So, after Hooton Park at the weekend and with our missing the next round at Rowrah, the NKC season for us is already 40% done! I hope to write up a Hooton report at some point but I’m also hoping that the results appear on Alpha Timing at some point so that I can see lap times etc :/ Has NKC been the right move? Yes… mostly… Am I too MSA for non-MSA? I think so in some respects! It is still too early to tell but, since I returned to the blog with the new-found purpose of chronicling the journey into non-MSA racing, here are my current thoughts on what’s good and what’s not-so-good on the greener grass that is NKC…

The Good

  • The People: Although we have only spent five days in the company of the folks on the NKC tour, we’ve seen no animosity towards fellow drivers whatsoever. Drivers do make the odd mistake (after the weekend, we can vouch for that!) but they are quick to ‘fess up, shake hands and move on. TKM was renown for having a strong community and that is still the case to a large extent but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it to be the budget class any more and I think the community has suffered for it. NKC has that old TKM community feeling in abundance. It’s full of people with one goal: to enjoy a weekend’s racing. You probably could spend your way to the top but nobody is arsed enough to bother. Both Junior and I have have made some very good, new friends and, when we actually get some sun, I’m looking forward to some evening beers with the boys. Whilst there is strong competition at the front of the grid, the determination to win at all costs is refreshingly absent. We don’t use the drop-down bumpers at NKC. They just aren’t needed…
  • The competition: If I’m honest, part of me feared we’d be 10s down the road in every race but there is a really strong group of drivers at the head of the grid. I think we have had four or five winners in the opening two rounds. Better still, they get on really well with one another.
  • The organization: NKC is run by a couple of drivers who combine trying to run a race weekend with trying to race a race weekend. It’s an unenviable task; you’ll never please everyone (me) all of the time but the gents do an admirable job. The weekend itself runs as part of the Bambino Kart Club, who have been very welcoming towards a bunch of budget racers with their ‘dodgy’ push start engines 😉 I thought we may be seen as second-class citizens but certainly hasn’t been the case.
  • The tyre: I cannot pretend to sit here typing as it if I really understand how this tyre works best and I cannot tell you what they’ll be like at the final round but I don’t lose any sleep over whether I can stretch a set of slicks to a second race day. This is how TKM should be.
  • The tracks: Ok, so I wasn’t that enamoured with Hooton Park but you cannot really complain about GYG, Lydd, Rowrah, Whilton Mill and Clay Pigeon (even if we won’t be heading to Rowrah on principle of driving seven hours to race a go-kart!).
  • The budget: Some of the drivers have a single set of slicks and a single set of wets. That’s an annual tyre budget of £260 for *the season*. The MSA in me had to buy another set of wets so that we have an intermmediate tyre option and, being new to the grid, we had to buy a set of hard slicks for practice (there really wasn’t any point in practising on the Maxxis tyres!).
  • Live Streaming: The season opener was streamed on Alpha Live. Although they were otherwise engaged for Hooton, it looks likely we’ll be streaming again at Rowrah 🙂

The Not-So-Good

  • The rules: One of the MSA dads I was chatting to at the end of last year was knocking non-MSA racing as the rules ‘change midway through the season’. I’d discounted that; this non-MSA, where the ony red tape attaches your rev counter to your HT lead. The regs were posted in October for all to see but there is a little more to them than first met the eye! My beef is with the ruling on restrictors, it is one of things that will bother few but the need for lead weights has always been a real bugbear of mine. In NKC, you need to declare your restrictor at the start of the race day. The regs state that this can be changed with approval from the CoC so I figured that was just to notify them that your weight would be changing. Um, nope – we found out on race day that you run what you declare with no changes.  Restrictors are considered a tuning aid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m a bit dumbfounded to be honest. After the engine parity, the restrictor system is the class’s greatest selling point. You might argue that I’m still acting like a JTKM dad but bolting stupid amounts of lead onto your seat has always been a big issue for me; our kart is typically ~20% heavier than most others. Sure we could run the restrictor where we’d be at a disadvantage on half of the tracks and anywhere it rained. The restrictor is tried and trusted. Although there has always been what is considered an ‘optimal’ restrictor in Junior TKM, this is Extreme… you could put a poll on the Facebook group and 95% of respondents would tell you that unrestricted is the way to go. Pointless rules are for the CIK/MSA. It almost feels like a ruling made out of fear of the unknown.
  • Tuning aids: Ironically, you are actually allowed tuning aids in the form of torsion bars and caster/camber kits. The deviation from the normal TKM rules was enough of a deterrent for at least one person I was attempting to sell NKC to just because they didn’t want to be buying torsion bars and wasting time testing camber kits. We run the caster/camber kit (great for aligning your wheels in the absence of a jig!) but they have a point – NKC would benefit from being simple TKM with harder tyres and no droppy bumper. Job done.
  • The warm-up lap: You may have seen the amount of time it takes for the grid to join the track on the Whilton live streaming. Let’s just say that it takes a bit of time for us all to get off the dummy grid! We now have two rolling laps (although we needed a third on occassion at Hooton!). I’ll get used to this. Eventually 😉
  • Alpha Timing: I have no idea why (I’m assuming that we pay for a full service) but we only get Live Timing and no results on race day. You get used to being able to analyse sector times minutes after a race on Alpha Timing’s Results service. I’m struggling to get used to not having it…

Despite the negatives, I’ll defer whether or not we are doing the right thing to my driver. After Whilton, he would definitely have moved back to MSA racing had I offered him the chance. After Hooton, I gave him the choice of racing next at Kimbolton or Lydd. He chose Lydd…

NKC Round One!!!

This was a step into the unknown. We really should have been out for a 2018 shakedown weeks earlier. With this very much on my mind, I decided we’d get our running-in done on the Friday so that we could get a feel for the Mitas tyre during Saturday practice. It was nice to arrive to some pleasant weather; there is nothing worse than needing four blokes to hold the awning down whilst you scramble to hammer the pegs into the awning legs. The problems started when the newly rebuilt engine didn’t start. Another problem was that I was in between handheld starters! My trusty starter’s battery had gone beyond the point where it was capable of starting the engine and I was missing the connectors to pair my new, larger starter with my new, more powerful battery. What was left in the old battery was good enough to confirm that we had a spark but I was wary of losing any time with rain due to hit us later in the afternoon and so bolted on the race engine so that Junior could set about evaluating the tyre. We had a decent afternoon on a cold but dry track although we had to take off a few teeth to get the revs down a bit. A few of the NKC drivers turned up later in the afternoon and it was hard not to be struck by the presence of a rather nice motorhome with one of the new 2018 Birrel-Jade chassis stood outside the awning – I wasn’t expecting this at NKC!!!

We stayed at a Travelodge overnight, arousing little interest from the reception staff as we moved in along with clothes, engines, tools and anything else of value! I was able to get the new starter sorted in the evening so Saturday was all about running in the practice motor. It was largely uneventful save for our trailer leaking (again), the Alfano battery dying as we set out for the first session (and Junior having to gauge his revs by his track position relative to someone else who was also running-in) and also some notable pace from a number of our rivals. One of my concerns about joining NKC was how much competition we would face and I had been considering racing on the practice engine but it was clear that we wouldn’t be having this luxury: we’d be rocking the full race trim on the Sunday!

Sunday was a strange day. Timed qualifying saw us a whole second off the pace at one point, eventually finishing third and 0.5s adrift of the pole-sitter. Heat #1 was much more like it: we sat third for most of the race and took the lead in the final minute, finishing with a little in hand over the chasing group. There were five drivers who really stood out in terms of pace and it looked, as they approached the final two minutes, as if it might become a five-way battle for the win. It was a really good race to watch.

NKC 2018 is go!

Heat #2 (aka the pre-final) was the one where things seemed to become a little bit familiar; we had made a few changes to get on top of our high revs and apparent overheating in the tyre but from the start we looked off of the pace. Junior was struggling to hold onto second; he’d maintained position on the previous lap by holding it around the outside of Ashby but, when his rival made the same mood the next time around, he wasn’t quite so generous in his affording us of some space and Junior was shown onto the grass and into the biggest puddle on the circuit. Fortunately for Junior, the cameras only caught the end of it! It was one of those things really; when you try to maintain your position by going around the outside of the corner, you’re always going to need a compliant rival to leave you the space. Either that or you’re going to have to get your elbows out to ensure you’re given the room. Or you head off the track. Part of me was glad that Junior hadn’t turned it into a bashing match and he was unlucky to find himself in a bog that stopped him in his tracks. We weren’t going to complain – I think that we’d both have made the same move against a slower kart who was becoming problematic! Of course we wouldn’t want to be seen to be a soft touch so we’ll note it and move on😉 The marshals got Junior going again and he came home a distant 13th.

Having brought our gearing down through the day I was still baffled by our high revs; we’d been shedding teeth all over the place. It was only in conversation with a good buddy who was racing at Kimbolton that the penny dropped. In fact it dropped more like bomb: the race engine still had the 9-front sprocket on from Buckmore Park in December!!! I felt like an absolute pillock. Everyone makes the odd mistake, me perhaps more than most but this was a real clanger. In my defence, I’d left a note on the motor to warn me that the sprocket needed changing. I’d had the builder leave the sprocket off of the practice motor when it was rebuilt to ensure that it was replaced but, in my rush on Friday to switch the motors over and get Junior out on track for some testing, the note had either slipped off or maybe was back in the engine box at home. With so much other stuff on my mind, the moment was gone. It felt like I should have had plenty of time to change the front sprocket but, with the side pod off and the sprocket spanner in hand, we were called to the dummy grid for the final! I had to just put on the smallest rear sprocket that I had, which turned out to be a 72-tooth. We’d probably still be several teeth over what you might consider optimal but it would have to do…

The first lap of the final was depressingly familiar: As Junior headed into Ashby, the kart in front span of his own accord and rolled backwards down the slope, collecting Junior and pretty much stopping us in our tracks. It was only the huge punt we received from the kart behind us that gave us a glimmer of hope: Junior was able to pinch the fuel pipe to clear the engine and was able to continue although any hopes of catching the leaders had gone. To his credit, Junior drove like a man possessed but it was another of the recovery drives that I have come to admire him for. By the finish he had brought a 15s gap to the leader down to 9s, set the four fastest laps and the only lap of the weekend below 50s but still trailed in 9th. The only small consolation was that we were able to start packing up immediately in a bid to avoid the rain that was clearly on its way.

Getting your head down 🙂

The way things ended took the gloss off of what had otherwise been a really enjoyable weekend. There had been some great competition at the front and, if we can have five karts contesting the podium every round, it’s going to be a thrill to watch. Although I already knew a couple of the drivers, both Junior and I had made new friends with Junior getting on particularly well with a couple of the MSA drivers that we’d been battling over the course of the day. The day had had a very different, almost chilled feeling to what I had become used to on the MSA tour, it felt as if people were just there to enjoy themselves (even if there had been some hard racing at the front at times) and there had really only been minimal contact throughout the day. The tyre was nowhere near as bad as we (and many of the other MSA dads) had feared; it was a tyre that you could really attack on. The scrutineering was as thorough as anything I had encountered, including at the TKM Festival. The NKC organiser had performed an admirable job considering the stress of running a fledgling series whilst also trying to enjoy his own race weekend and I’d been really impressed with the BKC officials and their handling of us (as a new and very mixed ability grid).

Junior was a bit disappointed in the car on the way home. To him, we’d had issues and finished down the pack just like so many other times on our MSA travels. In some ways I shared those feelings. Our gearing issue was a bad mistake and it will be interesting to see how we fare at Hooton in a few weeks with what will hopefully be a more optimal setup. I still believe that the harder tyre is the way to go for the budget class and that this is right thing for us to be doing at this time. Feel free to join us 🙂

Onwards and upwards?

Going in undercooked

It’s been a while since we last hit the track. In fact, Junior has sat in the kart exactly twice since our disastrous TKM Festival in August. The plan had been to get out and test the new tyre in plenty of time for the NKC season opener at Whilton Mill this weekend but the weather and Junior’s need to give his boss two week’s notice for any time off of his weekend job (which, considering he’s on a zero hours contract, seems a little ironic) wiped out our chances of getting in some seat time. Not the ideal planning for our venture into non-MSA racing or the harder tyre that will likely take some getting used to. And then there is the engine to run-in. How would you like your steak, Sir? I’ll have mine undercooked!

Personally, I’ve been itching to get back to the track for a month now. Buckmore aside, I’ve had a lengthy spell away but I’ve done all the prep work: new axle, new nuts/bolts/washers, new steering wheel, new bearings, new pipework, new nassau and spent a small fortune on the necessities that will ensure ensure that we can stand on our own two (four?) feet without our friends to rely upon for things like lighting – ’tis true, I’ve never owned lights or a power source! In my defence, we didn’t really ever stay over at the track until last season (ok, that’s not much of a defence).

I still have no idea what to expect from this season; a season without my buddies, whether we will be too ‘MSA’ for the NKC, whether Junior will enjoy the harder tyre that I’ve always craved, what it will be like touring the country with the Bambino Kart Club. I’ve high hopes of low-stress, highly enjoyable weekends. It has to be better than last year, surely!?!

And now for something completely different…

It’s been a miserable year. After Llandow we went through the season without once finishing all three heats and the final. The ‘combative’ racing style (read: I just wish that sometimes he could give up the corner!) Junior had shown in JTKM wasn’t working in Extreme. His was always a battle for the apex and, once he was there, he believed that he had to be afforded room. But, where that might previously have got that in JTKM, he was now being shown short shrift. I’d always been a little worried about Extreme; it looked a lot rougher from what I saw of it from the sidelines in 2016 and the amount of contact only seemed to increase in 2017. A friend had pointed out to me in our final JTKM race that this would be an issue in Extreme… his words haunted me for most of the season!

There were highlights: Buckmore Park, where we showed fantastic pace, was simply awesome and our new favourite track. We threatened at the Super One practice round at Clay before things went south and also looked strong contenders to land the Festival Cup. With the Super One scheduling killing off the chances of grids at the South West Champs at Dunkeswell and the Cancer Research Meeting at Clay Pigeon our season came to a typically premature at the TKM Festival. Having set out with only one goal: to keep our noses clean and finish all the races, it was a meeting that changed everything. Caught up in somebody else’s accident in Heat #1. Barely getting the kart fixed in time (we’ll ignore the extent of the damage!) for a subdued second heat. Condemned to the Festival Cup after getting punted off at Turn #2 in Heat #3… it truly was our all-time low. And, if you’ve read this blog, you’ll know that is saying something!

But suddenly Junior earned the chance to salvage something from the weekend, driving his b******s off to climb from 18th to 3rd in the Festival Cup pre-final and we started on the front row of the televised final (pole-sitter had a mechanical). I would have put money on us clinching back-to-back Festival Cups and yet, five seconds into the final, we were out. Out of the Festival. Out of goodwill. Out of MSA racing. You can see what is very likely to be our final MSA race on the TDI Media coverage. I haven’t watched more than the first 90 seconds of it and didn’t see any of the remaining finals such was our haste to get away from the track. “When the fun stops, stop” is the message on all the gambling sites these days. We’d had such little fun over the course of the year that it was time for us to stop.

Strong pace at Buckmore Park was about as good as it got

But this was typical of our season… being hit by four karts during/after getting spun around in The Esses and hoping the rest of the grid missed us (they didn’t)

I didn’t touch the kart for two months. It was surprising really… with karting having dominated my life for four years, my enthusiasm for the sport had totally vanished. So what has changed? Well dragging myself to Clay Pigeon for a practice with some of our closest friends was a good start. Playing with the non-MSA Rotax drivers can be a bit heart-in-mouth at times but Junior enjoyed himself. Whilst we never left Kimbolton thinking that was our last time in the kart, something had to change; enjoyment had to come first so we’ve decided to move to non-MSA racing. The National Kart Cup was an option last year but the timing wasn’t right and I had to give the Southern Tour a chance. That failed mostly because of clashes with the Super One schedule; planned rounds at Forest, Dunks and Clay all went the way of the dodo as, quite literally, did Llandow Kart Club. 2018 will be all about rediscovering the fun element of karting. With Clay Pigeon’s IKR series at its heart, there is much that appeals about NKC: it shares much of how I think a budget class should operate and mandates a single set of harder-compound slicks to last all six rounds. If we can make do with a single set of wets, our tyre budget for the season will be £260!!! With Glan-Y-Gors, Whilton Mill and Rowrah all featuring in the new and improved NKC for 2018, I think it will appeal to the more casual MSA racer and I find myself really looking forward to the series (although I have to be honest, the chances of us going to Rowrah are slim to zero – I’m just not up for 6-hour drives to a track, no matter how impressive the track looks!) . There are negatives: it’s likely we’ll be leaving all of our friends behind, I don’t really know how competitive the series will be and it’s taken on a little bit of a northern focus (I’d be perfectly happy never to venture north of Birmingham for karting!) but this is the right option for us at the right time. I firmly believe the series will go from strength to strength. As far as TKM goes, I don’t think it will be too many seasons before non-MSA racing is the major player after Super One and, perhaps, Shenington/Kimbolton (unless of course, the MSA/ABKC make a grab for IKR grids at some point).

So why have I dusted off the blog? Where the original intention was to help noobs find their way in the sport, the blog as I see it will have a new purpose: to document our switch from MSA to non-MSA racing – what’s good, what’s not-so-good, the costs/savings, the competition and, most importantly, the fun (hopefully). If you really want to share the experience, you can register at https://kartcup.co.uk 😀