The thing I hate most about karting…

If there is one thing worse than looking at a TKM engine that has ten hours on it, it’s the sight of eight tyres that need changing! Aside from having to stomach some considerable costs, the lows of troubleshooting when you are out of your depth, running without an awning in what seems to be one of the wettest locations on Earth and watching your lad ignore your advice lap after lap, there isn’t really much I don’t enjoy about karting 😉 That is with the exception of changing tyres: everybody will tell you it’s easy – and they certainly make it look so – but I *really* despise changing the bloody things. Getting them off the rims is easier than putting them on. I don’t think my technique is far off and I have actually changed a set on my own but I fail more often than not – I just don’t think my office-boy fingers are built for it!!!

So it’s Wednesday, I have three evenings to replace our practice and race tyres (with more used ones, of course) for Clay’s end of season Turkey Trot and I’ll be spending tonight sat on a dust sheet on the kitchen floor, hands sticky with tyre paste, fingers aching, sweating profusely and cussing at nobody in particular!!! Now there’s a picture you won’t be seeing…

***OUR FIRST RACE WEEKEND***

Practice Saturday

Having previously been looking forward to this all week, my enthusiasm had been dampened a little by the ever-changing weather forecast for the weekend. Saturday was forecast to be mostly dry with the chance of a 10am shower so, with this in mind, Friday night was spent setting up the kart for dry running. We arrived at the track in good time and parked amidst the Junior TKM mob, several of whom we had become friendly with over the months. Then it rained. Junior and I covered up the kart and then decided to give it 15 mins to see if the rain would stop so, whilst most folk were getting set under their awnings, we were sat in a steamed-up Clio hoping not to get soaked at the start of the day (remember I had failed to get the waterproof clothing the day before!). The rain stopped but we were then rushing to get the kart set – mixing the fuel, priming the carb, getting the wets on etc for the first run of the day. It being a race practice, we were out for only 10 minutes and I really needed to know the kart was ok (especially the electrics as I had not started it up since replacing the HT lead). We got out and managed 3 laps before the session ended but that was fine, the kart was running and that was the main thing.

The remainder of the day is a bit of a blur now – I had intended to write this up on Saturday evening. The day went very smoothly; the track wasn’t all that quick and we were on tyres that had seen 200+ laps so I wasn’t expecting us to set any PBs. We ended up about a second off the pace with a best time of 36.5s but the kart ran reliably all day, giving me the opportunity to walk around the track and view Junior’s lines in some of the corners that I don’t see properly when standing in the middle of the track. This really was an eye-opener: I could see that he wasn’t really getting the power down as quickly exiting the Top Bend and he was able to correct that the following session. The biggest issue was Billies: he was entering too narrowly, not killing enough speed and consequently running wide and having to stay wide (in order to avoid losing the back end) for a large part of the corner. That explained why he had consistently been overtaken on the entry to The Esses. Unfortunately we didn’t make much progress there in the final session of the day but at least we knew there was something to work on.

I was really tired when I got home and, faced with an even earlier start, didn’t really fancy doing any work on the kart despite the updated forecast showing heavy rain throughout the Sunday.

Race Sunday

I got up at 5:45am (it’s funny how the driver gets up a fair bit later than that!) to ensure that we got to Clay as close to 8:00am as possible and had plenty of time to change the kart setup. We arrived in the low cloud gloom that typifies Clay in the autumn/winter months but at least it was not raining. The track was wet but I decided against raising the axle height in case I ran out of time – for some reason I had always removed the axle to change it’s height and it was only later when another Dad commented that you could leave it in place that I realised I had been removing brake discs etc unnecessarily!

After almost failing to sign in before the deadline and then listening to the drivers briefing, I decided to sign up for a marshall jacket – this meant I’d be responsible for restarting any spinners or removing their kart from any danger zones but it meant I could be in the middle of the track to watch Junior as opposed to watching from the pit lane. I really do hate the latter as you cannot see the whole track and I find myself nervously waiting for Junior to come back into view (which always seems to take longer than it should!). It was the kind of weather when you have both sets of tyres next to the kart, ready to fit slicks or wets at the last minute. For our 3 lap warm-up, we all went out on wets. The karts are bunched up at the front of the dummy grid so you don’t have the luxury of affording yourself a long run-up for the push start; fortunately the kart started almost instantly and off he went. You’d think a 3 lap warm-up would be pretty unadventurous but Junior managed to spin it entering Billies for the third time! He braked too hard and said “Hello” to Junior 177s as he went backwards into the run-off and they went past him. At this point I was beginning to wonder what kind of day this was going to be.

The kart was ready for Heat 1 – we were running 20mm spacers on the front and the rears were in as far as possible. I only have the standard front and rear hubs so no changes there. The front height was at medium and the rear end still low. The big question was tyres – there was dampness in the air but there had been no more rain and the track was drying. Everyone was on wets for the first four races but the Senior TKM heat really spiced things up – the only driver on wets took a half lap lead and held onto it, despite what appeared to be a dry line and losing a little of his lead towards the end. This posed some questions for the Junior TKM Dads but the unanimous opinion was in favour of slicks. Off came our slicks and on went the wets!!! For some reason, I really had the urge to mix things up and so I put it to Junior who was also in favour. What did we have to lose? We were starting last and would finish last on any track, especially a wet one. Ok, so there was a downside – if we were wrong, not only could we finish an embarrassingly long way behind but we might also ruin the £50 used tyres we had yet to run on. Our actions generated some interest from the other Dads – I don’t know whether they thought I was being naive or whether this made their tyre choice that bit more critical; if it paid off, we could be in with a chance! Although everybody knew we wouldn’t be standing on the podium at the end of the day, you really shouldn’t let the noob win his first race should you? :O

We got to the dummy grid and appeared to be the only kart on wets until the Super 1 racer came along and stole our thunder! Now we definitely wouldn’t win but it really was exciting, especially when it started to spit with rain. Race time and sadly, no more rain! Off they went and the person in front of Junior spun on the warm-up lap. I was concerned that Junior may not know what he was supposed to do at this point and start out of position – he certainly didn’t seem to show any signs of giving up the newly acquire space! Fortunately the spinner caught up and hustled his way in just as they approached the formation area on the second warm-up lap. It was a massive thrill to see Junior in the field as they bunched up for the start (is it just me or is this the anxious bit for Dads?) – I just crossed everything that he didn’t pile into them like skittles going into Billies! Billies must have been pretty wet as Junior made up places coming out of there and again going into The Hairpin. Cue huge smile on my face – ok, so we wouldn’t normally be anywhere near as quick as these guys but find ourselves in the mix was fantastic. Junior made another pass at The Hairpin again and was now 5th. He pulled a bit of a gap but the front four had dropped him, with the other driver on wets leading but only by a second or so – the tyre option must have been a really close call. Junior then almost lost it into The Hairpin (my marshalling point is where it all seemed to be happening), just caught the back end but lost a place to a friend against whom he would have been racing at Castle Combe this time last year. They had a really good tussle – Junior clearly had the grip through the corners but lost ground on the straights, after he few laps he dived into a gap left on the inside of The Hairpin but slid into the other kart, causing them to spin. I cringed a little, wondering how tough the clerks are on things like that and hoping Junior could keep his nose clean for the rest of the day. The 4th place kart broke down on the final lap so Junior moved up another place. To say we were satisfied would be a massive understatement 🙂

That was the high point of the day and it went downhill a little from there so you can expect this part to be a little shorter 😉 Heat 2 saw the track drying and sky brightening – slicks were a no-brainer. Until the previous race finished and it rained heavily! We (I mean Team KartingDad, not the entire field) were all at sea, quite literally – Junior looked like Bambi on ice out there and, although he finished 5th following three DNFs, it was very distant 5th (closer to the Junior 177s than the Junior TKMs!). Heat 3 really showed where we were at, close enough for the first couple of laps but dropped pretty quickly after that and finishing 8th, 21 seconds adrift. I realised then that whilst the others were racing, we were getting wet practice the hard way. Those practice days cancelled because of weather were hurting us. A lot! Junior was still enjoying but, by this time, I was soaked! Thankfully one of the other Dads took pity on me and invited me to share his awning (thanks, Wilf – I owe you a beer!). At this point there was a lunch break so I raised the rear axle height to try to make things easier for Junior. The rain continued through the afternoon and the final saw Junior start 6th courtesy of our decent finshes in the first two heats. He appeared to lose one place BEFORE THEY CROSSED THE START LINE!!! (does nobody watch this???) and was back to 8th by the end of lap one. Having run smoothly all weekend, our final ended after 3 laps with a DNF (Dad Not Focused) – whilst changing the axle height I had negated to properly tighten the engine mount (yes, that old bugbear). Blame the weather, the rushing, the not wanting to get in the way of my generous awning host. Or just blame me :/

Anyway, the chain came off and that was that – at least my new and expensive Panther chain hadn’t snapped. I did find that it allowed me to enjoy the rest of the final – a decent contest with some very tidy moves deciding the outcome. We stuck around long enough to congratulate the winner, say goodbye to friends (some new, some even newer!) and set off for home as quickly as possible. It is no fun driving home in wet pants, nor getting home and spending the next three hours dyring/cleaning the kart! The day itself was a great experience though – the TKM community at Clay are a *very* friendly bunch and our 4th place is something I will always remember. We desperately need some more wet practice – not only for driver but for the mechanic to learn how to properly set a kart up for the wet. The 15psi guidance that I had taken from the Tal-Ko tips on Getting The Best From Your Tyres was definitely not enough and probably a big factor in Junior’s struggles. When they say “So with the Maxxis tyres we use generally the slicks should be pressured at around the 12 – 15 psi area and they will work fine. And similar for the new wets.“, you can ignore that and just go with the summary on their tyre overview page which more usefully advises “between 8lbs to 25lbs pressure all round. The wetter it is the higher the pressure“. You live and learn…

Cost of weekend: £24 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £35 novice race fee

Total spent so far: £3,731

Changing tyres ain’t easy!

This week I bought a bead breaker, a tyre removal tool and some tyre paste as I wanted to get some fresher rubber on for this weekend and I cannot keep asking another Dad to host me whilst I use all his stuff to change tyres. There are two parts that I really struggle with: getting the tyre removal tool disc into rim (so that you can run the tool around the tyre prior to removal) and then working the tyre onto the rim. I think it’s just my general patheticness as an office boy: getting the removal tool in place is about brute force and working the tyre onto the rim seems to be all about finger strength – and I don’t really have any! Changing the wets last time wasn’t too bad but the new(er) slicks I just put on were some else entirely. Once again I can only claim credit for half the set but I’ll be on my own next time so more practice is inevitable.

Cost of tools: £25 bead breaker and removal tool, £3 tyre paste

Total spent so far: £3,227

Practice 10: a damp start but a brighter outlook?

This was the (hopefully) first of back-to-back Saturdays at Clay in a bid to get us on the grid for October. It was also the first time we were going on a race weekend so I knew it would be very busy and that we’d get less track time although, on the plus side, we’d also get to see exactly how far off we were compared to the prospective competition. Unusually we were out the door by 7:40 and, even more astoundingly, didn’t get stuck behind a tractor or a lorry for the entire journey! 🙂

We were at the track over an hour before it opened and it was really nice to be able take some time in getting set up, fixing the satellite position for the MyTach GPS (I wanted to have another go at capturing some GPS data) and chatting to some of our fellow karters  (note to self: you need to get here early more often). I am ashamed to say it was during this time that I [properly] swore at Junior for the first time! 🙁 He wanted to help get the kart ready but, at the moment, I really need to make sure it is all done properly (as properly as I can do it at least) and so whilst I was checking the carb, the throttle, the bolts etc I said he could put the fuel in. The problem is that our Mr Funnel (great device but it automatically wastes the last bit of fuel no matter whether it is polluted or not!) doesn’t sit nicely in between the tank and the steering wheel and he was struggling a little so I told him I would pour if he held the funnel in place. So some time passes and the fuel is flowing nicely until, all of a sudden, it is going everywhere – the kart, the tyres, me and the floor! “What the **** are you doing!?!” was the automated response that came out as I looked up to see him picking at something on his hand!!! Junior went off and shut himself in the car. Not wanting to start the day on the wrong foot I apologised after cleaning up (another note to self: don’t do that again, at least not while he’s still a kid!).

Back to kart-related matters… the groups size for juniors was around 25 karts as Junior TKM, JuniorMax and MiniMax were combined. Junior tends to warm his tyres up over the first three laps and this time was no different although, in a 10-minute session, it only leaves you 9 laps to get your head down. The sun was shining but the track had puddles in places from the overnight rain: Junior didn’t look particularly quick and came back with a best lap of 38.8s. Two things that I find hard to do are assess the speed of the track and interpret what the tyres are telling me after a session. I figured it was early and we’d see how the next couple of sessions went. We did capture a full set of GPS data on the MyTach for the first time but I’ll write about that once I have had a chance to play with the software. The second session was brief – after starting him, I decided to watch Junior from the pit wall rather than my usual spot on-track. Now if you are a karting Dad you’ll know the feeling when you cannot see your lad on track – your eyes scout back looking at the kart/overall/helmet combinations but Junior was nowhere to be seen – somebody had spun in The Esses and Junior’s avoidance route sent him into the plastic barrier. The kart was ok and I pushed it across the grass to get it back on track (not the easiest of things with a direct drive) and sent him on his way but he immediately pulled into the pits complaining of something dragging on the side. I checked everything but found nothing – I can only assume the crash had heightened his sensitivity to things and it was the loose side pod (which we run quite loose) that had concerned him.

Things picked up once one of the other racer’s stopped by for a chat and pointed out that my tyres were seriously over inflated at 16psi (thanks, Sam); I had been starting them off at 10 or 11psi in the warmer weather but it was a cooler start and the track was damp in places so I had started at 16. Taking them down to 11psi instantly shaved a second off of our lap times! We then had a heavy but brief shower which had me scratching my head – the sun was shining approaching our session although no significant dry line had yet appeared. It looked too dry for wets though and I wasn’t keen to put on and then ruin my new set. The cadets immediately before us were on wets but I opted for slicks (as I think did the entire junior grid), opting just to move the rear hubs in fully in case the back got a bit more lively. Junior did really well: there was definitely less of a gap between him and the rest on the damp track and I am hoping that he proves to be pretty good in the wet, where his arrive/drive experience of karts with less grip may prove useful. During the afternoon Junior’s lap times were into the low 37s – he was still just under 2 seconds off the pace but he was enjoying it and showing glimpses of improving his lines. The kart was running fine and the only interruption we suffered was when the exhaust flex split, we lost an exhaust spring and the exhaust found itself more wriggle room (cue loud noise and an early end to the session). That aside the afternoon was largely uneventful; I reacquainted myself with wheel spacers as a means of saving time measuring the rear width (once you note how wide the rear is with the hubs pushed right in you can then just add the width of the spacers). The only other thing of interest to happen was my getting recognised by someone who had read my blog and recognised the kart (I think this was the same person who also got stung on the mouth by a wasp – I hope that healed ok!).

We came to the final session of the day and, as if by magic, Junior is suddenly hitting apexes and using more of the track!!! It was amazing (relatively speaking): an entry into and out of The Esses that you would expect to see somebody else do, exiting wide out of The Hairpin with wheels on the concrete kerbs followed up with… an appalling line through The Hairpin (the first corner Junior seemed to crack!). I had to laugh but those corners were no fluke – Junior’s lines throughout that session were significantly better 🙂

We packed up and headed home. I was very happy – the last session had turned what would otherwise have been an ok day into what may prove to have been a day where we took a big step forward. It soured a little after that: when your dry kart is uncovered and on top of a trailer the last thing you want to meet when heading home is heavy rain (we’ve tried covering it, the cover gets wrecked). Unfortunately, the whole of Somerset seemed to be cover by the most gloomy of grey clouds and there was no end to the rain for a decent chunk of our route home. Instead of sitting on the sofa with a beer in one hand and my feet on the sofa, I spent Saturday evening taking the kart apart spraying GT85 everywhere. Don’t you just love it?

The key now is how Junior starts next time: if he can start where he left off I am hoping the improved lines will lead to reduced lap times although, knowing Junior, it really is more hope than expectation – he likes to do things his own way!

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Total spent so far: £3,199

Practice 7: Engine run-in and new fastest lap (not at the same time, of course…)

Today was our eagerly awaited practice day at Clay: having weighted the kart at Junior’s race weight and added the black restrictor (which is actually silver but, hey – it was a 99p eBay purchase and I took a punt, then subsequently discovered it wasn’t MSA legal having lost it’s anodised colouring!), I was really keen to see how Junior managed having picked up some good pace when unweighted last time. I awoke early as I seem to on every kart day – 4:55am this time, brain fully switched on running over the things I needed to remember to take and then all of the things to remember when we got to the track. Up at 6:10, out the door by 7:45 (just in case we hit Glastonbury traffic) and at the track at 9:15 – in plenty of time to get things sorted 🙂

Before we could really get going, our first business was to run-in the engine. This was our first session as a licensed driver 🙂 but Junior was driving up to 8,000rpm (or dangerously slow as it seemed) and there were a couple of close calls in our ten minutes on track. Afterwards one of the stewards suggested we continue running-in the engine with the cadets, which I was more than happy to do. This worked in the second session,when he moved up to 11,000rpm (and I bravely ignored a broken toe to resume bump starting duties ;)), but not in the third session where we were getting up to 15,000rpm and he got told off for racing cadets (and breaking my 40s lap rule!). Our job was done at that point though and, although he was still on a ‘not above 15k’ brief when back out with the adults, we could focus on the more intriguing part of the day.

It didn’t start too well – for the first time in our ownership the kart didn’t start and I was shattered, having ran myself into the ground well past The Kink! I am not sure Junior fully knows what he needs to when we are starting although, if I am honest, I probably didn’t fully understand either. It had just worked nicely previously. With some tips from friendly Dads (don’t pump the pedal, wait for the engine to spark then slowly and gradually accelerate), we got out again for three laps before the end of the session but, most importantly, it started fine.

After that things went just about as well as we could have hoped – the kart ran, we had no mechanical problems *at all* 🙂 (although Junior did spin into the tyres exiting the Top Bend), he was happy with the kart and preferred the handling with the extra weight on board (the back end seemed much less inclined to hop out as he accelerated out of the corner) and he knocked 0.7s off his previous best and recorded a 36.21. He was a little disappointed not to break the 36.0s mark although my biggest concern was the kart’s weight – Junior stood no chance of lifting the kart off the floor and I was reliant upon friendly faces to help me get the kart back onto the trolley. I don’t really want to keep putting on others so I might need to look at the self-loading trolley options. Chances are though, he’ll start growing by the time I finally get something sorted! All-in-all, it was a really good day; I think Junior is quick enough to race now (without being lapped!) although we have a lot on next month and I have promised him we’ll go to Dunkeswell for a practice day. August’s race meeting at Clay is the target 🙂

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £10 petrol for 7l super unleaded for the kart (session was free as we had a credit note after our accident).

Purchases since my last post: used set of slicks from the forums: £30

Total spent so far: £2,977

Farewell first set of nearly-new slicks!

They have been on the kart since we bought it and subsequently done 408 laps (or 241 miles!) but the time has come to bid farewell to our first set of nearly new slicks. Ironically Junior set his PB around Clay in his final session using them but there is no time for sentiment 😉 I have replaced them with another set of nearly new slicks that I bought for £30 from one of the forums 🙂 Removing the tyres from their rims was a smoother process than putting the new ones on – especially the rears. I think I could claim credit for maybe 1.75 of the 4 tyres so definitely more practice required. Not sure my office fingers are up to the job!

Whilst I was doing ‘kart stuff’, I completed the addition of the weight to the seat so we are almost good to go on Saturday (I have some good friends offering to help me with the push starting if the toe is problematic). I am really looking forward to seeing how Junior fares in the kart at his racing weight. Not so much looking forward to lifting the kart onto the trolley with him – he really struggled before we added 7kg…