Engine repairs

Following our Dunkeswell woes, I took the engine into John at Revolution Racing Engines to have the ignition stator checked out. The good news was that the stator looked fine and sparked consistently. The bad news was that the stator looked fine and sparked consistently! John is going to give a thorough examination but I could find we’ll be heading into the unknown at the next Clay race meeting. Could do with a practice session before I enter but money (especially karting money) is pretty tight. Our crank is also out of alignment and that will necessitate the engine to be stripped down.

I await news. And the bill… :/

Race weekend 2: Rescued from the depths of despair!!!

I’ve walked the valley of despair – it’s a long, thin piece of tarmac; big fence on one side, grass on the other, tyres dotted around to slow speeding karts and a big white coach halfway down with ‘Mansell Raceway‘ written on the side. Just like the pit entrance at Dunkeswell 😉 As I pushed Junior’s kart off the track for the fourth or fifth time of the weekend, I had reached my lowest point as a karting Dad so far. There are plenty of observant folk around the paddock and I wondered what they would be thinking of my inability to keep my lad on track. My embarrassment was complete.

Practice Saturday was a day when, pound for ounce of enjoyment, I lost out even though the day was free because of a Dunkeswell offer for novices!!! It was one of those days when you were continually setting the kart up for one weather condition and then changing it back again and nothing whatsoever went right.

We’d luckily found three spaces for myself and two other Dads who we were travelling down with, avoiding parking at the far end of the top car park where it would have been a 10-minute walk to the pit lane. We missed the first couple of sessions setting up the awning and the kart. It went south from there on – Junior broke down at Hangar Bend (the furthest part of the track from the pits!) on the out lap of his first session. I got to him and got him going again before immediately cutting out again. Back at the pits, I was about to whip the carb off before I got the advice to check the spark first. I would urge you always make this your first troubleshooting step! We had no spark. This first problem was a loose wire on the PVL coil – easily fixed but our day was hampered by Junior constantly complaining of the kart not picking up from low revs and frequent failures of one type or another – we had a chain snap which, on investigation appeared to be caused by the front and rear sprockets being inexplicably out of alignment (they were definitely aligned at the start of the day and there was no sign that the axle or the rear sprocket had moved – none of those tell-tale dirty circles where something has moved on the axle). I couldn’t explain that one. We then lost a front wheel in front of everyone stood at the pit exit (I had negated to check the wheel nuts that Junior had tightened). And our misery was completed by the engine going pop and Junior losing revs once again. Again, I could find no explanation – I took the kart back to the pits to give it a thorough examination but could see nothing wrong and it started on the trolley immediately. It capped off a pretty rotten day and I had a plan of work for the evening which involved replacing the ‘new’ exhaust, the airbox filter and checking carbs and really just hoping things were going to be better in the morning although we did have the offer of an engine loan from one of the other Dads (who would be our friendly rivals on race day) should my overnight efforts come to nothing.

Sunday was a chance to start anew. The English countryside looked pretty spectacular as we made our way through Devon to Dunkeswell. It almost seemed a shame we’d be spending the day driving a noisy kart in it. And that, if the forecast was correct, it was going to be raining heavily in a couple of hours! I’d told Junior to take the positives from yesterday and assume that the kart would work properly given the efforts to rectify the problem. There were only two Junior TKMs in the grid so I was a little uncertain what to expect even ignoring the questions over my ability to keep the kart running. We got there nice and early but still managed to find ourselves rushing to make the warm-up (there is no tannoy system at Dunks). Then the kart failed to start on the trolley with the remote starter! Again, we had no spark although my expert advisor (the other TKM Dad) quickly sussed that the electrical cable running into the ignition stator had an intermittent problem (you know one of those that you wiggle and they go away). We bunged it in place with a bit of rubber and it sparked and started fine. We lined up for the warm-up; there were 6 or 8 MiniMaxs and a Junior Blue in front of the two Direct Drive TKMs. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure out who was the only one not to start 🙁 There was no sign of the engine starting and we stopped as soon as we were off the Bottom Bend, I pulled the kart behind the barrier and crouched out of sight – partly to regain my breath, partly just to hide for a moment. The weekend was very quickly becoming a nightmare.

We got back and, together with the other TKM Dad (although make no mistake, he was in charge), set about putting their engine and carb on – we needed to get this turned around fast if we were to make Heat 1. It was a good job one of us had a kart that more or less maintained itself! We made it with a few minutes to spare. We had very generously been loaned their former race engine – having roped me into going to Dunks in the first place, it appears he felt some compassion towards my plight! So Junior took his place in the first heat: it was a bit odd seeing the Minimax grid charge past and then, 10 seconds behind, a Junior Blue and a pair of Junior TKMs – it would have nicer to see them a little closer and more involved in the wider race but there we go. Junior’s start was ok but, on cold slicks, he was caught out in the second corner and span, stalling the engine. He wouldn’t have lost quite as much time had he given me a chance to get out into the midfield from the pits! I got him going again and off he went, with me hoping he managed to keep it clean for the rest of the race, if only to appease the novice assessor! A few laps later somebody took a huge run-up and kicked me square in the b*****ks. Or they might as well have: the kart lost power gain, Junior looked over at me and held up a questioning hand as he pulled in right under the viewing area. The other Dad could not believe it and, if I had a pound for every time the other Dad uttered the words “I can’t believe it broke down”, I would have recouped my entry fee! 😉 Did we have another issue? I was thinking perhaps we had a fuel problem – maybe the filter or something. As I pushed the kart off track again, I started to think about what other mechanics were thinking of me – they are a pretty observant bunch and I’m sure my weekend troubles weren’t passing unnoticed. Every mechanic will have their lows but this left me pretty close to rock bottom. We got back and, would you believe it? One of the wires had come off of the coil. Different engine, different coil, same problem as the previous day! Then something happened that I had never before experienced: the racing stopped for an hour to observe the local church service. I don’t know what others made of this but I thought it was fantastic! How typically English 🙂

You can put the handkerchiefs away now, things took a *massive* turn for the better in Heat 2; in fact I’d go as far as to say it was my most enjoyable moment in karting so far. Both TKMs were on wets and Junior got a fantastic start – he could only have been centimetres behind the pole man as they cross the start line, denying the leader the opportunity of moving over to avoid the puddles on the inside of the track. Junior managed to undercut and take the lead! THAT’S RIGHT – WE LED A RACE 🙂 (I know there were only two karts but please humour me if you will – there hadn’t been many highs over the weekend). Not only that but we lost it and regained several times over the next couple of laps – it really great to see Junior racing in a manner that I’d not seen since his last arrive/drive karting exploits. It put a massive smile on my face although there were one or two occasions where I feared Junior would commit the cardinal sin and take out the person who had loaned us an engine and spent *a lot* of time trying to help fix our kart (and not only this weekend either!). It didn’t last long though – Junior’s excitement got the better of him, he didn’t quite lose the back end but did lose an awful lot of revs and the lead and that was pretty much that. His pace was decent though and we were only 12 seconds behind and our fastest lap 1.3s slower.

Heat 3 and the Final were both run on slicks; we didn’t get such great starts in those and Junior said he was caught out by some underhand accelerating early tactics (I jest, I am sure this happens all the time although our opponent was definitely mixing it up now!). Junior did pretty well though: we were 8 seconds off in Heat 3 and, although Junior really got put in his place in the final – finishing 21s adrift, his lines were still improving and his lap times were still coming down.

Not the most exciting grid ever to have adorned a kart track!

I have to be honest: I’ve seen more exciting Junior TKM grids!

So that was that. We handed back our loan engine (which turned out to be the one used to set the Junior TKM lap record at Dunkeswell!). Unfortunately, Junior said it felt a lot quicker than ours so I await all sorts of ‘my engine is not quick enough’ comments next time we are out :/ The enjoyment of watching Junior race (I mean really race) and visibly improve his lines on the Sunday afternoon had eradicated the pain of Saturday and Sunday morning. We had a decent amount of wet practice and Junior was never more than 1.5s off the pace so that was encouraging. Although the engine may have played the part, I think it will only have shown Junior’s true pace – I am kind of hoping our engine isn’t significantly slower but I guess time will tell. I have to thank my good buddy and fellow TKM Dad for all of his help, never mind his engine, over the weekend – we’d have been finished without the help of both him and his lad. I owe you many, many beers 😉

Now I have a poorly engine to get sorted… :O

Cost of weekend: £40 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £46 race fee, £23 chain, £5 marshal’s bib

Total spent so far: £3,946

Race weekend 2 booked!

We were planning on heading to Clay in search of some wet weather sometime over the next two weeks but I have been swayed into entering us into the Dunkeswell Kart Club‘s October championship round!!! Dunks have a novices offer on – free practice on Saturday and Sunday’s race fee is discounted to members rates. One might argue we should be focusing on Clay and I did consider this but, in the end, the chance for more race experience with the same chance of encountering wet weather and at Junior’s favourite track swayed the decision. It’s a shame that the Junior TKM grid numbers only two but hopefully we’ll be somewhere around the pace of Mini Max’s so we can make the most of the race experience.Our Junior TKM rival will be my good friend and karting advisor and his lad so it will be interesting! We won’t be near their pace so I am hoping that the old addage about ‘the advice being free until you start competing’ (with the emphasis on competing) doesn’t necessarily apply – I’ll let you know on that one 😉

Now I need to find some time to prep the kart – it is pretty much together but I’ll need to set the kart up based on the Friday forecast. Looking forward to it 🙂

Every little helps

I’ll point out at the outset that I haven’t started buying my sprockets from Tesco! This has been an expensive month and the realisation that we needed much more wet practice (I still cannot believe this hadn’t dawned on me sooner) meant the expenses for October weren’t finished.

Most importantly I needed waterproof clothing – the Weise motorcycle jacket ordered from a vendor on eBay arrived one day after ordering and fits very nicely thank-you. Hopefully the trousers will arrive soon also. Secondly, I have ordered a used OTK engine mount to replace my mount which does not appear correctly align with the engine – not much flexibility there in terms of retailers (eBay again) but, when it came to the perishables (restocking on replacement bolts and getting another set of mechanics gloves), I started looking for opportunities to save some money. I spent an hour or so scouring everyone’s favourite auction site looking for some of the things that aren’t specific to motorsport and therefore can be bought without paying the ‘motorsport tax’ (ok, so it’s not a tax – more of a premium). Prices vary but I saved a few quid – 30% on mechanics gloves, 20% on high tensile bolts. Shame they were low cost items but it all helps, right?

Purchases: £20 Weise Waterford motorcycle jacket, £20 IXON motorcycle trousers,  £39 OTK engine mount drilled for TKM, £4 Maxiflex Ultimate gloves, £5 20x high tensile M6 45mm bolts (for sprocket carrier), £3 20x M10 high tensile screw bolts 40mm, £3 20x M10 high tensile screw bolts 45mm (for chassis/bearing carriers)

Total spent so far: £3,825


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

It’s almost time…

So we’re on the eve of our first race weekend!!! The overwhelming enthusiasm that saw me wishing most of this week would pass as quickly as possible has been dampened somewhat by the weather forecast. I do share a 6x3m awning with another Dad but his lad is a couple of months behind us from a competition-readiness perspective (or rather – he shares my view on not chucking them in until they are ready) and I don’t have the space in the Clio or the trailer to bring it with us. We’re going to have to stick it out if it gets very wet although working out the back of a Clio in heavy rain is no fun I can assure you.

Having only just seen the worsened forecast, I got to the camping shop 15 mins before closing this afternoon to try to get some waterproofs. Unfortunately I arrived as the shop keeper was getting into her car having decided to call it a day and, after watching me for a few mins (presumably making sure I wasn’t about to throw a dustbin through the window and help myself), she wound down her window, told me she had just put the alarm on and that I’d have to come back. Customer service, anyone? :/

Anyway the past few weekends have been all about getting set for the race. It’s been an expensive time what with the repairs after throwing a chain and I’ve also bought several sets of used slicks that each had a day’s wear (I figure we’ll race on used tyres at least for the three meetings we plan to do this year), a set of Doulgas SE rims (I wanted another set of rims to avoid having to change tyres overnight between the practice and race days) and a couple of additions for the toolkit (deep 10mm sprocket, front sprocket remover). As far as actually doing things is concerned, the maintenance has gone something like this: new front and rear sprockets fitted, chain guard cut/fixings fitted, transponder mount fitted, bearing carrier replaced, exhaust springs and wrap replaced, new manifold holes drilled, sprocket carrier protectors put back on, HT lead replaced, kart cleaned, front and rear chassis height changed, seat stays adjusted, Tillett 40mm washers added (to comply with MSA seat mounting regulations), engine mount adjusted (the mount does not appear to allow the engine to sit perfectly square so the chain is pulled at a very slight angle – need a new mount but the kart pot was empty!), front and read chassis height corrected (stupidly moved it in the opposite direction, even after blogging about rear chassis height!!!) and finally… swapped the front practice tyres over! 🙂

The changing of the tyres was a minor success – the first time I had done this alone although, as the tyres were 200 laps old, it was easier than it might otherwise have been. I was pretty chuffed with myself as I admired the newly fitted tyre – until I realised that I had put it on the same way it had come off! :S

So we’re pretty much all set – the transponder (pleasingly seems to hold full charge even though its not been used since February!), cordless drill, starter battery and GPS watch are all sat on charge on Junior is getting focused (aka upstairs playing Codemasters F1 2013 – I can recommend the Classic Edition :)). I haven’t had a chance to ensure my HT lead is good having borrowed after our problems last time but we should be ok. Wish us luck… 🙂

Purchases since last post: £10 used sprocket puller, £120 three sets of used slicks incl postage, £100 used set of Douglas SE rims (might have paid a little over the norm for these but I really wanted before the race weekend so my ability to wait for something at the right price was lost), £4 10mm deep sprocket.

Total spent so far: £3,630