It was great to see all of my chums back at the track. Even if they hadn’t save me a space in the paddock, confining me to my garage spot (cheers, friends!). That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing given the cold wind blowing across an otherwise very sunny track. We’d missed Saturday practice but reports suggested that the track was very grippy which, given our tyre situation, was probably just about the best we could hope for. Even at its grippiest Llandow has always been a track for fresh rubber but the conditions might help offset some of the performance loss we’d see on used tyres. It also meant the kart setup didn’t need changing before racing began 🙂 We’d set our goals accordingly: if we could be within 0.3s of the pace, we’d be very happy.
The day started very badly: the airbox came off on the warm-up lap (we always tie it to the seat so that it doesn’t actually fall off the kart) and Junior was gracious enough to try to bring it to the attention of everyone on the dummy grid as I tried to get out of parc ferme as quickly as possible. There was a grid of 18 and Junior would start the heats in 16th, 1st and 8th so he was obviously very pleased to have a pole.
Heat #1 would be about making the best of our lowest placed starting position. We had the club championship leader alongside us so we hoped to follow him through the pack. It didn’t happen: Junior got caught up in an incident coming out of The Hook which put him onto the grass. He re-joined the track alongside another kart but two-abreast rarely works around Surtees, there was contact and the rear of the kart was flipped up onto the other kart. Fortunately we had enough momentum that the engine kept going and Junior’s pace was good enough to get him back into the mid-pack, where there was quite a battle going on. He was behind three karts who ran wide coming out of Raymond’s and he went for the undercut on all of them. Again there was contact as four karts across the track tried to sort themselves out to enter The Hook; Junior’s back end slid out but he managed to hold it when it looked like he was going to be spun around. He continued and managed to pass the three karts, making a nice cutback move to pass the final kart on the line. All things considering, 10th place was a reasonable finish. The Clerk wasn’t overly impressed with any of the contact but you had a bunch of drivers in the middle of the field, all racing hard and not particularly keen to give it up when push came to shove (quite literally). More pleasing however was that we were only a couple of tenths off of the pace 🙂
Heat #2 was a chance to really test our pace. Junior got off to a good start but was easy pickings to one of the other club drivers on fresh rubber but the two soon got themselves a small gap to the rest of the field. The Tal-Ko drivers were soon chasing them down though and Junior had no answer as he was caught and passed by a couple of them, finishing 1.5s adrift at the end. The heat was notable for it being my first experience of seeing someone trying to kick their bumper back into position. Tut tut…
Heat #3 was the low point of the day for me. The first attempt at starting the race was aborted with the field being nowhere near together when one of the less experienced drivers on pole went for it like a scolded cat but then Junior disappeared on the second warm-up lap!?! Fortunately, he was on-track, causing another aborted start and he was magically back in his place when the race finally started! He’d overfilled the fuel tank before the race so the tank was full to the brim, to the extent that it was leaking. Junior hadn’t been able to secure it to his satisfaction so he’d stopped on track, removed and replaced the cap and waited for a push-start!!! I think he was somewhat fortunate not to be told to get off the track but worse was to come mid-race as he threw a chain hitting the kerb in The Dell. Any time a chain is thrown it is generally the mechanic’s fault and this was down to me: I’d put insulation tape on the chassis tube to protect it from engine mount wear. I’d seen the engine move slightly earlier and even experienced the same behaviour when we first started karting but I had that ‘want to protect my new chassis’ urge and thought I could manage it L The DNF would really cost us any chance of contesting a podium place. Junior was pretty philosophical about it; I’m not sure whether he didn’t realise it was my fault or whether he was playing it down. I removed all of the insulation tape, checked the engine and sprockets over and kept myself to myself for a while.
We would start 10th for the final, our chances of contesting the podium very likely over but we’d see what we could salvage. There was a small matter of a penalty not having been declared on the official results to one of the heats that seemed to delay our final for an eternity but we finally got under way two or three races later than scheduled. There was an all-TAG engine front row. Not only that but two very savvy national drivers who knew exactly what they had to do to put the direct drive engined karts into trouble. The karts were backed up to a crawl, worse even than the Celtic Challenge in December where something similar happened, causing one of the driver to fail to start on that occassion. Junior’s engine cut out three times as they approached Raymonds and the Alfano showed a new record low-speed of 11mph as the engine struggled at 2,900rpm! Something needs to be done about this and I’m suprised it has not been raised before: the TAG engine has several performance advantages to offset the increased weight compare to a direct drive engine but nobody seems to have considered the fact that these things can crawl and not cut out, potentially putting DD karts out of the race or handing savvy TAG drivers a 20m lead as their DD rivals try to clear the fuel from their flooded engines.It used to be the case that other karts would help push strugglers but the MSA’s droopy nosecone as put a stop to that :/ Junior dropped to 12th at the start and then found himself battling to pass his club rivals when he needed to be chasing down the Super One visitors. He belatedly got clear but, by that point, he said his tyres were giving up and he ultimately finished 5s back in 7th place.
It had been a really encouraging performance from Junior but my decision on the engine mount had compromised what could have been a very strong day for us. You can never really be sure of the delta between used and fresh rubber but I feel we could have been in the mix and we certainly achieved our goal of being within 0.3s of the pace.
On reflection, it *was* a good day. It was great to see full grids of TKM at Llandow. There were a few very questionable passing moves (most notably in Extreme), reminiscent of some of the rounds we’d had at the track last year ahead of the Super One round but, on the whole, it was a good and enjoyable days racing. Junior performed really well; he perhaps needs to be able to better handle traffic and take his chances when they arise although I still wonder his brakes are not quite there. Junior has never really been short of confidence but this was a boost (to his, if not mine) if we do contest the Super One round when it comes.
Total spent: I think it might be too late to catch up with the amount for this. I’ll see if I can sort it out!