The importance of having a Plan B

I’d left my bro’s 40th birthday part early (and avoided alcohol) so that I could get up early. I was up at 6:00am adding plastic packing foam to my trailer lid to minimise the kart jumping when we hit a bump. I approached Clay just after 9:00am, in plenty of time to get things set and in glorious sunshine. And then I turned into the car park… as soon as I saw the trailers, lavish awnings and motorhomes, I knew it was game over – this weekend, as it turned out, was round 2 of the 2013 Easykart championship!!! I swear it wasn’t on the calendar when I checked the Clay schedule two weeks ago and the lesson for today is ALWAYS PHONE THE CIRCUIT THE DAY BEFORE HEADING ANYWHERE FOR A PRACTICE DAY! I instantly thought of Dunkeswell, which is some way west of Clay but I had no idea if there was an open practice day, or whether they would entertain non-license holders. Unfortunately, Mansell Raceway, who run the track, only have an answerphone and didn’t return my call in the 30 mins I waited outside Clay. Having been so well prepared (it’s all relative, of course), I was hugely disappointed at the prospect of missing out. We headed back towards Yeovil, giving us the time it would take to reach the A303 to find out if Dunkeswell was going to be an option. There was no reply from the club secretary, nor from my good buddy who was off racing at Llandow. Two miles before the point at which we would head back to Bristol, I got the call from the aforementioned buddy – Dunkeswell was on!!!

Now things were about to get a little more difficult – we were following another Dad with Satnav which resulted in us leaving the A303 prematurely and heading into some farm lanes (reversing a Clio with trailer in farm lanes is not something I enjoy doing). Then we switched to Junior’s iPhone as he had the route mapped and could see the track at the end of the journey. Somewhere between here and there however, the destination changed and we found ourselves routed to a forest in East Devon. Lessons two and three for the day – never trust Satnav and never trust a 14 year old who has no awareness of direction other than following a blue line on his phone!

It was around noon when we reached Dunkeswell and I was immediately struck by how big it was compared with Clay. With nothing else on which to base an opinion, Clay had previously looked fine but Dunkeswell just has something else about it. Maybe it’s just those extra corners and a decent sized straight but looked like a proper Grand Prix track for karts (at least to a noob). We wanted to get ready quickly so I left on my 82 sprocket from our last cold and dire practice at Clay. I ran the slicks at 13psi, then double and triple checked the wheel nuts, hubs and engine mount brackets. My mission for the day was threefold: not to lose any wheels, not to lose any engine mounts and not to burn myself on the exhaust! At the end of the first session Junior jumped out with a huge grin on his face – it would be fair to say he was instantly a big fan of the track. You could see he was starting to attack the track much harder in the next couple of sessions, getting his times into the 51s and the engine revs up to 15.9k rpm. I wanted to change down a sprocket but this would mean touching those bloody engine mounts – I had to do it but there was some trepidation having run so well since our issues at Clay. Eight minutes into the ten minute stint he backed off but proceeded to drive a lap before it slowed and the engine revved wildly many more times than I would like to have heard as the chain was clearly off. He pulled off and I picked up the engine mount bracket and bolt that was on the kerb next his kart. My worst fear for the day was realised. I still don’t really know what is causing this – I am certain the bolts were tight. Were they really not tight enough, or too tight? The engine mount bracket thread seems worn at the lower end of the thread but it bites and fits tightly once it reaches the upper part of the thread. I think a new engine mount might be my next step. There is more investigative work to be done here and I might end up calling in the A-Team. Still… with everything replaced, tightened and quadruple-checked the final session ran smoothly.

All in all it was a very good day – Junior’s best time was a 50.2 and he really seemed to up his pace over the initial sessions. He was still easing off far too soon down the back straight, whereas the other drivers would hits the brakes much harder and far later into the corner, but it was a very positive day. The only other issue we had run into was when he came in reporting a ‘hissing’ sound and saying he thought it was fuel or tyres. The starter battery had died so I couldn’t fire it up on the stand to investigate and it was only then that I wondered if the excess fuel I had wiped from around the carb earlier in the afternoon could have been relevant. As it turned out, the mechanic had not fitted one of the carb gaskets correctly – it was only mounted on one bolt and had slid down under the carb. Another item to add the list of mistakes not to make again. Lesson four for the day – trust the feedback your lad gives us, he knows what it feels like far more than you do!

It’s a shame that the JTKM grid at Dunkeswell is  poor to non-existent (the only other TKMs at the track were a junior and a senior – both from Clay!) but we’ll definitely come back. The only thing that I forgot to bring was the sun cream! It may only have been 12 degrees but that was more than enough for me…

Cost of day: £25 petrol (it was something of a road trip!), £4 petrol for the kart (still plenty left from last time), £25 practice fee (half day)

Total spent so far: £2,348

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