A mixed weekend at Llandow

It isn’t often that I wonder whether or not to take the kart to the track but Saturday was one of those days; the entry numbers were small and the chance to save a few quid for the Festival was tempting. I put the question to Junior and we decided to go to get some race practice in with one of our friends. As it turned out, I really wish that we hadn’t bothered.

The plan for the first practice session was to bed in a set of brake pads ahead of the  Festival, only the kart had other ideas and it was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere even though Junior insisted upon my pushing him halfway down the straight! The carb that had been duly tested before I put it on the kart on Friday was no longer holding any pressure. With the carb replaced we got the pads bedded in during our second session before disaster struck in the third when we had our first ever engine seize. It happened on the outlap and, from watching the on-board footage, the engine makes an unsual whirring sound exiting MacWhirters before seizing on entry to Chandlers. You know something bad has happened when your driver comes running across the track to tell you about it. We recovered the kart (why does it always stop in the opposite corner of the track?) and assessed the damage: the crank pin had snapped, the piston had hit the head and caused some minor marking on the head although the barrel was undamaged. Happening weeks before what is already an expensive Festival weekend, this was definitely not what the doctor ordered.

I’d never had an engine seize before and was unsure what to do next: the spark plug looked lean but could this have been as a result of the seize rather than the cause. We’d not deviated from our standard carb settings and the carb was popping off ok both before and after the seize. I decided to replace it anyway but what about the fuel? I know for sure that I’d just mixed it and it was freshly purchased only the night before. I’d continue with it.

So on went the race engine. Junior did a couple of laps of the next session but came in after three laps: the pipe had come off of the fuel overflow bottle. A simple fix, only then the kart did not want to restart on the dummy grid. It was starting to look like amateur day at the track 🙁 The carb was fine, we had a spark and the fuel was flowing as you would expect. The engine started with no problems on the stand and we finally got our heads down and set about finding some missing tenths. I don’t think we got closer than three tenths off of the pace but our front tyres had little tread depth indicator remaining by the end so we put it down to tyres.

We were at the track early on Sunday and, if I’m honest, was surprised to see how few people had stayed over. The car park was almost empty. After the early season entry numbers had been boosted by Super One drivers practising and, once the Super One tour had been and gone, the TKM Southern Championships had rolled into town, this was the first month for club drivers alone. Of course it was also the first weekend of the school holidays so that will certainly have taken its toll but the entry numbers were in the mid-thirties, the lowest we’d seen in our year at the track. The JTKM grid was six, probably the minimum you’d want to see but it represented a good chance for us to scoop our biggest points haul, possibly even a trophy! If this were a horse race we’d have started second favourite and a top two finish was our aim for the day.

The first heat marked another low point for the weekend. Junior started in fifth and was stuck in fourth when he was caught by the sole Junior Rotax entrant that was running off the back of the JTKM grid. Normally the Rotax drivers clear off into the distance but the classes were very evenly matched in these track conditions; the Rotax was quick enough to make the lunge into the hairpin off the straight but then held up the TKMs through the rest of the lap. He was certainly having an impact on the TKM race and Junior lost out more than most as he was pushed wide and lost a place to another TKM. He soon made up the place but then fifth challenged again, attempting a move around the outside of The Hook. The karts locked wheels and flipped Junior’s back end around and into the other driver. The race was red flagged and there was a lengthy delay as the driver was treated on track. You don’t want to see any driver getting hurt racing, especially in an incident involving your own lad. The nature of the injury was very similar to the one that junior suffered in April and I know that one of my issues at that time was that neither dad nor lad had come over to wish Junior well as we were packing up to head to the hospital. In this case the driver and his dad were in the ambulance until another came to take him to hospital. You always wonder whether or not to say anything and I feel that you should even if, as in this case, I didn’t know the other dad particularly well. The chance never arose but we wish the driver a speedy recovery.

The incident put a dampener on the rest of the day for me. Back on track, the grid was down to five and our fourth place finish in Heat #1 had put us on the back foot. We had successive second-placed starts to come (we weren’t able to secure what would have been a first pole position draw at Llandow in a field of five license holders and one novice driver so I’m not banking on us ever getting one!) which is a very poor place to start and, indeed, Heat #1 had seen all of the odd-numbered drivers take the first three places into the The Hook. We got dropped to the back after contact in The Hook on the first lap of Heat #2 but Junior drove really well to recover on take second. In Heat #3, Junior had a great start – almost too good as he was too close to the leader to tuck in and third managed to get enough of his kart up the inside that Junior had to give up the place but again drove well, secured second and, for the first time of the day, set the fastest lap.

Junior was tied for second on points and, luckily for us, lost out on second owing to an inferior Heat #1 finish 🙂 He started third for the final, secured second in the first corner and made up 10m or so on the leader to be in his tow after three laps. Having been widely slated for battling too early last month, he was happy to tuck in and pull clear. Things looked promising but it wasn’t to be. Junior had a poor lap in which he lost a good 20m and then found himself losing more ground with each lap. Whether he was trying too hard to make up that ground or whether his tyres, which had done the two days of the Welsh Champs, were just going off I couldn’t say. Possibly it was a combination of the two. We finished three seconds adrift although again set the fastest lap and had at least kept the leader (who won every race) honest for a bit.

Our best-ever podium finish is not something to be scoffed at even with the depleted grid. We’ll take that and the positives from some more strong pace and hope to add a little more consistency next month. For now, I’ve an engine repair to address before the Festival.

Cost of race weekend: Entry fee £100, petrol (car) £12, fuel (kart) £8

Total spent this year: £2,690

Festival bound

The TKM Festival hadn’t been on the radar at all for this year. We were a) nowhere near good enough and b) away that weekend (if ever karting threatens to come between my wife and a beach, that will be when the amnesty ends!). I was wrong on both counts as it turns out; our brake-related woes are at an end and Junior actually has some decent pace… at least at his home track 🙂 As for the beach, I’d gotten the dates wrong! There were still some logistical and financing issues but they have largely been overcome. Junior has agreed to forgo the new slicks I would have purchased for this month’s championship round at Llandow to fund the Festival tyres and I’ve begrudgingly tapped into the Extreme engine/new chassis pot to fund the entry fee. WE’RE GOING TO THE FESTIVAL!!! 😀

Having only every raced at Clay, Dunkeswell and Llandow, I think it’s unlikely we’ll be troubling the scrutineers but, with most of Junior’s friends going, it should be a great weekend. I’m having to take a tent so please just let it be dry…

Promoting TKM

TKM doesn’t get a lot of publicity. I’ve always found Tal-Ko very helpful but their marketing campaign consists almost entirely of bigging themselves up when their team does well or when there is an opportunity to dispel some of the paddock gossip, be that proving that the Tag engine is as strong as its Direct Drive counterpart or the big bearing crankcase performing as well as the older small bearing equivalent. It’s a shame because it’s almost the perfect class: the engine parity is renown, there really is only a couple of tenths between most of the engines, and it is by far the cheapest class to start with 20+ years of engines out there on the used market. There is a lot to shout about and yet nobody does.

MSA numbers for TKM have dropped again with the rise of X30 taking a good chunk of the elite TKM drivers and IKR has been biting little pieces off of the budget end of the market. To give credit where it is due Tal-Ko have indentified Honda Cadet drivers as the Junior TKM entrants of tomorrow and have opened up the Festival to them. Hopefully they are rewarded with a good sized grid, we’ll soon see.

I’ve been mulling things over for some time and sent my thoughts to Tal-Ko last month. For me, TKM needs to establish itself as the undisputed budget class. Cheap entry to the class is one thing but, with tyres good for only two race days, engines needing a rebuild every ten hours and parts priced up there with the best of them, you can see why Rotax owners would quite rightly argue their case. Little can be done with regards the engine rebuild time, consider it the cost of such good engine parity but the tyres are another matter. The softer Maxxis New Age slick tyre was apparently introduced in response to driver demand for a grippier tyre and to enable to TKM to take on Rotax. X30 has rocked up and clearly displaced TKM as the Rotax beater. It is time for Tal-Ko to have a rethink; to take the class back to it’s roots. Imagine a set of tyres that cost £99/set and that were good for five races – now that’s a headline grabber. The harder tyre mandated for all five races of the series has been a hit at Clay Pigeon IKR. I think it would be a hit for MSA TKM. With cheaper tyres, I’d forgive Tal-Ko on the engine parts pricing! Can Tal-Ko afford to do something like this? One might question whether they can afford not to…

So what about promotion? I’m just one bloke who loves the class but I’m not going to be able to turn things around on my own. With that in mind, I yesterday created the Formula TKM Owners Group on Facebook. It was a spur of the moment thing, who knows whether it will fly. Hopefully it will engage the younger drivers who couldn’t care less about the mainstream karting forums. If we can get people discussing the class and sell how enjoyable the class is maybe we can turn things around. It’s worth a try at least!

Ahh, the exhaust cloud of a decent TKM grid...

Ahh, the exhaust cloud of a decent TKM grid…