Race weekend 2: Rescued from the depths of despair!!!

I’ve walked the valley of despair – it’s a long, thin piece of tarmac; big fence on one side, grass on the other, tyres dotted around to slow speeding karts and a big white coach halfway down with ‘Mansell Raceway‘ written on the side. Just like the pit entrance at Dunkeswell 😉 As I pushed Junior’s kart off the track for the fourth or fifth time of the weekend, I had reached my lowest point as a karting Dad so far. There are plenty of observant folk around the paddock and I wondered what they would be thinking of my inability to keep my lad on track. My embarrassment was complete.

Practice Saturday was a day when, pound for ounce of enjoyment, I lost out even though the day was free because of a Dunkeswell offer for novices!!! It was one of those days when you were continually setting the kart up for one weather condition and then changing it back again and nothing whatsoever went right.

We’d luckily found three spaces for myself and two other Dads who we were travelling down with, avoiding parking at the far end of the top car park where it would have been a 10-minute walk to the pit lane. We missed the first couple of sessions setting up the awning and the kart. It went south from there on – Junior broke down at Hangar Bend (the furthest part of the track from the pits!) on the out lap of his first session. I got to him and got him going again before immediately cutting out again. Back at the pits, I was about to whip the carb off before I got the advice to check the spark first. I would urge you always make this your first troubleshooting step! We had no spark. This first problem was a loose wire on the PVL coil – easily fixed but our day was hampered by Junior constantly complaining of the kart not picking up from low revs and frequent failures of one type or another – we had a chain snap which, on investigation appeared to be caused by the front and rear sprockets being inexplicably out of alignment (they were definitely aligned at the start of the day and there was no sign that the axle or the rear sprocket had moved – none of those tell-tale dirty circles where something has moved on the axle). I couldn’t explain that one. We then lost a front wheel in front of everyone stood at the pit exit (I had negated to check the wheel nuts that Junior had tightened). And our misery was completed by the engine going pop and Junior losing revs once again. Again, I could find no explanation – I took the kart back to the pits to give it a thorough examination but could see nothing wrong and it started on the trolley immediately. It capped off a pretty rotten day and I had a plan of work for the evening which involved replacing the ‘new’ exhaust, the airbox filter and checking carbs and really just hoping things were going to be better in the morning although we did have the offer of an engine loan from one of the other Dads (who would be our friendly rivals on race day) should my overnight efforts come to nothing.

Sunday was a chance to start anew. The English countryside looked pretty spectacular as we made our way through Devon to Dunkeswell. It almost seemed a shame we’d be spending the day driving a noisy kart in it. And that, if the forecast was correct, it was going to be raining heavily in a couple of hours! I’d told Junior to take the positives from yesterday and assume that the kart would work properly given the efforts to rectify the problem. There were only two Junior TKMs in the grid so I was a little uncertain what to expect even ignoring the questions over my ability to keep the kart running. We got there nice and early but still managed to find ourselves rushing to make the warm-up (there is no tannoy system at Dunks). Then the kart failed to start on the trolley with the remote starter! Again, we had no spark although my expert advisor (the other TKM Dad) quickly sussed that the electrical cable running into the ignition stator had an intermittent problem (you know one of those that you wiggle and they go away). We bunged it in place with a bit of rubber and it sparked and started fine. We lined up for the warm-up; there were 6 or 8 MiniMaxs and a Junior Blue in front of the two Direct Drive TKMs. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure out who was the only one not to start 🙁 There was no sign of the engine starting and we stopped as soon as we were off the Bottom Bend, I pulled the kart behind the barrier and crouched out of sight – partly to regain my breath, partly just to hide for a moment. The weekend was very quickly becoming a nightmare.

We got back and, together with the other TKM Dad (although make no mistake, he was in charge), set about putting their engine and carb on – we needed to get this turned around fast if we were to make Heat 1. It was a good job one of us had a kart that more or less maintained itself! We made it with a few minutes to spare. We had very generously been loaned their former race engine – having roped me into going to Dunks in the first place, it appears he felt some compassion towards my plight! So Junior took his place in the first heat: it was a bit odd seeing the Minimax grid charge past and then, 10 seconds behind, a Junior Blue and a pair of Junior TKMs – it would have nicer to see them a little closer and more involved in the wider race but there we go. Junior’s start was ok but, on cold slicks, he was caught out in the second corner and span, stalling the engine. He wouldn’t have lost quite as much time had he given me a chance to get out into the midfield from the pits! I got him going again and off he went, with me hoping he managed to keep it clean for the rest of the race, if only to appease the novice assessor! A few laps later somebody took a huge run-up and kicked me square in the b*****ks. Or they might as well have: the kart lost power gain, Junior looked over at me and held up a questioning hand as he pulled in right under the viewing area. The other Dad could not believe it and, if I had a pound for every time the other Dad uttered the words “I can’t believe it broke down”, I would have recouped my entry fee! 😉 Did we have another issue? I was thinking perhaps we had a fuel problem – maybe the filter or something. As I pushed the kart off track again, I started to think about what other mechanics were thinking of me – they are a pretty observant bunch and I’m sure my weekend troubles weren’t passing unnoticed. Every mechanic will have their lows but this left me pretty close to rock bottom. We got back and, would you believe it? One of the wires had come off of the coil. Different engine, different coil, same problem as the previous day! Then something happened that I had never before experienced: the racing stopped for an hour to observe the local church service. I don’t know what others made of this but I thought it was fantastic! How typically English 🙂

You can put the handkerchiefs away now, things took a *massive* turn for the better in Heat 2; in fact I’d go as far as to say it was my most enjoyable moment in karting so far. Both TKMs were on wets and Junior got a fantastic start – he could only have been centimetres behind the pole man as they cross the start line, denying the leader the opportunity of moving over to avoid the puddles on the inside of the track. Junior managed to undercut and take the lead! THAT’S RIGHT – WE LED A RACE 🙂 (I know there were only two karts but please humour me if you will – there hadn’t been many highs over the weekend). Not only that but we lost it and regained several times over the next couple of laps – it really great to see Junior racing in a manner that I’d not seen since his last arrive/drive karting exploits. It put a massive smile on my face although there were one or two occasions where I feared Junior would commit the cardinal sin and take out the person who had loaned us an engine and spent *a lot* of time trying to help fix our kart (and not only this weekend either!). It didn’t last long though – Junior’s excitement got the better of him, he didn’t quite lose the back end but did lose an awful lot of revs and the lead and that was pretty much that. His pace was decent though and we were only 12 seconds behind and our fastest lap 1.3s slower.

Heat 3 and the Final were both run on slicks; we didn’t get such great starts in those and Junior said he was caught out by some underhand accelerating early tactics (I jest, I am sure this happens all the time although our opponent was definitely mixing it up now!). Junior did pretty well though: we were 8 seconds off in Heat 3 and, although Junior really got put in his place in the final – finishing 21s adrift, his lines were still improving and his lap times were still coming down.

Not the most exciting grid ever to have adorned a kart track!

I have to be honest: I’ve seen more exciting Junior TKM grids!

So that was that. We handed back our loan engine (which turned out to be the one used to set the Junior TKM lap record at Dunkeswell!). Unfortunately, Junior said it felt a lot quicker than ours so I await all sorts of ‘my engine is not quick enough’ comments next time we are out :/ The enjoyment of watching Junior race (I mean really race) and visibly improve his lines on the Sunday afternoon had eradicated the pain of Saturday and Sunday morning. We had a decent amount of wet practice and Junior was never more than 1.5s off the pace so that was encouraging. Although the engine may have played the part, I think it will only have shown Junior’s true pace – I am kind of hoping our engine isn’t significantly slower but I guess time will tell. I have to thank my good buddy and fellow TKM Dad for all of his help, never mind his engine, over the weekend – we’d have been finished without the help of both him and his lad. I owe you many, many beers 😉

Now I have a poorly engine to get sorted… :O

Cost of weekend: £40 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £46 race fee, £23 chain, £5 marshal’s bib

Total spent so far: £3,946