A cheeky Llando(w)s

Do you see what I’ve done with the title? Clever, huh?

It seems like we’ve been on the back foot a fair bit this year and, just a week ahead of the Festival, now seemed no different: problems with both engines at Kimbolton last month meant that they’d both had work done on them. Even after a bucket test(?) to identify any potential air leak, nothing had been found to explain the race engine looking badly lean after Junior’s off in one of the heats. Luckily the head needed nothing more than a slight rethread to cure the minimal damage caused by the spark plug getting stuck. The #2 engine had had new piston rings fitted in a bid to resolve the lack of compression. And then we’d buggered off on hols, the #1 priority as per Mrs Karting Dad’s control of the family budget!

V__0AD7I’d collected the repaired engines before we went away and, on the evening of our return to the country, spent the evening ensuring they were both fine, spark-wise before a weekend visit to Llandow. Having had such an awful weekend at Kimbolton from a performance point of view (two DNS’s and a DNF!), I couldn’t leave anything to chance. We’d had spark issues with the race motor but now there was no spark on the practice engine!?! After swapping over everything from spark plugs, to HT leads and coils, there was either a wiring issue or a stator/rotar problem. Back to the engine builders. A voltmeter check and some wiring work later (not to mention an hour’s labour), we were back on track (although not in the literal sense).

To Llandow! The track was running an IKR meeting and had Saturday afternoon dedicated to practice. Perfect for a spot of engine testing. The plan was: Run in the new rings on the practice motor, ensuring the compression problem was resolved. Bolt on the race motor. Do two laps and check the spark plug looks healthy. Do five more before removing the head to ensure the piston looked good. Run one further session to be certain. Bolt the practice motor back on. Do a bit of carb testing.

Everything went really well. We’d done everything that we needed to within 3 hours and we spent the rest of the afternoon dabbling with carbs and playing with restrictors (Junior has lost a stone since getting sick last month!!!). That was until we suffered *another* sheared side pod bar; in exactly the same spot as we did last time out. Now there’s a head scratcher for you! Since this was already our spare bar and the other was away getting fixed, our game was over. It wasn’t the end of the world since there was only an hour left and it wasn’t as if Junior needed the practice.



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

Setting the bar too high?

Saturday started horribly. Having discovered, when repairing the seat last weekend, that the chassis had snapped (seat tab snapped off), I’d spent most of the week working to move everything to our spare chassis. It was another 2009 EVR but had a slightly bent yoke. I’d had it jig-checked and the chassis was straight even though it was not possible to straighten the yoke entirely. It was clearly sub-optimal but, with only 5 days to go before we would be racing, it was going to have to do and we’d just have to see how we fared.

Arriving at the track with a newly rebuilt chassis, the first thing you (or more accurately, I) want to do is just complete the first session without issue. The reality was far from this and we broke down at the third corner: Junior complained that the steering felt too free, the accelerator pedal was either on or off and then the kart just stopped. Not too bad then! :S First things first; the axle moved and the piston was still going up and down! 🙂 Our engine issue was down to a snapped wire on the spade connector on the PVL. The problem was that neither I, nor the shop had a replacement connector. One of the other dads had one that was a little larger but, by the time I had messed about trying to fit it with a borrowed crimping tool, we’d missed the second session entirely (the crimping tool wasn’t the best but neither was my mechanical tekkers). I could have just put the race engine on but this needed fixing and I did not want to put time on the race engine unnecessarily. With some spare time in hand before the third session, I looked at Junior’s other complaints. The accelerator pedal was a weird one: the pedal appeared to have plenty of range and it isn’t like one can really tighten the pedal bolt to provide additional tension – you tighten it as best you can without restricting its ability to close. The new seat position (I’d refitted the seat to accommodate Junior’s growth since the seat was fitted in December) may have meant that the position felt unusual but he was just going to have to get used to this. Junior also didn’t like the slack feel in his steering wheel and wanted to give it a weightier feel. You don’t want the wheel rotation to feel obstructed but I wasn’t really sure how it should have felt. I conducted a quick test of steering wheels in the immediate vicinity: one felt exactly like ours but the other definitely had some resistance. Renewing the rose joints on one track rod helped as did tightening the steering column bolt a fraction. This was as good as it was going to get anyway so Junior was just going to have to get used to it.

The rest of the day turned out to be the complete opposite of our initial woes and we went really well: again practising on our Festival tyres from Kimbolton, we were pretty much as quick as we could have hoped and lapping the 45.5’s. We switched to an older practice set that featured a front-left that had come with retirement package we’d bought at the start of 2013, had been sat in a garage cupboard ever since and which we dated to 2011!!! We shaved off a couple of tenths and we ran pretty well for the remainder of the afternoon, with Junior enjoying some close racing with one his friends in one session (he actually claimed it was the most fun he’d had karting, I don’t think he realised that this was how it should be all of the time but we’d always been a little off the pace!). We also managed to actually do some testing (as opposed to trying to find solutions to problems) and it was pleasing that the race engine was a little quicker than the recently rebuilt practice motor.

So onto the race Sunday and you’d never guess what: having completed a Karting Magazine article (we’ll discuss whether or not I am still contributing to the mag at some later date) earlier in the week in which I discussed/moaned about our lack of pole positions, JUNIOR ACTUALLY GOT HIS FIRST POLE AT LLANDOW!!! Having not started in pole position anywhere for over a year this would be something of a novel experience. It didn’t really go to plan though: an early mistake on cold tyres meant he ran wide and conceded the lead. After that it was clear that our pace wasn’t good enough. We slipped to fourth and stayed there. With the runner-up equalling the four year old lap record, we were a huge 0.5s off of the pace 🙁  The track was clearly lightening quick and our first-heat setup was a little too conservative. On top of that we were in a minority of drivers on used slicks; fresh rubber each month has become the norm at Llandow this year much to Junior’s chagrin. I’ve always insisted that we would use tyres for two races no matter what, I can’t and won’t use a set of slicks for one race day on principle alone. Our experience has been that the new tyres start with a distinct advantage but, by the afternoon, the gap narrows and Junior had even been quickest on used slicks in the July round.

Heat #2 was marginally better: we started eighth but made up some nice places to finish fourth again, 7s in arrears and 0.3s off of the pace. Heat #3 was more of the same: fourth, 6s back, 0.3s off the pace and someone else equalled the lap record! This time it was our resident Super One driver who was on USED tyres! Fair play to you, Sir…

I had noticed that our tyres were taking too long to come in. In part this may have been because we were fighting through the pack but the Alfano wasn’t lying; it looked like we needed to raise the tyre pressures. The problem was that the final would be two minutes longer and the sun was now shining. Too high or too low? I settled on a compromise and brought them up 0.5psi. We had qualified in… surprise, surprise: fourth! The sh*ttiest place on the grid bar for those with any desire to get a podium place. Since Llandow Kart Club had moved the start line, the even-numbered side of grid has become a real graveyard; if you aren’t in second (where at least you are in control of your own destiny), then you are pretty much screwed. And screwed we mostly certainly were: pole, third and fifth took the first three places into The Hook, things got messy and Junior dropped to seventh! He made up a couple of places but was adrift of fourth until they binned it into the tyres on the exit of The Dell. This brought out the battenburg flag. It was the right call (quite refreshing to see it instead of a red flag) but Junior had never experienced one in a race before and I wondered what he would do. My money was on him holding his ground whist everybody else caught him! Wrong: everybody backed up as if there was a virtual saftey car!?! What the… ??? :S Still, at least they would have to exclude everyone except the front man if they were going to act upon this breach of protocol 😉 So… a chance to fight for third. Or not as it proved; Junior was half asleep at the restart and was quickly dropped by the front three. He complained that the tyres and brakes had just gone off and he had nothing to fight with. The winner broke the lap record with a 44.715!!!

Junior was peeved that our second month on the tyres had coincided with the track being ultra-quick, pretty much denying him of any chance of fighting for the win or setting a PB. I could sympathise as we’d been the fastest driver at the track in a three month spell during the summer although we hadn’t really looked at the races in the two months since then. It was nice that the club had a fourth placed trophy (although it meant that we had to stay for the outcome of an appeal before the presentation). We were just going to have to take the positives. I think the problem is that we’ve tasted some small amount of success in the past six months and have raced at or near the very front, even if only inconsistently, so the bar has now been set quite high. We’d have been delighted with fourth at the start of the year especially considering the level of the quickest drivers. We were on an unknown chassis, on used tyres and we just don’t have the seat time of those against whom we are measuring ourselves. Lack of seat time, tyres, six year-old chassis, possible engine rebores… At a time when there are so many questions surrounding where and in what class we compete in 2016, it really struck home that most of our woes our budgetary. I know that this would hamper us if we were to contest a regional championship next year as we would like to ideally. My preference would always be to choose MSA over IKR and I am sure that Junior would consider IKR a step down and would want to continue racing his friends but IKR really does call out to me. At least he’ll have his fresh slicks next month!

Cost of race weekend: Practice fee £35, entry fee £55, petrol (car) £15, fuel (kart) £8, bridge fee £13

Costs since last post: Chassis weld £10

Total spent this year: £4,335

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!!! 😀

IKR Parent’s Race at Clay

Who’d have thought we’d be racing IKR so soon!?! Ok, so it isn’t quite as it seems but Junior and I will be in attendance at the next Clay Pigeon IKR round in a few week’s time although, this time, the roles will be reversed: I’ll be driving and Junior will be pushing (and he’s already trying to weasel out of it). The Clay IKR boys have been trying a few different things to drum up interest with their fixed, harder tyre that has to last three races – I am a big fan of that particular initiative although IKR has yet to really touch the junior classes in the south west, but the Parent’s Race was definitely an eye catcher particularly since I’d been looking to arrange another TKM Parent’s Day in any case. So I’ve mustered up a few of the Clay dads and a mum/bandit (who has raced this season) for our own, one-off IKR class to include practice, three heats and a final (and all for £40). It being IKR, we get to write the rules so, to mix the grid up a little, we’ll be running MSA-style heats (where the grid order is drawn randomly and you’ll start on the various rows over the three heats) and accumulating points ahead of a more traditional final. It should be great fun – I know that I’ve a few tenths to find on at least one parent, based on our times at our first TKM Dad’s Day Out but I’ll also be competing against two others who have current or past race experience :S I really cannot wait! I’ll also be taking the opportunity to test Junior’s engines back-to-back (weather permitting) so I can see for myself if there is any difference (since he cannot). Of course, the race engine will be going back in it’s box for the final! 😉

Feel free to join us 😀