Racing at Clay Pigeon Kart Club’s feature round, the annual Cancer Research weekend, hadn’t previously been a consideration for our season-ending schedule. Having initially ignored the appeals of one of their more enthusiastic members, who had taken it upon himself to drum up the TKM support (which, from my efforts at Llandow, I could empathise with!), it became a lot more appealing as I thought about the amount of time between our last race (the TKM Festival in August) and our next (the TKM Britain’s Finest event at the end of this month). Ten weeks without any seat time wouldn’t put us in the best position to compete at Whilton Mill. With Junior never having raced there, I know that we aren’t likely to compete at the sharp end anyway but you don’t want to be too rusty from a race perspective. Junior was keen so we decided to put in a late entry. In contrast to the Extreme grid, which had attracted some Super One entries, the Junior grid was fairly small comprising mostly of the newer Llandow drivers and a couple of other guest entrants, one of whom had earned a top ten finish at the Festival so I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have it all our own way. We’d also be holding back on our race engine (with 9.5 hours on it and destined for the race day at Whilton before being converted to Extreme) and tyres (our prize slicks from the Festival are also reserved for Whilton). This meant that we’d be taking a punt on the tyres we had used at the Festival and, based on our experiences at Llandow last year, could prove a serious disadvantage. It didn’t really matter though; This was all about keeping Junior race-fit and helping our old club to support a great cause. It was almost exactly three years to the day since making our race debut here and two years since we had left the club for the final time, our spirits crushed once again.
We arrived at the track nice and early to find TKM Corner was a bit of a ghost town! What had once been the life and soul of the paddock was largely empty; The area surrounding the new reception/café/viewing area was now the place to be. That was fine, this was about old times so we pitched up and peered into the fog across the track. Some things never change! By the time the first session arrived, the mist had gone. From the minute he hit the track Junior appeared to be on it!
The day went perfectly. The JTKM drivers had been grouped with Mini Max/ Formula Blue and Junior appeared to be the fastest in his group even without our race setup. Perfectly that is right up until the final session of the day when the practice engine seized entering Billies. With us nursing our race engine to Whilton, this was absolutely the last thing we needed to happen. Junior knew this and was leant against the tyres with his head in his hands. I feared the worst but hoped that he had just spun out and was disappointed in himself. That wasn’t the case unfortunately and we wheeled the kart back to the paddock. As soon as I saw the dry spark plug, I knew what I would find when I removed the head and barrel: The piston head was bone dry and the ring clearly pinched at the rear. The barrel was scored but only lightly. The piston had an inch shaving on the rear where it had clearly hit the barrel. Our day was done and, almost certainly, our weekend too. I had paid the race entry fee at the start of the day against my better judgement and it looked like we’d be writing that off. I daren’t risk the race engine in such a small race, so close to rebuild time and with Whilton only weeks away.
We had some very generous offers of engine loans but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them: If you aren’t prepared to risk your own engine, you cannot really take someone else’s! We began to pack up and then one of the dads offered to take an engine to Whilton for us just in case anything happened to our remaining engine. With the race engine having had a bottom end build a few hours ago, I was happy to give it a go knowing that we had a backup plan in case the worst happened at Whilton; It isn’t as if seizing engines is common for us (he said touching lots of wood) and we were here to race after all!
We arrived at Clay on race day to see the track basking in glorious sunshine, something of a contrast to the practice day. Our GoPro failed scrutineering for the first time ever: The scrutineer didn’t like the tether being drilled through the case and wanted me to knock the metal bar out of the hinge and run the tether cable through there. Forget that! We just took it off instead. Ahead of the warm-up, one of our rivals pointed out to Junior that used slicks would cost us around 0.3s around Clay. We knew that, the question was whether we’d be competitive… not only on used slicks but Festival-used slicks. Our experiences last year had suggested this would be a factor. We’d soon find out.
If things had gone pear-shaped from a tyre perspective at this point, I had a brilliant headline already planned: “What goes on at Kimbolton, stays at Kimbolton”. It wasn’t obvious over the three lap warm-up but Junior was adamant that we’d need to drop a tooth before the first race. There is a small difference between our race and practice engines and, since we hadn’t intended to use the race engine at all over the weekend, we hadn’t done any test sessions on it. Heat #1 would set the tone for the day: We’d either be on the pace or not. Starting on pole was a good thing since it would allow us to properly gauge our pace. Junior got a good start and soon eased clear, helped by our main challengers having a really entertaining tussle for the last half of the race, and we won by a little over 5s. Our tyres were clearly good enough and it would be interesting to see how we fared starting in less optimal grid positions in the following heats. As we were in parc ferme one of my friends, a Tal-Ko henchman no-less 😉 , thought he would point out that it would be my fault if Junior lost today! I’m not one to count my chickens (and, if you’ve read my blog, you’ll understand why) but I could see his point: There was a chance that the biggest risk to our chances would be me (or a mechanical failure, which is still my fault!).
Heat #2 was better still: Starting in 4th, Junior found an inside line through Billies and emerged in the lead. You don’t see that very often! The race proceeded to play out just like the first heat; Junior pulled a 5s lead as his two rivals again duked it out and he had eased things down as he approached the finish. Heat #3 would be the biggest challenge. Starting 7th, Junior just had to make sure he didn’t get caught up in anything and we’d assess the scale of our task once we had the leader in our sights. Again, he got another great start and was second entering The Esses. He whiffed at a couple of moves before taking the lead on lap three, pulled clear and managed the gap to second to take the win.
So far, so good. We would start on pole for the final and everything was looking rosy. Why then was I feeling so much pressure!?! I had checked and double-checked everything, checked the side pod bars, bumper bolts, even inspected the exhaust brackets for cracks! The final looked as if it was ours to lose. Lunch was quite late and our final was at the tail end of the card by which time, the temperature had dropped significantly. The first time that Junior ever had a pole at Clay, he completely messed up the start: Carrying far too much speed in his excitement, running wide and dropping to last. I wouldn’t blame excitement this time (and he blamed my bleeding of his brakes giving him more stopping power than he had expected) but the result was the same: He locked up and had to save the back end. Fortunately it had a knock-on effect on almost everybody else as their corners were compromised and he managed to deny second a passing move on the entrance to The Esses. Once clear, Junior was under instruction to again manage the gap and avoid the bolt-snapping potential of the rumble strip exiting The Esses. He did enough to win by a little under 5s 🙂
So that was that! It wasn’t as close as we thought/I hoped it might have been and, although they went off a little at the end, the tyres held up well all things considering. The trophies for the event were pretty impressive: We’ve never been given a solid wooden storage box for a trophy before and Junior was now the custodian of a second large, perpetual trophy 😀
My lasting memory of this weekend will be watching Junior absolutely nail Billies time and time again. This won’t sound impressive to you but I spent countless hours stood in the centre of the track watching Junior taking this corner thousands of times over a year and a half; Entering The Kink too early, running too far across the track, not able to get back to take the right line and having to get on the brakes all too early. He had always been a sitting duck. In the time that we had been away we’d finally stumbled into the brake issue that had hindered Junior for *so* long and it should be no surprise that Junior has improved in his time away from Clay. His woes, our woes, at the track had been in-grained into my mind ever since and, watching him now, really hit home how significantly he has improved (or how poor we had been!).
There was a stark contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home this time and those journeys home in 2014. We’d contested the Cancer Research weekend back then and been awful. It would have been amazing to have had the 2014 grid here: Many of them have moved onwards and upwards and I’d love to have seen how we fared against them. With the Extreme races having been the highlights on the on-track action all through the day, we’ll definitely return for the event in 2017.