Race 15: Thanks and farewall Clay!

It was nice to be heading back to Clay on Sunday. We hadn’t expected to be back racing there so soon having made the decision to switch to Llandow but it felt good to going to the place that still feels like home, blasting what has become our ritual DiRT 2 soundtrack as we headed through Somerset to spend the day with the extended TKM family. The final round was set up nicely with seven points separating the top three drivers and our aim was to be competitive without tripping any of the contenders over!

We hadn’t participated in the practice Saturday partly because that wasn’t part of the deal when I offered Junior the chance to compete here instead of going to the TKM day at Whilton Mill but, more significantly, Mrs KartingDad had committed me to some time with the girls! The kart had been set up well in advance, however, and so prep work and scrutineering passed without issue. The forecast for the day had been varied through the week but it was a beautiful autumn morning at the track; just as well since we needed to scrub in new slicks (although we were hoping for some precipitation just to mix things up a little). Our draw wasn’t the greatest; 4-2-7 for the three heats but Junior had been starting fairly well of late, both at Clay and Llandow. Having said that, we had a stinker of a start in Heat #1, Junior was last after two corners and I was relieved to see the false start flag waved (there was a tramlines clampdown in progress at Clay). Unfortunately, things panned out in similar fashion on the restart! The front two in the championship both span in The Esses but it impeded us and another kart and meant that Junior was driving around on his own in 5th place for the first half of the race before he was caught by the other impeded kart and the two diced the last half of the race. It was clear then that our pace wasn’t great – Junior was really struggling with the back end on the still damp track but it was the best racing that he had all day and he made a nice move around the outside of The Horseshoe on the final lap to seal 5th. For the first time ever, we were even the quickest in one of the sectors 😀

Heat #2 was worse still: Junior started second and got a reasonable start but was on the receiving end of a lunge into The Esses, had to brake hard and was hit by another kart, spinning him around. He was a distant last although he didn’t suffer the ignominy of being lapped and was able to ease a little with a view to tyre preservation.

Heat #3 was something of an eye-opener as we were so slow down the straight on lap two that half the field passed us (and the driver who had tucked in behind us had to watch everybody else go by!). I assumed that our gearing was out (when preparing the kart in the week, I had discovered that our usual Clay sprocket was damaged and opted to go up a tooth rather than buy a sprocket that I would likely never use again). Junior thought he had made a mistake getting out of the Top Bend so that might have been the cause but no matter: we came in last of the finishers. At this point, I was just wishing the rest of the day to pass quickly. We were struggling much the same as we had been on our last couple of visits, if not more so, with around six tenths to find with the front runners. Junior was complaining about rear end grip and the track, after some heavy rain on the Saturday, was proving tricky for many people although the times were clearly there – we just weren’t able to get it right.

I didn’t change much for the final as I hadn’t really changed much over the day – just the rear width in an attempt to find some more grip and another small tweak to the tyre pressures, although I did go down a tooth, borrowing a smaller sprocket from one of the other dads rather than buying one for 10 minutes use 😉 Our start was ok but Junior tagged and span someone in the middle of The Esses 🙁 He hadn’t made contact with anyone for ages and I hate it when it does happen, accidental though it was. Junior claimed their back end was going and he couldn’t avoid it – whatever, the end result was the same. Fortunately for us it was deemed a racing incident and not called in by the race observer. We were some seven seconds adrift at the end of the 18 laps, ahead of another driver who had got caught up in our incident and the driver who we span but who caught and passed us before getting a mechanical for his bumper hanging off (he says whistling and looking at the sky 😉 ).

As for the championship, there was something like four points separating three drivers after Heat #2 but one of the contenders had a carb issue on the rolling lap for Heat #3 and it had to be me that reached him first and pushed him most of the way through Sector 1!!! As it turned out, his kart wouldn’t have started even if I had been pushing him with a truck 🙁 The final was still very close and the table did change a couple of times mid-race but the end result was decisive.

So congratulations to a worthy winner (I missed the emotional dad moment) and commiserations to those who came so close.  It was fun racing at Clay in our first full season; the TKM community there is top notch. The season at Clay has been a real roller coaster from the start; doubting whether we’d get a grid (the boys from Llandow saved the grid by turning up at Round #1 and staying for the entire season), finishing third whilst still on novice plates, getting black flagged for, well, let’s just leave it there, then thinking we were getting there before ultimately finding that we weren’t. Both Junior and I have a shedload of new friends on Facebook and I enjoyed sharing all of Junior’s moves with the friendly marshal on my pushing post at The Hairpin 🙂 With the same reflective atmosphere in the car on the way home, now is the absolutely the right time to be moving on. I was really glad we had taken part in the final round and to race with some good friends for very likely the last time (you know that’s not the end though, folks – we still have Christmas Karting at TeamSport to come!) but we were further off now than we had been for quite a few months. I spent a lot of time that evening wondering if I could have done anything to improve the kart? Ride height? Width? Tyre pressures? Should I have gotten the front bar welded in by now? I had opted not to as I thought it might have been wet by now. We’d also snapped an engine head bolt and, although that wouldn’t have attributed to Junior’s biggest gripe (lack of grip), perhaps that might have impacted our pace a touch. I will regret us never really cracking the track when it looked, mid-season, as though we were really making progress. Perhaps it was too much to hope Junior would be band on the pace but I couldn’t help but think there was still a decent chunk of time left in the driver. You could argue that we hadn’t really gotten in enough seat time, having not practiced at Clay since August and only at Llandow on the race weekend Saturdays. I do need to try to fund some more practice time over the winter so that we don’t suffer similarly at Llandow next season. I had always dismissed the notion of coaching, believing that was diverting funds better spent on things like tyres, but it’s something I’d seriously consider now. We’ll see out the final round at Llandow this weekend and then pack up for the year. If you are interested in a decent pit space at Clay for next year, now is the time to get in touch with the club – tell them I sent you 😉

Cost of weekend: £50 race entry, £12 petrol, £8 fuel, £6 engine head bolt

Total spent this year: £4,206



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