A Sad Farewell to Llandow Kart Club

We’d not attended the final months of the 2016 season at LKC; Our championship was aspirations were finished and, after the TKM Festival, our season ended in October with the Britain’s Finest event at Whilton Mill. LKC were already struggling and their season also came to a premature end through lack of entries. Although the end of season AGM brought about a new committee and (finally) Alpha Timing, the writing was very much on the wall: It would take some turnaround to attract the 50 entries needed to see the club break even. The season would begin with a new slot for the Celtic Challenge, a non-championship event which would then lead into the championship proper. That was the theory at least and, on the back of another disappointing entry, the committee announced last week that LKC would cease to hold meetings after the Celtic. Perhaps holding onto that bombshell for a couple of weeks may have brought a few more to the Celtic, maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference to a club that just seems to have struggled to hold onto drivers from South Wales. The current and previous committees couldn’t really be faulted for trying things to attract people: hosting Super One, offering prizes, reduced entry, free entry, even the amazing (if I say so myself) four heats and a final made no difference to the stagnant entry numbers.

We had practiced on the Saturday and, despite a first session last-lap crash as Junior seemed intent on breaking the lap record, we looked very quick early-on. But we needed a set of inters for the raceday and spent the rest of the day trying to make slicks work! Fortunately we had a nice, dry garage spot and some friends to scrap on track. It was a decent day in weather that could have been a lot worse. Sunday felt very sombre. To stop and look around the place; The familiar faces of the officials, staff and hardcore members stirred what has easily been our best memories of junior karting. It really did feel very sad. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t reaching for the Kleenex but I knew even before we’d raced that I’ll really miss Llandow Kart Club.

There were 20 or so entries merged into three libre classes: cadets, junior and senior two-strokes. As you can imagine, the racecard threatened to turn into quite a rush so there were 5-minute intervals between races (and, event then, it was still a rush!). This was our first TKM Extreme race meeting and our first chance to see how the engines had fared after being converted to Extreme. Conditions in Heat #1 weren’t ideal. Neither was my setup: Having had so much time to prepare in the morning, I noticed on the dummy grid that I had negated to change the rear width from the very narrow setting we were using on slicks, in the wet, on the Saturday! How long have I been doing this!?! The three entrants in our class meant the grid positions would be straight-forward! It was a strong line-up too with our fastest rivals from juniors in 2016. On top of that, they had both switched to TaG for 2017. Today would be *very* interesting…

Junior started on pole but it was clear that we were holding the others up and they three of them were strung out by the finish with us at the back. Heat #2 was better but Junior ended up scrapping his principle rival from last season and they allowed the leader to clear off. Heat #3 was pretty much a case of deja-vu. Pleasingly there was no contact between them (historically, there has been!) and they seemed to enjoy the tussle even if they were missing the point somewhat. I’m sure the leader appreciated the license to bugger off into the distance!

We started in P3 for the final and, finally, conditions were good enough for slicks. We were on our Whilton tyres from October and our rivals on nice, slippery fresh rubber. We would need to make hay while the sun shined. I really am gutted about what happened next: Junior went up the inside as they entered Surtees on the opening lap and the leader tried to hold it around the outside, as had been done on numerous occasions through the day. This time they touched and our rival span. In the final TKM race at Llandow Kart Club and against friends we’d been racing for several years, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to see. The incident seemed pretty innocuous; Things had clearly become tight but I devastated one of them span. Junior was looking pretty quick and he drove away from his remaining rival but there was no celebration. Junior didn’t feel as if he’d done much wrong and, whilst this was clearly going to The Office, I wouldn’t be: the not-so-little-bloke turned 18 on Thursday so I left him to it! Junior kept the race after his rival said he’d leant on Junior a little and not left him enough room. It was a surprising and impressive display of honesty when we were more less over a barrel (the marshal report had us making a ‘late move’ and taking the leader out which was never the case) but I guess their friendship shone through the disappointment. It wiped all the gloss off of the win though: There were no fist pumps, high-fives, not even a smile from Junior. Even now it feels like a loss and, to be honest, I’d have preferred it that way if it meant we could have been treated to a three-way duel for nine minutes plus one lap.

And that was that. Junior is the TKM Extreme Celtic Champion for what it’s worth although, with no further club events, the ‘CC’ plate will never be carried in race action. I really do hope that, against all odds, the club can rise again from the ashes at some point in the future. Maybe the MSA and ABKC can learn something from club’s demise about their inward focus on their own big clubs and national championships. I shan’t hold my breath…

You never know how much you will miss something until it’s gone…

RIP Llandow Kart Club 🙁

A happy return to CPKC

Racing at Clay Pigeon Kart Club’s feature round, the annual Cancer Research weekend, hadn’t previously been a consideration for our season-ending schedule. Having initially ignored the appeals of one of their more enthusiastic members, who had taken it upon himself to drum up the TKM support (which, from my efforts at Llandow, I could empathise with!), it became a lot more appealing as I thought about the amount of time between our last race (the TKM Festival in August) and our next (the TKM Britain’s Finest event at the end of this month). Ten weeks without any seat time wouldn’t put us in the best position to compete at Whilton Mill. With Junior never having raced there, I know that we aren’t likely to compete at the sharp end anyway but you don’t want to be too rusty from a race perspective. Junior was keen so we decided to put in a late entry. In contrast to the Extreme grid, which had attracted some Super One entries, the Junior grid was fairly small comprising mostly of the newer Llandow drivers and a couple of other guest entrants, one of whom had earned a top ten finish at the Festival so I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have it all our own way. We’d also be holding back on our race engine (with 9.5 hours on it and destined for the race day at Whilton before being converted to Extreme) and tyres (our prize slicks from the Festival are also reserved for Whilton). This meant that we’d be taking a punt on the tyres we had used at the Festival and, based on our experiences at Llandow last year, could prove a serious disadvantage. It didn’t really matter though; This was all about keeping Junior race-fit and helping our old club to support a great cause. It was almost exactly three years to the day since making our race debut here and two years since we had left the club for the final time, our spirits crushed once again.

We arrived at the track nice and early to find TKM Corner was a bit of a ghost town! What had once been the life and soul of the paddock was largely empty; The area surrounding the new reception/café/viewing area was now the place to be. That was fine, this was about old times so we pitched up and peered into the fog across the track. Some things never change! By the time the first session arrived, the mist had gone. From the minute he hit the track Junior appeared to be on it!

Welcome back!

Welcome back!

The day went perfectly. The JTKM drivers had been grouped with Mini Max/ Formula Blue and Junior appeared to be the fastest in his group even without our race setup. Perfectly that is right up until the final session of the day when the practice engine seized entering Billies. With us nursing our race engine to Whilton, this was absolutely the last thing we needed to happen. Junior knew this and was leant against the tyres with his head in his hands. I feared the worst but hoped that he had just spun out and was disappointed in himself. That wasn’t the case unfortunately and we wheeled the kart back to the paddock. As soon as I saw the dry spark plug, I knew what I would find when I removed the head and barrel: The piston head was bone dry and the ring clearly pinched at the rear. The barrel was scored but only lightly. The piston had an inch shaving on the rear where it had clearly hit the barrel. Our day was done and, almost certainly, our weekend too. I had paid the race entry fee at the start of the day against my better judgement and it looked like we’d be writing that off. I daren’t risk the race engine in such a small race, so close to rebuild time and with Whilton only weeks away.

We had some very generous offers of engine loans but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them: If you aren’t prepared to risk your own engine, you cannot really take someone else’s! We began to pack up and then one of the dads offered to take an engine to Whilton for us just in case anything happened to our remaining engine. With the race engine having had a bottom end build a few hours ago, I was happy to give it a go knowing that we had a backup plan in case the worst happened at Whilton; It isn’t as if seizing engines is common for us (he said touching lots of wood) and we were here to race after all!

We arrived at Clay on race day to see the track basking in glorious sunshine, something of a contrast to the practice day. Our GoPro failed scrutineering for the first time ever: The scrutineer didn’t like the tether being drilled through the case and wanted me to knock the metal bar out of the hinge and run the tether cable through there. Forget that! We just took it off instead. Ahead of the warm-up, one of our rivals pointed out to Junior that used slicks would cost us around 0.3s around Clay. We knew that, the question was whether we’d be competitive… not only on used slicks but Festival-used slicks. Our experiences last year had suggested this would be a factor. We’d soon find out.

What is this?

What is this?

If things had gone pear-shaped from a tyre perspective at this point, I had a brilliant headline already planned: “What goes on at Kimbolton, stays at Kimbolton”. It wasn’t obvious over the three lap warm-up but Junior was adamant that we’d need to drop a tooth before the first race. There is a small difference between our race and practice engines and, since we hadn’t intended to use the race engine at all over the weekend, we hadn’t done any test sessions on it. Heat #1 would set the tone for the day: We’d either be on the pace or not. Starting on pole was a good thing since it would allow us to properly gauge our pace. Junior got a good start and soon eased clear, helped by our main challengers having a really entertaining tussle for the last half of the race, and we won by a little over 5s. Our tyres were clearly good enough and it would be interesting to see how we fared starting in less optimal grid positions in the following heats. As we were in parc ferme one of my friends, a Tal-Ko henchman no-less 😉 , thought he would point out that it would be my fault if Junior lost today! I’m not one to count my chickens (and, if you’ve read my blog, you’ll understand why) but I could see his point: There was a chance that the biggest risk to our chances would be me (or a mechanical failure, which is still my fault!).

Heat #2 was better still: Starting in 4th, Junior found an inside line through Billies and emerged in the lead. You don’t see that very often! The race proceeded to play out just like the first heat; Junior pulled a 5s lead as his two rivals again duked it out and he had eased things down as he approached the finish. Heat #3 would be the biggest challenge. Starting 7th, Junior just had to make sure he didn’t get caught up in anything and we’d assess the scale of our task once we had the leader in our sights. Again, he got another great start and was second entering The Esses. He whiffed at a couple of moves before taking the lead on lap three, pulled clear and managed the gap to second to take the win.

So far, so good. We would start on pole for the final and everything was looking rosy. Why then was I feeling so much pressure!?! I had checked and double-checked everything, checked the side pod bars, bumper bolts, even inspected the exhaust brackets for cracks! The final looked as if it was ours to lose. Lunch was quite late and our final was at the tail end of the card by which time, the temperature had dropped significantly. The first time that Junior ever had a pole at Clay, he completely messed up the start: Carrying far too much speed in his excitement, running wide and dropping to last. I wouldn’t blame excitement this time (and he blamed my bleeding of his brakes giving him more stopping power than he had expected) but the result was the same: He locked up and had to save the back end. Fortunately it had a knock-on effect on almost everybody else as their corners were compromised and he managed to deny second a passing move on the entrance to The Esses. Once clear, Junior was under instruction to again manage the gap and avoid the bolt-snapping potential of the rumble strip exiting The Esses. He did enough to win by a little under 5s 🙂

So that was that! It wasn’t as close as we thought/I hoped it might have been and, although they went off a little at the end, the tyres held up well all things considering. The trophies for the event were pretty impressive: We’ve never been given a solid wooden storage box for a trophy before and Junior was now the custodian of a second large, perpetual trophy 😀

A trophy that comes with it's own cupboard!

A trophy that comes with it’s own cupboard!

My lasting memory of this weekend will be watching Junior absolutely nail Billies time and time again. This won’t sound impressive to you but I spent countless hours stood in the centre of the track watching Junior taking this corner thousands of times over a year and a half; Entering The Kink too early, running too far across the track, not able to get back to take the right line and having to get on the brakes all too early. He had always been a sitting duck. In the time that we had been away we’d finally stumbled into the brake issue that had hindered Junior for *so* long and it should be no surprise that Junior has improved in his time away from Clay. His woes, our woes, at the track had been in-grained into my mind ever since and, watching him now, really hit home how significantly he has improved (or how poor we had been!).

There was a stark contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home this time and those journeys home in 2014. We’d contested the Cancer Research weekend back then and been awful. It would have been amazing to have had the 2014 grid here: Many of them have moved onwards and upwards and I’d love to have seen how we fared against them. With the Extreme races having been the highlights on the on-track action all through the day, we’ll definitely return for the event in 2017.

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago!

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago almost to the day. Can anyone spot the noob?

Three years on and he's starting to look the part!

Three years on and we’re starting to look the part. I think the helmet, hubs and stubs are all that remain! Fantastic pic courtesy of Steve Wood Kart Photography

The consolation prize

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

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

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

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

Time to get cracking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you spare any change for the swear box?

Given that Junior had unwrapped the new frame on Wednesday evening, it had been a mad rush to get the kart built for the Llandow race weekend. I’d stripped the kart the previous weekend under the cover story that I was embarrassed to look at the old chassis and that I was going to respray it. Junior’s response was to ask if I was going to do it properly this time!?! That’s my boy…

To give me extra time and space (half a cramped garage doesn’t really work that well), I’d even been given permission to use the dining room 😀 so I worked a couple of long evenings and did what I could until I had to take the kart outside before it became too wide to easily leave the house!

I actually got permission to build the kart indoors - I shit you not!

I actually got permission to build the kart indoors – I kid you not!

A late decision to patch the kart seat and drill fresh holes meant we weren’t ready to head for the track until lunchtime but we managed to be late enough to miss the Bristol Rovers v Newport *and* Wales v Italy traffic 🙂

Haven't gone topless in a while...

Haven’t gone topless in a while…

I was pretty confident in my work but history has shown that a newly built kart will lose at least one bolt on its installation lap and so it proved this time (side pod bolt) but Junior came in smiling and exclaimed it was easily the best kart he had ever driven!!! I didn’t tell him that it was easily the most expensive he had ever driven also… The rest of the day went really well, we made a few tweaks and tested used vs new rubber for the race day but Junior looked much more comfortable at the wheel, as if he was having to fight less to get the kart to hit the apexes. It was a good day 🙂

Sunday promised much. Again we had four heats and a final. We had fresh rubber and a new kart and, given the club’s struggles, a grid of seven was very pleasing. For the second month running the karting gods had given us a decent grid draw and heat #1 saw us start in third with the quickest karts in front of us. The odd-numbered half of the grid made their usual better start so Junior got into second but then inexplicably went for a pass on the leader into The Hook. The leader flashed across the front of him and Junior clipped him and span. I don’t know what he was thinking!?! It took some time for his pushers to right him and he ultimately finished well adrift. Luckily for him it happened on the first lap as I had eight minutes to swear at him under my breath before he came in, thereby adhering to my promise never to criticise his driving. He knew he’d screwed up so it wasn’t like it would have achieved anything. Amusingly, one of the pushers/dads had knocked his bumper in on one side when they tried to right him and bumped a kerb so he unclipped the bumper clamp and reseated the bumper before sending Junior on his way… in front of the clerk, bless him! I didn’t see the official result to know if we’d gotten a penalty but what’s another 10s when you are 30s behind?

Pac Man on the data logger!?!

Pac Man on a data logger!?!

Heats 2,3 and 4 were notable for one thing: we took the lead in each race, we were caught and passed by the same driver each time and each time we caught back up and but could not make the move (or, when we did, it did not stick). We made the obvious tweaks between each heat and, by heat 4, didn’t fall away at all but Junior never looked like getting past the winner. We were clearly bang on the pace and possibly a fraction quicker but not in those early laps when we lost out most of all. We decided to gamble on a couple of bigger changes for the final but that is where the day took a big turn for the worse: when the karts came back into view on lap one, Junior wasn’t among them. One of the dads signalled to me that he was off so I ‘abandoned post’ and ran over to find out what had happened. Junior came stomping up the paddock waving his arms like Mr Tickle and I assumed he’d been punted off. It turned out that the fuel tank cap had come off and, despite it being one of the few things that my driver does between races, it was evidently my fault. Worse, he’d bailed out in a stupid place and left the kart for others to clear up. Worse still my new frame was hoisted up onto some tyres!!! And, to cap it all off, everyone assumed I was a numpty for not putting the cap on!!!!!! I wasn’t at all happy. Over the close season, I had promised myself that the days of things coming off were over: my friends can keep their kids on track for a weekend with no dramas and, after our dramas at the final club round last year, I was going to make damned sure we’d be in that boat in 2016. This stung and I wasn’t in the mood to have it pinned on me. I accept that people make mistakes and, since I’d only realised on Thursday that my old fuel tank wasn’t compatible with the new frame, I’d borrowed one from a friend. There’s a chance it was one of those tanks whose lids tighten and then, if you tighten them too far, lose the thread and loosen right off. Of course, I’m well aware of the viewpoint that the mechanic ultimately responsible for absolutely everything…

There wasn’t too much said after that. The car journey was quiet until we were about 5 minutes from home when I said my piece! It is done now. We’ve hopefully both learnt something. We’d otherwise had a good weekend and the kart felt great. We’ll move on so long as nobody mentions fuel caps anytime soon… 😉

Tyres. Again…

I’d mostly finished writing this and only realised that I hadn’t actually posted it when somebody messaged me to tell me that they hoped I hadn’t stopped writing the blog! My apologies folks, especially since we are closer to the next race weekend than the last one but here it is…

It was the start of a new era. All of our closest chums had gone: to Super One and to TKM Extreme 🙁 The loss of the twin-sized awning that I shared with another Dad at Clay Pigeon IKR in November left me with two choices: a heavy duty, compact awning with a £500 price tag or the rental of a garage space at Llandow for a more modest £160. Awning pros: I can use it anywhere, anytime. Awning cons: I’d need a compact awning that aren’t quite as strong as the heavier awnings that carry a 5-year warranty and it would leave me needing to find space in an already packed camping trailer or Clio. Garage pros: Warm. Dry. Sheltered. Enough said!

Our friends have gone :(

Our friends have gone 🙁

It started raining as soon as we hit Cardiff and didn’t stop until we passed Cardiff again on the way home! We arrived to find our spot for the season and then unpacked as quickly as possible. Following our incomplete mission to run-in the practice motor earlier in the week, the first half of the day wasn’t a lot of fun for Junior: not only was it cold, wet and windy but he was having to potter around for the first four sessions at limited power. On a positive note it was the perfect opportunity for him to explore different areas of a very, very wet track to find what grip he could. I didn’t really help him that he was running with our worst inters (he didn’t complain so I didn’t make a big deal of it!) but I was preserving the better sets, particularly as our hitherto new wets had seen duty a couple of times in December. The track itself was very quiet; entries at the club were the lowest I had ever seen, despite the club offering four heats and a final on the Sunday!!! The grid would be a small one but we’d see a hell of a lot more track time than some clubs I could mention… Junior enjoyed himself anyway. An open track on a practice Saturday was a unique experience and we were one of handful of drivers remaining on the track when the weather made a further turn for the worse and we called it a day. Drying the kart was a lengthy process :/

Inters?

Inters?

Race Sunday. The track was still wet and it didn’t look like the new slicks I had bought would be seeing any action. This would be our first races with the new MSA ‘droopy bumper’ fittings in place. With there being no problem with the driving standards at Llandow, I was already not a fan. Since the regulations weren’t kicking in until the March round this was just a testing opportunity to see how we got on with them. The karting gods had been kind to Junior and, starting 5th, 3rd, 1st and 3rd, he had a very kind grid draw. Did I already mention that there were FOUR HEATS? 😉

It wasn’t long before we were back into familiar territory however: with the two quickest drivers from last year having moved to Extreme, we should really have been contesting the win. Our performance on track indicated that was unlikely. Starting 5th, Junior quickly moved up to 3rd position and held 2nd for exactly one corner but we were 0.7s off the pace of the comfortable winner who was on fresh wets. In heat #2 our fate was pretty much confirmed. Junior started on pole but, with both his main rivals now on new tyres, dropped to third within two laps and was 9s adrift by the end of the race. He just didn’t have the grip that he needed and there was very little that I could do about it (I did try!). Significantly, despite no contact in either race (no – I didn’t just take his word for it, yes – I did check the GoPro) his bumper had ‘drooped’ in both heats. I thought I had made an even better job of tightening the clamps after the first heat but clearly not enough. It didn’t help that the brackets did not properly fit our kart so the bumper was only fully seated in half of each bracket. I cursed the ABKC and MSA (again) and, as the new brackets were not mandatory at this round, I took them off: I just didn’t need the distraction.

Heat #3 was a minor highlight. Junior won but only because his rivals failed to complete the race. Heat #4 saw us finish third again and you don’t need me to tell you where we finished the final!

Our day was done. The four heats was nice, would have been better still if we were on the pace. Junior picked up another trophy which was about the only consolation for an otherwise disappointing day. We’d clearly be needing new wets for the next round and some investigation into improving the bumper bracket fitting.

Costs: I need to find some receipts and quickly get this counter running before it’s too late!

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!!!

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

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…

The Maxxis TKM Festival: Simply the best race weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Oli ;)

Copyright Oli 😉

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

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

Total spent this year: £3,770