The droopy bumper fiasco

It seems like only yesterday that the CIK/MSA/ABKC consortium introduced the droopy bumper to widespread criticism. Everybody on one of those popular green had to go out and buy a new upper front bumper bar since the new style bumper brackets did not properly seat the bumper. The world and their dog went out and bought stronger bumper clamps and… The response at the end of the season was overwhelmingly positive!!! First corner incidents were largely eradicated overnight and, although there was a feeling that officials came to rely on drooped bumpers alone a little too much, the punters were generally happy.  Who’d have thunk it?

So why are we in exactly the same place twelve months on? It appears as though the CIK were not overly enamoured with the solutions that some of the chassis manufacturers produced to address the bumper situation and were working on a revision as early as the summer that would be introduced for 2017. Not all kart manufacturers are affected but, if you drive one of those popular green things, you’ll be needing new upper *and* lower front bumper bars. This is a screenshot of the latest MSA release:

They missed the question "Why did you not get it right the first time?"

They missed the question “Why did you not get it right the first time?”

The annoying thing is that, to my mind at least, the CIK didn’t do as thorough job in writing the regulations as they should have. It is clear from the Tal-Ko communication that they believe manufacturers were seeking to gain an advantage. I’ve no idea if this really is the case but I’ve long been near that threshold where you just wonder why bother to pay so much to race MSA and facing ever more red tape(particularly when the ABKC are talking about the need to simplify things for drivers). There is a lot that appeals about IKR and we find ourselves seriously looking at the prospects of going non-MSA for a large chunk of next year. If the TKM Southern Championship plans do not materialise (and I’m losing hope since Tal-Ko and the MSA have been sat on them for a month or so now), we’ll be contesting the National Kart Cup over five rounds on a single set of harder-compound slicks! A SAVING OF £600 ON RUBBER ALONE!!! Sounds perfect but more on that shortly… 😉

Wondering what might have been

Yesterday was a *long* day and a lot happened; Some things great, others not so. Over time, I know that I’ll look back on the weekend (and the month as a whole) as a defining moment where Junior developed all of the skills that a successful driver needs. Right now though, it’s hard not to feel despondent: You don’t get many chances to win a special plate as it is but we were so strong this weekend. I won’t go quite as far as saying it was there for the taking as we’ll never really know but we had a big, big chance.

Our overnight fears of a wet day in the office were confirmed as soon as we crossed The Bridge and it was only getting wetter as we neared Llandow. Although we had the luxury of no scrutineering (that having taken place on the Saturday), I was keen to get there early and get the kart ready. It was just as well since there was a lot to change from the Saturday setup. Junior was already writing off his chances. I have always been impressed with his confidence and self-belief: He just gets on and does things when I would be full of doubt. This has never applied to driving in the wet, however. I think this is mostly my fault: I’ve never really found the perfect (arguably even a good) wet setup and he’s been sent out to compete on tyres well past their best. Inters have very much been the norm for us. That said, he has form in the borderline dry/wet conditions and had done well in our last wet visit to Llandow. Privately I shared his doubts but now was not the time to be showing them: He’d had a fantastic day on Saturday and, on our shiny new wets fresh from Super One, we’d be a different proposition this time! My biggest concern was our lack of an intermediate set of wets. It was either new or very used, just-about-legal tyres (which I like to call out ‘very-inter inters’).

Not sure we've ever had two new sets of tyres for a race weekend! :-o

Not sure we’ve ever had two new sets of tyres for a race weekend! 😮

The day started with a 3-lap practice and it was damp enough that, with a little care, we could scrub-in the new wets. Qualifying was going to play a massive factor in the day and this was one of the biggest calls of the weekend: inters or slicks? I’d normally have bolted on the inters without question but one of our good buddies in Extreme had bucked the trend and opted to practice on slicks: He was all over the shop to begin with but showed some pace towards the end. The track was drying but there was still drizzle in the air. He had been adamant that the slick tyre was coming good and that convinced Junior that this was a punt worth taking. Unfortunately for us, the other front-running club regular thought similarly: we were 1.2s clear of the rest of the field but 0.2s off of the pole-setting time. This was the start of Junior’s new-found confidence in all things wet: getting the slicks up to temperature and finding the grip to keep them there was a real booster for him 🙂

The mission in Heat #2 was simple: finish second to guarantee starting the pre-final on pole. This is also where Junior’s starts were becoming a bigger deal for his rivals. I’m probably about to go off on one now which I shouldn’t really particularly since it may help you, dear reader, if you happen to be racing us but here are some simple facts which are you welcome to argue *if* you’ve watched as many TKM starts at Llandow from Raymonds as I have (yes, I was there again):

  1. The faster the start, the more stretched the grid. The pole-sitter could well be on their way into the The Hook whilst the back-markers are left to wonder ‘WTF?’ as they exit Raymonds. And Clerks like bunched starts.
  2. If the front row are side-by-side coming up Hanger Straight, karts on the even side will exit Raymonds at least two kart lengths ahead of the odd-numbered side of the grid since the pole-man *will* run as wide as they can around Raymonds, effectively hanging the second-placed driver (and the entire even-numbered half of the grid) out to dry: P2 will *have* to back off to avoid a jump-start, the pole-man then gets starts his run to the start line and the first four into The Hook will be those starting in the #1,3,5 and 7 grid slots as the entire even-half of the grid bog down having had to back right off just ahead of the start line.

Back to the start of the race: Junior was hanging two kart lengths off of the pole-sitter, who was dictating the pace as is his right. At this point one of drivers behind drew up alongside Junior to make a point. I’m not sure which point: That he was hanging back or was he going too slow??? One of the parents, who was on-track as a push-starter, was angered by the fact that Junior was pinching the fuel pipe (a tactic used in karting to prevent your engine from bogging down ever since the direct drive engine was invented) and was complaining to the Clerk. The start was aborted; I think there was a straggler off the back of the grid (I’m not sure how he managed this, they were going slowly enough!). Second formation lap: the same thing happens. One of the officials is telling Junior to speed up (see point #2, above), the dad goes absolutely mental the second Junior’s hand moves to the pipe (bear in mind we’re still two kart lengths off of the pole-sitter and moving at the pace *they are controlling*). Junior speeds up and is told to slow down by the next official, stood 40m further up the straight. The dad storms up and informs me that Junior’s behaviour was disgraceful!?! I swear you couldn’t make this stuff up. A few more points to bear in mind:

  1. Last year’s Clerk spent the entire year telling the JTKM grid to slow down on the formation lap
  2. When the Tal-Ko Racing boys (on their TAG engines) were doing the pace-setting at their S1 practice round here in April, the karts were doing 1,000rpm *less* coming up the straight than we were at the weekend. I think that would have put some people into cardiac arrest!!!
  3. It’s common practice (arguably common sense) in TKM!

There is no getting away from the fact that LKC’s decision to move the start line to the other side of Raymonds has pretty much entirely removed first corner contact (unless you are in Extreme, where pretty much anything seems to go) but the starts can often be very messy and it is impossible to please everyone. It doesn’t help if the Clerk changes every month, nor if he is unfamiliar with TKM.

I’ve said enough, let’s move onto the race. Junior found himself in a battle to hold onto the lead and wasn’t too pleased to find himself being shown the cut-through as he and second came together entering The Hook. Junior waited for his opponent and allowed him to pass. They were both shown a black/white flag (which seemed harsh for us at least) and then battled over the next several laps for the win. There was a fair bit more contact on both sides (definitely worthy of a black/white flag!) but nothing I’d have considered out of order. Junior then pulled clear and won with a comfortable 6s cushion.

It’s at this point that we received a truly crushing blow: Junior weighed in 400g underweight. We had weighed our intermediate setup, complete with half a tank of fuel, in the morning since we almost used it for qualifying and were 1.1kg overweight! I didn’t see this coming for a moment: We had been running 1kg over for the entire weekend. At any other time over the weekend we could have handled this, such was our pace but not now: We would start the final last. I was stunned. We re-weighed for the sake of curiosity (we were closer but not close enough). I’m not pointing at the scales;The fact is that we were underweight but, having never done so before, it couldn’t have happened at a worse moment. I still cannot explain it. I don’t know if it was familiar resignation but Junior didn’t seem as angry as he might rightly have. We had the ‘let’s go home’ moment but we quickly moved onto ‘we can still win this’.

The final was properly wet. We had the benefit of new, freshly scrubbed-in tyres and Junior was determined to contest the win. Oddly enough, nobody complained when Junior reached down for his fuel pipe in P8 on the grid! Junior had a good start and was 4th at the end of the first lap. We were in the game but the hard work was to come: Junior had to act decisively if he was going to fight for the win. He allowed third to get the cut-back after we had sat behind them for a lap and, by the time Junior had made the pass stick, the leader had pulled 2s clear of second and we were a further 2s adrift. We caught second with a little help from the sole Junior X30, who was slicing his way through the field in a manner that we could only dream of. Junior had a chance to make a quick pass into Raymonds but, again, his rival got the cut-back. He was finding it really hard to get the kart stopped on the slippery line 🙁 Junior was held up further and the driving was getting tough: Both drivers were shown a black/white flag for the second successive race. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Junior leaning on his opponent coming down the hill into The Hook; a move you see a lot of but of which I’ve never approved. If you know your opponent is alongside, you simply have to give them the room in my book. On the flip side, if you give them room, there’s a strong chance they’ll lean on you in the middle of The Hook. Sometimes you cannot win…

I think the biggest problem is that these are two drivers who never want to give up *any* corner. You know there are times when you need to use a bit of foresight: Do you make an early move which allows your rival to fight for position over a series of corners or do you wait and pass cleanly at the straight towards the end of the lap? Are you better off tucking in behind and using the tow to catch the drivers in front? These are questions that don’t seem to come into consideration currently! In part, I can understand it: this was a fight for second and, if Junior got past, his opponent’s chances of the runner-up spot were gone. Throw into the mix Junior’s desperation to overcome the exclusion and you’ve got a battle royale. I know that Junior can drive with his head, I’ve seen in at Super One, I just fear this is the tone for the rest of the club championship however.

Junior did finally pass but the leader was long gone. The race was done. Junior had fought from the back to finish in P2 but it was scant consolation. To be fair, the winner had driven a very good, consistent final and shown some great wet pace; it would be wrong to assume we’d have won it but we would have been entertaining race of it. We dried/dismantled the kart with little enthusiasm, picked up the runner-up trophy and headed for home.

The drive home was a solemn one. I reflected on the day’s events as we headed back through the rain and plenty of ifs, buts and maybes: This had been the chance to give my son one of the best days of his life and we had come up short because of an oversight on my part. It was a tough one to shoulder. The DiRT2 soundtrack played in the car and, with impeccable timing, played The Subways “I won’t let you down”. Probably just as well that Junior was asleep at that point as the stresses of the day, lack of food/drink/sleep on top of the disappointment were all coming to bear. It was a ‘something-in-your-eye’ moment that are best had alone 🙁

I know with certainty that there are many positives to have come out of the weekend: I’d had the chance to work together with our friends in Extreme to share setup ideas as the track evolved. We’d each seen the effect of how the other’s kart had performed and, as a result, our wet setup had improved massively. Junior’s confidence in his ability to handle any conditions has sorn. He had driven stunningly well for most of the weekend. Our pace on used tyres in previous months had been impressive; This was confirmation that, on new tyres, we could match anyone.

We watched the GoPro footage today (Monday) and the camera ran through the pre-final weighing-in. That one will take a little time for us both to get over. I’m still feeling flat, moping around with that heavy heart feeling. I’d like to forget about the kart for a few weeks but I need to get that axle out and remove any water deposits. I’m also disappointed that, having seemed to make up with his rival after a month of ignoring one another, they still ended up falling out after the final. I like a happy grid! I’m not too proud about bickering with other dads on-track in front of the Clerk either but you do what must be done to defend your lad and his chances.

Congratulations to all of the ‘C’ Plate winners. We’ve still yet to enjoy the top step on the podium. This wasn’t our time. What it is time for is some Father’s Day chocolate… 😉

Not much of a Father's Day if I'm honest...

Not much of a Father’s Day if I’m honest…



More marshalling!

Junior wants to pursue a career in motorsports engineering and decided a few months back that he would try his hand at marshalling as a means of getting a bit more experience in the industry. Of course, tracks are very keen for volunteers especially if they help lower the average age a little 😉 In this case though it would have been better if Junior had been that tiny bit older as, since he was under-18, his parent or guardian would have to be on site for the whole day!?! Getting up at 6:45am on a non-karting Sunday wasn’t quite what I had in mind for the Bank Holiday weekend and the prospect of killing 10 hours at Castle Combe wasn’t exactly mouth-watering, Holy Trinity or not!

Is it ok if I just leave my car here?

Is it ok if I just leave my car here?

Fortunately, the Marshal Secretary offered me the chance to tag along with Junior on his taster day. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be seen to be cramping Junior’s style, so to speak, but it was a much more tempting proposition than just wandering around the site for a day!

I guess that I’d never really thought about it but race meeting really is just a big kart meeting: from signing-on to scrutineering and driver’s briefing. The naughty boys were in the Clerk’s Office and they even had their AMB transponders (no Alpha Timing though). We suffered a bit from not having taken any orange bibs (much to Junior’s chagrin since he had wanted to take some but I’d insisted they’d be provided if necessary) but we still got to grid cars, wave flags and hold up safety car and last lap boards and spend plenty of time talking to the other marshals and officials. The racing was obviously much more varied than a kart meeting. Junior is definitely up for the next one. I’m inclined to join him, even if only until he reaches 18 and I can spend my Sunday morning lying in like the next man! 🙂

Look: There's a lad in a Tony T-shirt holding up a saftey car board!

Look: There’s a lad in a Tony T-shirt holding up a safety car board!

The thing about wet practice…

We were, we weren’t, we were, we weren’t… practice at Llandow on Saturday was in the balance up until late Friday evening: We had to bed in and test the new pads and disc before Our Big Super One Weekend in two weeks time. Whilst we could do that in the wet Junior wouldn’t really get the chance to get a proper feel for them. On top of that, I’d bought a used caliper support bracket that had been heli-coiled and wouldn’t fit flush with the thread in my bearing hanger! Drilling out the hanger thread at 10pm instead of being packed and sat on the sofa with my cocoa wasn’t really what I had in mind but no matter… the kart was eventually completed, the forecast wasn’t too bad (in the morning at least) so we would practice 🙂

We arrived early and were able to secure our regular garage space (even though we only pay for its rental at club race weekends) – thanks to the kindly bunch at South Wales Karting Centre 🙂 The track was wet but it didn’t really matter for our bedding-in laps. Having been putting off the purchase of any new wets for several months pending Super One (when we would have no choice but to purchase new tyres), our best wets were now well past their best. The rain was intermittent and the track varied from fairly wet to approaching slicks. Despite having raced there for 18 months, Junior hasn’t really had that much wet time; he was slower than he would have liked in the wetter conditions but that’s the thing about wet practice: Sure you can go out and hone your skills on tyres that aren’t up to the job but it doesn’t really do anything for your ability to find the limit come race day. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Super One see’s the track basked in glorious sunshine when it visits next month. Junior’s pace in drying conditions is much stronger; we’ve a nice setup for those just-about-inters conditions and he was enjoying trying to stay clear of his mate on an Extreme as the clouds gathered again mid-afternoon. With the Heavens open once again and our tyres nicely on their way to becoming slicks, we called it a day. Although we still hadn’t really got as much brake testing done as we would have liked, the brake did look very strong. We won’t really find out more until Super One practice!

Nice tread!

Nice tread!

The calm before the storm

It seems like an eternity since I did anything remotely karting related to the extent that some of my fellow karting dads have been phoning to check I’m ok! 😉 The break has been nice but I’ve not saved any money: we’ve been investing ahead of the summer events that we have lined up. On a positive note, it mean that Junior has new brakes and new rims. On the downside, he’ll be on used slicks for a second straight month when we return to Llandow this weekend since a) the Super One guest entry needs to be submitted and paid for and b) I’d already spent the kart budget left for this month anyway! With the new brakes on top of the recent chassis purchase, it does mean that Junior will have an almost completely new kart under him for the first time so, hopefully, he should find it to his satisfaction! With the club round clashing with GYG Super One it could be a quiet round but, since it will be our last visit to the track before the Llandow Super One round, we are keen to try a few things, continue building on getting Junior familiar with the Viper and really nail that setup for the first of the year’s big races 🙂

Good driver performance, mechanic must try harder

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!

Enjoying the break

It’s fair to say that I think about karting *a lot*. I don’t think that I’m unique in that respect; the sport is pretty adictive even for those of us who don’t actually get to sit in the seat but I’ve spent very little time on karting activities since cleaning up after our March race weekend. I’ve stopped fuming about our DNF in the final but, with the April round fast approaching and the promise of a bunch of Super One visitors, it’s time to get my head into gear!

It’s still early days as far as entries are concerned but I’m quite excited by some of the drivers that will be visiting. The club will host an Extreme grid for the first time since the Celtic Challenge in December and we should see double-digit entries for both TKM classes. If the club’s Junior graduates from last year all enter, the Extreme class should be a cracking contest 🙂

As for us, I’ve been wanting to give the brakes some TLC so that has been my focus this week. I’d really like to be able replace the brake disc, certainly before Super One, as Junior hasn’t been completely happy with the brake system for while now and it’s one of the few things that remain from our original retirement package purchase that we made a little over three years ago. I’m not sure when that will happen though; we also need to get some new wet tyres but I’m hoping that the forecast is good to us and I can defer that purchase  until June (when we would have to buy them for Super One regardless).

With the prospect of almost all of my bestest chums racing at the same track for the first time since the TKM Festival, the last thing I really wanted was to be reminded that I’d promised to drive the female side of the family to London on what turns out to be the practice Saturday but stuff(?) happens as they say. It will save me a few ponies if nothing else!

See you at Llandow on the 17th?

Not exactly the perfect start to the year!

The track basked in glorious sunshine, it was the first day of the school half-term and yet there wasn’t even a cadet in site, never mind a Bambino! It was an open track at Llandow, what could possibly go wrong?

It was the first time out on our droopy bumper and, as I pushed the kart up to the dummy grid, I turned to manoeuvre the gap between the office and the garages and merely tapped the metal gate… instantly knocking back one side of the bumper!?! The brackets do not appear to be very compatible with the pre-2015 OTK bumper bars at all; I wonder if I’ll get any sympathy from the MSA?

We had two goals for the day: 1. Run in the race motor 2. Run in the practice motor. Junior was pottering around in his first session when one of the other dads commented that someone had lost a wheel! Don’t ever get distracted by somebody talking to you whilst you are checking that your lad has properly tightened the wheel nuts :/ Worse, he realised something was wrong but thought he’d try to make it back to the pits! Guess what shape the mount holes on that rim are now?

It was even pleasantly warm!

It was even pleasantly warm!

With that little hiccup behind us, Junior progressed to run the engine in. It was a beautiful day to the point I was actually having to remove layers and, with only a few junior and seniors and no younger drivers, we could come and go as we pleased. It gave us the luxury of letting the engine cool between sessions and we’d achieved our first goal by early afternoon. Then things took a backward step: we were under a little pressure to get out before an arrive/drive group went out so I hadn’t checked the spark or started the engine on the stand. Of course the kart didn’t start: it was clear that there was no spark. We took the kart back to our pit area and true enough: there was nothing. Replacing the spark plug did not help. I checked the spade connectors on the PVL which seemed to be seated ok and then snipped a little off of the HT lead and re-seated the spark plug. At this point I wondered if the spade connectors had been seated the right way around. I couldn’t be certain they hadn’t been but I re-seated them as per my other engine; the motor started straight away! Back to business then? Not quite: the kart started but Junior could get the engine to pick up beyond 5,000 rpm and pulled over. I wondered if a spade connector had come loose since, although I’d firmly seated them, I didn’t have any wire to tie them on. Things looked ok and we tried again with the same result: Junior did another 150m and then stopped once again. After a spot of physical exercise that involved lifting the trolley over several fences to avoid having to push the trolley around the track through the what was effectively swampland, we got back to work. Another carb showed the same behaviour: the engine fired but ran running really poorly. By the time I had swapped over the finger guard/ignition coil from the ‘good’ engine and still not made any progress, we had reached the point where we could either put the race motor back on (to ensure that it was ok after I’d removed the ignition more than anything else!) or pack up and go home. It was 4pm and we had a lot of packing up to do, none of which can really be done in the dark so our day was done.

Having spent the day getting in my first sunburn of the season, we got back, had some tea and I took the engine over to my trusted karting dad advisor 😉 who also happens to own a torque wrench (it *really* is about time I got myself one of those). His verdict was that the engine would be flooded and the engine just hadn’t been able to burn off the fuel that had accumulated during my attempts to start it on the stand. Sure enough, with the head and barrel removed (I could have just removed the spark plug but I like to check the head and barrel over) we turned it upside and down and a fair amount of fuel drained out. There could still be an ignition problem but I am really hoping the engine does not have to go back to the builder and we can use it this coming race weekend.

And that, as they say, was that. We’ll be hoping for better luck when we visit at the weekend!

Everyone should drive PFI at least once!

We had a hectic couple of days with testing at PFI following only hours after our annual Christmas Karting event at Teamsport, Bristol. This year was our biggest yet with 45 drivers. It was good fun although the event did become a bit of a black flag-fest, something several of the dads (and the track) have commented on since. This was the first year I’ve seen races red flagged and drivers asked to leave their karts!!! I don’t exactly speak from a position of strength since I got a black flag in the A Final for spinning someone but I’ll need to think of something to rein it in a bit next year. As for our performances… Junior was hampered by being spun a few times at important moments and finished 6th.I was spun in my first heat, got black flagged for speeding under yellows when leading by miles in my second heat (duh!), bagged an A Final spot with a decent drive in the semi-final and was doing ok in a duff kart before seeing black in the final 🙁 Getting home at midnight wasn’t the best preparation for a day at PFI

With nowhere near enough sleep in the bag, we headed for PFI. Logistically, we had a few challenges: I was already taking the wife out for a meal in Gloucestershire at 8pm and not being back in time for that wasn’t an option. I would never make it with the trailer so I’d booked a practice day with TWMotorsport which included rental of one of their Tony Kart Vipers and packaged it up as a Christmas present from Junior’s nan. There were lots of other benefits to running with TWM for the day: with their scouts deployed around the track we’d benefit from their tuition at an unfamiliar track, it would give Junior the chance to compare the Viper with our EVR and I’d be able to ditch everything and run away at the end of the day! Since we were travelling without the kart and trailer (and with the added incentive that this was a present from her mum), I’d prised the keys to the Kia Sportage from my wife’s hands (a karting first!) to accommodate our tyres, spares and tools. Its ability to get us back that little bit more quickly was of course welcome 😉

The kart had been prepared the day before. The engine, Alfano and GoPro were all ready to go. I just needed to bolt on some wheels and add fuel. We were at the track at 8:30 and navigated the sign-on process ready in plenty of time to hit the track in the opening session. It was a wonderfully sunny day and the track looked awesome; I don’t generally wish I could have a go but I’d love to have done a couple of laps to sample the long, flat out section from the start straight, under the bridge and into the banked curve. Unsurprisingly we weren’t particularly quick in the opening session although the engine sounded a little flat; I just put it down to Junior not really getting out of the corners. When he came in, both rear hubs had loose bolts!?! I’d been setting the rear width and, um, I might not have done up the bolts tightly enough (or perhaps just not done them up!). Good job those hubs were a really tight fit on the axle, huh? :/ Just ahead of the second session Tim (the ‘TW’ in TWM) noticed that the compression on the engine was poor enough that you could push the kart along the ground. Junior was pretty slow again so we went for the sledge hammer approach and swapped both the carb and engine, this was not the time to be troubleshooting issues. The third session was much more satisfactory as Junior bettered his previous times by three seconds! With a happier driver we were able to focus on enjoying the rest of the day. Other than tweaking the tyre pressures, we just left Junior to it and I took the opportunity to take some photos. I very rarely use my camera (a fairly old Canon EOS 400D) these days but I’d borrowed a very nice lens from one of the boys from the photography club at work: an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 and wanted to get some shots that would hopefully be worthy of printing out. For the most part, my pics were a bit disappointing: I struggled to get the sharpness that I was looking for but I did get one shot that I was very happy with… 🙂

When you know the last session will be under the floodlights... :)Junior had been hovering just over the 63s mark for most of the afternoon and desperately wanted to get a 62.x. I’d taken some one race day-old tyres and it seemed harsh not to let him have a go on them, even if I’d sooner have kept them for a race day somewhere down the line. He found a couple of tenths to get a 63.0s and I thought he’d probably have missed his best chance with the sun setting and things starting to get chilly. I almost swapped the practice tyres back on. Luckily for him I relented as he bagged a 62.9s in the penultimate session of the day, still a fraction under a second slower than the quickest JTKMs (there were some very fast drivers in attendance) but plenty good enough for us on a first visit 🙂 It was 3.30pm and, at that point, we faced a choice: leave and get home in time for my meal or stay and drive under the floodlights. Not much of a choice really, is it? We did as much packing as we could and waited for our turn on track. As we watched from the dummy grid one of the senior X30 drivers was lapping with LED lights fitted onto his nassau – it looked very cool, one of those things that you’d need to very quick to pull off (not a problem for one of the countries leading drivers in this case)!

Driving under floodlights is something that Junior has always wanted to do. I’m not sure his tinted visor would have done him many favours but Junior had a blast: PFI under the lights is now officially the most fun he has ever had in a kart! He had a minor concern when he came around the bottom bend to find his mate parked on the exit kerb but, fortunately, the grass was forgiving and Junior was able to take evasive action without binning it. With that session over, our day was done. The team got to work on removing my engine, airbox and exhaust in double quick time and we left PFI 20 mins after coming off-track! Although we knocked 20 minutes off the Waze ETA (I have my limits) and were home by 7:30pm, we were still 25 mins late for our dinner reservation!

It was a fantastic day. Thanks to TWM for hosting us; Junior thoroughly enjoyed himself and progressed markedly over the course of the day. Being the social animal that I am 😉 it was good to catch up with some of the dads that I’d met when they came to practice at Llandow ahead of the Super One round there. Potential engine problem aside, the day had gone very well and Junior had found some respectable pace on his first visit. Because the track was unfamiliar it hadn’t really been possible to gauge the Viper against our EVR. The track is our new favourite track. Although the toilet facilities are in the Clay Pigeon league 😉 I’d encourage any driver to sample PFI as least once no matter where they normally race, especially in one of the winter months with the prospect of a floodlit session. Here’s the GoPro footage in case you are interested:

Cost of race day: Practice fee £50, petrol (car) £56, fuel (kart) £13, numbers for the rental kart (just wouldn’t have been the same in Extreme #66!) £3

Total spent this year: £5,236

All set for the Celtic!

December should be our (my) month off. Instead we’re doing back-to-back race weekends! First up is Llandow Kart Club’s Celtic Challenge. I wasn’t really planning on competing at this but, given the amount of time I was spending promoting it on Facebook, it seemed rude no to! It has really gathered some good momentum amongst members of the TKM Owners group, helped I am sure by the recent confirmation of Llandow’s place once again on the Super One Series itinerary as well as the half-priced offer for members who bring a guest. Having paired up so many people, I really hope the members have sent in the email messages to the Competition Secretary otherwise I could come under fire! The grid looks set to be a season’s best for JTKM and should be ultra-competitive so I’m really looking forward to it as well as meeting a few dads that I’ve not seen since the Festival and a few of my old Clay friends.

I spent a good deal of time last weekend checking over my carbs. We’d had a miserable time at the final championship round that started because we had multiple carb problems. I’d not been very speedy in getting our best carbs re-kitted and, consequently, we were down to one trusted carb. I kitted a few myself and, for one that needs a new thread and the couple that were proving tricky to get popped off at the right pressure, I employed the services of Sam Jenkins of SJ Motorsport. Having cleaned and kitted my last batch, he’s my carb man. We’ll spend Saturday testing them to make sure that Junior is happy with each one and, hopefully, we’ll back back onto our preferred 820 come Sunday and, with a bit of luck, closer to our summer pace rather than our autumn form.

Costs since last post: Rear sprocket £6, new chain £20, new spark plug £9, new stub axle bolts £8, fuel filters £6. Carb kits & repairs £30

Total spent this year: £4,934