A mixed weekend at Llandow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total spent this year: £2,690

Coming of age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total spent this year: £2,570

Senior Prokart at Clay Pigeon IKR

Not Junior obviously! Since going down the owner/driver route my track time has dropped down to a couple of outings per year. I’d driven the JTKM at Clay’s IKR in a parent’s race last year and done ‘ok’. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy not feeling in control of the kart at any point during the day! I’d also driven the corporate karts at Clay and been pretty damn quick if I say so myself 😉 Senior Prokart seemed like the perfect compromise so I bagged myself a rental kart and took the plunge.

I struggled to cope with the fairly hard tyres in practice although the kart felt good and the engines seemed to be strong based on my catching people down the straight. My Hairpin and Top Bend were letting me down a bit but a qualified in 8th of 12. Then things started to go south: in Race #1, I got hung out on the outside of the entry to The Esses and panicked, hitting the brakes and spinning (the reality is that the person I thought was hanging me out had actually conceded the corner to me!). I got going again but felt a loss of power a lap or so later. It felt like I was running on a single engine but, when I pitted, both engines were running. The problem was identified a throttle cable issue and duly rectified. At least that was what we thought. I new as soon as I left the pits for the pre-final that I was in the same boat and I was dropping away as soon as the karts sped up to begin the race 🙁 I was pretty peeved at this point and was thinking that I should have entered a pay as you drive arrangement! 😉

The problem was fixed for the final. I began in last and made a decent start. I think I gained a good number of places at Billies as there was some contact which I was able to drive around the outside of. Then the two karts in front of me decided to quite literally try to run one another off the track!?! I ‘d never seen anything like it. The Super One clerk would have had a fit!!! I passed them as they messed around although I think that may have made them wake up to themselves and focus on the race. They soon passed me and I lost another place before I settled into my rhythm and tried to catch some people. I wouldn’t say that I was at ease with the kart but it certainly pulled well out of the corners. I made a few nice moves slipstreaming down the straight, pulling out around The Kink and then parking it on the apex at Billies to prevent the cutback to bring it home in a repsectable 7th place. It was an awful lot of fun 😀

It was another good day at Clay IKR. The atmosphere is something I’ve enjoyed on both visits. Although I can’t see Junior switching from MSA anytime soon, I’d definitely do it again although I have my eye on an endurance event for next time.

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid

“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid”

Competitive finally!!! Crashing back to earth literally…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

44929

My new favourite number: 44.929 😀

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

Total spent this year: £1,961

Leading a race! Albeit briefly…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuck in a rut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total spent this year: £891

Christmas Karting 2014

After the success of last year’s Christmas Karting, we had planned to make the parents versus juniors contest an annual thing. Teamsport Bristol hadn’t really done their bit by not running a family and friends event for members this year but they offered us something much more tempting: Our own race event! Things snowballed from there really: Ten drivers in 2013 became thirty seven in 2014!!! We had drivers from TKM and Rotax, Clay and Llandow, even a Super One driver 🙂 Ok, having to collect all of the deposits and balances was a royal pain in the arse but it was building up to be something special.

So eleven juniors, five seniors, fourteen parents, four siblings and three mates descended onto Teamsport for a night which promised much. We had drawn three groups and each would have 10 mins practice, 2×10 minute heats and a 15 minute semi-final before the groups came together for 15 minute A, B and C Finals. Not bad for £35, huh? 🙂

The track was a lot quicker than it was when Junior and I were regulars, so much so that I bettered my PB in the practice (without getting too big headed I wasn’t a slouch before!). I was quietly confident that the track record (set only the night before by one of the staff) was in danger 😀

The races themselves were pretty rough, three abreast coming down the ramp never ends nicely! The two heats were run youngest > oldest and then oldest > youngest. Heat 1 for me wasn’t good; spun on the first lap and again a few laps later, I struck it lucky when half the field piled up underneath the bridge leaving a little under a kart’s width that pushed my way through, at walking pace under the yellow flags of course 😉 and came away with a decent 4th place. Heat 2 definitely wasn’t one for the purist, I got to the front and defended for ten laps with a queue of juniors behind me. It was enough to put me alongside Junior on the front row for our semi-final 😀 I had a decent kart in the semi and Junior was definitely struggling with this – I tailed him around as we pulled clear although I turned down the couple of half chances that came my way as I knew that Junior would just as soon bin us both than see me past him and my eyes were set on the A Final! After Junior almost got taken out lapping a back marker who definitely wasn’t going to get out of the way, I bided my time and brought it home in second.

I qualified in fifth for the A Final, courtesy of being slower in the semi than the other two semi final runner ups but was the lead adult and right in the junior mix. I got a decent start but juniors these days don’t really have much respect!!! I was being nudged all over the place so reverted to defensive mode to at least let Junior clear off to fight for the win. Once one barged me out of the way, a few more followed suit and I was in seventh before getting spun around. Things got worse as I then made a move on someone who just seemed to understeer into the tyres and took me with him. Still, I think I put up a reasonable fight even if I finished a lap down. Junior finished runner-up to the lightest of the drivers who won all his races on the night. Collectively we destroyed the fastest lap leaderboard too, with seven drivers bettering the former record. It was a lot of fun and only another eleven months until our next visit 😉

Race 16: When you pick the wrong tyres…

Our final outing of the season took place at Llandow at the weekend. It was a very strange one weather-wise and nothing like the mild 12 degrees sunshine that the Met Office had promised us. I had opted for a warm setup on the back of our experience last month, where we were setup for changeable conditions that never came on what turned out to be a fairly grippy track. I also opted not to cover the kart on the trailer for the journey across the bridge as untangling the cargo net can take an age and I’d covered the kart unnecessarily for the past couple of months. Driving through the early morning mist and seeing how wet the kart was in the rear view mirror, I was already irritated by the time we arrived and the brake disc was already rusted! We arrived early as I wanted to get the chassis checked before getting the front bar welded in during the post-season. It was one of those things where I was in two minds whether to do it before or after the weekend but we were at the track and I wasn’t sure that Nigel would be wanting to do it after racing on the Sunday. Pleasingly, it was straight anyway.

Junior getting unusually artistic with the camera!

Junior getting unusually artistic with the camera!

I had assumed that the sun would burn through the mist quite quickly but it never really happened: the first couple of sessions were definitely wet and Junior enjoyed overtaking people he wouldn’t normally overtake, albeit with them treading their way around on cold slicks! The third session was more questionable and we went for slicks, not because I really cared whether or not it was the optimal choice but I wanted Junior to get a feel for the trickier conditions. This went badly: Junior really struggled and I just knew that, when he indicated that he was coming in, there was no mechanical issue – I almost waved him on but didn’t in case there really was a problem. There wasn’t and I was annoyed! There was clearly a large gap between his pace on the wrong tyre and those of his more experienced rivals but when was he planning to make a start on bridging this gap – midway through a final when it suddenly started raining??? I should have sent him back out but didn’t, instead making him watch the others to see how they still attacked the corners and made the most of the grip that was available. The conditions continued to affect our practice through the day; although the track had dried, the mist lingered, the track was cold and we really struggled to get the tyres up to temperature. We had another disagreement when Junior decided he’d had enough of my telling him where he was losing time. At that point I really just wanted to be somewhere other than at the track, away from some ungrateful kid that didn’t seem to appreciate how much time and effort I put into trying to make him drive around in circles that fraction quicker. I went for a walk but there isn’t really anywhere to walk in a place as remote as Llandow. Even the cars on the circuit next door were on their lunch break! I went back on got on with it.

It wasn’t until we hit 15psi (I’d never before exceeded 12psi) that there was any real sign of wear and, of course, we had to get off of the warm setup! At that point, our pace was looking ok; it was clear from last month that there was a fair chunk of time to be found from some of the lines that Junior was taking and he seemed to adopt a conciliatory approach in looking like he was actually making an effort (as opposed to disappearing with his mates between sessions). He did show some improvement. Our straight line speed looked quite good but we just didn’t seem to be getting the power down early enough when exiting onto the straight. I’ve often wondered whether Junior is just trying too hard: taking too much speed into the corner, forcing him to enter early and compromising his exit speed. With regards to this particular corner though, his heavy crash into the barriers back in August may have been/may still be inhibiting him. After our earlier disagreements, it was a positive end to the day.

Race day came and although we were at the track by 8am, I still found myself rushing to get the kart ready for scrutineering (note to self: remove the sprocket protector after practice to make aligning the chain with the race engine that bit quicker!). The track was damp first thing but, by the time we got to the warm-up, it was clearly a track for slick tyres. After our back-to-back 2-6-6 draws, it was very nice to be drawn 3-5-7 😉 I had passed on my instructions (the amount of time and money I put into this ‘hobby’ of ours, I expect the right to say what I think and for him to listen to it, whether or not he chooses to take any notice) and, in this case, he ignored it: gifting away the inside line as he sought a wider entrance in the hairpin and getting passed by the bloke in fifth. This allowed the second placed kart an easy move to cement his position and we started the race in earnest in fourth place. We gradually fell back through the field with Junior complaining of massive understeer. This is where my inexperience was becoming a factor – we’ve not really had to contend with unpredictable conditions until Clay the previous weekend, where we had performed similarly poorly. I brought the front end in and moved the back out, the thinking being that we had too much rear grip and it was pushing the front end on. Our tyres pressures, not as high as they were on Saturday but still higher than I’d normally have been racing on, could well have been a factor.

Heat #2 was disappointing: The first eight karts were separated by 2.5s and we lead home the final three some 6s adrift and 0.7s off of the pace. This time the problem was power – we had none, apparently. Anywhere. I checked the carb, which was fine and I was left scratching my head. It wasn’t just Junior struggling – I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I’d normally have phoned a friend at this point to talk through the symptoms only, this week, he was next door racing us!!!

I changed the engine for Heat #3; we had been running fairly well towards the end of the Saturday on the ‘practice’ engine and, with little to lose, I wanted to see if there was really a performance problem. If I am going to take a punt, I find the third heat to be the perfect time as you can revert to your former setup over lunch. The race saw a fairly well strung out field and us in a close battle for sixth with a couple of karts that were quicker than us. Junior was clearly harder to pass and only lost sixth place on the line. Although he had had a decent tussle, the people we were fighting with were 0.5s quicker and we were now a full second off of the pace!

So onto the final: I was considering what changes to make over lunch and, as we had been slower in Heat #3, the race engine was back on. With the times coming down, I was considering changing the axle to lose some grip but then the rain came. The first three finals saw the grids all opt for wets but it hadn’t rained since lunch and didn’t look like it was going to rain any further. This really would be a close call. With two laps of the other class final remaining and everyone waiting on the dummy grid, nobody had any wheels on. At Clay, I’d have been glued to the Alpha Timing screen that faces out of the office window at this point, glued to the lap times for clues. Unfortunately, Llandow doesn’t have a screen in the office window and I’ve banged the Alpha Timing drum before now. From what I have seen at Clay and Llandow, it’s simply miles better than MyLaps. I will have to do my own timing in future but the track still looked damp, in contrast to how it had looked when it really was drying on the Saturday, and Junior had shown a preference for an inter tyre in similar conditions only the day before. Someone behind us blinked first and went with inters, my mind was already made up – we were off the pace anyway and had little to lose (other than our third choice wets) – and we fitted inters as the rest of the grid went with slicks. I was quite pleased with this as it meant that, if the gamble worked, we’d have a real chance. Having only ever having had to toss the coin once before, in our very first face thirteen months ago, I had a 100% record with my tyre punts. Until now! The race started and I knew almost immediately that this was going to backfire; the speed that the leaders carried into The Hook proved beyond doubt that this was absolutely not a slippery track :/ Being ‘guided’ off onto the grass moments later didn’t help our cause although it proved to be the only opportunity we’d have to get any moisture into the tyres! We fell further away from the main pack, leading the back three but losing two seconds per lap. The leader’s times were insanely quick – the track seemed faster than it had been all weekend. Junior held off the challenge of the only other runner on inters but that was little consolation although at least he could see the funny side when he came in. Speaking to the other Dads after it appeared that it really had been a very close call but we were one of only two who had gotten it so badly wrong :S It was another learning experience and my only regret was that I had upgraded our ‘worst’ inters the previous week!

Oops!

Oops!

It was a strange weekend – I don’t normally fall out with Junior (although we bicker like a couple of old women) and, although Saturday ended well enough, I was still a little peeved. Sunday had again shown up a lack of race pace but whereas the previous week at Clay I had been convinced that it was Junior’s lines and/or him trying too hard that was the main issue, this week I was looking a little closer to home – it had shown up my lack of real understanding of how to deal with grip (both the lack of and when to lose it). Could this have been the reason that Junior was again struggling?

So our season is over and I am looking forward to six weeks off. Karting really does dominate my personal time so it will be nice to take a bit of a break. I will be working to get a better understanding on the grip issue though: longer/shorter axles, axle types and front versus rear widths as I was struggling at times – it certainly wasn’t my finest hour. I don’t get that much in the way of detailed feedback from my driver but it could also be that I am not asking the right questions. It would be one thing for Junior to be taking his time to get the track right but it would bother me a lot if I were impeding his progress so I will be spending a fair amount of time researching and my good friends can expect a question or twelve in the not-too-distant future 😉 I’ll also be spending a little money on our chassis: I was unsure whether or not to spend any money on a £25, four year old chassis but I don’t like it looking tatty. I’ll be glad to get the front bar welded in as it is a nagging doubt in my mind as to whether Junior has suffered for my not getting it done sooner and then I plan to have it blasted and powder coated. In the New Year, we’ll get everything together and look to get a few practice days in, perhaps even some coaching! 😮

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £26 petrol, £13 fuel, £34 – jig check, bead retainers, throttle spring

Total spent this year: £4,375

 

Race 15: Thanks and farewall Clay!

It was nice to be heading back to Clay on Sunday. We hadn’t expected to be back racing there so soon having made the decision to switch to Llandow but it felt good to going to the place that still feels like home, blasting what has become our ritual DiRT 2 soundtrack as we headed through Somerset to spend the day with the extended TKM family. The final round was set up nicely with seven points separating the top three drivers and our aim was to be competitive without tripping any of the contenders over!

We hadn’t participated in the practice Saturday partly because that wasn’t part of the deal when I offered Junior the chance to compete here instead of going to the TKM day at Whilton Mill but, more significantly, Mrs KartingDad had committed me to some time with the girls! The kart had been set up well in advance, however, and so prep work and scrutineering passed without issue. The forecast for the day had been varied through the week but it was a beautiful autumn morning at the track; just as well since we needed to scrub in new slicks (although we were hoping for some precipitation just to mix things up a little). Our draw wasn’t the greatest; 4-2-7 for the three heats but Junior had been starting fairly well of late, both at Clay and Llandow. Having said that, we had a stinker of a start in Heat #1, Junior was last after two corners and I was relieved to see the false start flag waved (there was a tramlines clampdown in progress at Clay). Unfortunately, things panned out in similar fashion on the restart! The front two in the championship both span in The Esses but it impeded us and another kart and meant that Junior was driving around on his own in 5th place for the first half of the race before he was caught by the other impeded kart and the two diced the last half of the race. It was clear then that our pace wasn’t great – Junior was really struggling with the back end on the still damp track but it was the best racing that he had all day and he made a nice move around the outside of The Horseshoe on the final lap to seal 5th. For the first time ever, we were even the quickest in one of the sectors 😀

Heat #2 was worse still: Junior started second and got a reasonable start but was on the receiving end of a lunge into The Esses, had to brake hard and was hit by another kart, spinning him around. He was a distant last although he didn’t suffer the ignominy of being lapped and was able to ease a little with a view to tyre preservation.

Heat #3 was something of an eye-opener as we were so slow down the straight on lap two that half the field passed us (and the driver who had tucked in behind us had to watch everybody else go by!). I assumed that our gearing was out (when preparing the kart in the week, I had discovered that our usual Clay sprocket was damaged and opted to go up a tooth rather than buy a sprocket that I would likely never use again). Junior thought he had made a mistake getting out of the Top Bend so that might have been the cause but no matter: we came in last of the finishers. At this point, I was just wishing the rest of the day to pass quickly. We were struggling much the same as we had been on our last couple of visits, if not more so, with around six tenths to find with the front runners. Junior was complaining about rear end grip and the track, after some heavy rain on the Saturday, was proving tricky for many people although the times were clearly there – we just weren’t able to get it right.

I didn’t change much for the final as I hadn’t really changed much over the day – just the rear width in an attempt to find some more grip and another small tweak to the tyre pressures, although I did go down a tooth, borrowing a smaller sprocket from one of the other dads rather than buying one for 10 minutes use 😉 Our start was ok but Junior tagged and span someone in the middle of The Esses 🙁 He hadn’t made contact with anyone for ages and I hate it when it does happen, accidental though it was. Junior claimed their back end was going and he couldn’t avoid it – whatever, the end result was the same. Fortunately for us it was deemed a racing incident and not called in by the race observer. We were some seven seconds adrift at the end of the 18 laps, ahead of another driver who had got caught up in our incident and the driver who we span but who caught and passed us before getting a mechanical for his bumper hanging off (he says whistling and looking at the sky 😉 ).

As for the championship, there was something like four points separating three drivers after Heat #2 but one of the contenders had a carb issue on the rolling lap for Heat #3 and it had to be me that reached him first and pushed him most of the way through Sector 1!!! As it turned out, his kart wouldn’t have started even if I had been pushing him with a truck 🙁 The final was still very close and the table did change a couple of times mid-race but the end result was decisive.

So congratulations to a worthy winner (I missed the emotional dad moment) and commiserations to those who came so close.  It was fun racing at Clay in our first full season; the TKM community there is top notch. The season at Clay has been a real roller coaster from the start; doubting whether we’d get a grid (the boys from Llandow saved the grid by turning up at Round #1 and staying for the entire season), finishing third whilst still on novice plates, getting black flagged for, well, let’s just leave it there, then thinking we were getting there before ultimately finding that we weren’t. Both Junior and I have a shedload of new friends on Facebook and I enjoyed sharing all of Junior’s moves with the friendly marshal on my pushing post at The Hairpin 🙂 With the same reflective atmosphere in the car on the way home, now is the absolutely the right time to be moving on. I was really glad we had taken part in the final round and to race with some good friends for very likely the last time (you know that’s not the end though, folks – we still have Christmas Karting at TeamSport to come!) but we were further off now than we had been for quite a few months. I spent a lot of time that evening wondering if I could have done anything to improve the kart? Ride height? Width? Tyre pressures? Should I have gotten the front bar welded in by now? I had opted not to as I thought it might have been wet by now. We’d also snapped an engine head bolt and, although that wouldn’t have attributed to Junior’s biggest gripe (lack of grip), perhaps that might have impacted our pace a touch. I will regret us never really cracking the track when it looked, mid-season, as though we were really making progress. Perhaps it was too much to hope Junior would be band on the pace but I couldn’t help but think there was still a decent chunk of time left in the driver. You could argue that we hadn’t really gotten in enough seat time, having not practiced at Clay since August and only at Llandow on the race weekend Saturdays. I do need to try to fund some more practice time over the winter so that we don’t suffer similarly at Llandow next season. I had always dismissed the notion of coaching, believing that was diverting funds better spent on things like tyres, but it’s something I’d seriously consider now. We’ll see out the final round at Llandow this weekend and then pack up for the year. If you are interested in a decent pit space at Clay for next year, now is the time to get in touch with the club – tell them I sent you 😉

Cost of weekend: £50 race entry, £12 petrol, £8 fuel, £6 engine head bolt

Total spent this year: £4,206

 

 

Race 13: Bouncing back from last weekend

Arriving back in the country from a work trip on Saturday morning wasn’t ideal preparation for the Llandow race weekend but knowing we’d miss the practice Saturday had allowed us to race at Clay last week. It also gave me the luxury of Saturday afternoon setting up and, as an added and very unusual bonus, I had a great night’s sleep! 🙂

We were set up in good time and nothing eventful happened on the warm-up laps (although the club did decide to build a new plastic wall on the outside of one of the corners immediately before our first heat!). We had a pretty poor draw for the three heats – a second place start, followed by two sixth placed starts (I’ve no idea how the draw is done but a) you should never start in the same place twice and b) you should always have at least one start in an odd-numbered grid position so that you benefit from the inside line to the hairpin), so Heat #1 was always going to be our best chance of a decent result. We had a good start and, importantly, did not lose any places around Raymonds. The leader was easily quicker than us and, although we had a buffer between us and the other quick lads for a few laps, they were soon on our tail. The championship leader made his move into Chandlers, we ran a little wide and quickly lost third as fourth pounced into the next corner. As the front three cleared off, fifth set about catching us and teed themselves up for a move into the final corner of the race. Junior got the cutback and the two of them were bouncing up and down in their seats desperately trying to get the kart to pick up as they crossed the line together with Junior getting the nod by 1/1000th!!! We also set a new PB in the process 😀 On the downside, Junior just wasn’t listening to my solid race advice 😉 and was taking the entry into Surtees much narrower and earlier than everyone else. We had spoken about this on the way to the track as it was clearly an issue last month and, as it was beginning to annoy me, we had words!

Heat #2 was our disappointing race – I had made some changes to address a couple of the issues that Junior had reported but we were punted all the way up the start straight (much to Junior’s annoyance) and managed only one lap before Junior pulled over, with fuel all over himself and the kart. You don’t need to ask who I entrusted with replacing the fuel tank cap after he had topped up the fuel, do you? :/ To lose the test opportunity was disappointing and threw our plans to again compare the engines into disarray. And, on his one and only lap, he was narrow again into Surtees!

Heat #3 saw us start sixth again. I don’t really remember this one at all, although we again set a new PB 🙂 By this time the leaders were throwing in some seriously quick times and I think the speed of the track was accentuating our deficit as, despite us continuing to get quicker, we were 0.8s off the pace. With us setting quicker times and Junior’s lines still off in places (still no improvement into Surtees), I decided against swapping engines. I did, however, drag Junior onto track for another review of Surtees (in case you get the impression we are always arguing, it is very rare for me to criticise his driving – knocking his confidence isn’t going to do much for anyone) and I also phoned a friend for some track setup advice (thanks, mate!) – there had to be more to it than just our lines causing us to be that far off the pace.

So, with a new setup and firm instructions on the entry to Surtess freshly banged into Junior’s head, we started in sixth for the final. We got a good start and, amazingly, Junior proved that he could actually follow instructions!!! We looked quicker and were a bit closer but clearly not quick enough for the first five. I think this was just a true reflection of where we are in terms of our pace at Llandow. We were clear of the 7th and 8th, Junior knocked another two tenths off of his PB and we were down to 0.5s off the pace.

The Club had again arranged a reverse grid bonus race for the end of the day. It’s optional, costs a fiver and raises a bit more money for the club. It isn’t that well supported (half of the JTKM grid had entered and, in some classes, there is no bonus race) but it gave us another opportunity to test setup tweaks and, as last month, we started in pole. Whether or not that is a good thing, I’m not sure but Junior enjoys it! We were going really well, with Junior leading the first two laps until we were cursed by the commentator :S Just as he was saying how well Junior was doing, he ran wide and let them all past! “Oh well, it was good while it lasted” I think was the next thing I heard on the tannoy!!! The track was cooling a little by this time but, although the leaders pace was a little slower, we continued to trim our PB and stayed in touch for the whole race.

The day was a good one, we’d raced against some new juniors, including our first experience against a Super 1 driver, set PBs every time we went on track and closed the gap down to about 0.3s over the day. It was great to see Junior having fun again and it was the perfect confidence booster for him. It’s funny how much lighter the mood in the car is on the way home after you’ve both had an enjoyable day. Five races for £60 was good value for money although it’s a real shame that the number of entries was only around 45 – you do fear for a club with numbers that low. I think the problem is that there is no really good sized classes, unlike Clay, where several are 20+ in size. We’ll certainly be back next month.

Standard view for a Sunday morning :)

Standard view for a Sunday morning 🙂

Cost of weekend: £55 race entry + £5 bonus race, £12 petrol, £6 bridge tolls, £7 fuel

Total spent this year: £3,658