corner and he got spun, hard into the tyres. He was as angry as I have ever seen him and I cannot really blame him – I bet the adrenalin is flowing when driving at 60mph a couple of inches from the ground and you are on the ragged edge, focusing on pushing the kart that tiny bit harder to make up ground. And he was driving a really good race. The fun didn’t end there though: there was no yellow flag initially as I tried to remove the kart from the corner exit. And when the flag was finally shown, someone ignored it and hit our kart hard. The bumper was bent into the tyre but I thought I had gotten away without any further damage until this evening when I discovered that the new axle is badly bent. I am still hoping the chassis is straight – I have taken some measurements and it looks ok. We visited the Clerk for one final time – nobody had seen us being spun and, although the MSA steward had witnessed the Formula Blue hit our kart under yellows, it wasn’t deemed worthy of any further action. Unless I wanted to part with £110…

So there we have it – I am still amazed at the contact permitted without even a word for the offenders. Is this MSA racing or maybe it’s just what is permitted at Clay? It wouldn’t be permitted in arrive and drive karting and I absolutely thought this would be officiated in a much stricter manner. Any initial perception I had that non-MSA racing would somehow be less ‘safe’ has gone straight out of the window. Where we go from here I am not so sure – Junior wants to complete the season at Clay and the TKM community there are amazing but I am feeling more than a little disenchanted with several aspects of racing at Clay right now. Maybe I just need to get over it – that’s karting, right? But is it??? Being ginger and headstrong doesn’t help either! Putting the camera on the rear of the kart is one option. Racing elsewhere is another…

Cost of day: £15 petrol, £9 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £49 race entry fee, £130 hotel bill

Items purchased since last post: Exhaust flex, wrap – £27

Total spent this year: £1,492

MSA karting license arrives

Junior’s race license arrived last week. The application form had been ready since he passed his ARKS test in May but there seemed to be no rush. We didn’t have a lot of choice given all of the tracks in the area are MSA affiliated but that was fine with me; I think I’d prefer to run under the UK motorsport governing body. Then you start to look at the costs…

  • MSA ‘Go Karting’ Stater Pack: the all-important DVD containing everything you need to know to pass your ARKS test, an application form unobtainable elsewhere, the rule books (which you get another copy of when you receive your license) and a Demon Tweeks catalogue! £50
  • ARKS test: £93
  • Junior license application: free
  • Parent license: £17

I don’t begrudge paying for the service but, on reflection, there is a lot of bloated cost in there. To attract new people into karting the entry costs need to be lower, I think you could charge £20 for this and still make a healthy profit. The ARKS test is what it is and at least at Clay this cost includes a day’s practice. It is nice that the junior license application is free but the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, as they say… I am fundamentally against the parent license concept; I understand it was introduced so that juniors did not get penalised for their parent’s misdemeanors but what better deterrent than to exclude juniors if their parents cannot control themselves? For Dad/lad combos, excluding the Dad is the same thing anyway – Junior’s Mum isn’t bringing him karting! It would be fair to say that I definitely begrudged paying for a license to take Junior karting.

Consider this more of a grumble than a rant 🙂 Here’s hoping we are making the most of the license very soon!