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

Race weekend 2 booked!

We were planning on heading to Clay in search of some wet weather sometime over the next two weeks but I have been swayed into entering us into the Dunkeswell Kart Club‘s October championship round!!! Dunks have a novices offer on – free practice on Saturday and Sunday’s race fee is discounted to members rates. One might argue we should be focusing on Clay and I did consider this but, in the end, the chance for more race experience with the same chance of encountering wet weather and at Junior’s favourite track swayed the decision. It’s a shame that the Junior TKM grid numbers only two but hopefully we’ll be somewhere around the pace of Mini Max’s so we can make the most of the race experience.Our Junior TKM rival will be my good friend and karting advisor and his lad so it will be interesting! We won’t be near their pace so I am hoping that the old addage about ‘the advice being free until you start competing’ (with the emphasis on competing) doesn’t necessarily apply – I’ll let you know on that one 😉

Now I need to find some time to prep the kart – it is pretty much together but I’ll need to set the kart up based on the Friday forecast. Looking forward to it 🙂

Practice 8: a step backwards :(

Just when it looked like our issues were behind us too! I blame Junior – he was the one who commented on how we had run trouble-free last time as we were enroute to Dunkeswell. We left at 7:20am; 20 minutes later than I was hoping and got to the track just before practice started at 9:00am. It took a while to get our ‘new’ awning up, on which I had gone ‘halves‘ with another Dad and which we were using for the first time. Once the awning was up, tyre pressures set (annoyingly, I had forgotten to do over-inflate the tyres the night before), fuel added, carb primed and the kart started on the trolley I had missed not only the first session but there wasn’t enough of the second session left to make it worthwhile going out.

As it happened, I wish we had: we lasted only one lap of the third session as Junior came in reporting that the engine wouldn’t rev over 8,000rpm. What do I do about that? I’ve learnt a lot in five months of ownership but troubleshooting is an area where I really need to improve. I started the kart again on the trolley and it seemed ok but I wasn’t keen on trying to rev it excessively to see whether it would get into the upper range. Changing the carb seemed like a reasonable option and that appeared to do the trick as we ran for the whole of the next session – our only real track time (a whopping 10 minutes) in the first three hours! Things then took another turn for the worse as Junior crashed in the next session, running wide as he accelerated out of a corner, hitting the plastic barriers and putting a nice bend into a track rod. My spares package saved me once again 🙂 I had what I needed to fix the kart although during the repair a helping Dad noticed we had a fuel leak. I had semi-noted this earlier but put it down to fuel being spilt when it was being poured into the tank without checking it out properly. Note to self: investigate everything unusual – you’ve done this before!!! The fuel was leaking from a hairline crack in the tank which appeared to have been caused by my previously refitting the tank without a spacer between chassis and tank and then over tightening the tank fixing bolt. Without a replacement, I ran the fuel below the fixing bolt to minimise any spillage – I did have a spare fuel tank at home but hadn’t envisaged any scenarios where I would need it trackside!

It was 2:00pm by the time we were back on track. With only 23 laps in the bag we then managed to string back-to-back sessions together although our day ended at around 3:30 when Junior lost power and pulled off the track (at the far end of the track too!). The carb wasn’t holding fuel – you could see it was just running back into the tank. My good buddy/advisor and fellow Karting Dad tested the carb with a pop-off tester – it didn’t look great. My other carb (replaced in the morning) had a loose spring although that might have been a result of my botched attempt at checking it out earlier in the day. With some tweaking, we got one decent carb together but the engine still would not start on the trolley and we concluded that we were losing pressure because of the crack in the tank. And with that, our day was done 🙁

There were a few positives: I took the camera and got some decent pictures of Junior and some of the other lads who ran with us (I was one of four Dad/lad JTKM combos who had headed down for the day), we ran the Action Pro for a few sessions (although suffered from some pretty bad vibration on the nassau) and I also started to make session notes so that I could gauge the effect of any setup changes (I was experimenting with different exhaust flex lengths). They were mostly outweighed by the negatives though: only 55 laps done, 0.8s slower than our only other visit to the track, a fuel issue to take home to troubleshoot and the realisation that we definitely aren’t ready to race at Clay next month. I was also bothered by my reliance on others to help me get to the bottom of the problems which, I felt on at least one session, meant their lads were sitting out as they tried to help (if you read this – sorry, mate!).

I need to work on my understanding of the carb and engine workings. I know you only really learn when you encounter a problem but I really want reduce my dependency on others generosity in helping. Mechanically inept? That is pretty much still the case – I’ve a still long way to go!

Cost of day: £18 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart (still plenty left from last time), £40 practice fee

Bits and pieces bought since last update: hose clips for exhaust end can: £2.50, 4mm self tapping screws for end can: £5, file for getting rid of deposits on axle (especially around my sprocket carrier!): £6, half-share of 6m x 3m awning: £30

Total spent so far (ouch – we’ve just passed £3k): £3,086

The importance of having a Plan B

I’d left my bro’s 40th birthday part early (and avoided alcohol) so that I could get up early. I was up at 6:00am adding plastic packing foam to my trailer lid to minimise the kart jumping when we hit a bump. I approached Clay just after 9:00am, in plenty of time to get things set and in glorious sunshine. And then I turned into the car park… as soon as I saw the trailers, lavish awnings and motorhomes, I knew it was game over – this weekend, as it turned out, was round 2 of the 2013 Easykart championship!!! I swear it wasn’t on the calendar when I checked the Clay schedule two weeks ago and the lesson for today is ALWAYS PHONE THE CIRCUIT THE DAY BEFORE HEADING ANYWHERE FOR A PRACTICE DAY! I instantly thought of Dunkeswell, which is some way west of Clay but I had no idea if there was an open practice day, or whether they would entertain non-license holders. Unfortunately, Mansell Raceway, who run the track, only have an answerphone and didn’t return my call in the 30 mins I waited outside Clay. Having been so well prepared (it’s all relative, of course), I was hugely disappointed at the prospect of missing out. We headed back towards Yeovil, giving us the time it would take to reach the A303 to find out if Dunkeswell was going to be an option. There was no reply from the club secretary, nor from my good buddy who was off racing at Llandow. Two miles before the point at which we would head back to Bristol, I got the call from the aforementioned buddy – Dunkeswell was on!!!

Now things were about to get a little more difficult – we were following another Dad with Satnav which resulted in us leaving the A303 prematurely and heading into some farm lanes (reversing a Clio with trailer in farm lanes is not something I enjoy doing). Then we switched to Junior’s iPhone as he had the route mapped and could see the track at the end of the journey. Somewhere between here and there however, the destination changed and we found ourselves routed to a forest in East Devon. Lessons two and three for the day – never trust Satnav and never trust a 14 year old who has no awareness of direction other than following a blue line on his phone!

It was around noon when we reached Dunkeswell and I was immediately struck by how big it was compared with Clay. With nothing else on which to base an opinion, Clay had previously looked fine but Dunkeswell just has something else about it. Maybe it’s just those extra corners and a decent sized straight but looked like a proper Grand Prix track for karts (at least to a noob). We wanted to get ready quickly so I left on my 82 sprocket from our last cold and dire practice at Clay. I ran the slicks at 13psi, then double and triple checked the wheel nuts, hubs and engine mount brackets. My mission for the day was threefold: not to lose any wheels, not to lose any engine mounts and not to burn myself on the exhaust! At the end of the first session Junior jumped out with a huge grin on his face – it would be fair to say he was instantly a big fan of the track. You could see he was starting to attack the track much harder in the next couple of sessions, getting his times into the 51s and the engine revs up to 15.9k rpm. I wanted to change down a sprocket but this would mean touching those bloody engine mounts – I had to do it but there was some trepidation having run so well since our issues at Clay. Eight minutes into the ten minute stint he backed off but proceeded to drive a lap before it slowed and the engine revved wildly many more times than I would like to have heard as the chain was clearly off. He pulled off and I picked up the engine mount bracket and bolt that was on the kerb next his kart. My worst fear for the day was realised. I still don’t really know what is causing this – I am certain the bolts were tight. Were they really not tight enough, or too tight? The engine mount bracket thread seems worn at the lower end of the thread but it bites and fits tightly once it reaches the upper part of the thread. I think a new engine mount might be my next step. There is more investigative work to be done here and I might end up calling in the A-Team. Still… with everything replaced, tightened and quadruple-checked the final session ran smoothly.

All in all it was a very good day – Junior’s best time was a 50.2 and he really seemed to up his pace over the initial sessions. He was still easing off far too soon down the back straight, whereas the other drivers would hits the brakes much harder and far later into the corner, but it was a very positive day. The only other issue we had run into was when he came in reporting a ‘hissing’ sound and saying he thought it was fuel or tyres. The starter battery had died so I couldn’t fire it up on the stand to investigate and it was only then that I wondered if the excess fuel I had wiped from around the carb earlier in the afternoon could have been relevant. As it turned out, the mechanic had not fitted one of the carb gaskets correctly – it was only mounted on one bolt and had slid down under the carb. Another item to add the list of mistakes not to make again. Lesson four for the day – trust the feedback your lad gives us, he knows what it feels like far more than you do!

It’s a shame that the JTKM grid at Dunkeswell is  poor to non-existent (the only other TKMs at the track were a junior and a senior – both from Clay!) but we’ll definitely come back. The only thing that I forgot to bring was the sun cream! It may only have been 12 degrees but that was more than enough for me…

Cost of day: £25 petrol (it was something of a road trip!), £4 petrol for the kart (still plenty left from last time), £25 practice fee (half day)

Total spent so far: £2,348