Check out CPKC!

This month was our first visit to Clay Pigeon Raceway in almost a year, during which time the new reception/café/bar/toilets/viewing balcony had opened. It’s mightily impressive, I would go as far as to say the facilities are the best at any kart track that we have visited and that includes PF International: new, clean toilets that were well-maintained throughout the weekend, hot food and drinks served all day in the café (which remained open to become a bar in the evening) and a viewing balcony affording a fantastic view across the entire track (provided you were stood in the corner). They could do with enforcing a gap between the fence and the paddock on the entrance to Billies to stop the awning roofs obscuring the view, however 😉 It was great to see what was obviously a significant investment bearing fruit, hopefully grids will grow as people see and feel the benefits. All it needs now is a track extension and it could become the PFI of the south!

The facilities aren’t the only thing that I like about CPKC however, they have the social engagement side of things spot on: Regular web site updates, live race commentary as well as Facebook/Twitter updates throughout raceday and Alpha Timing for those that want to follow the racing from home. They are the yardstick by which I judge other clubs*.

We will race there at least once next year and I see that they’ve now reinstated the Wessex Championship in the first half of the season. I wonder if the club might be tempted to have another look at Super One… 🙂

* It still disappoints me that the club don’t offer a 3rd-placed trophy for grids of eight. Come on, CPKC – you should even do this with six entrants, third is and always will be a podium finish!

A happy return to CPKC

Racing at Clay Pigeon Kart Club’s feature round, the annual Cancer Research weekend, hadn’t previously been a consideration for our season-ending schedule. Having initially ignored the appeals of one of their more enthusiastic members, who had taken it upon himself to drum up the TKM support (which, from my efforts at Llandow, I could empathise with!), it became a lot more appealing as I thought about the amount of time between our last race (the TKM Festival in August) and our next (the TKM Britain’s Finest event at the end of this month). Ten weeks without any seat time wouldn’t put us in the best position to compete at Whilton Mill. With Junior never having raced there, I know that we aren’t likely to compete at the sharp end anyway but you don’t want to be too rusty from a race perspective. Junior was keen so we decided to put in a late entry. In contrast to the Extreme grid, which had attracted some Super One entries, the Junior grid was fairly small comprising mostly of the newer Llandow drivers and a couple of other guest entrants, one of whom had earned a top ten finish at the Festival so I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have it all our own way. We’d also be holding back on our race engine (with 9.5 hours on it and destined for the race day at Whilton before being converted to Extreme) and tyres (our prize slicks from the Festival are also reserved for Whilton). This meant that we’d be taking a punt on the tyres we had used at the Festival and, based on our experiences at Llandow last year, could prove a serious disadvantage. It didn’t really matter though; This was all about keeping Junior race-fit and helping our old club to support a great cause. It was almost exactly three years to the day since making our race debut here and two years since we had left the club for the final time, our spirits crushed once again.

We arrived at the track nice and early to find TKM Corner was a bit of a ghost town! What had once been the life and soul of the paddock was largely empty; The area surrounding the new reception/café/viewing area was now the place to be. That was fine, this was about old times so we pitched up and peered into the fog across the track. Some things never change! By the time the first session arrived, the mist had gone. From the minute he hit the track Junior appeared to be on it!

Welcome back!

Welcome back!

The day went perfectly. The JTKM drivers had been grouped with Mini Max/ Formula Blue and Junior appeared to be the fastest in his group even without our race setup. Perfectly that is right up until the final session of the day when the practice engine seized entering Billies. With us nursing our race engine to Whilton, this was absolutely the last thing we needed to happen. Junior knew this and was leant against the tyres with his head in his hands. I feared the worst but hoped that he had just spun out and was disappointed in himself. That wasn’t the case unfortunately and we wheeled the kart back to the paddock. As soon as I saw the dry spark plug, I knew what I would find when I removed the head and barrel: The piston head was bone dry and the ring clearly pinched at the rear. The barrel was scored but only lightly. The piston had an inch shaving on the rear where it had clearly hit the barrel. Our day was done and, almost certainly, our weekend too. I had paid the race entry fee at the start of the day against my better judgement and it looked like we’d be writing that off. I daren’t risk the race engine in such a small race, so close to rebuild time and with Whilton only weeks away.

We had some very generous offers of engine loans but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them: If you aren’t prepared to risk your own engine, you cannot really take someone else’s! We began to pack up and then one of the dads offered to take an engine to Whilton for us just in case anything happened to our remaining engine. With the race engine having had a bottom end build a few hours ago, I was happy to give it a go knowing that we had a backup plan in case the worst happened at Whilton; It isn’t as if seizing engines is common for us (he said touching lots of wood) and we were here to race after all!

We arrived at Clay on race day to see the track basking in glorious sunshine, something of a contrast to the practice day. Our GoPro failed scrutineering for the first time ever: The scrutineer didn’t like the tether being drilled through the case and wanted me to knock the metal bar out of the hinge and run the tether cable through there. Forget that! We just took it off instead. Ahead of the warm-up, one of our rivals pointed out to Junior that used slicks would cost us around 0.3s around Clay. We knew that, the question was whether we’d be competitive… not only on used slicks but Festival-used slicks. Our experiences last year had suggested this would be a factor. We’d soon find out.

What is this?

What is this?

If things had gone pear-shaped from a tyre perspective at this point, I had a brilliant headline already planned: “What goes on at Kimbolton, stays at Kimbolton”. It wasn’t obvious over the three lap warm-up but Junior was adamant that we’d need to drop a tooth before the first race. There is a small difference between our race and practice engines and, since we hadn’t intended to use the race engine at all over the weekend, we hadn’t done any test sessions on it. Heat #1 would set the tone for the day: We’d either be on the pace or not. Starting on pole was a good thing since it would allow us to properly gauge our pace. Junior got a good start and soon eased clear, helped by our main challengers having a really entertaining tussle for the last half of the race, and we won by a little over 5s. Our tyres were clearly good enough and it would be interesting to see how we fared starting in less optimal grid positions in the following heats. As we were in parc ferme one of my friends, a Tal-Ko henchman no-less 😉 , thought he would point out that it would be my fault if Junior lost today! I’m not one to count my chickens (and, if you’ve read my blog, you’ll understand why) but I could see his point: There was a chance that the biggest risk to our chances would be me (or a mechanical failure, which is still my fault!).

Heat #2 was better still: Starting in 4th, Junior found an inside line through Billies and emerged in the lead. You don’t see that very often! The race proceeded to play out just like the first heat; Junior pulled a 5s lead as his two rivals again duked it out and he had eased things down as he approached the finish. Heat #3 would be the biggest challenge. Starting 7th, Junior just had to make sure he didn’t get caught up in anything and we’d assess the scale of our task once we had the leader in our sights. Again, he got another great start and was second entering The Esses. He whiffed at a couple of moves before taking the lead on lap three, pulled clear and managed the gap to second to take the win.

So far, so good. We would start on pole for the final and everything was looking rosy. Why then was I feeling so much pressure!?! I had checked and double-checked everything, checked the side pod bars, bumper bolts, even inspected the exhaust brackets for cracks! The final looked as if it was ours to lose. Lunch was quite late and our final was at the tail end of the card by which time, the temperature had dropped significantly. The first time that Junior ever had a pole at Clay, he completely messed up the start: Carrying far too much speed in his excitement, running wide and dropping to last. I wouldn’t blame excitement this time (and he blamed my bleeding of his brakes giving him more stopping power than he had expected) but the result was the same: He locked up and had to save the back end. Fortunately it had a knock-on effect on almost everybody else as their corners were compromised and he managed to deny second a passing move on the entrance to The Esses. Once clear, Junior was under instruction to again manage the gap and avoid the bolt-snapping potential of the rumble strip exiting The Esses. He did enough to win by a little under 5s 🙂

So that was that! It wasn’t as close as we thought/I hoped it might have been and, although they went off a little at the end, the tyres held up well all things considering. The trophies for the event were pretty impressive: We’ve never been given a solid wooden storage box for a trophy before and Junior was now the custodian of a second large, perpetual trophy 😀

A trophy that comes with it's own cupboard!

A trophy that comes with it’s own cupboard!

My lasting memory of this weekend will be watching Junior absolutely nail Billies time and time again. This won’t sound impressive to you but I spent countless hours stood in the centre of the track watching Junior taking this corner thousands of times over a year and a half; Entering The Kink too early, running too far across the track, not able to get back to take the right line and having to get on the brakes all too early. He had always been a sitting duck. In the time that we had been away we’d finally stumbled into the brake issue that had hindered Junior for *so* long and it should be no surprise that Junior has improved in his time away from Clay. His woes, our woes, at the track had been in-grained into my mind ever since and, watching him now, really hit home how significantly he has improved (or how poor we had been!).

There was a stark contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home this time and those journeys home in 2014. We’d contested the Cancer Research weekend back then and been awful. It would have been amazing to have had the 2014 grid here: Many of them have moved onwards and upwards and I’d love to have seen how we fared against them. With the Extreme races having been the highlights on the on-track action all through the day, we’ll definitely return for the event in 2017.

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago!

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago almost to the day. Can anyone spot the noob?

Three years on and he's starting to look the part!

Three years on and we’re starting to look the part. I think the helmet, hubs and stubs are all that remain! Fantastic pic courtesy of Steve Wood Kart Photography

No turkey for Christmas!

The Clay Pigeon Turkey Trot: the end of season race for a turkey formerly hosted by Clay Pigeon Kart Club but, with CPKC scrapping their December fixture, inherited by Clay Pigeon IKR and incorporated into their winter series. We had contested the CPKC version in our novices days when we finished a distant last of three!

The day began undesirably early when I got up, washed and dressed before realising that it was 5:20am and not 6:20! With another 45 minutes lie-in, normal service was resumed. I hitched up the trailer and loaded most of the stuff and Junior got up 30 mins before we left, looked at his phone, had breakfast, packed his kit and got in the car! It was going to be our first outing without an awning; the forecast was for overnight rain but a mostly dry day. Upon our arrival, I laid some flowers at the site of our awning’s demise last month before getting ready for racing 🙁

We weren’t really on it in the wet practice sessions; Junior complained that he was struggling for grip. I made a few adjustments and decided to bolt on the race carb for heat #1 (my default approach is to save the race bits for MSA racing) in which we’d start 5th. Junior had a poor start at the first attempt and an even poorer one on the restart as he was hampered by slow starters in front of him and the even side of the grid scarpered. He recovered to finish 5th, 0.3s off of the fastest lap but generally only a tenth off. Heat #2 was something special (it’s all relative, you understand!): the track was drying further, it was another of those borderline calls that seems to affect the TKM class more than any other (I am sure it’s just a perception). We arrived at the dummy grid on slicks; a brand new, unscrubbed set of Savas but the junior race on track saw the sole slicks runner well adrift of the field. Junior made the late call to switch back to inters with only 2 mins of the junior race remaining. The tyres were on in good time but putting the lead back on (which I’d removed since the Sava tyre is so heavy!) cut it fine. He started in 11th. There was contact between a couple of the karts ahead as the pack entered the Billies and Junior just avoided the spinners and he made up a further three places with an outside move before entering The Esses. Gaining five or six places only two corners in was nice going but the best was yet to come: 2nd/3rd/4th were bunched but the leader had scooted clear. Junior fought his way through and hunted the leader down. I’ve seen a lot of dominant displays in races but I’d never seen Junior dominant! I like it… a lot 😀 He passed the leader with two minutes remaining, survived something of a banzai riposte into The Hairpin – I’ve promised I would not name the guilty party (sounds like Wax Clad) 😉 – and was 4s clear by the finish!!! To be 0.4s faster than a very strong field was a unique and very pleasing feeling 🙂 🙂 🙂

Over lunch the track was clearly drying further. Unfortunately for us, slicks were the only option so on went the much-lauded (by me) Sava hard tyre. Unscrubbed, untested and unwanted at this particular moment in time! Junior would start on 3rd for the final but the gameplan was hard to determine: we had to stay with the pole man but would have to be *very* careful under braking into the first corner with our fresh tyres and cold track. Junior slid wide at Billies on each of the first two laps, got hung out to dry for entry into The Esses and quickly slipped to 8th. We were soon half a lap down and finished 7th. Even with the tyres coming on towards the end we were 0.7s adrift of the winner’s lightning pace. We’ll take the credit for making him bolt on his MSA race motor in response to our pace in heat #2 even if it ultimately was unnecessary 😉 Junior wasn’t happy but didn’t sulk for too long. It was nice to see him congratulate the podium finishers; they have a really good grid at Clay IKR and we’ve felt very welcome. The track themselves certainly know how to put on a good event. We were left to take the positives from the day: only our third heat win anywhere and the first time we’d ever dominated a race. It was probably the first time that I have felt that I had provided Junior (as opposed to somebody else doing it for me!) with a kart that really suited his driving style. Building on our learnings from the previous weekend at Llandow, hopefully we have a very strong intermediate setup that we can rely upon in future. We were unlucky with the weather (the rain moved in as we packed up as you would expect) and were left cursing the very tyre I’d had been so vocal in support of. Junior isn’t a fan although my view is unchanged: it’s a perfect tyre for a budget class, we just need to learn to set up a kart for it.

And that was our 2015 season. Here’s looking forward to 2016!

Cost of race day: Race fee £40, petrol (car) £12, fuel (kart) £5, Chain lube/Shell M £24

Total spent this year: £5,117 < Holy sh*t, our most expensive year to date!!!

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

Senior Prokart at Clay Pigeon IKR

Not Junior obviously! Since going down the owner/driver route my track time has dropped down to a couple of outings per year. I’d driven the JTKM at Clay’s IKR in a parent’s race last year and done ‘ok’. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy not feeling in control of the kart at any point during the day! I’d also driven the corporate karts at Clay and been pretty damn quick if I say so myself 😉 Senior Prokart seemed like the perfect compromise so I bagged myself a rental kart and took the plunge.

I struggled to cope with the fairly hard tyres in practice although the kart felt good and the engines seemed to be strong based on my catching people down the straight. My Hairpin and Top Bend were letting me down a bit but a qualified in 8th of 12. Then things started to go south: in Race #1, I got hung out on the outside of the entry to The Esses and panicked, hitting the brakes and spinning (the reality is that the person I thought was hanging me out had actually conceded the corner to me!). I got going again but felt a loss of power a lap or so later. It felt like I was running on a single engine but, when I pitted, both engines were running. The problem was identified a throttle cable issue and duly rectified. At least that was what we thought. I new as soon as I left the pits for the pre-final that I was in the same boat and I was dropping away as soon as the karts sped up to begin the race 🙁 I was pretty peeved at this point and was thinking that I should have entered a pay as you drive arrangement! 😉

The problem was fixed for the final. I began in last and made a decent start. I think I gained a good number of places at Billies as there was some contact which I was able to drive around the outside of. Then the two karts in front of me decided to quite literally try to run one another off the track!?! I ‘d never seen anything like it. The Super One clerk would have had a fit!!! I passed them as they messed around although I think that may have made them wake up to themselves and focus on the race. They soon passed me and I lost another place before I settled into my rhythm and tried to catch some people. I wouldn’t say that I was at ease with the kart but it certainly pulled well out of the corners. I made a few nice moves slipstreaming down the straight, pulling out around The Kink and then parking it on the apex at Billies to prevent the cutback to bring it home in a repsectable 7th place. It was an awful lot of fun 😀

It was another good day at Clay IKR. The atmosphere is something I’ve enjoyed on both visits. Although I can’t see Junior switching from MSA anytime soon, I’d definitely do it again although I have my eye on an endurance event for next time.

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid

“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid”

Race 15: Thanks and farewall Clay!

It was nice to be heading back to Clay on Sunday. We hadn’t expected to be back racing there so soon having made the decision to switch to Llandow but it felt good to going to the place that still feels like home, blasting what has become our ritual DiRT 2 soundtrack as we headed through Somerset to spend the day with the extended TKM family. The final round was set up nicely with seven points separating the top three drivers and our aim was to be competitive without tripping any of the contenders over!

We hadn’t participated in the practice Saturday partly because that wasn’t part of the deal when I offered Junior the chance to compete here instead of going to the TKM day at Whilton Mill but, more significantly, Mrs KartingDad had committed me to some time with the girls! The kart had been set up well in advance, however, and so prep work and scrutineering passed without issue. The forecast for the day had been varied through the week but it was a beautiful autumn morning at the track; just as well since we needed to scrub in new slicks (although we were hoping for some precipitation just to mix things up a little). Our draw wasn’t the greatest; 4-2-7 for the three heats but Junior had been starting fairly well of late, both at Clay and Llandow. Having said that, we had a stinker of a start in Heat #1, Junior was last after two corners and I was relieved to see the false start flag waved (there was a tramlines clampdown in progress at Clay). Unfortunately, things panned out in similar fashion on the restart! The front two in the championship both span in The Esses but it impeded us and another kart and meant that Junior was driving around on his own in 5th place for the first half of the race before he was caught by the other impeded kart and the two diced the last half of the race. It was clear then that our pace wasn’t great – Junior was really struggling with the back end on the still damp track but it was the best racing that he had all day and he made a nice move around the outside of The Horseshoe on the final lap to seal 5th. For the first time ever, we were even the quickest in one of the sectors 😀

Heat #2 was worse still: Junior started second and got a reasonable start but was on the receiving end of a lunge into The Esses, had to brake hard and was hit by another kart, spinning him around. He was a distant last although he didn’t suffer the ignominy of being lapped and was able to ease a little with a view to tyre preservation.

Heat #3 was something of an eye-opener as we were so slow down the straight on lap two that half the field passed us (and the driver who had tucked in behind us had to watch everybody else go by!). I assumed that our gearing was out (when preparing the kart in the week, I had discovered that our usual Clay sprocket was damaged and opted to go up a tooth rather than buy a sprocket that I would likely never use again). Junior thought he had made a mistake getting out of the Top Bend so that might have been the cause but no matter: we came in last of the finishers. At this point, I was just wishing the rest of the day to pass quickly. We were struggling much the same as we had been on our last couple of visits, if not more so, with around six tenths to find with the front runners. Junior was complaining about rear end grip and the track, after some heavy rain on the Saturday, was proving tricky for many people although the times were clearly there – we just weren’t able to get it right.

I didn’t change much for the final as I hadn’t really changed much over the day – just the rear width in an attempt to find some more grip and another small tweak to the tyre pressures, although I did go down a tooth, borrowing a smaller sprocket from one of the other dads rather than buying one for 10 minutes use 😉 Our start was ok but Junior tagged and span someone in the middle of The Esses 🙁 He hadn’t made contact with anyone for ages and I hate it when it does happen, accidental though it was. Junior claimed their back end was going and he couldn’t avoid it – whatever, the end result was the same. Fortunately for us it was deemed a racing incident and not called in by the race observer. We were some seven seconds adrift at the end of the 18 laps, ahead of another driver who had got caught up in our incident and the driver who we span but who caught and passed us before getting a mechanical for his bumper hanging off (he says whistling and looking at the sky 😉 ).

As for the championship, there was something like four points separating three drivers after Heat #2 but one of the contenders had a carb issue on the rolling lap for Heat #3 and it had to be me that reached him first and pushed him most of the way through Sector 1!!! As it turned out, his kart wouldn’t have started even if I had been pushing him with a truck 🙁 The final was still very close and the table did change a couple of times mid-race but the end result was decisive.

So congratulations to a worthy winner (I missed the emotional dad moment) and commiserations to those who came so close.  It was fun racing at Clay in our first full season; the TKM community there is top notch. The season at Clay has been a real roller coaster from the start; doubting whether we’d get a grid (the boys from Llandow saved the grid by turning up at Round #1 and staying for the entire season), finishing third whilst still on novice plates, getting black flagged for, well, let’s just leave it there, then thinking we were getting there before ultimately finding that we weren’t. Both Junior and I have a shedload of new friends on Facebook and I enjoyed sharing all of Junior’s moves with the friendly marshal on my pushing post at The Hairpin 🙂 With the same reflective atmosphere in the car on the way home, now is the absolutely the right time to be moving on. I was really glad we had taken part in the final round and to race with some good friends for very likely the last time (you know that’s not the end though, folks – we still have Christmas Karting at TeamSport to come!) but we were further off now than we had been for quite a few months. I spent a lot of time that evening wondering if I could have done anything to improve the kart? Ride height? Width? Tyre pressures? Should I have gotten the front bar welded in by now? I had opted not to as I thought it might have been wet by now. We’d also snapped an engine head bolt and, although that wouldn’t have attributed to Junior’s biggest gripe (lack of grip), perhaps that might have impacted our pace a touch. I will regret us never really cracking the track when it looked, mid-season, as though we were really making progress. Perhaps it was too much to hope Junior would be band on the pace but I couldn’t help but think there was still a decent chunk of time left in the driver. You could argue that we hadn’t really gotten in enough seat time, having not practiced at Clay since August and only at Llandow on the race weekend Saturdays. I do need to try to fund some more practice time over the winter so that we don’t suffer similarly at Llandow next season. I had always dismissed the notion of coaching, believing that was diverting funds better spent on things like tyres, but it’s something I’d seriously consider now. We’ll see out the final round at Llandow this weekend and then pack up for the year. If you are interested in a decent pit space at Clay for next year, now is the time to get in touch with the club – tell them I sent you 😉

Cost of weekend: £50 race entry, £12 petrol, £8 fuel, £6 engine head bolt

Total spent this year: £4,206



Back to Clay already?!?

Following our decision to switch to Llandow from Clay, it seems a little odd to be going back after missing *an entire round* but there is method to the madness: I had originally agreed to take Junior to the Tal-Ko TKM Practice Day at Whilton Mill on Friday (yesterday) but, after the Parents IKR Race last weekend, I hadn’t really had the time or inclination to get everything sorted. I’d also checked a map and realised how far Whilton actually is from us! It would have been twice the distance of our regular tracks and, although only 2.5 hours, everything seems longer when you’re squeezed into a Clio, driving at 50mph(-ish) 😉 with your eye on the trailer for the most part (and that’s just on a dry, sunny day!). So I came up with a plan and offered Junior the choice of practice at Whilton or the race Sunday for the final round at Clay (in addition to both days at Llandow the following weekend). We already have new slicks for this month, which would have been doing only one race and then getting packed up for the season, so they’ll be perfect for doing Clay and Llandow (but not much else thereafter) and I’d have been going to watch in any case;  the JTKM title is going right down to the wire with only seven points separating the top three drivers. I also know that I’d have spent every minute stood there asking myself why the hell we weren’t taking part! Junior opted for Clay in a nano-second. It will be good to be back in the Clay TKM fold even if this could be the last time for a while (the JTKM grid there for next season could be slim to non-existent, even without us).

So we’ll head to Clay next Sunday (I’m spending family time with the ladies on the Saturday even if the kart budget could have been stretched to include the practice day) and hopefully do a better job of keep up with the pacesetters. I spent most of today building the kart and sorting out the trailer (I find a leisurely day cleaning and setting up can be very therapeutic). I even managed to put a whole set of new slicks on all by myself 😉 Now there’s something that leaves you feeling very proud of yourself! If the picture of me, red-faced and dripping with sweat as I fight that final front tyre ever makes it onto social media, someone is going to be in trouble…

IKR Parents Race!!!

It had been a while since our TKM Dads Day Out, where a few of us Dads took the junior karts and engines out for a first run in a two stroke kart, and I was contemplating arranging another when an opportunity to do something a little more extreme came up – a dedicated parents class at the opening round of the Clay Pigeon Winter IKR Series!!! It seemed like a good idea at the time, we mustered six entries and endured a 300-post Facebook thread as we debated weights (none), tyres (any, change whenever you like), engines (any junior class engine) and race types (MSA-style three heats and a final as opposed to the IKR-style qualifying, heat, pre-final and final) and exchanged a lot of banter. It seemed like a really good idea at the time and promised to be a lot of fun!

As the event got closer, I was a little nervous having only driven the kart for 100 laps or so in June (when I was hesitant to try to overtake anybody in case I took them out) and now facing the prospect of actually racing one of these things, even if it was in the friendliest of grids! I was reasonably quick last time – a 37.4s lap was pretty pleasing so I was hoping to push on in spite of the cooler conditions. I had sorted out Junior’s practice tyres and numbered them from one to six and then mounted sets five and six! This would be an opportunity to clear the garage of a couple of sets of slicks if nothing else. Having not really had the chance to do anything on Junior’s kart since Llandow the previous weekend, I had taken up the kind offer of loaning a rolling chassis on the basis that I wouldn’t have a chance to build up my spare chassis and it saved me messing around with Junior’s kart. The trouble was that this meant finding space for another kart in the garage and so I left it until the final evening to collect the kart and add our engine, exhaust and bodywork. Talk about ball-ache!!! Let’s just say that I hadn’t really anticipated all of the little things that were different and, with scrutineering early the next morning, I could really have done with an earlier night :/

This was my first experience of IKR and, as we were competing in a guest class with no championship, maybe things were even more relaxed for us than it was for the other competititors but the contrast between IKR and MSA was huge: the number of people working from trailers as opposed to from awnings was much greater (so we were right at home) and you could tell that this was a much less serious affair; from the types of karts, the age range of the drivers (young and old) and the intensity of the scrutineering process (more of a safety check). There were some things that were along the same lines though – Alpha Timing, race commentary and social media updates were all in attendance.

The day basically ran along the lines of practice in the morning, a break and drivers briefing at lunchtime and then the serious stuff began. It was a really good format and offered plenty of track time for our £40; the morning was a bit iffy from a personal performance perspective – I was putting in 38/39s laps and had no grip whatsoever! As per last time, I never really felt in total control of the kart at any point but it was good to be on-track amongst friends. One of the beauties of IKR is that we could pretty much set our own rules and, although the club had provisionally assigned us an IKR race format, we decided to go with the MSA setup so that we could mix the grid up with random draws for three heats before the final. The races went really well although our starts were a little hit and miss – I think only heat one saw us start as a compact grid you would expect to see normally, after that reliability became an issue for some! I dipped into the 37s in heat one (where I was going nicely in second place until I was helped into a spin by a ‘friend’!!!) but my times went backwards from there – obviously it had to be the tyres 😉 and I was never on the pace of the front two (a TKM Dad and Rotax Mum). Easily the highlight of the day was my restarting myself after spinning into Billies; I had lost a lap waiting to be started when I was spun in the first heat and, keen not to lose so much ground in heat three, I saw a gap in the traffic and took my chance… I picked up the back end and ran for a few paces, dropped the kart down and was amazed to hear the engine fire up! I quickly jumped in, got my foot on the gas and IT ONLY BLOODY PICKED UP!!! I even got a round of applause from the Juniors (who we had taken as our pit assistants and signed on as our push starters) 😀

It was a great day; the weather held off, it was nice not to be constantly tweaking the kart setup to try to find those elusive tenths (it would have been pointless since most of those tenths were sat in the seat!) and just enjoy the banter. I was really impressed with the event as a whole. I think IKR suffers from a lack of serious competition at the front currently, at least at Clay which is in its infancy, but I would consider it for Junior if things progressed and I am a huge fan of the tyre rule enforced at Clay (the TKM class run on Maxxis SLC tyres at £70/set and which must be used for three meetings). I won’t be rushing to jump back into a two stroke (if truth be told, I’d be more tempted by Prokarts) but it is something I am sure we’ll do again at some point. Congrats to the runaway winners, thanks to everybody who loaned me stuff – a kart, a racesuit, to the Krispy Kreme Donut Man (the strawberries & kreme donut was something else) and also to Mr South West IKR for shoehorning us into the day’s programme 🙂

Karting Dad leads from pole!!! 😀

Decision time!

Racing twice a month was never going to be sustainable despite us having done so for the past two months. Our participation in the August round at Llandow Kart Club was never really intended but the great time that we had, Junior’s enjoyment of the track and little things like the novel addition of the reverse grid Bonus Race meant that we were going to have to make a decision sooner or later. Clay Pigeon Kart Club offering a shortened practice Saturday for their September round, together with my work commitments preventing us from making the Llandow practice Saturday meant we could again race twice but the time when we would have to choose was always going to arrive. It’s all down to money, effectively; there is no way that our budget stretches to a new set of slicks every month, which racing twice a month would demand (at least when one of those tracks is Clay). Hey, Tal-Ko – bring back harder tyres and our budget might stretch that bit further!!!

The decision was entirely Junior’s. Yes, he’s in the Clay championship and has all of his friends there but, as enthusiastic as he is about karting (and he really is one of those who would enjoy two hours driving around in circles in the rain), the contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home after the Clay round a few weeks back (where he had beaten his PB but we’d only ever been hanging on to other’s coattails) and the journey back from Llandow the very next week (where, to be honest, it was pretty much the same thing except we were in only our second race there and were making really good progress) was massive. I think that, with the new slicks at Clay this month, we both expected a little better but that, following on from a disappointing month in August kind of opened the door to us trying something else. There is definitely no point is spending the amount of money that we were/are without Junior getting a decent amount of enjoyment out of it.

So Llandow it is, for what I would expect to be the rest of the season at least. Junior is really enjoying the track – I guess it is a case of ‘a change is as good as a rest‘. You could argue that we should persist at Clay and keep trying to improve. It’s a valid point and one I considered but this is just a hobby for us – we aren’t on the road to F1 and the fun element is essential. There are some down sides to moving – the TKM community is a lot smaller as there is no senior grid, which is a shame, as I really enjoy the social scene! That said, there are still one or two from Clay that we know quite well and Junior seems to make friends fairly easily. The JTKM grid is, like Clay, just about enough with a grid of 7 or 8 regulars. The club itself does appear to be in a much more precarious position in terms of entry numbers but hopefully they will find a way to boost the numbers to something approaching sustainable. The biggest downside may prove to be abandoning my share of our 6x3m awning – I could still bring it but I don’t have any room in the Clio or the trailer and I can’t see myself buying a smaller one this side of Christmas (or do I mean, I can’t see my wife authorising a spend on one?). But no matter – we’ll make the most of whatever conditions we find ourselves in! Next weekend will seem a bit odd as I twiddle my thumbs and watch my friends on AlphaTiming but I’m looking forward to our October round…

Race 12: Feeling a bit flat

It’s definitely a bad sign when you get up on a race morning and it’s still dark! Having opted to skip the shortened practice day, I had had the luxury of spending an unexpectedly large chunk of Saturday preparing the kart. There was still a small question mark over the axle following our last test day and, in the end, I decided to revert to our backup axle. Of course there was the usual last minute changing of the tyres too – I left it late to decide upon which rims to use and *really* struggled with getting new front slicks on with my girly office finger muscles 🙁

We arrived at the track at 8am and was relieved to find nobody else occupying our space 😉 It was one of those perfect prep mornings where we found ourselves scrutineered, signed on and waiting for an acceptable time to start the engine on the trolley (just to make sure all is well) an hour ahead of the first race. Things had gone a little too well obviously as our three lap warm-up was curtailed after I spotted the engine side of Junior’s bumper dragging along the track. After snapping two bumpers in testing, I’d reverted to slacking the bumper bolts a little to allow some movement on contact and, although the nylocs were threadlocked, I already had some doubts over the quality of the threadlock adhesive! It made a pleasant change for junior to a) see my signalling to him and b) actually take any notice of it! My £11 and one month old bumper bolt was no more…

With the bumper fixed tight, we started in 5th for Heat 1. We seemed to get another good start, making up at least one place but then something happened, the pack shuffled and we got spat out in last place! From there on, it was pretty unexciting for us as we were at the back of a couple karts that were held up and drifting further away from the leaders. Junior didn’t put in a bad time – a 35.9s was a decent start for the first race of the day and we weren’t last (although only because of a DNF) but we still had the age old problem of not really ever being close enough to threaten a pass.

Heat 2 was always going to be the highlight of the day (and our best chance of not finishing last) as we started on pole. For the first time, we managed to lead out of the first corner and even lead the whole of the first lap! 😀 We had a quick kart behind us though and, when he made a move into The Hairpin, we were pushed wide, giving up second in the process. Lunging into The Hairpin is becoming a particular beef of mine – this move was cleaner than a lot of moves I see there but maybe Junior needs to be less compliant in getting out of the way – get his elbows out a bit more and earn a reputation as someone who won’t just get out of the way. As I have said before, the officials can penalise under reg C2.3.3 “Gained an unfair advantage – The hearing has determined that you have gained an advantage over another driver(s) by the manner of your driving. You may not have actually made contact, but your position on the track may have unfairly impeded the other driver(s)”. The way I see it, if you muller the apex with half of your kart off-track and with no chance of actually getting around the corner unless the kart ahead takes avoiding action, you deserve this one thrown at you. I’ve not seen this rule used in a no-contact incident and, to be honest, I cannot see anything changing in that respect. We got passed for third a few laps later but finished fourth with relative ease, mostly thanks to the rest of the field being held up. We did set a new PB in the proces, however 😀 It also confirmed Junior’s preference for his CRK steering wheel.

I put the newly run-in race engine on for Heat 3, not that I suspected there was any problem with the other engine but I just wanted to compare the two and this was the first real chance for us to do so. We started last but only made up one place and finished 5th after another DNF. Frustratingly, Junior said he could feel no difference between the engines. AT ALL!!! :/ I also screwed up in not attaching the Mychron rev wire to the coil lead and it dropped off somewhere on track. Would you believe that AiM charge £18 for a replacement?!? It’s just a piece of wire! Another Dad gave me some wire to create a replacement but it meant I had no data to compare the rev ranges of the engines. We were 0.03s slower than in Heat 2 and that wasn’t enough to tempt me to switch the engines back!

There had been what seemed like ten red flags during the day, mostly involving the cadets from what I saw. One driver actually suffered some fairly serious injuries and you obviously cannot afford to take chances with the kids. That said, you do wonder sometimes if kids are told to stay in their karts so that they can take their previous lap position on the restart. Evidence of this was a Dad shouting at his kid to stay in the kart earlier in the season! I think there comes a point when you have to say enough is enough; two red flags and that should be that – end the race under yellow flags. No overtaking and no manipulation of the result because Little Timmy span out and wishes he could rewind one lap. The races were running very late but, to the club’s credit, they skipped lunch and honoured their commitment to 6 minute heats and a 10 minute final 🙂

Sixth, fourth and fifth placed finishes weren’t enough to stop us starting last of seven for the final 🙁 One of our opponents had seemed to be struggling for pace but he was starting directly in front of us. The mission was simple: pass him as quickly as possible and try to hang on to the pack. I’d given us a little more straight line speed to try to give us a better chance down the straight and into Billies. Our start was predictable – we failed to clear fifth, who quickly became sixth and got stuck for a couple of laps and were adrift by the time Junior made the pass. With the pack racing amongst themselves there was still hope and it briefly appeared that we might get back in touch with the pack. It never happened, even when the leader went off and rejoined ahead of us and giving us the opportunity to try to tag along as he caught the pack towards the end of the race. An incident on the final corner saw us gain another place – 5th wasn’t a bad result but we were a couple of seconds adrift, never really in touch and a little disappointed. In hindsight I think that this was a fairly accurate representation of where we are right now – a few tenths off the pace and lacking in the consistency that would keep us in touch. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect more given the amount of time we spend on track.

We race at Llandow Kart club this weekend, hoping to begin bridging the gap that seems to exist between the first four and everybody else. It’s going to be a long weekend as I fly in from the US on the Saturday morning but hopefully our performance will be good and the day will be a good one.

Cost of raceday: £50 entry fee, £12 petrol, £7 fuel

Total spent this year: £3,573