Our first test day!

We had our first test day during the recent school holiday. I spent the evening before getting everything together. When I bought the kart, I was struck by how much harder bump starting had been compared with the Venom we had rented for the day. I had started the Venom with relative ease but the EVR was another matter altogether – the seller and his son had done all of the pushing after my initial lightweight effort merely repositioned the kart at the pit exit but it was hard work and the sight of them disappearing around the pit straight bend (a misnomer, if ever there was one) was a little concerning. Also concerning had been the need to lift the back end high, nose dragging, bumping it down hard and push harder for as long as it took! My previous starting experience had been so much nicer – lift a little, drop down and run 10 yards. Anxious to avoid any ball busting push starts, my friendly local expert (cheers, Mark!) had come over to check out the carb and recommended leaving the butterfly (throttle valve???) very slightly open to ease any starting woes. With the remote starter battery charged and my two 5l cans of fuel filled with Shell V-Power (after I had verified with the pump attendant that V-Power was the Shell Super Unleaded!), I figured I had everything set.

It’s funny how all karting preparation takes so much longer than you think; I had planned to set out at 08:00 so that we could get down to Clay by 09:30 and be ready to roll when the track opened at 10:00. My pre-flight trailer checks took an eternity and we arrived 45 minutes later than planned, making four unscheduled stops enroute: one to remove the kart and trailer covers, which were clearly not planning on staying on the trailer for much of the journey, and three to shift the kart after it kept hopping sideways on the trailer. Note to self: do the ratchet straps up as tightly as they’ll go otherwise the kart will move (I had been trying not to stress the frame overly). We got the track in glorious sunshine – it was probably the nicest day of the year so far and I was hugely relieved to see my aforementioned friendly local expert, who had decided to bring his lad after all – thanks again, Mark 🙂 It was a day for the noobs – my son has two other friends who have started karting this year and we arrived within 10 minutes of each other and set up camp. Fearful of screwing anything up, I had typed up the following list of things to do!

1. Fuel mixing (5l:300ml):
1. Add 300ml oil to 5l petrol and shake well
2. Put a paper filter into my filtering jug and fill the 3l tank

2. Carb settings:
1. Run the low jet at 2.5 turns
2. Run the high jet at about 10 mins past

Note: The low jet is screwed in at zero and then rotated clockwise in half turn movements. The jets screw IN clockwise then OUT anti-clockwise. Screw it clockwise until it touches, then just wind anti-clockwise.

3. Chain/sprocket:
1. Use the 82 sprocket unless he is passing 15k, 79 might be more appropriate in dry conditions

4. Tyre pressures:
1. 14psi for slicks in colder conditions and 24psi for wets
2. Go up a psi or two if it gets colder, down if it gets warmer/lap times drop
3. Minimum 9psi for both

5. Starting:
1. Remove the spark plug and sit it on top of the engine
2. Remove the airbox
3. Remove fuel pipe from carb
4. Blow the fuel through until it’s almost at the carb
5. Replace fuel pipe
6. Cover the carb whilst rotating the axle and hope to see the fuel being sucked into the carb
7. Replace everything
8. Start the engine on the trolley using the remote starter

6. Bump starting:
1. Lift
2. Run
3. Drop
4. Push
5. As kart starts to fire – light acceleration
6. Lightly choke if still not going
7. Couple of stabs on accelerator if needed

I know that some of the above would be considered sub-optimal – we ran a large sprocket when we bought the kart as my son really struggled to get the revs up on the straights and the tyre pressures fairly high as he wasn’t getting any hat into them.

Prepping a kart seems to take 90 minutes regardless – this was the case at the Clay Open Day where my son trialled a JTKM and Junior Max, when we rented the Venom and when we bought the EVR so I shouldn’t have been surprised that we weren’t ready to roll until 11:45. So on to the big moment (as per Section 6) –  I set myself up at the back of the pit lane to give myself maximum pushing time before I got to the point I’d be running around the bend under waved yellows! Lift – run – keep running – something isn’t right, it doesn’t sound like it’s firing – we stopped at the bottom of the pit exit. “Dad, the spark plug isn’t in”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oops! With the spark plug in, it started perfectly – minimal lift, 5 yards and he was off 🙂 I watched from the centre of the track with the *hugest* smile of satisfaction – all the effort, hours reading online, watching kart sales, hassle of towing, haggling, buying – were forgotten. It was open track and, with no more than eight karts on track at its busiest, we were able to kart, kart and kart. My son’s previous times were massively off of the pace – 10 seconds off in the Venom, 8 seconds off when we bought the EVR but his early times now were in the 42s. His revs were > 15k so we moved down to a 79 sprocket and let the tyre pressures down to 11psi as the track warmed. His best time was a 37.5 until he lost a wheel (Lesson #145: always check your nuts) and then things got colder and the wheel loss seemed to create some doubt in his mind as he never broke 40s after that. It was a fantastic day though – I only forgot to put the spark plug in one more time and he’d have carried on all night if he could have (as it was we used the 10l of fuel we brought and it was getting time to think about leaving). 140 laps in the bag, a kart than ran beautifully and started every time, no offs and 8 seconds quicker than his previous best. I even had a chance to take some nice pics too courtesy of Greg, who lent me a very, very nice piece of glass 🙂

Cost of day: £12 petrol to get there, £15 petrol for the kart, £35 practice fee, £40 Clay Pigeon Loyalty Card

Total spent so far: £2170

Buying a kart (part 2)

I’ve done nothing but spend my spare time on karting stuff since Christmas – the whole towing/kart finding/learning/bartering process has been more stress than I typically have to endure but… here she is!!!


It’s a 2009 Tonykart EVR which, as you can see, is sitting on top of my fairly low-tech trailer lid!!! Having it in the garage takes a huge weight off of my shoulders! I’d been monitoring two karts for some time: this one, which was offered to me before Christmas through one of the Karting forums, and a 2011 Wright which had been relisted on eBay in numerous packages with varying levels of completeness. Unfortunately both sets of negotiations came to a head at the same time: I agreed to buy the Wright, got cold feet and luckily this one was still available (always go with your gut feeling!).

I had negotiated a price/package with my seller over the prior weeks that included the rolling chassis, complete engine (from airbox to exhaust), used slicks on rims, used wets on rims and a trolley for £700. In addition I was buying the following extras to the tune of £300: Mychron 4, remote starter, new slicks, kart cover and a comprehensive spares package. I don’t feel at all comfortable haggling with people so did it all via email rather than in person so that I could negotiate harder than I otherwise would. If I were the seller, I’d have told me where to stick my initial offer but there is no point in starting high – it will just cost you more!

The day began with my second towing journey – no problems there although I did have to learn how to use ratchet straps (tip: much easier to figure out when you are actually wrapping it around the trailer than testing them on the lounge floor). Met the seller at Clay and spent the day learning what I could about being a mechanic whilst my son set about trying to find the 10 seconds that he had been off of the pace when we had rented a kart a few weeks earlier. Bump starting was a much harder task with this kart compared with the rented kart and I soon had to make way for the seller and his to do the starting (and even then they were running around the first bend trying to get him going). We also had to spend some time adjusting the things, including installing a smaller seat, to accomodate the difference in size between the new and former owner which necessitated a first ever purchase from the shop at Clay (pedal extensions – £25). The timing of the purchase wasn’t great – my contacts were unable to make it on the day to give me an expert opinion on the chassis, which was a concern as the kart had been involved in an accident in it’s last outing in October. I had been assured that the kart was straight and that there were no cracks, rust or flat spots – everything looked ok to my untrained eye and, unless was prepared to spend the £50 to get it checked on a jig, I was going to have go on trust/take a punt.

So after a day’s testing, in which my son was still 8 seconds off the pace (but had a great time which was far more important in only his second day in a ‘proper’ kart), I parted with the readies and also bought a couple of extras that weren’t part of the original deal (spare carb – £30, transponder – £40, Tillett R4 rib protector – £25). Then, as if by magic, one of my contacts came along and started inspecting the kart and asking a lot of questions – and then he pointed out a small crack just off a weld on the front end. Gutted!!! What could I do? I’d paid for the kart and, although I trying to back never crossed my mind, I knew that a crack or weld *significantly* impacts the value of a chassis. I pointed it out and the seller offered my another carb – basically 10% off the chassis. That didn’t make up for the crack but I didn’t feel I had much choice but to take whatever charity was offered. So I loaded all the bits in the trailer and the boot and the back of the Clio and the footwell around my son’s feet. Then we set about fixing the kart to the trailer before heading for home, £1120 poorer but with a pretty decent entry level kart (with crack) and two feet firmly entrenched into the world of karting. The journey was a little nervous – checking my mirrors every 15 yards to see if the kart moved and we got all of 25 yards down the road before pulling over to remove the kart cover which was clearly going to disappear very soon! Other than that the journey was a smooth one.

Total spent so far: £1610 (£110 over budget!!!)

Buying a kart (part 1)

There is *so* much to consider when buying a kart. You need to set a budget and pick a class (see ‘How Much Does Karting Cost?‘). Having spent two months watching karts sale on the karting forums and on eBay, I developed a reasonable picture of how much things would sell for and the kinds of questions that must be asked when enquiring about karts for sale.

Which class – rotax or TKM?
My budget (£1500 in total – £650-£700 for a complete kart, moving upto £1000 depending upon how comprehensive the spares package was and £500 for a trailer/towbar) essentially ruled out rotax so I only looked at Junior TKMs.

A complete kart with spares package or a rolling chassis on which to build the kart?
I settled on a retirement package – they seem to come up frequently enough that finding one within reasonable travelling distance should be possible and they offer great value for money when compared to buying the necessary bits individually (rolling chassis, complete engine (airbox > exhaust), slicks/wets, Mychron, trolley, starter, a spare carb and a few chains/sprockets – it soon adds up even if you decide you don’t need all of the above) although I was wary of over-valuing any spares package (as sellers tend to do) given I might not end up ever using some of the bits (or even identify them!). If you know what you are doing and are happy to wait for the right prices then the rolling chassis route may be more feasible for you than it was me!

Which engine type – direct drive, clutched or TAG?
I favoured direct drive as they are cheaper (a bit less than clutched and a lot less than TAG) and require less maintenance. Some say they are quicker but cost was the primary consideration. The only downside is bump starting – I rented a direct drive kart from a member at the local track to satisfy myself that this would not be a problem so never really considered the alternatives.

Where to buy?
I’d recommend the local kart club first of all – they may know of members selling up or changing classes and I found them *extremely* helpful (thanks, Derek!) and full of very good advice on what you might want to be looking out for. I definitely would not have decided to go for it were it not for the help of the kart club and members whom I met in the karting forums. Failing that then the best sources are the Karting.co.uk Market Place and the Karting1.co.uk For Sale forum (the former seems to get more items listed) and, of course, there is eBay. I watched a lot of karts go on eBay; the impression I get with is that you really need to know what you are looking for here as, whilst there may be the odd bargain to be found, there is probably an awful lot of stuff that nobody else wanted (although it’s a great source for spares and some of the little things that you will find you need later on). Your best bet is to find something that the seller is happy to bring to your local track, where you can try it out, see what you are buying and hopefully have one or two friendly members pore over it before you hand over your money.

Questions to ask when buying a kart/chassis:
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
What is the serial number of the engine?
When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
How many hours since the last rebuild?
Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
Does the chassis have any cracks/rewelds/rust/flattening? (any chassis issue will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
What sized seat is included?
In what condition are the tyres?
What is the condition of the bodywork?
Exactly what spares are included?

If I was going to spend my full £1000 budget, I wanted to ensure that my spares package included a decent set of slicks and wets both on rims (the MSA approved wet tyres changed for 2013 so, whilst you can practice on anything, you need this year’s wets to race in any MSA events after April 1st), a Mychron 4, a trolley (*essential*) and a remote starter.

The Three Big Questions #3: How much does karting cost?

So your son is going to love it and you’ve decided you are up to the challenge so now it’s all down to the money – how much will this all cost? Unsurprisingly, it really depends upon how seriously you are going to take it and how much you are willing to spend (it will use up whatever budget you have and then some!). The up front costs are more visible, it’s the ongoing costs that mount up. To start with you need to decide on a class – Junior TKM is generally accepted to be cheaper than the Junior and Mini Rotax classes (there is plenty of discussion to be found on which class is preferred and Spellfame’s overview of the various karting classes is very informative) although it may boil down to what is popular at your local track. You must then set your budget for your kart – will you opt for a complete starter package or are you going to buy a rolling chassis and build up the kart from there? Then there are the things that you will need to have when you arrive at the track for the first time – tools, racewear, fuel and we haven’t gotten to the maintenance side of things yet!

I was aiming very much at the entry level; I have friends who bought karts for their sons at the same time but whose budget was up to three times the size of mine! Here is the list of items that figured in my karting costs spreadsheet along with the costs I factored in, obviously you may not need all of this…

Initial costs:
Kart – complete Junior TKM kart and a decent spares package* (£1,000)
Towing – towbar fitted, camping-style trailer (£500)
Racewear – racesuit (£100), rainsuit (£20), rib protector (optional – £60), neck brace (optional – £30), CMR 2007 certified helmet for MSA racing (£150-£400)
Track membership – Clay Pigeon offer members £5 off every practice session (£35)
ARKS pack – only necessary if MSA racing (£50)
ARKS license test – only necessary if MSA racing (£90)

Karting costs:
Practice day – £40 per day
Race day – £47 per day
Transponder hire (if racing and don’t own one) – £10 hire per day

Race slick tyres** (3-4 race days per set) – £130 per set
Race wet tyres** (1-2 sets per year) – £130 per set
Chains – £20 each
Sprockets – £15 each
Fuel (~5 litres per day @ 135p/ltr + oil) – £8 per day
Petrol to get to track (2 gallons per trip) – £12

Engine rebuild (every 8-12 hours) – £250-£340 depending upon who
Carburettor clean (every 3 sessions) – £15

* Make sure you get a trolley, preferably spare tyres/rims, sprockets, chains, a seat that fits and any spare body/chassis bits you can!
** Whilst your son is getting up to speed, he won’t be wearing the tyres out as quickly