The consolation prize

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

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

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

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

Time to get cracking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wot no karting Christmas?!?

Well… not exactly! The kart remains untouched since Clay IKR; I remove the fuel, engine, chain after the finals so that they are properly stored, allowing me to clean the chassis at my leisure (instead of when I get home). This means that my leisure time is mostly kart-free right now. Our annual trip to Teamsport Bristol needed a little attention for the group draws (how does 45 drivers and A, B, C and D finals sound?) and I just spent a couple of hours Photoshop’ing the TKM Owners Group‘s Facebook cover photo (not a bad job, if I say so myself):

It's a TKM Christmas!

It’s a TKM Christmas!

Junior’s last three years of Christmas presents (and birthday presents for that matter) have all been kart-related: the kart in 2012, the race engine in 2013 and his (now fairly snug-fitting) racesuit in 2014. We only really need two things now: a new chassis and an awning, neither or which we currently have the funds for (that and the fact that a recent Viper is as rare as rocking horse sh*t these days – I think might have shot myself in the foot a little there in promoting TKM!). On the plus side, it’s allowed me to get back to buying Junior surprise presents, which I’ve missed recently and at which I’m pretty damn good at (better than I am at being a race mechanic, certainly!) :/ I’m sure there will be a little karting treat in there somewhere too 😉

So that might be it for 2015. Have a great Christmas and I’ll let you know how I get on with kicking Junior’s ass at Christmas Karting!

Spent since last post: Nowt 😀

Total spent this year: £5,117 😮

 

Facebook power!

Other than being a fanboy, I’ve not actually done much in support of the TKM class but the Facebook group for drivers/dads/mechanics has taken off *way* better than I could possibly have hoped. It was never about numbers although 450+ in four months is good going; it’s about the breadth of people getting involved: from Super One to IKR to…even Tal-Ko (albeit indirectly). It is clear that the TKM community is very passionate about their class. Of course I beat the harder tyre drum from time-to-time but the most satisfying thread so far was seeing Tal-Ko ask drivers what changes they would want to see in order to boost the Super One entry numbers. It even looks as though it may have made a difference 🙂

I still think there is much to be done in support of the lower echelons and it remains to be seen whether Tal-Ko can come up with a reason for drivers to contest some of the ailing club championships (hint: costs). Now back to the tyres…

Half a race weekend

Having spent several month’s karting budget already this month, I decided that we’d skip Saturday practice at Llandow this weekend. I could really have done with going as there are a few post-Kimbolton setup tweaks that I want to try but, on the plus side, it is nice to be able to get the kart sorted at a more leisurely pace. I’ve had to put on the new nosecone, to which I have added some of the TKM stickers I got from the Festival. Applying them made me wonder why Tal-Ko don’t include stickers with every order they ship like some other companies do. It cannot cost much and the more publicity that TKM gets, the better it is for everyone. Of course it isn’t something that would turn the class around but every little helps as they say. Maybe this could be the start of a new campaign to get TKM stickers on every kart in the class 😉

Farewell nice, new decals! :/

Farewell nice, new decals! :/

Promoting TKM

TKM doesn’t get a lot of publicity. I’ve always found Tal-Ko very helpful but their marketing campaign consists almost entirely of bigging themselves up when their team does well or when there is an opportunity to dispel some of the paddock gossip, be that proving that the Tag engine is as strong as its Direct Drive counterpart or the big bearing crankcase performing as well as the older small bearing equivalent. It’s a shame because it’s almost the perfect class: the engine parity is renown, there really is only a couple of tenths between most of the engines, and it is by far the cheapest class to start with 20+ years of engines out there on the used market. There is a lot to shout about and yet nobody does.

MSA numbers for TKM have dropped again with the rise of X30 taking a good chunk of the elite TKM drivers and IKR has been biting little pieces off of the budget end of the market. To give credit where it is due Tal-Ko have indentified Honda Cadet drivers as the Junior TKM entrants of tomorrow and have opened up the Festival to them. Hopefully they are rewarded with a good sized grid, we’ll soon see.

I’ve been mulling things over for some time and sent my thoughts to Tal-Ko last month. For me, TKM needs to establish itself as the undisputed budget class. Cheap entry to the class is one thing but, with tyres good for only two race days, engines needing a rebuild every ten hours and parts priced up there with the best of them, you can see why Rotax owners would quite rightly argue their case. Little can be done with regards the engine rebuild time, consider it the cost of such good engine parity but the tyres are another matter. The softer Maxxis New Age slick tyre was apparently introduced in response to driver demand for a grippier tyre and to enable to TKM to take on Rotax. X30 has rocked up and clearly displaced TKM as the Rotax beater. It is time for Tal-Ko to have a rethink; to take the class back to it’s roots. Imagine a set of tyres that cost £99/set and that were good for five races – now that’s a headline grabber. The harder tyre mandated for all five races of the series has been a hit at Clay Pigeon IKR. I think it would be a hit for MSA TKM. With cheaper tyres, I’d forgive Tal-Ko on the engine parts pricing! Can Tal-Ko afford to do something like this? One might question whether they can afford not to…

So what about promotion? I’m just one bloke who loves the class but I’m not going to be able to turn things around on my own. With that in mind, I yesterday created the Formula TKM Owners Group on Facebook. It was a spur of the moment thing, who knows whether it will fly. Hopefully it will engage the younger drivers who couldn’t care less about the mainstream karting forums. If we can get people discussing the class and sell how enjoyable the class is maybe we can turn things around. It’s worth a try at least!

Ahh, the exhaust cloud of a decent TKM grid...

Ahh, the exhaust cloud of a decent TKM grid…

 

A proper TKM Extreme grid at Llandow?!?

With all of the excitement of the weekend, I negated to comment on how great it was to see a sizable TKM Extreme grid at Llandow. I’d not seen one before in my time at the club, not even when Super One came to visit! The TKM Southern Championships have proved a great success for drivers (I’m not certain that CPKC would agree given that it is pretty much their entire grid that has gone on tour) and it was great to catch up with my chums from TKM Corner (the area of the Clay Pigeon paddock renowned for hosting the junior and senior TKM drivers). Extreme has always been a great spectacle and so it proved again.

With Junior likely to move up to Extreme at the end of this year, hopefully we can generate sufficient interest to form a permanent grid at Llandow for 2016.

Push starting a TKM Direct Drive engine

It was really nice to see some noob JTKMs practising at Clay on Friday who were either first or second time out but, in the damp conditions, spinning was inevitable and I found myself becoming the Push Start Guardian for the morning. I didn’t mind, it’s a JTKM Dad rite of passage 😉 Each time I helped a Dad get their lad going, I’d look around to see him on the floor as his lad drove off(!) so here are my tips on how to start and direct drive engine without tasting the tarmac…

Firstly, it’s documented in way more detail than I will offer on Karting1.co.uk in their post ‘How to Bump Start a Kart‘. I’ll just summarise the basics and the golden rule:

In your pit bay, you need to properly prime the carb. To do so:

  1. Disconnect the short piece of fuel hose from the small overflow tank
  2. Disconnect the long piece of fuel hose from the carb
  3. Blow into the short hose until fuel runs out of the long hose (that is connected to the fuel tank but no longer connected to the carb)
  4. Reconnect the long hose to the carb
  5. Remove your spark plug (but leave it in the spark plug cap and sat on top of the engine to avoid any potential for electrical damage)
  6. Remove your airbox
  7. Cover the carb with your hand and rock the engine-side rear wheel back and forth to draw fuel into the carb until you feel the fuel on the hand covering the carb
  8. Your preparation work is done – you’ve done your bit to ensure that there is minimal air in the system. Optionally, you are ready to fire up the engine with a handheld starter if you seek additional piece of mind. Obviously, you want to replace the spark plug before doing so (and you will find that you will leave it out and you will look daft when you try starting your driver – it’s just one of those noob things!).

Now push is going to come to shove, quite literally so with the kart on the grid…

  1. Get the driver to lean forward (it helps lessen the mass you’ll be lifting)
  2. Hold the rear bumper in the right hand (which will be doing most of the lifting)
  3. Hold the back of the seat with the left hand (which won’t be doing much lifting)
  4. Lift the kart – you don’t need to lift very high, in fact the lower the better
  5. GOLDEN RULE: LOOK UP, NEVER LOOK DOWN!!!
  6. Run as fast as you can for 5-10 yards
  7. Drop the kart down
  8. Keep pushing until it picks up. Driver will need to feather the throttle pedal until the engine starts to pick before accelerating away.

An engine with a properly primed carb should not require ‘choking‘ but an unwilling engine can be helped by the driver placing their hand over the airbox trumpet momentarily to increase the fuel to air ratio. Do this too much and you will flood the engine!

There is one other tip that I found helped us greatly (when we bought the kart it took a long run to get going and, after this tweak, it took a matter of yards). It’s a little more technical so please seek expert advice if you are unsure!

You can help yourself by ensuring that your carb butterfly is slightly open so that, when you hold it up to the light, you can just see daylight around the outside of the butterfly. This is the butterfly:

TKM_Carb

It is adjusted by the idle adjust screw as illustrated on p27 of Tal-Ko’s BT82 Parts and Drawings Guide. It’s worth emphasising that inappropriate changes to carbs can be seriously damaging to your wealth! Again, if in any doubt, please ask a more experienced TKM mechanic.

Hope this helps!

Race 9: The good, the bad and the ugly

The past week has been a mad rush – Junior had a work experience placement at Codemasters so this meant getting as much of the kart preparation as possible done last weekend. We travelled up to Warwickshire on Monday, I dropped him off and then went to collect my new engine and also drop our race engine off for a rebuild. Whilst doing this, it was pointed out to me that the barrel on the race engine had a scratch between the inlet ports that it was feared could be a crack!!! Having to fund the new engine and a rebuild in the same month, I’d have been screwed had it needed a new barrel. Fortunately it this was not the case although I’ve yet to get it back.

Anyway I stayed away with Junior during the week and only on Friday did I decide we would do both days of the Clay Pigeon Kart Club Charity Race Weekend, as opposed to just the standard club raceday on the Sunday. Friday night was a late one and I think I got the tyres changed at around 11:30pm and then set the alarm for 6:00am :/

The Bad

Saturday was definitely the bad day – it started off with my pit neighbours encroaching into our spaces to the extent that we couldn’t get our 6x3m awning up. So, whilst they enjoyed lunch in the shade, my ginger ass was melting in the sun – cheers for that! 😛

The club used a GP format for the Saturday, with practice, qualifying, one heat, a pre-final and a final. Qualifying went badly: Junior lost his transponder on lap #2. Fortunately, it didn’t hit anybody (but only just). Then I upset the scrutineer who, when checking the kart over, started marking up the carb and asked if this was the engine I would be racing on. I replied that I’d be changing that carb (it was the first time we had used it and Junior hadn’t looked particularly quick), at which point he told me to get my kart out of the way and muttered something which I assumed meant he wanted to see the carb I would be using. I came back and fitted the replacement carb!!! Doh! He wasn’t happy at all. It was an honest mistake – we’d only been scrutineered once before (last year when we finished third of three at the Turkey Trot). At this point he wanted to speak to the Chief Scrutineer? (this may not have been her title) and, after ignoring me whilst he scrutineered the entire senior grid that had now come in, I went and checked with her myself. Obviously I realised immediately what I had done wrong (as in not touching the kart whilst it is in scrutineering) and I was fortunate that the Chief Scrutineer only wanted both carbs checked and told me not to do it again! :/

Worse, was the fact that we had no pace whatsoever – we were just being driven past for fun. Junior was complaining the engine was not picking up out of the corners and blaming the new engine. I thought it was a grip problem and did what I could to lose some. In the heat, we were last of the finishers, six tenths off of the pace. The pre-final was slightly more interesting as Junior nudged his friend (with whom we share an awning but also have what would sometimes be described as a little more than a friendly rivalry), gained a spot but then spent the rest of the race waving his arm at every nudge he received until he lost the place a few laps from the end. He was very angry but not as angry as me – how he could be so upset at being on the receiving end when he had gained a place from dishing it out? I was properly annoyed! We had a few words in the car (the words were mostly flowing in his direction). We finished sixth in the final although I have no recollection of it whatsoever. On a slightly positive note, we had lapped within a tenth of our fastest time at Clay but it was scant consolation given how far we were off of the pace.

The good

The drive to the track on Sunday was a long one. Not the time spent driving back down to Dorset but just the knowing that there really wasn’t much cause for optimism. We would be on slightly newer used tyres but, if the track conditions were the same, it was going to be another bleak day. I had a single setup change that I wanted to make (that  was inspired by a chat in the Gents with the MSA Steward after racing on Saturday!). Other than that, I was hoping there had been significant overnight rain to freshen things up.

The rain had been minimal but it was notably cooler. We got the kart setup and crossed our fingers. Junior noticed the difference instantly – he was still well off of the pace but the three lap warm-up has never been about pace for Junior, it’s all about making sure the kart is working (I think this is a leftover from the days when it often wasn’t). Although we finished last of the finishers in Heat 1, as Junior gradually dropped back from a good start, he did set a new personal best – breaking 36 seconds for the first time 😀

Heat 2 was a shame – Junior made another good start but got clipped and spun around in The Esses and then shunted into the tyres. He picked up a few places after an incident took out a couple of karts and another was excluded. We were a little slower but Junior assured me he was taking it a little easier – and, of course, I believed him 😉 Heat 3 was a decent result for us as, although we dropped from 2nd to 5th, Junior was clear of the back half of the grid and set another PB.

The ugly

Sunday had been a decent day for us up until this point. Junior started 7th out of 10 and all I wanted him to do was to keep his nose clean from the start and enjoy the race. He made up a place at the start when kart ran off at The Esses, another couple when a couple of the front runners fell over each other and was then in a fight over 5th place with his friend and awning companion. These are the moments I enjoy the least as I am basically waiting for one to take the other out. Junior got a run up the inside into The Esses and his friend maintained the outside line. At this point it was going to take some very good driving for there not to be contact. Junior was ahead and on the racing line but needed to leave enough space around the inside of The Esses exit to avoid contact. He didn’t. His back wheel hit the front wheel of his friend’s kart and, although they both carried on, his friend lost time in the incident. It was one of those scenarios where I know Junior would have tried exactly the same thing had the boot been on the other foot and would have complained just as bitterly when he lost out.

But this wasn’t the ugly part!!! It turned out after the race that Junior had been the one who got caught out as the pack entered The Esses and shunted the kart in front off of the track. A first corner (or second in this case) at-fault incident was exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Fortunately, it hadn’t been reported – although there had been a fair amount of contact during the day which included us losing out so, had we been called into the Clerk’s office, I’d have been a tad upset! We clearly still have a thing or two to learn about close racing, however…

Back to the positives: we set another PB and, unusually, the JTKM final was early in the running order which meant we were home for Sunday roast (via McDonalds for a shake) by 6:30 – round about the same time we had left the previous month!

Cost of weekend: £100 race entry, £24 petrol, £7 fuel

Total spent this year: £2,452

Buying a kart (2nd Edition)

This comes up a lot on the forums so I thought I would update the articles I wrote on this in February and March last year! So what do you need to consider?

It is worth pointing out firstly that, if you are new to karting, you aren’t going to take all of this in straight away – it’s hard to write a guide that doesn’t bamboozle newcomers but is complete at the same time! Read it, learn from the forums (Karting1.co.uk is a very friendly place for noobs to ask questions), talk to some kart owners at the track, start to build up an idea for what you want – things might be a little clearer when you return!

1. What class of karts are raced at your local track or what are your mates driving?

Even if you have no plans to race now, you should bear this in mind. Why find that you need to replace everything in 9 months once you are bitten by the bug and want to start racing? Visit the local tracks on a practice day and chat to the other owners – you’ll find they have much more time to chat on a practice day compared to a race day. Ask everything and anything but bear in mind that everyone will have a different opinion – what works for one driver will not necessarily work for you! Contact the local kart club to get some expert advice and ask if they run open days where potential new owners can test drive a kart – why turn down the chance of a free go? Of course, if you already have mates who are owners then this may well answer this question for you.

2. Set your budget

Before you can go about finding the right kart, you need to set your budget. A Formula TKM kart from 2009 will start at around £600, a RotaxMax-engined kart nearer £1000 (if you are considering Rotax, you need to know that the engines must be sealed by a licensed engine builder if you are considering MSA racing). You can obviously spend more and look at much newer karts. You will also see older, cheaper karts around, many of which will be described as TKM 100cc karts. The key is whether the kart has a Tal-Ko BT82 engine – if not, you are looking at a much older engine for which part availability may be limited, as may your race options.

When I use the term ‘TKM’ from here on, I mean Formula TKM…

3. I’ve picked a class but how do I buy the ‘right’ kart?

Your options will be to buy a complete kart which just needs you to add fuel or a rolling chassis (everything except the engine) where you must source the engine parts yourself. The benefit of the former is that you can arrange to meet the seller at the track and test everything for yourself. With the latter, you can more easily perform a visual inspection (of the chassis without the engine mounted) but you won’t get to feel how it handles and, when buying the engine, you will really want to see it running to be sure it at least fires up ok.You may also need to source the carb/exhaust/starting system separately.

4. I’m going TKM, what engine type should I get?

You have three TKM engine options: Direct Drive, Clutched, TaG (Touch and Go). Direct Drive is the cheapest and simplest but the downside is that it needs a push start – either doing it yourself (and then jumping in) or having someone to do the pushing. If you can overcome this (it’s easy once you know how, apparently!), then you’ll find troubleshooting a whole lot simpler. Bear in mind though that, if you spin out on track, the engine will cut out and you will need to push start yourself once again. A clutched engine uses a centrifugal clutch and requires an external starter. If you spin, the engine should not cut out. Both Direct Drive and Clutched engines will have either cast or CNC-machined cylinder liner ports. Cast ports were used on the older engines. CNC-machined ports feature on engines after serial number 6500 (and all TaG engines) although you cannot use the engine number alone as a guide as the previous owners may have swapped the parts around. CNC-machined engines are generally considered to be better and command a price premium.

A TaG has a touch-button start system using an on-board battery. The wiring loom for TaGs has seen numerous upgrades, each more reliable than the previous version – you will want to know the age of a TaG engine and also whether the loom has been replaced at all. Because of the loom and battery, there are some tuning modifications to the TaG engines to offset the excess weight.

Engine prices for Direct Drive engines will fall into one of three categories: non-CNC £250-£350, CNC £500-£600, an ex-Super 1 (the national race series) engine (with some proof to back up any lofty claims) £750-£1000. Bear in mind that a new Direct Drive engine costs £1200, a Clutched engine £1300 and a TaG £1650.

5. What make of chassis should I get?

This is all a matter of personal preference. If you are buying from a manufacturer or trader, you can test drive the options and see what feels best. You may find it really boils down to availability of spares – is there an on-site shop at your preferred track and, if so, which manufacturers parts do they stock? Will you be buying replacement parts direct from the manufacturer or looking to buy used from eBay? There are plenty of options but you’ll find that OTK (a brand that encompasses the TonyKart, Kosmic, Alonso and Exprit brands of kart) parts are by far the most commonly available in the used markets.

6. Where should I buy?

You have a few options here. You can buy new or nearly new karts direct from the manufacturer. Obviously, this is the most expensive option but you should be confident of getting a decent piece of kit. You can buy from a trader – they are generally very helpful in making sure you get something that suits you, you’ll have some comeback if you encounter problems in the short term and, if they are based at the track where you drive, you’ll have a source of assistance in those times of need (and there will be plenty). You can buy from an individual – either through contacts i.e. the local club, via one of the big two UK kart forums (www.karting1.co.uk and www.karting.co.uk – the latter tends to have a more active ‘for sale’ area) or via eBay. Avoid eBay if possible – that’s the place where the karts that haven’t sold anywhere else end up. It’s a great place for spares but not necessarily for karts and engines. You may also see retirement packages up for sale from time to time; these can offer very good value for money and the spares can prove to worth their weight in gold in the long run.

7. How do I avoid buying a dud?

If you are new and do not have expert friends, it’s very hard to be certain. Buy from a trader would be the easy advice. You need to ask the right questions but, even then, you will ideally need to visually inspect the kart and then test drive it.

8. What questions should I ask?

  • What make, model and year is kart?
  • Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives)
  • Is the engine Direct Drive, Clutched or TaG?*
  • What is the serial number of the engine?*
  • When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
  • Does it have a cast or CNC-machined barrel?*
  • How many hours since the last rebuild? (a TKM engine needs a rebuild after 8-10 hours and cost between £300-£400!)
  • On what bore is the engine? (TKM engines have a range of bore sizes, the maximum bore size for a Junior TKM engine is 51.40mm, for a Senior TKM engine it is 54.75mm. The point here is that, if the engine is on it’s final bore, it may be needing a new barrel at the next rebuild and that’s not cheap)*
  • Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
  • Does the chassis have any cracks/re-welds/rust/flattening? (yes to any of the above will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
  • What size rear axle does it have? (30mm tend to be found only in older karts, 50mm is the standard nowadays, converting from one to the other will cost extra)
  • What sized seat is included? (if it isn’t your size, you’ll be needing to buy one before you get out on track)
  • In what condition are the tyres?
  • What is the condition of the bodywork?
  • Exactly what spares are included?

* TKM specific questions – I am sure there will be other questions specific to other classes, it’s just that I cannot help you with them!

9. What are the essentials?

You will need:

  • An external starter (if going TKM Direct Drive or Clutched)
  • A kart trolley – to push your kart from the pits to the track
  • A data logging system (Mychron or Alfano) – the Mychron 4 is generally recognised to be the best of the affordable bunch
  • Some fuel cans, preferably different colours (one for mixed fuel, one for unmixed)
  • Fuel filters

10. What spares do I ‘need’?

You will want spare:

  • Tyres
  • Hubs
  • Sprockets
  • Chains
  • Carbs

You might want to consider spare:

  • Axle
  • Bodywork
  • Stub axles
  • Track rods
  • Bearings

11. What about perishables?

  • Chain lube
  • Carb cleaner
  • Brake cleaner
  • WD40/GT85
  • Engine oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel hose
  • Mechanics gloves
  • Cable ties
  • Hose clips
  • Nuts/Bolts

12. And tools?

  • Spark plug spanner
  • T-Bar socket (for wheel nuts)
  • T-Handle Hex/Allen Key set
  • Ratchet spanner set
  • Snippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Metal ruler

Feel free to post questions or suggest improvements 🙂

Engine rebuild

I’d been considering getting the engine rebuilt for some time; I bought the engine with ~3 hours on it prior to our test/purchase day (onto which I added a couple of hours just in case) and we had put 6 hours on it following the ARKS test. Given the recommended rebuild time of 8-10 hours I thought it best to err on the side of caution and book a rebuild.

The big question was who to use? The previous owner had had both his race and this practice engine (I bought the latter) rebuilt by Dave Litchfield – one of the best know engine builders in the country but I didn’t think I was really in a position to justify the additional cost of posting the engine for it to be rebuilt by the man lots of race teams use (not to mention I think I might have been a little out of my depth in any service discussion!). Looking at the numerous local options, I had heard good things about all three of the builders I was considering. I assumed that the quality of rebuild would be pretty much the same given the limited amount that can be done with a TKM engine so in the end it came down to convenience: I’d just finished a day at Clay and it was easy for me to leave it with Lee Rennison, the ARKS examiner at Clay (no conflict of interest here I hasten to add – I didn’t mention the rebuild until *after* the test!). He offers a rebuild service and I figured it would a) save me cleaning the engine when I got home, b) save me having to take or send it anywhere and c) potentially offer some local support if I ran into any engine issues at the track. And he’s a really nice bloke too!

The rebuild took a week and I picked it up today. The engine was in really good shape so I could probably have gotten another couple of hours in. Had I not lost the receipt at the track I could have told you exactly what I had done but it included new top and bottom-end kits, gaskets, bearings, a piston and three carb rebuilds for a [relatively] palatable £230. I am sure Junior will enjoy running it in later this month!

Whilst we were there I attempted to make Junior watch the drivers practising ahead of tomorrow’s race fixture and make some mental notes of the race lines. He never seems to listen to me, nor anybody else for that matter but I really hope watching a constant stream of drivers taking a decent chunk of kerb through The Esses might sink in. We’ll see…

Cost of engine rebuild: £230

Total spent so far: £2,910 (starting to regret keeping a running total now…)