I love karting (again)

Setting a PB lap time should be a good thing, right? Not if your son, his mate and his Dad all set better PBs than yours and especially if there is 0.8s difference between the quickest and you! It took some time to get over this devastating December evening – had I received £1 every time I said I was gutted, we could have afforded a 2012 Tonykart 😉 Anyway, tonight was our first time back on track at TeamSport Bristol – initially it was just going to be a Dad’s thing but the kids funded their own places. The track was in decent shape and it was a really enjoyable evening – four different karts, none of which were ideally suited to my driving style but had great fun attacking the track and outscored Junior 3-1 in setting the fastest lap of the sessions 🙂 🙂 🙂 Ok, so I am 0.5s off the very quickest blokes there but it was nice to be back on top in the family/friends battle and set a new PB too (only marred by my second ever black flag – I thought it was harsh but I was getting a little ‘bumpy’!). The Heikki helmet just brings a continual smile to my face! If only I could break the 35.0s barrier 🙁

Some well earned self indulgence

This evening, I’ll be back in the driving seat for the first time this year as I’m off to Teamsport Bristol with another noob karting Dad 🙂 What was once a monthly outing has had to take a back seat of late, in fact I’ve not been since Junior was quicker than me for the first time at the back end of last year. I’m really hoping to put that disappointment behind me – it took some time getting over 😉 It also means I get to wear my birthday present from last year – in my opinion, it’s the best present Varese ever! What do you reckon?


Practice 2: one to forget

Our second practice session took place on Saturday. It was in doubt throughout the week; primarily because the weather forecast looked downright miserable. In the end, we decided to go for it and hope it didn’t rain the whole day. This was our first truly solo session – no friendly experts on hand, nor other noob Dads for moral support. We left late (again) but this time there were no stops for trailer adjustments; I had my cargo net in place to keep the cover on the kart and a couple of removable bits of ply wood to support the full width of the rear tyres with no overhang. So far, so good but then it started to go a little ‘pear shaped‘.

First, whilst the cargo net had kept the kart cover on the kart, it hadn’t stopped the front of the cover from coming loose and flapping around. Consequently, the kart cover had split and frayed in at least four places (does anyone make covers suitable to cover karts on top of trailers?). Then, during the pre-flight checks, I fired up the engine with the remote starter and Junior gave it a bit of throttle which duly stuck open – cue very loud, revving engine and lots of looks as Dad frantically tried stopping the engine. The brakes didn’t do it initially although what seemed like minutes was probably only 5 seconds. I don’t really know why this was – removing the airbox, I could see that the carb butterfly was open more than it should have been but only a little. The throttle was opening and closing ok although I subsequently realised that the throttle cable swivel assembly was upside down, so whether or not this played a part I am uncertain. Anyway, one carb change and successful remote start later we were ready to go. Pleasingly (and one of the few good things to have happened over the day) was the kart bump starting very easily once again – no waved yellows needed! Disappointingly, the kart decided it was going to head straight into the pits at the end of the out lap as the rear hub and wheel came off at the top bend and veered into the pit entrance. This was a little embarrassing given we’d had a wheel come off during our first practice day because I had negated to check the nuts between sessions. I put the wheel back on the axle and pushed the kart back on the trolley as discretely as possible. Junior pulled the wheel off as we were passing a couple of Dads in the car park but I scolded him and quickly put it back – I don’t think anyone one noticed 😉 Luckily the kart was undamaged and I added hub checks to my list of post-session checks… I cannot and will not let this happen again!

Then the real problems started – the kart stopped on track during our next outing with what had sounded like the chain coming off. It had but we’d also lost an engine mount clamp. I had been suspicious of the engine mounts during our first practice day as the chain was looser after every run and sometimes the engine would be flush against the engine restraining bolt when I had left a gap of a few millimetres prior to a run. I had a replacement bracket and bolt amongst the spares and fitted the engine once again, making sure the bracket was tight. Junior made it back to the pits complaining something felt wrong and when I looked, the chain had came off again. Getting a little bit annoyed, I started to wonder whether the front sprocket was worn but, as this was one spare part that didn’t come with the kart (and if I’m honest, I am not sure how the front sprocket is fitted), I changed the rear sprocket (it was getting colder/wetter again so I was planning this anyway) and fitted a longer chain before sending the kart out again. By this point, Junior had lost all trust in the kart; driving very hesitantly and a few laps in, he stops on the exit of Billies Blind once again. I find that the engine is once again mounted on a single clamp which this time has worked loose, leaving the engine rather precariously fitted to the chassis. I’ve now had it too!!! I pushed the kart straight to the shop to get an expert opinion from Mike, the shop owner. Mike took the engine off and checked everything over – bolt and engine threads, chain, sprocket – the latter is worn but still ok, as is the chain which has a tight spot but wouldn’t have caused the problem. We decided to fit some OTK engine mount clamps, which look much bigger/stronger and put everything back together. Mike had some contrasting views on the chain (tighter than I’d been running before) and the engine restraining bolt (flush against he engine – I understood this would put stress on the chassis but I was happy to try anything at this point and I’ll research this again later) and we went off for another go. Finally!!! We had arrived at 10:00, participated in only six of the twelve 20 minute sessions but at 15:40 we managed a full session with no dramas. It was nice to see Junior attacking things a little without actually looking fully committed (understandably so I guess).

And with that, it was time to go – there was a birthday party waiting at home! Unfortunately there was still time for one more hiccup – the trailer jockey wheel worked loose on the way home, dropped down and got wedged beneath the trailer. I could have swore *a lot* but I am very good in front of the kids; the last time I swore in front of one of them was when Nicholas Bendtner spurned a late chance to put Arsenal through against Barcelona at which point I jumped up and shouted in disgust “That was sh*t, Bendtner” in the direction of the TV although, to be fair, it was complete and utter sh*t! All he had to do was bring the ball under control and stick it past the ‘keeper, instead he demonstrated what is known on the terraces as ‘the touch of a rapist’. But I digress… 😉 the trailer wasn’t budging, my son had friends waiting for us at home and I had to call the AA. Then the hail came down, so we sat it out in the car whilst the kart was buried in ice. When the storm passed I managed to lift the trailer, free the wheel and cancel the AA call out although it was scant consolation by that point!

I never did think it was going to be easy…

Cost of day: £12 petrol to get there, £15 petrol for the kart (only 3l out of 10l used!!!), £35 practice fee, £30 engine mount clamps and bolts

Total spent so far: £2278

Birthday boy

Question: What do you get for a boy on whom you’ve spent over £2000 in the past month? Answer: Absolutely nothing! Ok, that isn’t strictly true – we gave him a karting t-shirt, a small Toblerone, a small packet of jelly beans (Jelly Belly, of course) and a large packet of Parma Violets!!! Having received his next 20 birthdays worth of presents last month, he wasn’t ever getting much from us. We did allow him to have presents from other family members which basically consisted of something he wanted – a mirror red visor for his Bell KC3, and something I wanted – a Mychron 4 USB data key. I’ve wanted to sit down and play with the AiM Race Studio 2 software so now is my chance. And as these things weren’t funded out of my now-empty coffer, I’m not adding them to the total cost 🙂

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!

Hamadān 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

San Pedro de Macorís 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.

Marolambo 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

The great garage/unwanted toy/crash helmet clear out

In a bid to recoup some of the not-budgeted cost of the Bell KC3 and to clear some space in a now very crowded garage, I’ve been having a bit of a clear out. Gone are the petrol hedge trimmer that I hated using because of the fumes (ironic, huh?) and the kids bikes that have sat unused for three or four years. That’s £50 back. Going are a couple of fantastic items on eBay 😉

Firstly, a mightily impressive Traxxas E Revo 1/10 Monster Truck that has sat on top of my son’s cupboard for over a year. Pleasingly that soared to £170 in the first three days and has over 50 watchers. Unfortunately, with every desirable item you get any number of people enquiring as to whether or not you have a Buy It Now price in mind – I have sold a lot of desirable stuff on eBay and only once have I turned down an offer and not made at least as much by letting the auction run. I added a comment stating I’d let the auction run but that hasn’t deterred the bargain hunters…

Secondly, I have listed my son’s first crash helmet – a Nolan N62 Melandri Replica. I searched high and low for a decent, not bland, extra small sized lid that my son would really love and found it in this Melandri replica. Everything about is cool – the colour, the number, the skeleton teeth… 🙂 Anyway, my son is not happy about it as he prefers this to the plain white Bell but it needs to be done. Currently going for £9.52; it’s always interesting to see the random amounts people bid – is it that they think a little extra over the exact pound or 50p will seal the deal?

Total funds raised for the cause: £229.52 (guaranteed)

All these bits soon add up!

Three orders placed with Spellfame inside the first week – that’s planning for you! I ordered:

  • Spark plug spanner – £7.50 (the handle is too short for my liking)
  • T-Bar socket for wheel nuts – £7.50
  • Mechanics gloves – £4.75 (hands still freeze in them)
  • Carb cleaner – £3.45
  • 3m fuel pipe – £3.45 (fuel pipe on kart was very brown and hard to see where the fuel was so it’s been replaced)
  • Pulse pipe – £1.56 (seemed like a good idea to replace the piping but that little wire tie on the engine looks delicate – not yet installed)
  • 3x Fuel funnel filters – £2.25
  • Fuel tank brass filter – £9.50 (recommended by a friend to help avoid getting dirt in the carb)
  • 9v battery – £2.50 (spare Mychron battery, necessary to make up minimum order for free postage!)

Including VAT, Spellfame are £50 better off for my custom. In addition, I have also splashed out on:

Total spent so far: £2068!!!!!!!!! (£568 over budget – hope the missus isn’t following this blog)


Junior Karting Helmets

I hadn’t budgeted on getting my son a karting helmet: he already had a really funky motorcycle helmet that he had used for arrive/drive karting and, as he wasn’t going to be MSA racing for some time, I saw no need. Unfortunately I then started thinking about it more – if I was going to get him an MSA-approved helmet later in the year, I might as well get it now and rest assured that he has the best protection possible. Of course there is always the question “How much do you value the contents of the helmet?”. It’s hard to argue with that so which helmet to get?

For MSA racing, under-15s require a helmet certified to the Snell-FIA CMR2007 standard. The most common choices are the Arai CK-6, the Bell KC3, the Koden CMR2007 and the V2 CMR. Next you want to find out what size you need – the SHARP Helmet Safety Scheme Guide is a great resource for finding out how to measure your head and how to test a helmet’s fit. Then you want to find a shop that sells not only your preferred helmet but as many as the others as possible – don’t just order one off the internet as I did!!! Head sizes differ and it may be that your head isn’t good a fit for the helmet you thought you wanted and returning helmets via the post is an expensive business – I speak from experience 🙁

I discounted the Koden on appearance and comments from Dads whose lads had upgraded from Kodens to other more highly regarded helmets and opted for the Arai – partly on reputation and the fact that you see a lot of them on the track and I ordered online as it was the best price and came with a free spoiler kit. When it arrived, my son complained it was tight on top of his head. After making him try it on at least a dozen times and keep it on for 20 mins in a bid to get used to it, I stupidly ordered a bigger one assuming it would be fine – it was too big. Needing to resolve this because my 14-day return deadline on the two Arai helmets I now owned was rapidly approaching, I went to my local shop, had my son try the Bell in comparison with the Arai and bought the Bell in the size that fitted the best. The good thing about the Bell helmets are that they come in individual sizes i.e. 54cm, 55cm, 56cm etc whereas the Arai comes in size ranges i.e. 54-56cm, 57-58cm etc. The Arai also has a larger visor area compared to other Arai motorsports helmets (I was told they had to have a little less helmet/make the visor larger than their other motorsports helmets in order to stay within the maximum weight permitted under the standard) which, to my eye, makes it look a little more WSB and less F1. Returning the two Arai helmets, including insurance for £800 cost me £30. The kicker was the store charging me £5 to cover the ‘free’ postage they had offered. After all of the haggling I’d been doing to save money, I’d just wasted £40! We won’t talk about this again, ok?

Total spent so far: £1935

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!!!)