The awning conundrum

We really should be trying to channel funds towards a new chassis but, after our not-so-trusty awning gave into the elements at Clay Pigeon, I’m having to re-assess the priorities. We’ve signed up for the winter series at Clay Pigeon IKR, we’re absolutely going to need an awning! I’ve seen plenty of awnings give up the ghost since we started karting so I know that I’m going to have to invest in a decent one. The range of options isn’t great since the awning will need to fit in the back of the Clio! I think I’ll be looking at the compact version of the heavy duty awnings that some of the companies sell. Surf & Turf, LPTent, Gala Tent and Gazeboshop are all on the short-list so, if you wonderful folk have any experiences (positive or otherwise) to share, I’d appreciate hearing them!

I wonder if there is a sponsorship opportunity to be had here… 😉

Disaster at Llandow

The weekend had been non-stop: an early start at Clay for IKR coupled with the need to dry the kart along with all of my tools and spares that had gotten soaked when the awning gave up meant there wasn’t time to do much other than a quick shower before getting everything ready for Llandow. Having a one-point lead in the battle for second spot in the championship, the conditions really went against us in so far as we’d been doing quite nicely with a very settled setup for approaching six months. At least we had the luxury of fresh rubber (back-to back days, no less!).

We arrived to a depressingly deserted paddock and, with more rain forecast, got a similarly depressing answer when I enquired about a potential space in one of the garages 🙁 Considering the options, we decided upon a tiny spot which had protection from the wind on the two most important sides although it meant working in the mud for the day. I’d changed little from the Clay setup in anticipation of further rain but, although the track was wet, there hadn’t been any further rain since the early hours. For the warm-up, we faced a choice: scrub in the slicks in what could best be described as sub-optimal conditions or find the grip on the inters. We were alone in opting for the former much to the amusement of some of the others but I felt we’d benefit by having the slicks scrubbed in if and when we came to bolting them on. Junior lapped at his own pace and kept it on the grey stuff although reported that he didn’t think that the carb was picking up as it should. This was where not having taken part in Saturday practice was coming to bear; it was the carb that we’d ran on all day at Clay and that I had cleaned and tested the evening before. No matter, I bolted on the race carb that I’d also tested the previous evening.

Disaster struck in Heat #1. Junior started his formation lap but, as the grid slowed coming out of The Dell, I could see Junior struggling to keep the engine running. I ran from Raymonds to join the dad and the marshal that were trying to get him going: it was clear the kart wasn’t going to restart even though Junior was desperate for me to keep trying to get the engine started. Although I was gutted for him, I didn’t expect the outburst that I received as I pushed the kart up the straight: it was embarrassing both from the perspective of other dads hearing him talk to me like that and to see him losing the plot completely. We had had a DNS on two occasions before: once when I had put a carb gasket on upside down back (!) in our time at Clay and more recently when a stalled kart in front of him at the dummy grid exit gate forced him to stop and his kart just never restarted; each time he’d been frustrated and I absolutely understand it but I’d never seen anything like this. We had a few quiet words back at the car to ensure that this never happened again. For me, our karting career is not about winning: we absolutely seek to be competitive but I put in all of my spare time and money into something that we both have to enjoy. If he ever stopped enjoying it, we’d retire in an instant but it’s something I do for the enjoyment of us both and, at that point, I wasn’t having much fun. It got worse…

The carb wasn’t holding any pressure whatsoever. We swapped it over, bolted on the race engine (given the drying conditions) and spent a good amount of time in the starting area making sure that the carb and engine were revving as best they could. Junior started on pole and we agreed that he just had to go out there, race, enjoy it and see how things panned out. As he approached me at the final corner of the formation lap he was shaking his head and holding the airbox. I knew in an instant what was wrong. Although I didn’t blame myself for the carb going down there was only one person responsible for this: the jubilee clip around the airbox hadn’t been tightened. Every mechanic will make a mistake from time-to-time but why now??? This might well have been a new low. Junior started and quickly dropped through the field; he was driving one-handed and holding the airbox in place until he reached the hairpin where he had to use both hands on the wheel and would then need to find and re-attach the airbox and carry on. He was in a tussle for last place, lapping 0.8s off the pace when he got the mechanical with three or four laps remaining. What could I do other than apologise? Just when we had needed to be at the very top of our game, a mechanical and then a mechanic problem had sunk our challenge for second place. After our discussion following Heat #1, Junior was understanding: we win or lose as a team. Luckily he was still feeling bad about the outburst earlier!

The day couldn’t really get much worse although we tried our best. Heat #3 was the cutover to slicks. Or was it? Why is it always the JTKM grid that seem to face that crucial decision first? Every other race before us had seen the grids on wets. There hadn’t been any rain all morning but it looked pretty bleak. The forecast was for more rain to come. It was too close to call so I left it to Junior. It wasn’t as though it would cost us the championship anyway! We bolted on the ‘very used’ inters as every other drive bar one went for slicks. And then it rained!!! But not for long enough and the sky was suddenly looking brighter as the drivers went out on track. Junior started in third and used his grip to make into The Hook in first. He quickly had a 2-second lead but that soon began to deteriorate and our misery was complete as we found ourselves adrift by the end of the race. To add insult to injury, it rained as we pushed the kart back to the paddock. Shit happens, huh?

There was no chance of making the wrong tyre choice for the final which would see us start in an impressive last place! Junior would have to make speedy headway if he was going to challenge for the podium but the pack quickly stretches as the rear of the field try to sort themselves out through The Hook at the start, even when the field is fairly small as it was here. Junior was 4th after the first lap but the front three were clear and Junior was making little impression. To his credit he plugged away and caught the third-placed driver late on as he dropped away from the front two. It was a minor consolation for such a bad day in the office.

We just about managed to get packed up before the inevitable rain arrived. The McDonalds tasted ever more dour than usual and it was nice to get home, pack up, shower and crack open a beer. With our participation in the Clay IKR winter series, we wouldn’t be taking December off as we had done last year. As I would really have like to have done at that moment…!

Cost of race day: Entry fee £55, Maxxis slicks £147, petrol (car) £10, fuel (kart) £9, bridge toll £6

Costs since last post: Front sprocket £13

Total spent this year: £4,855 < I think we could be heading for a new annual record!!! 🙁

Return to Clay Pigeon!

The weekend was going to be quite novel: an IKR/MSA double-header that would see us take in Clay Pigeon IKR on the Saturday and the Llandow MSA season finale on the Sunday. It had seemed like a good idea at the time but a couple of things had changed since I had signed us up for IKR and bought the IKR harder tyre. Firstly, the junior driver current sat in second place in the Llandow championship had moved up to Extreme meaning that our battle for the third place had just become a battle for the runner-up spot. Secondly, having raced in only on wet heat at Llandow in twelve months, the forecast for the weekend was miserable and there was a real chance that our decision to skip Saturday practice in favour of a trip to Clay could impede our championship aspirations.

It felt really good to be driving down to Clay Pigeon. Even though it seemed as though the A37 had become sponsored by John Deere since our last visit 53 weeks earlier, it felt like we were going home in some respects. We would also be back racing with the dad/lad we started with on Day 1 and with whom we’d bought the shared awning. My aims in racing in the IKR series were to; 1. Keep racing through the winter when we’d normally take a break, 2. To get more race experience (cheaply), 3. To get some experience in less grippy conditions (the hard tyre would see to that), 4. We’d very likely get some wet weather racing experience. The weather was typically Clay-like: very wet and very windy. Because I considered the Extreme grid to be a) larger and b) more competitive, I had entered Junior into the Extreme class where he would be permitted to run his junior engine at the junior weight. The plan had been to practice on worn slicks, switch to the Sava for final practice and then see how we fared. This went out the window straight away since it was pretty clear we’d be on wets all day although I was surprised to learn that we’d only get one practice session before jumping straight into our three heats and final; my immediate thought was “That’s not very IKR!!!”.

The view from the 'TKM Corner Memorial Stand'

The view from the newly erected ‘TKM Corner Memorial Stand’ (which provides little respite from horizontal rain)

Practice went well; Junior looked reasonably quick and didn’t go off. This was just as well since push-start assistance is not permitted in the senior class although it was nice that we could still sign on and watch from the centre of the track. The grids were a little smaller than normal with several of the regulars missing what was the opening round of the four-month Winter series. Heat #1 saw us start last of six. Junior start well, rising to third on lap one but took a lap or so to pass second by which time the leader, who was clearly pretty tidy in the wet, had scooted. We finished three seconds off the leader and nine seconds clear of the field. Heat #2 saw us start on pole. Junior pulled a two-second gap as the winner of Heat #1 worked his way up to second and then, as he chased Junior down, it was just a matter of whether Junior could hold on as his lead was whittled down. He did but only with a couple of laps defending!

Heat #3 saw the demise of our awning: as we were sat on the dummy grid with the previous class on their final lap, the awning gave into the elements. We had taken the sides down already in the hope that this might ease the strain but to no avail. I couldn’t do much owing to the need to start Junior. He lined up in 4th with this chief rival starting in 7th. Junior lead by lap two but again found himself being chased down. We’d chatted about what Junior should be doing here: he was clearly second fastest but, if he was passed then he should look to just tuck in and see where he was losing out, using this as a lesson in how to drive Clay in the wet. Of course he didn’t listen: he was passed with a couple of laps to go, looked to attack at every corner thereafter and ended up taking himself and the leader out when he got caught out going in to Billies. I don’t mind Junior making mistakes but taking somebody else out really brasses me off! Although the leader restarted to finish 6th, Junior was out. The other guy wasn’t too pleased but, having watched the on-board video, it was just one of those things: definitely a clumsy move as he seemed to think about the dive up the inside then try and abort too late and his bumper tagged the leader’s rear end as he turned into the corner. We were here to learn racecraft and I just hope it was an incident he learns from.

Our awning was a write-off and we took it apart for ease of disposal. Fortunately, we had only the final remaining as the boot of a Clio provided little shelter when mixing fuel! Good job the track track had reduced the practice time, eh? 😉 Junior had qualified in third. He was second at the end of lap one but never threatened the leader and was passed by another driver on some weird 90s-looking engine that went like stink a straight line, finishing third on track and second of the championship contenders. There was some minor dispute over Junior’s eligibility to contest the Extreme class as his junior weight but this was rejected and Junior was pleased to pick up a runner-up trophy.

All-in-all it was a good day and definitely £40 well spent: Junior’s performance on-track had been very encouraging and, although he still had a tendency to attempt to get the power down too soon, he was really consistent. The grid had been small but, importantly, there was some good competition with the promise of more to come next month. The loss of the awning was a blow and I’ll have to look at the options for buying my own compact awning now at a time when I was hoping to channel some funds towards a new chassis. I felt most of all for our friends who I had persuaded to compete with us, not only had they lost the awning that we shared but endured a miserable time on track. Here’s hoping for a dry December round…

RIP Our Awning 2013-2015

RIP Our Awning

Cost of race day: Entry fee £40, series registration £10, Sava tyre for series £100, petrol (car) £10, fuel (kart) £9

Costs since last post: New chain £18, brake bleed tool £38, tyre tongs £55

Total spent this year: £4,615

Facebook power!

Other than being a fanboy, I’ve not actually done much in support of the TKM class but the Facebook group for drivers/dads/mechanics has taken off *way* better than I could possibly have hoped. It was never about numbers although 450+ in four months is good going; it’s about the breadth of people getting involved: from Super One to IKR to…even Tal-Ko (albeit indirectly). It is clear that the TKM community is very passionate about their class. Of course I beat the harder tyre drum from time-to-time but the most satisfying thread so far was seeing Tal-Ko ask drivers what changes they would want to see in order to boost the Super One entry numbers. It even looks as though it may have made a difference 🙂

I still think there is much to be done in support of the lower echelons and it remains to be seen whether Tal-Ko can come up with a reason for drivers to contest some of the ailing club championships (hint: costs). Now back to the tyres…