Birthday boy (year 2){search_term_string} Junior knows not to ask for anything for his birthday – he had about 5 year’s worth of presents around this time last year! He also knows that he’ll get some stuff from various members of the family and it will be kart-related. Birthdays are the time when Junior can get some of the non-essentials that he would really like: last year it was a mirrored visor, this year it was… NEW DECALS!!!

There was a theme to Junior's birthday presents!

Melekeok There was a theme to Junior’s birthday presents!

Junior had already gotten the nassau and bumper for Christmas so he got side pods and bars to complete the set, all fitted with his favourite British Racing Green decals. I had spent a long time designing decals; first a scarlet red variant of the Tonykart livery, then numerous versions on the British Racing Green theme when he said he wanted the kart to look like it had done when it originally made it’s debut for it’s previous owner. Then Junior saw the Caterham kart decals and instantly knew that was it. It was a bit of blow having spent so much time in Photoshop but it was what he wanted! It took a while to get the printers to nail the shade of racing green that we were after but eventually we were able to supply a pantone for it and we added a few customisations of our own, including the blue and white numbers now that we are no longer novices 🙂

I see that I didn’t add the cost of last year’s presents to the total bill although, inconsistently, I did for his Christmas presents!

Non-essentials purchased (not all by me!): kart decals (fitted) £120, side pods/bars £119

Total spent this year: £1227


Practice 16: No more practising

Things have changed. I know that it is too early to be saying this aloud but it really does feel like, in being so close to the pace last weekend, we’ve reached a milestone. We aren’t on the pace – that is the ultimate goal – but to have taken such a big step forward was hugely positive. I will be gutted if we don’t confirm this in the next round of the TKM Junior Championship at Clay (although all bets are off if it is wet!). My mentality has also shifted – we aren’t practising any more. We have always had to think twice about attending both days of the race weekends as we still needed the track time but now we will just be doing the race weekends.

It was Junior’s birthday recently and wanted to take his kart out so we were back at Clay for the fourth consecutive weekend! This time though we weren’t practising – we were TESTING!!! 🙂 I’d arranged to rent a Kelgate brake system from a friend in a bid to improve Junior’s braking into corners as he’d been losing a good couple of kart lengths into corners at the race weekend. To be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood for it – the 6am starts had taken their toll but the timing was right and it was his weekend after all. I didn’t set the alarm and we left when we were ready but still found ourselves at Clay by 9:10am. My mood was definitely much more relaxed – I just told him to go out and give the Kelgate a go.

Junior spun on his first corner of course! “Sorry” he said laughing as he was sat off-track just past The Kink – “I was just trying them out!”. During the morning he was getting on fine with them but I didn’t sense that he was driving any differently to how he drives with the OTK brakes. I wanted him to start pushing them to see if they made a difference – could he brake later? could he actually lock the brakes up now? I hassled him into pushing harder otherwise the day was going to pretty pointless (bar a couple of setup learnings). From there on things got a bit hairy – Junior was snaking a lot into Billies and The Hairpin and spun a few times. As the afternoon progressed, it was clear he wasn’t really enjoying himself although I couldn’t fault his perseverance. He found that, although there was much more range to the pedal, the effects were limited until a certain point, then the kart stopped hard. It was an interesting experiment although, in reality, he was never going to get it in one practice day and we weren’t ever likely to swap brake systems mid-season. We’ll focus on getting the most out the OTK brakes for now. At least the kart ran smoothly and we eeked a few final laps out of a set of slicks that settling into their new home at recycling centre by the time you read this.

Cost of day: £30 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Total spent this year: £988

Race 5: Our first trophy!!!

Here it is!!!

Our first trophy!!!

Totally unexpected and a fantastic end to a rollercoaster of a weekend…

The practice Saturday started off *really* badly: I spent the first 30 minutes getting people moved from my new pit space and then, when we were finally heading to the grid for the first session, we made it 15 yards down the road to the pit lane when we lost a circlip from the front trolley wheel and quickly had to catch the kart! Junior then came in reporting no brakes and no power out of the corners – just what every mechanic wants to hear :S Arghhhh – not on a race weekend!!! Luckily, there was a one-stop fix to both of these problems: TIGHTEN THE BLEEDING GRUB SCREWS PROPERLY. The axle had moved yet again. No such thing as once bitten twice shy in this household :/ I have now learnt my lesson and accepted that my axles won’t last as long when the screws are digging right in to them but that’s just one of those things.

After that, we looked really good – Junior was first out and had a fair lead over the likely pacesetters. Although they caught him by the end of the session, he wasn’t being totally mullered as has often been the case. The next session was also very encouraging as we were only four tenths or so off the pace but, as the afternoon went on, we lost something and were falling off of the leaders and running just behind the other novice. The turnaround was troubling but, in hindsight, it was something I should have seen as we continued to slip that little bit further back. It was on my mind the whole way home and I had a chat about it with a number of other racers and Dads – I think I was just moving in the wrong direction setup-wise as the track quickly cooled.

Race day and once again I was awake at 4am for my 6am start :/ I had set the kart up at the end of the practice day and it was still covered and ready to tow back down to Dorset so we left on schedule for a change. We made it to Clay in record time as the roads were so quiet. It seemed like the A37 has been doing a fairly decent job of culling badgers recently too 🙁 On to the main event…

Unexpectedly, we were the only entrants not to be running on new tyres! The fact that the debutant novice (and our good friends) had fresh rubber provoked Junior into a renewed appeal to be able to run on his new slicks but we have several ‘nearly new’ sets left still which I think are too good to only use on practice days. We did have our CNC barrelled engine on for race day though – Junior had felt it was better in the three sessions we did on it last week and, although his times had been no different, he felt that the track was slower by the time I had managed to switch the engines over. We were about to find out whether Santa had thought Junior had been good or really good when he sourced the engine at Christmas!!! My daughter sometimes reads this, so I have to keep this going 😉 The three lap warm-up seemed ok – we did a spot of sparring with one of the quick boys and weren’t disgraced although we were the slowest of the six runners (the Alpha Timing System really is very good, by the way). Junior was moaning that he wanted to go up a sprocket as we had been a fraction quicker on the practice day with it. I was reluctant as the weather was beautifully sunny and the forecast was very good. In the end I relented. Or at least I did to the extent I removed two sprocket carrier bolts whilst Junior was looking, pretended to be busy for a couple of minutes and then told him it was done 😉

Heat 1: Started really well, Junior quickly got up to 4th and, although the front three had pulled away, had dropped 5th and 6th when he had a heavy crash coming out of the top bend; he lost the back end which caught the tyres which spun him hard back into them right in front of the pit lane audience. He was out of the kart quickly and his kart lifted into the pits. My first reaction was “Holy sh*t” (I can over-react at times), the second “That could be expensive”. I deserted my pusher spot at The Hairpin and legged it over to him (not sure if that’s permitted but…) – he was shaken and had hurt both his arms but he was more upset at having just gifted away the points for a fourth place finish. Luckily we had only bent a track rod. My spares same to the rescue once again and I borrowed some lasers to ensure that we were straight (hopefully I can do this on my own next time – thanks, Sam!). On a positive note, we were relatively competitive for the first time *ever* and Junior really liked the kart with the ‘bigger’ sprocket 😉 One look at his Mychron told me he didn’t need and wasn’t getting the bigger sprocket!

Heat 2: Junior started last of six and was up to fifth when he had to run wide to avoid an accident into The Hairpin, losing the place he had gained but gaining two more as the other karts rejoined. This was one of more disappointing moments of the weekend for me as this was my corner for pushing and I had been so absorbed in what Junior was doing, I neglected my responsibilities as a pusher – it was only when the other Dads ran over that I remembered why I was out on track… Sorry to a certain racer if you are reading this 🙁 We finished third and were only two tenths off of the pace!

Heat 3: We got up to 4th early on but struggled to shake off fifth and sixth. Having finally managed a small gap, we actually caught third. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get past and were caught by the others but held on for fourth.

Final: We started fifth of six because, although we tied for fourth,  the result in the first heat is used to decide grid positions (did anybody else know that?). We started well, moved up to fourth and built a healthy enough gap over fifth. The three pacesetters were starting to hamper their pace quite badly as they duked it out up front and Junior was visibly catching them for a few laps.That was until he got a bit over-excited! Some of his lines became very erratic and any chance of glory (which I am sure he believed was a possibility!) soon evaporated. That was not the end of the drama though: one of the front runners seized an engine promoting us to third but, as the clock ran down (it was a ten minute plus one lap final), we were being caught by fourth. I was flicking my attention between the clock (it read 55s) and Junior when something happened at the back and our exhaust was suddenly dragging along the ground under the bumper. I was absolutely devastated – this was sure to end our race!?! Umm, well he was going round again with 22s remaining, which still meant this was the penultimate lap – the marshals by now were looking very interested – the kart was obviously very noisey but still no black/orange flag. Junior passed my post and looked up at me as if to ask “What do I do?” I just urged him to carry on! We were onto the final lap and the question now was whether we could hold onto third – fourth seemed to have overcome his hesitancy that our exhaust may fall off at any minute and was right behind us. I think a tenth separated the two as they crossed the line with Junior just about holding on 🙂

Although there were only two podium spots for the six runners, Junior won Best Junior Novice which was a fantastic achievement. His lap had clearly come on massively over the weekend – thanks, I am sure, in part to my track walk with him on the race morning 😉 The CNC-barrelled engine was also clearly much more to Junior’s liking than our non-barrelled engine, the two things combined (his improved lines and the engine, not my track walk!) to him making up six or seven tenths since our last race in December. We aren’t on the pace yet but, on this evidence, we are close enough now to be in the mix (wet weather excluded!!!).

So a great start to our championship although we won’t be defending the trophy next month as we are now off of novice plates.

TKM exhausts aren't meant to look like this!

TKM exhausts aren’t meant to look like this!

I can't say how grateful I am that these two exhaust sprungs hung around!

I can’t say how grateful I am that these two exhaust springs stuck around!

Cost of day: £30 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £39 race entry fee

Items purchased since last post: replacement bolts – £1!

Total spent this year: £916

Year 1 spend: £4,594

Our first race weekend of the season

It’s been a long time coming but I am quite excited about our first race weekend of 2014 at Clay tomorrow! Unfortunately, the grid is pretty small as a number of Juniors have made the step up to Senior Extreme this year although there are few Juniors in the pipeline so things should pick up a bit next month. It also looks like the first time Junior will have had some competition, rather than watching the pack disappear so hopefully the kart runs smoothly and Junior gets some real race experience under his belt. The mission will be to get us and the other novice, who makes his race debut and with whom we will be sharing an awning, through the weekend without too many issues. The kart has been ready pretty much all week; just had to drill a hole for the throttle spring in the new engine head as the existing one was too low and necessitated setup changes when switching between engines. Also picked up some bolts and circlips (whoever decided to put those on kart trolley wheels needs… a good talking too!) from South West Fasteners and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough 🙂

I’d really like to have the equipment to camp at the track: both on the Friday and Saturday, just to get all the non-race stuff (packing, driving, awning setup) done and dusted – I wouldn’t sleep well but I don’t usually on karting nights anyway and getting up at 6am is no fun. Given the setup we have though, this is not and likely will never be an option – I have no plans to buy a van!!!

Wish us luck for the weekend 🙂

Practice 15: Somewhat in the dark

Last week seemed liked an ok week based on the little data we had available – we were a three or four tenths off one of the more seasoned drivers (who was on old tyres) and six or seven tenths ahead of the our good friends (and closest rivals!!!), who are looking to race for the first time this month. It was probably where I’d imagined we would be. This week the picture was much more uncertain…

The day started off with the customary dirtying of the kart en-route to Clay; despite the sun shining for most of the journey, we met a lorry on a flooded dip in the road who was kind enough to spray us and the trailer. I am definitely going to revisit the covering of the kart in transport! Unusually, despite having to turn around when I realised I had forgotten my wallet, WE WERE OUT IN THE FIRST SESSION!!! 🙂 The track started damp but it was nice and warm in the sun. The track soon dried and we were quickly into the low 37’s, two tenths off of our quickest time last week. This week was all about improving our line through Billes and I spent most of the sessions there watching Junior run wide over and over and over… It seemed as though he was braking early but not able to scrub enough speed so he’d hit the first apex but stood little chance of making the second. The carrot of not buying any chocolate from the shop until he got it right seemed to spur him on; at least he now looked like he was trying! Lo and behold, he got it right… twice in sucession! It brought a massive smile to my face and, although the session then ended, I felt we’d made a big step forward and duly coughed up some coins so that he could show me how quick he was at scoffing Smarties 😉

Stupidly, I thought that was that. I returned to the middle of the track for the next session but wandered back to Billies when he again looked a little wide from my poor vantage point. Consistency is thing we lack but I can’t hark on about it forever – he’s going to have to learn it sooner or later! At this point, our times were not improving like I had hoped – we were lapping in the mid-37s when I was hoping to push on into the 36s. Our front tyres were bald in places so we put another set of practice tyres – this found us three tenths and we were consistently lapping in the 37.1s.

At this point I decided it was time for another momentous occassion:  the testing of the CNC barrelled engine that Junior got for Christmas 😮 I was hoping it was going to be faster but nothing is guaranteed. Before that though, we had a few issues to overcome: the throttle spring hole in the barrel was much lower than on our other engine and this caused the butterfly in the carb not to close fully as the throttle stop bolt was too close. Then the exhaust needed moving. And the new engine mount took different length bolts compared to the old engine! After an hour spent mostly arsing around, the moment of truth had arrived. 1 – the engine started on the stand 🙂 2 – the engine push started as easily as our other engine 🙂 🙂 🙂 3 – it *looked* quick 🙂 But our times were the same! Junior felt the engine was quicker out of the corners but that the track was now slower. We were lapping in times very close to our friends over whom we’d had a bit in hand last week and there were no other Junior TKMs on track so nothing else to measure against. Where this leaves us with regards to the opening round of the championship next weekend, I have no idea – whether we’ll be closer than the second off the pace that we were last year, whether we’ll be quicker than the new novice, whether our CNC barrelled engine is quicker than the cast barrelled one? It would have been nice to know roughly where we were but, unfortunately, that is not the case 🙁

At least we ran all day without any problems.

Cost of day: £16 petrol, £11 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee

Total spent this year: £804

Year 1 spend: £4,594