Farewell to JTKM

Saturday had all the hallmarks of a tough day: The 5am start was sub-optimal but learning a new and tricky track was always going to be the real challenge for Junior. This would be where his relative inexperience (both in terms of seat time and experience of different tracks) compared to a lot of his national rivals would potentially be exposed. His task wouldn’t really be helped by our need to use our newly Extreme’d practice engine since we wouldn’t truly know where we were pace-wise until we switched to our sole remaining junior engine and our race setup. We spent the first session running-in the engine which had already spent time on a dyno. Junior spent the second mostly drifting back through the pack and, at somewhere like Whilton Mill, this meant spending most of his time being forced off of the racing line as karts passed before he could get back onto the line. He was also having a confidence issue with Oblivion, an aptly named corner with a very welcoming tyre wall should you get it wrong, and it was only in the afternoon that he was confident enough (with some stern prodding from his mates!) to take it flat-out. Having a couple of sessions ended prematurely by being punted off didn’t really help and we were some way off throughout the day. We did bring the gap down to ~0.4s in the final session running our race trim, which was quite encouraging all things considering, but we were clearly going to be off of the pace on race day. To top it all off, I’d caught some October sun[burn]. Again…

This is *not* the right line to be on :/

This is *not* the right line to be on!

We had a rare hotel stay booked for Saturday night so we had plenty of time to prepare the kart after practice with the added bonus of no 50+ mile trip home and associated early Sunday morning start. We even had the comparative luxury of a Premier Inn 🙂 Best of all though was that eight dads/drivers were joining us for some cow at the Beefeater next door. It was a really enjoyable evening, as these things tend to be, even if it did double the cost of the stay. There was plenty of good TKM gossip to be had also 😉

Race day. It is said that what you get with one hand, they take with the other and that was certainly the case with our grid draw: The karting gods had given us a good starting positions, just not in the ideal order for a Whilton Mill virgin. Junior would start the first heat in P2. This would be his hardest race; His lines had been inconsistent on the Saturday and it would be a case of seeing how many places we would lose. It was hard to know what a good result would be and I really feared the ‘lost 15 places’ scenario, which would be a real blow to Junior’s confidence. As it turned out my fears were unfounded 😀 Junior got the perfect start (crossing the line 0.02s ahead of pole), held the outside line around the first part of Oblivion which gave him the inside run through Turn #2 and onto the run up the hill. Junior held a five or six-length lead entering Christmas Corner and, aided by most of the national racers having lower gird position starts, he was able to pull a lead which he maintained until the fifth lap when he was caught, forced wide and passed by two karts. He tussled for second at one point but his move didn’t work out and almost sucked him back into the chasing pack. He hung on though for a fantastic third placed finish. His pace was good too: He was only a couple of tenths off of most of his rivals so a great result and a real confidence-booster. It was funny how the brakes, that had only been so-so throughout practice, were now spot-on 😉

I had never seen a start quite like that of the second heat: There was so much weaving around as the pack entered Oblivion. Junior was in the thick of things and had made up seven places by the end of the first lap 🙂 He had climbed to P12 by the end of lap three but there his progress halted; He got into some tussles, lost his consistency when he had opportunities to break away and his P13 (11th after bumper penalties) finish was a little disappointing given that he had made so much early progress.

The third heat saw us start what was to be an unlucky 13th on the grid. Junior gained four places on the opening lap, consolidated over the following laps and was looking set for a solid top ten finish when he got Christmas Corner all wrong and whacked the kerb of the left-hand kink on the exit hard, knocking off chain. He had a little moment where he flapped about before the realisation of what had actually happened and why dawned upon him! Worse was to come: Back at the awning, I had checked the crank alignment and got everything ready for the final when I noticed that there was almost no compression in the engine. The rear axle was rotating almost freely. With 30 minutes to go before the final and our last race in JTKM, had we really damaged the engine? I removed the head: The piston had lost a ring of carbon around it’s outer edge. Not a good sign. Removing the barrel confirmed it: The ring was pinched tight. The piston had hit the head when the chain came off. And this was our only remaining JTKM engine 🙁

Don’t fret, readers! We had received a generous offer from one of the dads who had been at Clay with us a couple of weeks earlier. He had seen that we were all set to abort the race day after our practice motor had seized (and not wanting to push the race engine much beyond the ten hours it was approaching) and offered to bring an engine to Whilton just in case something disastrous befell us. We didn’t have much time to fetch and fit it before the final so Junior rushed off, cap in hand whilst I hastily removed the engine. Whilst I was fairly certain that mechanical failure had not been the cause of our engine damage, I couldn’t take any chances with somebody else’s engine: I bought a new chain, cleaned the carb, checked and double-checked the pop-off and triple-checked the settings to ensure we were rich enough! We were even in the assembly area with a few minutes to spare 🙂

Junior started 13th in the final and had yet another a great start, this had become something of a trait of his this year. Climbing to 8th after the first lap, Junior was running in sixth by lap #3 and things were going well. The lead pack had gotten away but Junior was at the head of the chasing pack until, with three laps remaining, he got forced wide in The Boot and lost *four* places!!! To his credit, Junior got his head down and the final laps saw some frantic tussling. Running in ninth as the he entered The Boot for the final time, Junior made a bold attempt to pass two karts around the outside of the left-hand entry to take the inside line for the right-hand run into the final corner. He managed it but ran in too hot to avoid conceding one of the places and he finished a very respectable eighth. It had been a really enjoyable race to watch although he got some criticism from one of his friends for turning across them as they looked to make passing moves on him. Whilst I had watched the race, I hadn’t really seen any problems. I think it stems from having come from a track where we been excluded on a couple of occasions for collisions where Junior had made a move up the inside but was found not to have been 90% alongside a rival when they turned into the corner and it was deemed that Junior should have backed out of the move. Junior’s driving has evolved accordingly; He’ll concede if a kart is alongside but a whiff of the nose up the inside isn’t going to make him jump out of the way. The other dad and I are very good friends and we chatted afterwards; He made the point that his rivals won’t back out so readily in Extreme and that Junior will find himself getting taken out a lot more often. I couldn’t say that we saw the race the same way but his racing in Extreme is a concern to me: Junior will need to evolve. He has to find a way to avoid scrapping, to get his head down and drive consistently without losing his composure when under pressure. For now though, we’d enjoy what was a good final race for us, with some good pace and some close racing whilst being thankful for the loan engine that ensured our JTKM career didn’t end with a DNS.

 

One step forward. Two steps back.

Sunday. Six days until the Festival. A chance to make the kart shiny and set it up for an unquestionably sunny weekend in Cambridgeshire. I splashed on some Factor 50 and got to work. And very quickly there was this…

Perhaps you could just kick me in the balls one more time?

Oh karting, perhaps you could just kick me square in the nuts one more time?

There is no such thing as a good crack but this was particularly unsatisfactory. I’d go as far to say that we probably wouldn’t have gotten through Friday practice before this sheared. OTK place a sleeve inside the tube rails to provide additional support beneath the engine mount. Unfortunately the sleeve ended just short of the side pod weld and the crack occurred immediately after the sleeve. Hey, OTK: How about another two inches of sleeve for those of us who prefer our chassis to last a season or two?

countdown

This just about sums it up…

To say I’m a tad brassed off would be an understatement! With the underweight exclusion dashing our Welsh championship hopes (did I mention that already?), engine repairs, more engine repairs and now our five month old chassis that’s seen very little use relatively speaking getting cracked!?!

I’m a nice, amiable bloke, I put quite a lot into karting and I think the community is a better place for my being here. One day karting is going to give me a break…

A cheeky Llando(w)s

Do you see what I’ve done with the title? Clever, huh?

It seems like we’ve been on the back foot a fair bit this year and, just a week ahead of the Festival, now seemed no different: problems with both engines at Kimbolton last month meant that they’d both had work done on them. Even after a bucket test(?) to identify any potential air leak, nothing had been found to explain the race engine looking badly lean after Junior’s off in one of the heats. Luckily the head needed nothing more than a slight rethread to cure the minimal damage caused by the spark plug getting stuck. The #2 engine had had new piston rings fitted in a bid to resolve the lack of compression. And then we’d buggered off on hols, the #1 priority as per Mrs Karting Dad’s control of the family budget!

V__0AD7I’d collected the repaired engines before we went away and, on the evening of our return to the country, spent the evening ensuring they were both fine, spark-wise before a weekend visit to Llandow. Having had such an awful weekend at Kimbolton from a performance point of view (two DNS’s and a DNF!), I couldn’t leave anything to chance. We’d had spark issues with the race motor but now there was no spark on the practice engine!?! After swapping over everything from spark plugs, to HT leads and coils, there was either a wiring issue or a stator/rotar problem. Back to the engine builders. A voltmeter check and some wiring work later (not to mention an hour’s labour), we were back on track (although not in the literal sense).

To Llandow! The track was running an IKR meeting and had Saturday afternoon dedicated to practice. Perfect for a spot of engine testing. The plan was: Run in the new rings on the practice motor, ensuring the compression problem was resolved. Bolt on the race motor. Do two laps and check the spark plug looks healthy. Do five more before removing the head to ensure the piston looked good. Run one further session to be certain. Bolt the practice motor back on. Do a bit of carb testing.

Everything went really well. We’d done everything that we needed to within 3 hours and we spent the rest of the afternoon dabbling with carbs and playing with restrictors (Junior has lost a stone since getting sick last month!!!). That was until we suffered *another* sheared side pod bar; in exactly the same spot as we did last time out. Now there’s a head scratcher for you! Since this was already our spare bar and the other was away getting fixed, our game was over. It wasn’t the end of the world since there was only an hour left and it wasn’t as if Junior needed the practice.

 

 

WHAT IS GOING ON???

Saturday was an early start. The plan was to arrive at HKRC by 9am, put in the fuel, bolt on the Alfano and be ready in plenty of time to make the first session. The kart had been set up for dry weather (the prep work had been done the previous weekend) but the wet journey to the track from the Birmingham area told me that we’d be on the back foot for much of the morning as we switched to a wet setup as time permitted :/ Worse, with a good set of wets and some inters, I’d opted to leave another decent set of wets at home; I‘d never gone through three sets of wet tyres before and had no intention of doing so here for what really was just a practice weekend for us. Of course that hadn’t really accounted for what we would be doing for tyres on the Saturday… 😮

We fudged our way through a wet Saturday morning on tyres that had 1mm of tread on at the start of the day! I hadn’t really heeded my own lesson about only gaining from wet practice if you are actually on wet tyres that allow you to push and find the limits. We were off the pace but that was just one of those things. I managed to smash the knuckles of both hands into the rear sprocket whilst removing the front sprocket. That bled more than I expected! The afternoon brightened up and we were much more at home with a familiar setup on a decent set of slicks and a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the track as we’d found it at last year’s Festival. It felt like we hadn’t learnt much from the morning session but Junior was looking much more racey in the afternoon. The only negative was that we didn’t get the final session (either I miscalculated or the club cut a session, I think the latter) and that meant that we hadn’t got to run the race engine. How costly that would prove!

With strong winds forecast, we setup the tents between a couple of caravans and I put the car in front of both tents to offer further shelter. It did the job and, with the humid conditions, things were fairly cosy. At least as much as they could be sleeping on a 1” camping mattress! And then the winds came: It sounded as if we were sleeping next to tallest trees in the world! Being soft, southern indoor types it was pretty hard to sleep. Junior repeated his getting-out-to-sleep-in-the-car antics and then spent 20 mins chucking things around in the car to make space for himself. He was back in tent within 3 hours! It was only at around 5am that I seemed to get any real sleep and then it was soon time to get up 🙁

The forecast was again mixed (we had the British GP weather). The track had been dampened by early morning rain but it was slicks for the warm-up. Our tyres had been used at the Welsh Champs but were in reasonable shape (for Llandow tyres) because of the wet Sunday. Junior had been off of school since Wednesday with a stomach problem (relax, it wasn’t contagious). We’d only made the decision to go ahead with the weekend on the Friday night. Although he’d been fine on Saturday, he was poorly again on Sunday! Five minutes before we were due to head out for warm-up, he was sat in the awning with a sick bag. I convinced him to head out, get at least one lap in to ensure that all was well and we’d see how things went after that. The kart started slowly but thereafter Junior’s pace was respectable: around half a second off but, having been slow away, he’d had nobody to follow. The kart cut out as he entered the pits, blocking the entrance gate. I assumed it had just dropped revs and not been able to pick up. Alarm bells should have been ringing!

Junior continued to feel bad and looked even worse ahead of qualifying. Wretching in the holding area isn’t a good look and I sent him back to the awning until it was almost time to race. When he returned, he looked absolutely dreadful! Hopefully racing would take his mind off of things!!! The dummy grid for qualifying was the usual political game of bagging a spot amongst the pace. We were very nicely placed with the quick TAGs although we obviously have a bit of a starting deficit with a DD engine. The gate raised, the engine fired and I turned to put the start bar away… only to see Junior spluttering around Stow. I had  left my official HKRC pusher’s hi-vis vest in the awning so I couldn’t go out to help him. Others tried valiantly but it was pretty evident that he wasn’t going anywhere. He watched qualifying from the marshal post and I was unable to get the kart until after the next session (trolley park jam) 🙁 We still had to weigh (if ever there was a time to come in underweight, this was it) and, to top off a fantastic session, I got another exhaust burn as I stopped to look over my shoulder as Junior continued to walk the front of the kart towards me. I swear that I’ll have no freckles on my left arm by the time I quit this sport!

We got the kart back to the awning and tested the carb: it was popping but losing pressure quite quickly (my carbs are cleaned post race and tested during race weekend preparation). We replaced the carb and started the engine on the stand (in the designated starting area – we’re good like that). Missing qualifying wasn’t as bad as it could have been however since the finishing position for Heat #1 would determine our start position for the pre-final. There was still much to play for… provided my driver was well enough!

Junior looked a little perkier for Heat #1. The start was a real dog’s dinner: Starting on the back row, the driver in front bogged down even before they reached Kimbolton Corner and his kart never picked up, yet the race started with Junior crossing the line well adrift of the field! Earth to Starter!?! Hello??? We crossed the line after lap #1 still last and 6s behind the leader. Junior drove really well from there on in, cutting through the field and was running in 10th when he came together with another kart entering Dan Wheldon Corner: With Junior on the inside and on the apex, their front wheel touched our pod and rear wheel, flipped our kart up over their Nassau and dumped us off in the long grass. Do you have any idea how long it takes to retrieve a kart from Wheldon? It’s a good job I’m still young and fit 😉

The real problems began when we returned to the pits: The spark plug was stuck in the head, with only ~10 degrees rotation either way. We removed the head and the piston was bone dry. Our fuel was freshly mixed before that heat and definitely had oil. The carb was used yesterday and correctly set. I really had no idea why the engine was looking so lean. I couldn’t risk the race engine, it was going to need to see a builder for a check-up. The practice motor had snapped the finger guard on the Saturday so, to hasten things, we took the finger guard and coil from the race motor and bolted everything on. With the regular spark plug stuck in the other head, I pulled out a spare from the toolbox. Was this one any good??? There wouldn’t be time to test so I borrowed one from a friend that had been used the day before. On top of that, it had starting to rain heavily and the kart was in full dry trim. Things were a bit rushed as you might imagine.

We opted for inters, some of the field went for slicks. We would have been proven correct if only the kart had started. It was blatantly obvious that there was no spark. Junior’s kart was dragged off of Stow once more. Junior flapped his arms around as they gallery looked on. This was a long way to come to have more DNS’s than we’d expect in an entire season.

Back to the awning: There was indeed no spark. We put in another plug to no avail. The wiring looked good, the spade connectors were well seated but what about… the coil? To save time when swapping the finger guard, we’d brought the coil across from the race motor. I wonder if…? We put the practice motor’s original coil back on: The spark returned! The engine fired first time in the start area. With just the final remaining, I crossed everything that the bloody thing started and we actually took part in a race. Even the Chairman (with whom I’d had enough chances to become acquainted with whilst stood at the grid gate with my trolley, waiting for various races to end so that I could fetch our kart) was wishing us well! On the dummy grid, I reflected on our day thus far; it felt like amateur hour, the kind of day you might expect when your lad is running novice plates – definitely not the kind of day to be habitually fetching your kart from Stow Corner in front of all of the dads on the viewing platform! The only positive was that Junior was feeling much better and this wasn’t the Festival..

The kart fired quickly but *again* struggled to pick up. I had noticed that the practice motor appeared to be lacking compression when I happened to kick it along the dummy grid on the Saturday. It was already going to be heading to the engine builder for investigation. I held my breath, ready to quit the sport immediately if this went tits up! Junior pinched the pipe to clear the fuel build up and finally headed off down towards the Bus Stop 😀 The race itself went really well: Starting 19th, Junior got an amazing run around the outside of Stow as the inside runners concertinaed up and he had gained seven places by the end of the first lap. He continued to pick off the mid-field with some nice moves. I was a little disappointed that he got himself into a real scrap for 8th that went to and fro for 11 laps; every time he passed, he’d start looking over his shoulder compromising his lap times. We need to work on that but, on the whole, you couldn’t help but be pleased with a 6th place finish (unfortunately we lost the front two at the final corner).

So our day was done. Packing up took some time and we were reliant on friends to help us get the camping stuff back home (camping gear always packs much smaller on the outward journey than it does on the homeward one!). We’d had a lot of setbacks. To be fair (to myself!) the engine problem wasn’t immediately obvious and it was only by freak chance that we’d moved what appeared to be a problem coil to the second engine when we swapped them over. I’d found a new way to injure myself (along with an old way) and Junior hadn’t felt that great at times but it was still a more positive weekend than not, especially with his pace only being pretty good on only our second visit to the track. We would definitely hope to improve further at the Festival.

I need to say a special thanks to several sets of friends who provided us with a roof, refreshments, company, support during our Sunday woes and even a free set of inters. TKM really does have the best community in karting by some distance 🙂

 

The mechanically inept noob!

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

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

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

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

bridge

A variation on a theme 😉

 

My wasted rebuild

After our chain snapping woes at our practice day, I hastily got the engine head off to see what was going on. Data analysis showed that the engine had hit 21,306rpm!!! 🙁

Sh*t! :(

The top piston ring was stuck firmly in place and all evidence suggested that the piston had hit the head. RIP my three-day old piston.The crank was also out of alignment. If there was any positive to be taken from this, the head at least looked ok. I had it collected by a friendly engine builder for a new piston and repair.

Things got worse when I was informed that my lovely new crank was slightly twisted although Tal-Ko assured me that this could be straightened and I didn’t pass up on the opportunity to save £166!

Having run a single Panther chain for the biggest part of 2014, I was fed up with my ‘cheaper’ chains snapping so ordered another trusty Panther and Talon sprocket – I am pretty keen to avoid any future chain woes and will be running my engine stop bolt a lot closer to the engine in future.

Cost of engine repair: £180

Costs since last post: New brake pads, £25; 2x Shell M Oil, £20;Dot 5 Brake Fluid, £10; Gaffer tape, £5; Insulation tape, £2; cable ties, £2; Chain and sprocket bundle, £50

Total spent this year: £1,496

Getting help

Our February race weekend was our third day at the track in eight days. Even before the weekend and our lack of pace, we already had a speedy return to the track booked in: I had decided to get Junior some coaching! This wasn’t a decision taken lightly, as £100 is a decent chunk of the monthly budget, but it was one that I had been mulling over since the turn of the year. I was pretty sure that the setup was in the right ball park and that most of the time that we were off was in Junior’s lines. There were a few people who I’d have been very happy to work with; in the end I opted for the one that Junior didn’t know – mostly in the hope that he might listen to them more!

Although this was during the half-term, the track was pretty quiet – Junior, three cadets and a Senior TKM with a couple of Senior Rotax drivers turning up later. We spent the morning working on the line into The Hook. Things weren’t falling into place that quickly and then Junior clipped the back of a Cadet when he mistakenly thought that the door was being left open. That resulted in a bent steering column and track rod. With that fixed, Junior’s next hiccup came when stopped half-way around his outlap a couple of sessions later: the engine had backed onto the stop bolt which, with hindsight, was probably a little too far back (having previously cracked the old chassis at the engine-side bearing hanger, I had gone the opposite direction and changed from ~3mm off to ~12mm). I tightened everything up and we got back to working on the lines. That was until we experienced that wallet-bashing sound of the chain snapping. Junior coasted the kart up the straight and into the pits. Initially, things looked ok but, when we put the kart down for another session, we noticed there was very little compression: you could push the kart along with little effort. It was clear that engine was going to need looking at and the race motor was going to have to come out.

By this time, we had lost the majority of the afternoon. We got a really good final couple of hours in, running nicely in solitude as the sun set, although there wasn’t really enough time to work on all of the corners as we would have liked. It was a good, very educational day. Junior had some key areas for concern pointed out to him and we left with a much clearer idea as to how to cut a large chunk of the ~0.8s that we had been off at the weekend, just a shame the day was unusually poor from a problem perspective.

Thanks to Tim Wilson of TWM Motorsport for his expert coaching 🙂

Into the sunset :)Cost of day: Practice fee £40, bridge toll £6, fuel £10, petrol £10, coaching £100, new tyres for next race weekend £145

Total spent this year: £1,202

Things that break when you want it least…

You gave yourself that afternoon to prepare the kart (in daylight) for the weekend. You did something else first that took an hour and you have a parent’s evening at 6pm but it’s ok: all you need to do is change the axle, clean a few things up and put on the engine, carb and exhaust. You’re tightening the brake caliper bolt. You go to give it one final turn and then ‘CLUNK’ – the brake caliper bolt shears midway between the bearing hanger and caliper!!! Cue repeated heavy swearing…

Luckily I managed to drill out the bolt and reassemble the kart, rush my tea and get Junior to school! I’m still not fully comfortable with the disassembly of the brake system and am yet to ‘fly solo’ when it comes to bleeding the brakes but this will change tomorrow since it’s my only free time before the weekend – just one of those things that I have to learn to become competent at.

Other semi-interesting things that have cost me money this week: I stopped by the local engine builder to confirm that the engines were legal following the illegal engine modification scandal. I was pretty certain they were good – the previous owner is easily the most knowledgeable person I’ve met in TKM (I guess when you are spending Super One money, you have to be!) and had assured me that there was nothing to worry about but it was one of those things that you just have to have done so that you know without the slightest element of doubt that your engine is legal. Both engines were legal. Unfortunately both had crank alignment issues – we almost certainly damaged the newly built race engine when we ran it in with what I suspect to have been a bad hanger/bearing combo. It’s been a tight month karting budget-wise and I could definitely have done without any engine bills 🙁

Running in @Clay: featuring Mr Erratic Rotax

Having had the race engine back for a couple of months and still finished running it in, we headed off to Clay on Friday for a host of reasons; primarily to get the engine run in but also to compare the engines, work on lines and test some theories regarding grip (or the lack of it at the last race day). It was nice not to be rushing around madly as we do on a race weekend and the journey down wasn’t too bad for a week day. Unfortunately, the forecast had worsened through the week and it seemed we wouldn’t get the perfect weather for getting through the list of things to do. On top of that, there were a couple of four stroke events on over the weekend so the track was much busier than I had been hoping.

The first few sessions went well enough as we worked through the mid-range of the engine revs but then we hit a snag – anything over 13.5k revs seemed to start some kind of noise that I couldn’t explain even if I thought I knew what Junior was talking about! He was sure that it was an engine problem, which is the one problem area that fills me with dread 😮 I spoke with a few people – my engine builder and the guy I bought the engine from both of whom suggested it was four-stroking. It didn’t seem like it was four stroking but I tweaked the jet settings a touch and we tried again – the problem got worse the more revs Junior gave it. I changed the carb in case it had gone bad (and in the process discovered that my carb popoff tester was faulty and I had very likely been getting my carbs rebuilt unnecessarily!) but still we had the same problem. I was about to give up and fit the other engine so that we could at least get something out of the day but it was then that my own ‘karting dad’ (figuratively speaking) asked if my axle was bent – now this struck a chord!!! We had crashed at Llandow last time out but had competed in a race after the crash without any such problem (even if we only managed 2 laps before our exhaust manifold snapped) but it wasn’t the axle I suspected, rather a bearing hanger I had bought used and fitted the night before. When attempting to refit the axle after fitting the hanger, the axle was a good few inches away from aligning with the bearing hanger on the brake side. It turned out that the bearings seemed to have suffered some damage and were out of alignment. I had removed them at home, knocked them straight and refitted the axle – seemingly without issue. I was desperate to give the engine another chance so replaced both the bearing hanger and the axle just to ensure we could prove that the engine was/was not to blame. Luckily, the problem disappeared 😀 I am still not 100% sure that it was the bearings in the hanger but the axle looks good and I’ve refitted for our next outing.

After that our day was a bit hit and miss. The rain came and went and, although Junior seemed to be enjoying the conditions following a confidence boosting wet heat at Llandow, it meant we didn’t get the consistent weather that we needed to be able to back-to-back the engines. Nor work on lines. Nor test grip theories. We also broke both our bumpers – one when a prokart ran into the back of us into The Hairpin and another time courtesy of a bloke in a Rotax who was clearly very quick but was driving  erratically and making moves as though his life depended on every corner – bear in mind that this was just a practice day! If you had asked ten bystanders to point out which of the 30 karts on track looked most like the driver was under the influence of something, I guarantee everyone would have picked the same bloke!!! I am normally a fan of having large, mixed grids but seeing this bloke push us wide and then punt a prokart into the very next corner made me go and request the sessions were divided. It didn’t rid us of Mr Erratic Rotax but it did give us enough space we could steer well clear of him. Although you will inevitably see contact in karting, I don’t normally expect it at practice days!!!

In the end, we had achieved the main goal of running in the engine. Both of my bumpers have been snapped but at least my emergency bumper retention system (some rubber hose and hose clips) proved their worth.

I’m not sure where we’ll be headed next – Junior wants to do the next round at Clay but it’s looking like a very busy weekend with three additional classes taking part and that sets off my ‘track time alert’!!! It’s likely we’ll race unless there is a chance of a repeat of the ‘slower karts starting in front of the faster karts‘ fiasco we saw earlier in the year (the last time that there was a big Formula Blue event at the track). That lead to us/me getting into all sorts of bother – I won’t be doing that again…

Cost of practice:£35 practice fee, £12 petrol, £6 fuel
Spent since last post: used bearing hangers, £30, two used carbs £70

Total spent this year: £3,657

 

Race 11: And it was going so well…

This wasn’t really ever intended to be a race weekend – I had planned to bring Junior to Llandow during the holidays for a change of scenery and a bit of fun but, when I had mentioned this to one of the Welsh dads at Clay the previous weekend, he had suggested coming along to the club practice day instead. This was very tempting as it provided a great opportunity to gauge our pace (a nice quiet practice day can be useful but you never really how good your times were if you’ve no peers to compare them with) but we had so much to do to get the kart ready. We managed it so off we set to Wales…

Another nice early start but it at least ensured that we were ready for the first session (unlike the last time we came on a club practice day). The day went better than expected – with his newly built kart, Junior didn’t stop on track and only came in early the one time when he found himself sitting on one of the seat stay bolts! Our pace was fairly good also, knocking a couple of tenths off of the time we set on our last visit although we still found ourselves 0.6s off of the pace at times. It was also a good opportunity also to test the new chassis with the more rigid floor tray and new seat position; you would have thought Junior might have noticed some difference, right? :S How about when the torsion bar was removed? [Tumbleweed…]. We did have to bring the back end in when running without the bar but his times were only 0.06s apart and, if we were to race the following day (it was a possibility I stupidly mentioned to Junior earlier in the week), we’d be running without the bar anyway!

In the end, an offer from one of the Clay dads (for whom this was their ‘home’ track) to store our kart overnight and then to let us share their awning on the race day (rain was forecast) clinched it. We’d start at the back but it would be good to see how we fared on a track that Junior was starting to like a lot.

Having had our rain dances ignored last at Clay last weekend, we were really hoping for a dry day on an unfamiliar track. We had driven in the wet at Llandow but not for over 12 months, long before Junior was racing – or even experienced! You know how things go though… we looked a fair bit off the pace in the warm-up as Junior found himself having to learn the wet line PDQ! Although the track was drying, it didn’t do so anywhere near as quickly as Clay 🙁

Now I’m the type of bloke who likes to take up a pushing post on track but that is mostly to get a good viewing point. Llandow have an unusual system whereby the pushers draw a ball from a tin to select their posts. I was the only person who stayed on after the drivers briefing to sign in and yet the scrutineer in charge of post allocation almost seemed to be considering making me draw a ball :S In the end, he decided I could take my pick – I asked which post was in the middle and he told me it was Post 2. I was little peeved when I got to Post 2 to be told that it was actually Post 1 and that Post 2 was in the far corner of the track! Not only was I going to have a pretty poor view but I was going to doing a bit of running today – at least I was going to see Junior in corners that I had not previously observed from.

Heat #1 was still wet but Junior coped really well – the pack split into two groups and he was dicing with a couple of others for the lead of the second group. The order chopped and changed with Junior not quite managing to make it stick until, when it looked like he’d pulled it off, he left the door open for a late move into Chandlers and ended up on the grass. The following lap another kart spun into the same corner and Junior spun whilst taking evasive action. We had a bit of a race – me pushing against the fast approaching novice!!! – but there was only ever going to be one winner there! It was a good start to our day though and it was pleasing to see us ‘racing’, which was something we’d not really done at Clay for a while.

Heat #2 wasn’t exactly memorable – we were 5th quickest and finished a little adrift of the front group, who were all pretty much on the pace. Still, it was nice to see Junior overtaking and he even seemed to be able to outbrake people on occassion :-O

Heat #3 was the highlight, Junior managed to jump from 7th to 3rd after the first corner and had put a bit of a gap on those behind, as a couple of the front runners were held up a little. Unfortunately, they weren’t for long and we soon found ourselves back in 5th which became 4th following a mechanical flag and 3rd after an exclusion. We dipped under 46s for the first time 😀 although we were a little lucky not to see a mechanical ourselves as our exhaust bracket extension bar had snapped but the exhaust had only sunk a few inches and was propped up on the bracket bar itself.

We started a satisfying 5th for the final. The leaders soon put a gap on us but we were comfortably holding position until Junior got his exit from The Dell badly wrong and ploughed into the tyres. It was a big accident as they are looking to get up to top speed as quickly as possible – I could only see the top half of him from my post but it seems he hit his head on his steering wheel before it whiplashed backwards and hit some tyres. Cue red flag and ambulance trip back to the pits. Junior was stiff and shaken but his hand seemed to be the most painful part – I think he hit it with his helmet. His kart didn’t fare too well though: he had pushed the nassau bracket bolt up through the nassau, bent the steering column and track rod, snapped the brake pedal bolt and had also managed to punch the steering wheel bolt right through the steering boss. He was ok though – that was the main thing.

Llandow have a novel and pretty cool twist that they offer at the end of a race day – an extra race, run in the reverse final positions that costs £5 and each class races for a voucher at the shop. We (I say we but I had borrowed the money!) had already paid our entry and Junior would now start on poll courtesy of not finishing the final. I had already discounted our chances of taking part but our awning hosts suggested it could be done as their kart was already sorted and I did have most of the spare bits. Junior was open to the idea so we got started. I’ve never had four people working on my kart before but it came to typify the kind of relationship between Dads/mechanics at club meetings – the kart was ready to roll inside 15 minutes (thanks, Gents!) 🙂 I was glad I had packed the old wheel and boss – I hadn’t expected to be using it again quite so soon! The race itself was poor – we lost the lead quickly and retired on lap #2 with a snapped exhaust manifold (it had clearly been damaged in Heat #3, so it seems unlikely we’d have finished the final anyway). Interestingly, Junior’s only real feedback on our changes came after this race when he said he preferred the F1 wheel to the OTK!

Junior was very sore and his hand wasn’t to good but it had been a really positive weekend – we’d tested the new chassis, got more experience of a track that was really growing fond of and we’d spent the day racing in the pack. *Huge* thanks to our awning hosts (you know who you are!) – for kindly sharing your awning space, giving us track advice, your company and for the bacon sandwiches! 😉 We had a great time and it’s given us a lot to consider before we choose where to race next month.

Cost of weekend:£40 practice fee, £55 race entry, £24 petrol, £13 bridge tolls, £9 fuel
Cost of new parts: steering column, £42; bumper bolts, £21

Spent since last post: new seat, £40

Total spent this year: £3,504