Practice 5: a mixed day at Llandow

Having already had one practice day this month (although whether you can describe 12 laps as a practice day is questionable!) and an ARKS test booked for Friday I hadn’t really budgeted on another day out this month but there were quite a few reasons for us to make sure all was well with the kart ahead of the test: we hadn’t fired up the engine since the accident which had damaged the spark plug and cable, we had adjusted the front tracking, replaced the steering wheel and bled/adjusted the brakes. I needed to know that a) the kart worked and b) Junior was happy. Finding somewhere to test was a little difficult – Clay had Elite Karting on, Dunkeswell had their race weekend and Llandow had very patchy availability all over the weekend because of their arrive/drive commitments. It was a pleasant surprise when I called them on Saturday to find they were completely free on Bank Holiday Monday. Game on.

There were three Dad/lad combos heading over and we arrived to find some nice sunshine. The kart was soon set up and ready to start on the trolley when something unusual happened: it did not start! Fuel was being sucked into the carb ok but replacing the spark plug made not difference and it didn’t look like replacing the carb was going to  either but it did eventually fire up. Not sure why this was but, once going, everything seemed well – we had missed the first session but were set or the second session. It turned out we were sharing the entire day with arrive/drive karts which was a little bit annoying when we were hoping for an open track day.

The first couple of sessions were frustrating – Junior came in after five laps of the opening session reporting the brake pedal felt too stiff and that the back end felt loose and then after two laps of the next session reporting there was a hissing from the carb/engine area and the engine feeling ‘spluttery’. I don’t mind this having him come in if he has any concerns as we’d previously found that when Junior was reporting something, he turned out to be correct. The brake had been stiffened so this was to be expected. There was signs of oil escaping around the exhaust flex which was the only thing that might have explained the hissing. Everything else looked and another Dad gave the kart a thorough checking over. At this point I semi-joked to his son that he might like to take the kart out and see if there was anything amiss. Five laps later we were back in business: our test driver jumped out, Junior jumped in and instantly seemed much happier. Never underestimate the importance of a driver having trust and confidence in his kart!!!

At this point we were doing well – Junior was seeing out entire sessions and going quite nicely, hitting 47.61s in consecutive sessions (bear in mind his kart is not weighted currently). And then it rained. We stayed on the slicks at first: Junior was briefed to go out, be careful and just enjoy driving his kart. He looked quite at home in the damp, his pace was good and he span just the once at Raymonds as he pushed it a little too hard. We then switched to wets as the rain continued. He still looked pretty good but then we started losing kart parts on track again just when I thought we had seen the back of those (with the resolution of the engine mount problems) – this time it was the exhaust end can and silencer. I had noticed that we were down to two end cap screws at the weekend but had no spare screws and had forgotten all about it. A bunch of us set about locating the missing pieces. I was glad it was very quiet by this point as wandering around a track looking for your kart parts isn’t the best of feelings. As the shop had no screws, we tried using a rivet gun to fix the cap to the exhaust – that lasted another 5 laps before one of the boys noticed the end cap was missing again although the silencer was still present. I sent Junior to the pits and went hunting for the end cap again. At this point it was getting late and still raining so we decided on one more session. This time the end cap was fixed with some screws (that had been fitted inside one of the Dad’s vans!), covered with a metal tie, the some exhaust flex held in place with some plastic ties. It did the job and we ran for a good while before Junior came in with numb hands (he had been getting pretty ragged by this point too – not sure what had happened to the control he had shown earlier).

There were some notable positives though: Junior went quite nicely on the dry track – you could see him start to attack some of the corners and he was posting some reasonable times. He was also pretty good when the track got wet – initially when out on slicks as the track started to get wet and again when we went to full wets. His performance was tempered a little by his final session, where he didn’t seem to be able to adjust his pace and was clearly going too fast into the corner, ruining both his lines and his momentum (as he fought to keep the back end in place). I couldn’t really complain – having not had any wet practice since we bought the kart (when Junior was very, very slow), it was valuable experience ahead of his ARKS test.

Having approached the day hoping for an entire day’s smooth running and a little bit of wet time (be careful what you wish for), things didn’t exactly pan out as hoped but they say “There’s no such thing as bad track time”. Llandow was quite a different track from Clay and Dunks – it seemed more technical in terms of mastering the entry speeds to get the right lines and exit speeds and showed that Junior still has much to learn. The toilet facilities were pretty poor (soap and hand drier, anyone?) and, since I am moaning, I could have done without the torrential rain on the way home and the subsequent clean-up job once we got back (I just wanted a hot bath) but there we go. Oh… and the rain got inside all three layers of the visor protector and they had to be removed 🙁 I think this will be our dry visor from now on.

Fingers crossed for Friday…

Cost of day: £10 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £40 track fee

Total spent so far: £2,575

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