Leading a race! Albeit briefly…

With Junior’s 16th birthday falling the day after the race weekend, we decided that it would be nice to stay at the track on the Saturday night and grab a beer/some food with a few of the Dads/lads from the JTKM grid. This was partly just a really nice thing to do for Junior’s birthday but also in part because Junior had very little to open present-wise on the Monday! 🙁 Having had the engine problems so soon after a major rebuild, Junior’s main present was the engine repair. The new slicks, chain, sprocket and brake pads were all ‘gifts’ from the family although all were fitted and ready for the weekend.

Saturday practice was good enough. The pit lane was mentally busy with the club having attracted twice the number of entries mostly thanks to Formula Blue. Arriving on Saturday morning, we were very lucky to secure a nice pit spot with plenty of space to set the awning set up. Our tyres weren’t the best so our mission was just to try to implement some of the new lines that we had been practising. In that respect we failed really to find the consistency I had been hoping for but, to be fair, track time was in pretty short supply – we were on track once every 80 minutes! It was fairly uneventful barring us developing a habit it seemed of turning the action camera on *after* a session and recording nothing more than a long walk to the trailer (although we do have our wait in the scrutineering queue and the event itself – ping me if you are stuck for evening entertainment). Rather alarmingly, Junior’s kart got hit by a 1kg piece of lead that came bouncing down the track in the final practice session! :S

We were staying in accommodation about 5 minutes from the track. It was nice to drop off all of the kit and have a hot shower before heading out 🙂 Even better to spend the night amongst friends at a nearby hotel/restaurant – I can heartily recommend the gourmet burger at the St Mary’s Hotel, it was up there amongst the best I’ve ever had 😀 Sunday morning was blissful: getting up at 7:15 instead of 5:30 left me feeling *so* much more refreshed as we completed the 5-minute journey to the track!

Having scrutineered the night before we had plenty of time in which to prep the kart. The grids were posted and Junior was miffed to find that, now into his sixth race at Llandow, he still had no pole position! I can kind of sympathise – with only ten competitors, you’d be expecting a pole every three or four months. I understand that the club use a random system that does not take into account previous grid draws… if only Carlsberg made grid draw systems for motor racing, eh? 😉 With one of the entrants withdrawing, our starting positions were a reasonable 4th, 3rd, 9th.

Heat #1 was ‘ok’. Junior had a poor start, losing a couple of places at the first corner before gradually sliding back through the field, six seconds off the lead but ~0.3s off the pace, which I’d happily gave taken beforehand.

Heat #2 was the highlight of the day: Junior started third and, amazingly, LEAD THE FIELD INTO THE HOOK!!! I couldn’t tell you how it happened, as I was stood at the opposite corner of the track, but it was nice that we were leading on merit and hadn’t even started on the front row! 😀 Junior held the lead for into the second lap before he was passed by two karts but, even then, was doing really well in third until lap #4  when someone made a move into Surtees, running wide into Junior (who was attempting to hold it around the outside) and their wheels seemed to lock with Junior coming off the worst! 🙁 I started a conversation with the marshal about what he saw (I wasn’t overly pleased in the heat of the moment) before one of the deputy clerks told him to stop talking to me! With incidents elsewhere, Junior dropped to 7th before making up a place on the final lap. Junior was angry at the incident that had taken him out of the running but, having had a few laps to compose myself, I think it was more or less a racing incident. He’d come off worst and certainly wasn’t at fault (although I had thought that last month too) but I would never have lodged a protest over it… not unless the other party had previously called one on us, at least 😉 It was kind of a bitter sweet result since we had spoken about Junior getting his elbows out a little and not making it quite so easy for people to pass him but, in fighting for position, we’d lost out. Junior had also been shown his first ever black/white flag for an attempted move in Raymonds a few laps from the end! 😮

Heat #3 told us we still had a long way to go. Starting 9th, Junior made up a couple of places after an incident but we struggled to stay with the pack and annoyingly lost two places on the final lap. We finished 8 seconds adrift and were 0.6s off the pace which was blisteringly quick.

As seems commonplace for TKM, the clouds gathered over the lunch break and there were spells of drizzle ahead of our final. The track looked damp but I didn’t think that there was really enough to offer encouragement to anyone looking at the wet option. The pole sitter, however, opted for inters and pulled a little clear of the pack although took one challenger (on slicks) with him and was soon passed. The leader was really flying, pretty much in a class of his own, as he had clearly sussed that the track was there to attack. After a big slide early on, the penny dropped a little too late for Junior; who only really got going in the last couple of laps. He was adrift of the main pack but was quickly catching the pole sitter on his inters at the end, passing him after a final lap incident to finish in 6th place.

The race day was a mixed bag for us: we had lead a race for the first time and raced in the pack for large parts of the races in which we started in the top half of the grid but we still struggled with the lines and I know that one or two of the faster drivers weren’t fully appreciative of Junior’s fighting for position. It’s a tricky one. I can see their point of view: Junior is just holding them up and they will eventually pass but just dropping through the field is no fun. We’d gone from being very simple to overtake to being much tougher (relatively speaking) although we definitely need to find a happy medium and learn when to just tuck in behind after being passed. I cannot promise we’ll find that balance imminently but we’ll work on it.

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £13 petrol, £12 fuel, £45 accommodation, £40 food

Total spent this year: £1,701 and we’re only into the second month of the season!?!

My wasted rebuild

After our chain snapping woes at our practice day, I hastily got the engine head off to see what was going on. Data analysis showed that the engine had hit 21,306rpm!!! 🙁

Sh*t! :(

The top piston ring was stuck firmly in place and all evidence suggested that the piston had hit the head. RIP my three-day old piston.The crank was also out of alignment. If there was any positive to be taken from this, the head at least looked ok. I had it collected by a friendly engine builder for a new piston and repair.

Things got worse when I was informed that my lovely new crank was slightly twisted although Tal-Ko assured me that this could be straightened and I didn’t pass up on the opportunity to save £166!

Having run a single Panther chain for the biggest part of 2014, I was fed up with my ‘cheaper’ chains snapping so ordered another trusty Panther and Talon sprocket – I am pretty keen to avoid any future chain woes and will be running my engine stop bolt a lot closer to the engine in future.

Cost of engine repair: £180

Costs since last post: New brake pads, £25; 2x Shell M Oil, £20;Dot 5 Brake Fluid, £10; Gaffer tape, £5; Insulation tape, £2; cable ties, £2; Chain and sprocket bundle, £50

Total spent this year: £1,496

Getting help

Our February race weekend was our third day at the track in eight days. Even before the weekend and our lack of pace, we already had a speedy return to the track booked in: I had decided to get Junior some coaching! This wasn’t a decision taken lightly, as £100 is a decent chunk of the monthly budget, but it was one that I had been mulling over since the turn of the year. I was pretty sure that the setup was in the right ball park and that most of the time that we were off was in Junior’s lines. There were a few people who I’d have been very happy to work with; in the end I opted for the one that Junior didn’t know – mostly in the hope that he might listen to them more!

Although this was during the half-term, the track was pretty quiet – Junior, three cadets and a Senior TKM with a couple of Senior Rotax drivers turning up later. We spent the morning working on the line into The Hook. Things weren’t falling into place that quickly and then Junior clipped the back of a Cadet when he mistakenly thought that the door was being left open. That resulted in a bent steering column and track rod. With that fixed, Junior’s next hiccup came when stopped half-way around his outlap a couple of sessions later: the engine had backed onto the stop bolt which, with hindsight, was probably a little too far back (having previously cracked the old chassis at the engine-side bearing hanger, I had gone the opposite direction and changed from ~3mm off to ~12mm). I tightened everything up and we got back to working on the lines. That was until we experienced that wallet-bashing sound of the chain snapping. Junior coasted the kart up the straight and into the pits. Initially, things looked ok but, when we put the kart down for another session, we noticed there was very little compression: you could push the kart along with little effort. It was clear that engine was going to need looking at and the race motor was going to have to come out.

By this time, we had lost the majority of the afternoon. We got a really good final couple of hours in, running nicely in solitude as the sun set, although there wasn’t really enough time to work on all of the corners as we would have liked. It was a good, very educational day. Junior had some key areas for concern pointed out to him and we left with a much clearer idea as to how to cut a large chunk of the ~0.8s that we had been off at the weekend, just a shame the day was unusually poor from a problem perspective.

Thanks to Tim Wilson of TWM Motorsport for his expert coaching 🙂

Into the sunset :)Cost of day: Practice fee £40, bridge toll £6, fuel £10, petrol £10, coaching £100, new tyres for next race weekend £145

Total spent this year: £1,202