Engine rebuild

I’d been considering getting the engine rebuilt for some time; I bought the engine with ~3 hours on it prior to our test/purchase day (onto which I added a couple of hours just in case) and we had put 6 hours on it following the ARKS test. Given the recommended rebuild time of 8-10 hours I thought it best to err on the side of caution and book a rebuild.

The big question was who to use? The previous owner had had both his race and this practice engine (I bought the latter) rebuilt by Dave Litchfield – one of the best know engine builders in the country but I didn’t think I was really in a position to justify the additional cost of posting the engine for it to be rebuilt by the man lots of race teams use (not to mention I think I might have been a little out of my depth in any service discussion!). Looking at the numerous local options, I had heard good things about all three of the builders I was considering. I assumed that the quality of rebuild would be pretty much the same given the limited amount that can be done with a TKM engine so in the end it came down to convenience: I’d just finished a day at Clay and it was easy for me to leave it with Lee Rennison, the ARKS examiner at Clay (no conflict of interest here I hasten to add – I didn’t mention the rebuild until *after* the test!). He offers a rebuild service and I figured it would a) save me cleaning the engine when I got home, b) save me having to take or send it anywhere and c) potentially offer some local support if I ran into any engine issues at the track. And he’s a really nice bloke too!

The rebuild took a week and I picked it up today. The engine was in really good shape so I could probably have gotten another couple of hours in. Had I not lost the receipt at the track I could have told you exactly what I had done but it included new top and bottom-end kits, gaskets, bearings, a piston and three carb rebuilds for a [relatively] palatable £230. I am sure Junior will enjoy running it in later this month!

Whilst we were there I attempted to make Junior watch the drivers practising ahead of tomorrow’s race fixture and make some mental notes of the race lines. He never seems to listen to me, nor anybody else for that matter but I really hope watching a constant stream of drivers taking a decent chunk of kerb through The Esses might sink in. We’ll see…

Cost of engine rebuild: £230

Total spent so far: £2,910 (starting to regret keeping a running total now…)

Practice 6: ARKS test

Thursday night was a bit of a rush, it being the first dry evening since the kart got soaked on Monday – I had dried the kart as best I could (given the constraints of working on a kart sat on a camping trailer inside a single garage) but there was still a fair amount of moisture around the engine mount so I chose to remove it and make sure everything was clean and dry. Not the best time for a first solo removal of the engine and exhaust perhaps but it needed doing. I also had to reset the front width after widening it at Llandow and I got as much ready for the day as possible: changed the sprocket, mixed some new fuel and slightly overinflated the tyres so that I could tweak them in the morning.

We got to Clay Pigeon Raceway about 20 mins before the track opened, signed in and were told to have a few runs and the ARKS examiner would come and get us when the time was right. I had been a bit worried on the drive down about the possibility of a repeat of the starting difficulty we had last time so I was relieved when it started first time. I ran my normal wheel, hub and chassis bolt checks and, unusually, we were out for the first session 🙂 We had a stuttering start though – Junior came in eight laps reporting the back end felt loose. I wondered if this was a tyre pressure issue so I dropped them down a notch. Second time out he complained it felt even worse! With his hesitancy from Llandow in mind, I assured him that nothing was loose so there was no safety issue and sent him back out to give the tyres a good warm up and see if the handling improved. I widened the back end by 5mm on each side when he came back and, from then on, he was happy with the handling and was soon pushing it. It was only during the fourth session that I realised the ARKS instructor was marshalling so that he could watch Junior, who by this time had beaten his previously best lap time from our February session. The instructor was more than happy with his speed and it was at that point I stupidly commented on it being nice to have the kart running without issue. No more than two minutes later, the kart is parked up on the exit of Billies and Junior is inspecting the back end. I made for the trolley park.

This was an interesting one: not only had the chain had come off but the sprocket was hanging on by a single bolt and one part of the sprocket protector was sitting on the axle, next to the chain. I had lost two of the three bolts from the sprocket carrier although one was bent and wedged in the back of composite chainguard. There were no nuts, including those that separated the sprocket from the sprocket protector (on which the fixing holes were now very worn to the point of being largely useless). I had lost parts on track yet again… 🙁 This was and still is something that I am desperate to see the end of – this particular problem was a new occurence and I can only assume that the nuts on the outside of the plastic sprocket protector had come loose. Just like the exhaust screws, it seems that once one goes it’s only a matter of time and the sprocket nuts were not nylocs, nor was I checking them between sessions. I removed all the relevant parts – there was composite chainguard ‘dust’ all over the engine, chain and chassis. The chainguard itself was cut up and the sprocket had worn on side of the teeth. I disposed of the sprocket, patched up the back of the chainguard with tank tape, bought six new sprocket carrier bolts (we – and every other kart I have ever looked at – had only three bolts in place before now) and cleaned everything up. We missed two sessions but at least it gave us some time to have some lunch.

As we were ready to head out again, Junior was called for his ARKS driving results and theory test – the only comment was that he needed to use the kerbs in the Esses and he got all his questions right in the test, meaning he passed his test 🙂

We made the most of the remaining four sessions, running until we were kicked off at 5pm. Junior had some fun racing with a couple of his friends he knew from Teamsport Bristol – one a Senior Max, the other in a Mini Max which made for a surprisingly entertaining spectacle and he was chuffed to post a new fastest lap of 36.92s, especially as his tyres were probably making a farewell appearance (they were used when we got the kart and he’s since done over 400 laps on them!). All in all, a good day – ARKS test passed, 157 laps ‘bum-in-seat’ time and a new fastest lap, only tainted by the sprocket bolt problem although I am now running six bolts (three of the holes on the sprocket and sprocket protectors are now badly worn) and checking them after each session (they do need tightening up every time, even with nylocs – I wonder if it is the plastic sprocket protector that doesn’t really allow for a firm tightening of the nuts).

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £85 ARKS test fee (including track practice), £1.50 for 6 sprocket carrier bolts

Total spent so far: £2,680

Practice 5: a mixed day at Llandow

Having already had one practice day this month (although whether you can describe 12 laps as a practice day is questionable!) and an ARKS test booked for Friday I hadn’t really budgeted on another day out this month but there were quite a few reasons for us to make sure all was well with the kart ahead of the test: we hadn’t fired up the engine since the accident which had damaged the spark plug and cable, we had adjusted the front tracking, replaced the steering wheel and bled/adjusted the brakes. I needed to know that a) the kart worked and b) Junior was happy. Finding somewhere to test was a little difficult – Clay had Elite Karting on, Dunkeswell had their race weekend and Llandow had very patchy availability all over the weekend because of their arrive/drive commitments. It was a pleasant surprise when I called them on Saturday to find they were completely free on Bank Holiday Monday. Game on.

There were three Dad/lad combos heading over and we arrived to find some nice sunshine. The kart was soon set up and ready to start on the trolley when something unusual happened: it did not start! Fuel was being sucked into the carb ok but replacing the spark plug made not difference and it didn’t look like replacing the carb was going to  either but it did eventually fire up. Not sure why this was but, once going, everything seemed well – we had missed the first session but were set or the second session. It turned out we were sharing the entire day with arrive/drive karts which was a little bit annoying when we were hoping for an open track day.

The first couple of sessions were frustrating – Junior came in after five laps of the opening session reporting the brake pedal felt too stiff and that the back end felt loose and then after two laps of the next session reporting there was a hissing from the carb/engine area and the engine feeling ‘spluttery’. I don’t mind this having him come in if he has any concerns as we’d previously found that when Junior was reporting something, he turned out to be correct. The brake had been stiffened so this was to be expected. There was signs of oil escaping around the exhaust flex which was the only thing that might have explained the hissing. Everything else looked and another Dad gave the kart a thorough checking over. At this point I semi-joked to his son that he might like to take the kart out and see if there was anything amiss. Five laps later we were back in business: our test driver jumped out, Junior jumped in and instantly seemed much happier. Never underestimate the importance of a driver having trust and confidence in his kart!!!

At this point we were doing well – Junior was seeing out entire sessions and going quite nicely, hitting 47.61s in consecutive sessions (bear in mind his kart is not weighted currently). And then it rained. We stayed on the slicks at first: Junior was briefed to go out, be careful and just enjoy driving his kart. He looked quite at home in the damp, his pace was good and he span just the once at Raymonds as he pushed it a little too hard. We then switched to wets as the rain continued. He still looked pretty good but then we started losing kart parts on track again just when I thought we had seen the back of those (with the resolution of the engine mount problems) – this time it was the exhaust end can and silencer. I had noticed that we were down to two end cap screws at the weekend but had no spare screws and had forgotten all about it. A bunch of us set about locating the missing pieces. I was glad it was very quiet by this point as wandering around a track looking for your kart parts isn’t the best of feelings. As the shop had no screws, we tried using a rivet gun to fix the cap to the exhaust – that lasted another 5 laps before one of the boys noticed the end cap was missing again although the silencer was still present. I sent Junior to the pits and went hunting for the end cap again. At this point it was getting late and still raining so we decided on one more session. This time the end cap was fixed with some screws (that had been fitted inside one of the Dad’s vans!), covered with a metal tie, the some exhaust flex held in place with some plastic ties. It did the job and we ran for a good while before Junior came in with numb hands (he had been getting pretty ragged by this point too – not sure what had happened to the control he had shown earlier).

There were some notable positives though: Junior went quite nicely on the dry track – you could see him start to attack some of the corners and he was posting some reasonable times. He was also pretty good when the track got wet – initially when out on slicks as the track started to get wet and again when we went to full wets. His performance was tempered a little by his final session, where he didn’t seem to be able to adjust his pace and was clearly going too fast into the corner, ruining both his lines and his momentum (as he fought to keep the back end in place). I couldn’t really complain – having not had any wet practice since we bought the kart (when Junior was very, very slow), it was valuable experience ahead of his ARKS test.

Having approached the day hoping for an entire day’s smooth running and a little bit of wet time (be careful what you wish for), things didn’t exactly pan out as hoped but they say “There’s no such thing as bad track time”. Llandow was quite a different track from Clay and Dunks – it seemed more technical in terms of mastering the entry speeds to get the right lines and exit speeds and showed that Junior still has much to learn. The toilet facilities were pretty poor (soap and hand drier, anyone?) and, since I am moaning, I could have done without the torrential rain on the way home and the subsequent clean-up job once we got back (I just wanted a hot bath) but there we go. Oh… and the rain got inside all three layers of the visor protector and they had to be removed 🙁 I think this will be our dry visor from now on.

Fingers crossed for Friday…

Cost of day: £10 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £40 track fee

Total spent so far: £2,575

ARKS race license application

Even though our last session was curtailed somewhat early, it was noticeable that the track at Clay was very busy and the licensed and non-licensed drivers were split up fairly quickly. The licensed group had four drivers; the non-licensed group had twelve drivers. It made me start to think about getting the ARKS license sooner rather than later – I still don’t plan to race this side of the summer vacation but it will give us some more options (in terms of where and when we can practice) and might put Junior in a smaller group when he is out on track.

The MSA certainly aren’t going out of their way to encourage new blood into the sport! £50 for a DVD, a couple of handbooks and the all-important application form!!! I realise that there is some cost to the materials but there’s a hurdle to a lot of people straight away. The test costs £93 although at least that includes a day’s practice. Junior has been watching the DVD quite a lot, admittedly under threat of iPhone confiscation or something similar! He knows all the flags, the raceday procedures, the organisational structure and the racewear regulations. After booking in his test (for next week), it did occur to me that I hope his Mychron is configured correctly and that his lap times are what we think they are!!!

Cost of ARKS Starter Pack: £50 (funded by Junior)

Total spent so far: £2,518