A Sad Farewell to Llandow Kart Club

We’d not attended the final months of the 2016 season at LKC; Our championship was aspirations were finished and, after the TKM Festival, our season ended in October with the Britain’s Finest event at Whilton Mill. LKC were already struggling and their season also came to a premature end through lack of entries. Although the end of season AGM brought about a new committee and (finally) Alpha Timing, the writing was very much on the wall: It would take some turnaround to attract the 50 entries needed to see the club break even. The season would begin with a new slot for the Celtic Challenge, a non-championship event which would then lead into the championship proper. That was the theory at least and, on the back of another disappointing entry, the committee announced last week that LKC would cease to hold meetings after the Celtic. Perhaps holding onto that bombshell for a couple of weeks may have brought a few more to the Celtic, maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference to a club that just seems to have struggled to hold onto drivers from South Wales. The current and previous committees couldn’t really be faulted for trying things to attract people: hosting Super One, offering prizes, reduced entry, free entry, even the amazing (if I say so myself) four heats and a final made no difference to the stagnant entry numbers.

We had practiced on the Saturday and, despite a first session last-lap crash as Junior seemed intent on breaking the lap record, we looked very quick early-on. But we needed a set of inters for the raceday and spent the rest of the day trying to make slicks work! Fortunately we had a nice, dry garage spot and some friends to scrap on track. It was a decent day in weather that could have been a lot worse. Sunday felt very sombre. To stop and look around the place; The familiar faces of the officials, staff and hardcore members stirred what has easily been our best memories of junior karting. It really did feel very sad. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t reaching for the Kleenex but I knew even before we’d raced that I’ll really miss Llandow Kart Club.

There were 20 or so entries merged into three libre classes: cadets, junior and senior two-strokes. As you can imagine, the racecard threatened to turn into quite a rush so there were 5-minute intervals between races (and, event then, it was still a rush!). This was our first TKM Extreme race meeting and our first chance to see how the engines had fared after being converted to Extreme. Conditions in Heat #1 weren’t ideal. Neither was my setup: Having had so much time to prepare in the morning, I noticed on the dummy grid that I had negated to change the rear width from the very narrow setting we were using on slicks, in the wet, on the Saturday! How long have I been doing this!?! The three entrants in our class meant the grid positions would be straight-forward! It was a strong line-up too with our fastest rivals from juniors in 2016. On top of that, they had both switched to TaG for 2017. Today would be *very* interesting…

Junior started on pole but it was clear that we were holding the others up and they three of them were strung out by the finish with us at the back. Heat #2 was better but Junior ended up scrapping his principle rival from last season and they allowed the leader to clear off. Heat #3 was pretty much a case of deja-vu. Pleasingly there was no contact between them (historically, there has been!) and they seemed to enjoy the tussle even if they were missing the point somewhat. I’m sure the leader appreciated the license to bugger off into the distance!

We started in P3 for the final and, finally, conditions were good enough for slicks. We were on our Whilton tyres from October and our rivals on nice, slippery fresh rubber. We would need to make hay while the sun shined. I really am gutted about what happened next: Junior went up the inside as they entered Surtees on the opening lap and the leader tried to hold it around the outside, as had been done on numerous occasions through the day. This time they touched and our rival span. In the final TKM race at Llandow Kart Club and against friends we’d been racing for several years, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to see. The incident seemed pretty innocuous; Things had clearly become tight but I devastated one of them span. Junior was looking pretty quick and he drove away from his remaining rival but there was no celebration. Junior didn’t feel as if he’d done much wrong and, whilst this was clearly going to The Office, I wouldn’t be: the not-so-little-bloke turned 18 on Thursday so I left him to it! Junior kept the race after his rival said he’d leant on Junior a little and not left him enough room. It was a surprising and impressive display of honesty when we were more less over a barrel (the marshal report had us making a ‘late move’ and taking the leader out which was never the case) but I guess their friendship shone through the disappointment. It wiped all the gloss off of the win though: There were no fist pumps, high-fives, not even a smile from Junior. Even now it feels like a loss and, to be honest, I’d have preferred it that way if it meant we could have been treated to a three-way duel for nine minutes plus one lap.

And that was that. Junior is the TKM Extreme Celtic Champion for what it’s worth although, with no further club events, the ‘CC’ plate will never be carried in race action. I really do hope that, against all odds, the club can rise again from the ashes at some point in the future. Maybe the MSA and ABKC can learn something from club’s demise about their inward focus on their own big clubs and national championships. I shan’t hold my breath…

You never know how much you will miss something until it’s gone…

RIP Llandow Kart Club 🙁

Tyres. Again…

I’d mostly finished writing this and only realised that I hadn’t actually posted it when somebody messaged me to tell me that they hoped I hadn’t stopped writing the blog! My apologies folks, especially since we are closer to the next race weekend than the last one but here it is…

It was the start of a new era. All of our closest chums had gone: to Super One and to TKM Extreme 🙁 The loss of the twin-sized awning that I shared with another Dad at Clay Pigeon IKR in November left me with two choices: a heavy duty, compact awning with a £500 price tag or the rental of a garage space at Llandow for a more modest £160. Awning pros: I can use it anywhere, anytime. Awning cons: I’d need a compact awning that aren’t quite as strong as the heavier awnings that carry a 5-year warranty and it would leave me needing to find space in an already packed camping trailer or Clio. Garage pros: Warm. Dry. Sheltered. Enough said!

Our friends have gone :(

Our friends have gone 🙁

It started raining as soon as we hit Cardiff and didn’t stop until we passed Cardiff again on the way home! We arrived to find our spot for the season and then unpacked as quickly as possible. Following our incomplete mission to run-in the practice motor earlier in the week, the first half of the day wasn’t a lot of fun for Junior: not only was it cold, wet and windy but he was having to potter around for the first four sessions at limited power. On a positive note it was the perfect opportunity for him to explore different areas of a very, very wet track to find what grip he could. I didn’t really help him that he was running with our worst inters (he didn’t complain so I didn’t make a big deal of it!) but I was preserving the better sets, particularly as our hitherto new wets had seen duty a couple of times in December. The track itself was very quiet; entries at the club were the lowest I had ever seen, despite the club offering four heats and a final on the Sunday!!! The grid would be a small one but we’d see a hell of a lot more track time than some clubs I could mention… Junior enjoyed himself anyway. An open track on a practice Saturday was a unique experience and we were one of handful of drivers remaining on the track when the weather made a further turn for the worse and we called it a day. Drying the kart was a lengthy process :/



Race Sunday. The track was still wet and it didn’t look like the new slicks I had bought would be seeing any action. This would be our first races with the new MSA ‘droopy bumper’ fittings in place. With there being no problem with the driving standards at Llandow, I was already not a fan. Since the regulations weren’t kicking in until the March round this was just a testing opportunity to see how we got on with them. The karting gods had been kind to Junior and, starting 5th, 3rd, 1st and 3rd, he had a very kind grid draw. Did I already mention that there were FOUR HEATS? 😉

It wasn’t long before we were back into familiar territory however: with the two quickest drivers from last year having moved to Extreme, we should really have been contesting the win. Our performance on track indicated that was unlikely. Starting 5th, Junior quickly moved up to 3rd position and held 2nd for exactly one corner but we were 0.7s off the pace of the comfortable winner who was on fresh wets. In heat #2 our fate was pretty much confirmed. Junior started on pole but, with both his main rivals now on new tyres, dropped to third within two laps and was 9s adrift by the end of the race. He just didn’t have the grip that he needed and there was very little that I could do about it (I did try!). Significantly, despite no contact in either race (no – I didn’t just take his word for it, yes – I did check the GoPro) his bumper had ‘drooped’ in both heats. I thought I had made an even better job of tightening the clamps after the first heat but clearly not enough. It didn’t help that the brackets did not properly fit our kart so the bumper was only fully seated in half of each bracket. I cursed the ABKC and MSA (again) and, as the new brackets were not mandatory at this round, I took them off: I just didn’t need the distraction.

Heat #3 was a minor highlight. Junior won but only because his rivals failed to complete the race. Heat #4 saw us finish third again and you don’t need me to tell you where we finished the final!

Our day was done. The four heats was nice, would have been better still if we were on the pace. Junior picked up another trophy which was about the only consolation for an otherwise disappointing day. We’d clearly be needing new wets for the next round and some investigation into improving the bumper bracket fitting.

Costs: I need to find some receipts and quickly get this counter running before it’s too late!

Ending the season on a high

With the member/guest half-priced offer and a bit of a push on Facebook courtesy of yours truly 😉 the Celtic Challenge had grown into something that promised to be quite special: the biggest JTKM grid of the year, the visit of a few of next year’s Super One entrants looking for some early practice, cash prizes and the biggest trophies I’ve ever seen at a club meeting made this something we were all looking forward to.

For us, Saturday was carb test day. We ran a new carb every session, making sure that they worked properly following rebuild (or not in the case of one). Our pace was a bit mixed but perhaps that was to be expected given our carb swapping activities. Our strongest carb that had gone down in June was still our strongest carb (here’s a free tip for you: when your best carb goes down, don’t leave it in your carb box for five months before realising that was your race carb sat there!) :/ We left knowing that we had fresh (in a one- heat-old-fresh kind of way) rubber and our race engine to bolt on. We just needed the forecast overnight rain to disperse quickly. Oops…

We were up at 5:30 on Sunday and en-route an hour later. The West Country was dry, as was Wales east of Cardiff. The closer we got to Llandow, the worse the weather looked. We wouldn’t be seeing many dry races today 🙁

Qualifying was poor: Junior quickly found himself isolated and it was obvious that we wouldn’t be troubling the front rows, qualifying 7th of 13, just under half a second behind the pole sitter. Before the first heat we had some setup assitance from our friendly Welsh Champion who had just moved up to Extreme and was demanding to know why Junior had only qualified in 7th (cheers, Ryan!). I heeded the advice and made the changes since our default wet setup was looking average. We didn’t help ourselves though as Junior bogged massively at the start, losing three places and leaving himself a mountain to climb. He made up some nice places and would start the Pre-Final in 6th.

We were on the receiving end of more friendly tips ahead of the Pre-Final, this time courtesy of the driver coach we had used at the start of the year and with whom we had run at the Festival (thanks, Tim!). Our wet setup was improving slowly 😉 The Pre-Final was eventful mostly for the fact that it was the worst TKM start I had ever seen. The pole-sitter was running a TAG engine and Plan A was clearly to bog down the direct drive runners. You couldn’t really blame them, I’d have been doing exactly the same thing in their shoes, but I’ve never seen the grid approach so slowly. Junior looked in trouble and was pushed by the lad behind to keep him going. The leader then took an early run out of Raymonds causing an aborted start. This restart was even worse… the field were going so slowly that three karts stalled coming up the straight before the pack turns for the start line, two got pushing assistance from those behind (that won’t happen when the new bumpers are introduced!) and one simply stopped at Raymonds. You had dads complaining to the officials and there was disgruntlement aplenty on track as the race was red-flagged and the pack stopped (on an upward slope – just a little something to cheer the direct drive pushers!) before being sent to parc-ferme. As the dad that stands at the final corner for push start duties, I see the pole man try to run a slowly as he dare on the formation lap to cause the man in second to bog down but, when they are all direct drive runners, there’s a common theme and nobody wants to go too slowly. A TAG runner on pole is in a powerful position, with the potential to put the direct drive karts in a spot of bother as were were seeing here. It will be interesting to see how officials at different tracks view this. Fortunately for us, the Clerk called everyone in and stipulated that the starts could not be too slow. With everyone now on the same page, the start went well generally speaking although not for us: 6th is a dog of a starting position and we slipped to 7th. As Junior got himself up into 5th, I was starting to look towards the final: 3rd row on the favoured line, a 5th-placed finish could really put us in the mix for the podium positions. It didn’t quite go to plan. Instead of pulling away from his pursuers, Junior didn’t seem able to shake them off. He lost and then regained 5th as they set off on the final lap but, when the karts came back into my view, Junior was 6th. The lad that had pipped us, punched the air as he took the flag: I was pleased for him; he’s a really nice lad who had travelled a long way but I just wished it hadn’t been us! We were also a full second off of the leader’s pace although, admittedly, she was 0.6s clear of the field!!!

The pre-final had badly hampered our chances of a good result in the final: a 5th-placed almost guarantees you’ll take The Hook in 4th, putting you right in the race. Sixth is a totally different affair: you’ll very likely exit The Hook in 7th at best and, even if you make it into 5th, the front four will  have cleared off, as they had been doing all day. Tyre choice had become the critical factor: the track was still damp, we’d switched to inters for the pre-final but Junior didn’t have the grip he wanted. The track was continuing to dry although the clouds were getting lower once again and rain looked a distinct possibility. Time for some more help! This time from my pit buddy who had given us a roof for the day (I’m as endebted as ever, Mr B!): we talked tyres for a long time but, even after that, we reached the dummy grid not really knowing which way to go. We a couple of minutes left before race time, I made something of a left-field proposal to Junior and we made some quick changes. It wasn’t really like we had much to lose and, having seen the size of the trophies, Junior really wanted one!!!

As expected, Junior slipped to P7 from the start. He was 6th by lap #3 and 5th by lap #5. He then made a mistake challenging for 4th and it looked like our game was over as 3rd and 4th pulled a 2-second gap on us. Losing that place in the Pre-Final was going to prove costly. Or so I thought! Junior was looking so much quicker than at any other time during the day. The gap was closing but it looked as if the chequered flag would come too soon. Junior entered the final lap a couple of kart lengths adrift but made a nice move into The Hook. The other lad wasn’t going to give this one up though and the two squeezed through The Hook side-by-side and disappeared from my view. You know those moments when your lad disappears from view and you just have to wait for what seems like an eternity before he comes back into view, a bit like that moment in Apollo 13 where Mission Control wait for radio contact after re-entry without quite the same level of drama or peril? It was just like that 😉 The karts were still side-by-side when they came back into view! I’m not sure how they got around The Dell together but Junior had the inside line as they ran up Hangar Straight for the final corner. “Go on, son: just hang him out here”. Would Junior cutely run him wide to prevent the cut-back? Oh yes!!! Junior hung on by half a kart length; it was one of those dad-silenty-fist-pumps-to-himself moments 🙂 We haven’t had too many of those. In fact this was probably only the third after our maiden 3rd place as a novice when Junior completed the last four laps with his exhaust hanging off and our maiden heat win at Llandow in September. Junior was really pleased, he even wanted to give me a hug! To give him his due credit, I think it was the best he’s ever raced. It was so nice to see him racing hard, racing cleanly and coming out on top (I say ‘see’ but, since I was stood on Raymonds, I missed most of the lap). He earned lots of plaudits too from those who had watched from the viewing balcony. I’d really loved to have seen it first hand!

And that was that: the end of our MSA season at Llandow. My thanks should go out to the club who put on a really enjoyable event and whose offers attracted TKM drivers from far and wide 🙂 and especially to those who, over the course of the day, helped me to dial-in what was in hindsight a pretty poor wet setup. I’m not surprised that Junior struggled in the morning! Never mind the driver, *I* lacked wet setup experience and this was probably the most important learning we’ll take from the weekend. With the fastest three drivers all moving to Super One and Extreme, the future for the TKM grid at the track is uncertain 🙁 With said driver’s dads being my closest chums at the track, it seemed like the end of an era too. It was really nice to spend the weekend amongst almost all of my karting friends (there were quite a few old faces from Clay racing in Extreme or Senior Rotax). Where we go from here is uncertain: Junior is 16 and could go to Extreme but, after Bambinos and Formula Blues, lead weight is my next pet hate!!! I only learnt recently that he’d like to do Super One although there are several reasons why this isn’t going to happen; cost and equipment being the main ones although I think he’s proabably a little inexperienced also: he’s very keen but he’s set the bar quite high with racing against very quick friends who started long before he did. We’ll contest the Clay Pigeon IKR Winter Series to give him build on his racecraft and assess the state of the Junior TKM grids in the vicinity. Luckily for us, we aren’t likely to come across the Celtic Challenge winner too often in 2016 😉

Cost of race day: Practice fee £40, Entry fee £27 :), petrol (car) £10, fuel (kart) £12, bridge toll £13

Total spent this year: £5,036 < Holy sh*t, our most expensive year to date!!!

Disaster at Llandow

The weekend had been non-stop: an early start at Clay for IKR coupled with the need to dry the kart along with all of my tools and spares that had gotten soaked when the awning gave up meant there wasn’t time to do much other than a quick shower before getting everything ready for Llandow. Having a one-point lead in the battle for second spot in the championship, the conditions really went against us in so far as we’d been doing quite nicely with a very settled setup for approaching six months. At least we had the luxury of fresh rubber (back-to back days, no less!).

We arrived to a depressingly deserted paddock and, with more rain forecast, got a similarly depressing answer when I enquired about a potential space in one of the garages 🙁 Considering the options, we decided upon a tiny spot which had protection from the wind on the two most important sides although it meant working in the mud for the day. I’d changed little from the Clay setup in anticipation of further rain but, although the track was wet, there hadn’t been any further rain since the early hours. For the warm-up, we faced a choice: scrub in the slicks in what could best be described as sub-optimal conditions or find the grip on the inters. We were alone in opting for the former much to the amusement of some of the others but I felt we’d benefit by having the slicks scrubbed in if and when we came to bolting them on. Junior lapped at his own pace and kept it on the grey stuff although reported that he didn’t think that the carb was picking up as it should. This was where not having taken part in Saturday practice was coming to bear; it was the carb that we’d ran on all day at Clay and that I had cleaned and tested the evening before. No matter, I bolted on the race carb that I’d also tested the previous evening.

Disaster struck in Heat #1. Junior started his formation lap but, as the grid slowed coming out of The Dell, I could see Junior struggling to keep the engine running. I ran from Raymonds to join the dad and the marshal that were trying to get him going: it was clear the kart wasn’t going to restart even though Junior was desperate for me to keep trying to get the engine started. Although I was gutted for him, I didn’t expect the outburst that I received as I pushed the kart up the straight: it was embarrassing both from the perspective of other dads hearing him talk to me like that and to see him losing the plot completely. We had had a DNS on two occasions before: once when I had put a carb gasket on upside down back (!) in our time at Clay and more recently when a stalled kart in front of him at the dummy grid exit gate forced him to stop and his kart just never restarted; each time he’d been frustrated and I absolutely understand it but I’d never seen anything like this. We had a few quiet words back at the car to ensure that this never happened again. For me, our karting career is not about winning: we absolutely seek to be competitive but I put in all of my spare time and money into something that we both have to enjoy. If he ever stopped enjoying it, we’d retire in an instant but it’s something I do for the enjoyment of us both and, at that point, I wasn’t having much fun. It got worse…

The carb wasn’t holding any pressure whatsoever. We swapped it over, bolted on the race engine (given the drying conditions) and spent a good amount of time in the starting area making sure that the carb and engine were revving as best they could. Junior started on pole and we agreed that he just had to go out there, race, enjoy it and see how things panned out. As he approached me at the final corner of the formation lap he was shaking his head and holding the airbox. I knew in an instant what was wrong. Although I didn’t blame myself for the carb going down there was only one person responsible for this: the jubilee clip around the airbox hadn’t been tightened. Every mechanic will make a mistake from time-to-time but why now??? This might well have been a new low. Junior started and quickly dropped through the field; he was driving one-handed and holding the airbox in place until he reached the hairpin where he had to use both hands on the wheel and would then need to find and re-attach the airbox and carry on. He was in a tussle for last place, lapping 0.8s off the pace when he got the mechanical with three or four laps remaining. What could I do other than apologise? Just when we had needed to be at the very top of our game, a mechanical and then a mechanic problem had sunk our challenge for second place. After our discussion following Heat #1, Junior was understanding: we win or lose as a team. Luckily he was still feeling bad about the outburst earlier!

The day couldn’t really get much worse although we tried our best. Heat #3 was the cutover to slicks. Or was it? Why is it always the JTKM grid that seem to face that crucial decision first? Every other race before us had seen the grids on wets. There hadn’t been any rain all morning but it looked pretty bleak. The forecast was for more rain to come. It was too close to call so I left it to Junior. It wasn’t as though it would cost us the championship anyway! We bolted on the ‘very used’ inters as every other drive bar one went for slicks. And then it rained!!! But not for long enough and the sky was suddenly looking brighter as the drivers went out on track. Junior started in third and used his grip to make into The Hook in first. He quickly had a 2-second lead but that soon began to deteriorate and our misery was complete as we found ourselves adrift by the end of the race. To add insult to injury, it rained as we pushed the kart back to the paddock. Shit happens, huh?

There was no chance of making the wrong tyre choice for the final which would see us start in an impressive last place! Junior would have to make speedy headway if he was going to challenge for the podium but the pack quickly stretches as the rear of the field try to sort themselves out through The Hook at the start, even when the field is fairly small as it was here. Junior was 4th after the first lap but the front three were clear and Junior was making little impression. To his credit he plugged away and caught the third-placed driver late on as he dropped away from the front two. It was a minor consolation for such a bad day in the office.

We just about managed to get packed up before the inevitable rain arrived. The McDonalds tasted ever more dour than usual and it was nice to get home, pack up, shower and crack open a beer. With our participation in the Clay IKR winter series, we wouldn’t be taking December off as we had done last year. As I would really have like to have done at that moment…!

Cost of race day: Entry fee £55, Maxxis slicks £147, petrol (car) £10, fuel (kart) £9, bridge toll £6

Costs since last post: Front sprocket £13

Total spent this year: £4,855 < I think we could be heading for a new annual record!!! 🙁

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

Maiden heat win + first ever exclusion + bad final = Disappointment :(

It’s unusually soon for me to be writing up our race weekend hours after getting home but I’m still peeved and I’m hoping to type away my frustrations. I’m not intending to rant but let’s see where it goes…

Saturday started badly; Junior’s first session looked pretty good but he was complaining that the kart wasn’t picking up quite as it should. I changed the carb over to one I had tested the night before and which I again tested before putting it on the kart. Of course, you know what it coming next: the kart wouldn’t start. It was as if we had no spark – we did but the kart clearly had no intention of going anywhere. With the kart safely off track behind the marshal post on the start line, I quickly ran back to base and picked up the necessary bits to switch the carb over. We got it going again… just in time for the in-lap!!!

Apart from our loaned GoPro defaulting to video burst and my not noticing until the final session and then us breaking down because a carb bolt came loose(!), the rest of the day went as well as we could have hoped given that we were again using our Festival tyres. The mass setup change that we had made for the August final but never gotten a chance to put to use worked well and made up for the complete lack of grip we were getting from the tyres. Junior looked to be driving fairly well and a 45.5s lap was decent all things considering.

We've been overtaken by some celebrities in our time but Ghost Rider?!?

We’ve been overtaken by some celebrities in our time but Ghost Rider?!?

Race day brought a welcome return to fresh rubber, a first since the Welsh Champs!?! Budgets, huh? Scrutineering was unusually rough! It started with some concern about our rose joints, progressed to exposed threads on the seat bolts (I’d removed a kilo and need to weigh after the warm-up to know whether we needed it back on), touched on my camera mount (there was some concern I may be planning on using the camera) and then to the seat where we were informed that the seat had to be level with the chassis?!? I questioned this but another scrutineer confirmed the same belief. Umm…I’m really not sure about that! There is obviously no sense in upsetting the scrutineers so I nodded in confusion and we moved onto the amount plastic left on the brake disc protector!!! My kart isn’t that bad (honest) although I’d sooner have thorough scrutineers than slack ones! Feeling somewhat bruised, I noted all of the bits I’d soon need to attend to and wished them all the best 🙂

Junior strangely decided he’d come in after two of his three warm-up laps. I don’t know if this was because he’d made a mistake (since the drivers come in after being shown the last lap board on a practice day rather than complete the lap and then come in) or intentionally. He claimed the latter.

Heat #1. What can I say? 😀 😀 😀 We started third, behind a fairly new driver making his first appearance at Llandow. A pole on his first race? I guess a 100% pole/heats record is not to be scoffed at, especially compared with our 0/33 – the grid generating system at Llandow really does suck! I could understand it if the grid numbers were in the thirties but in an average grid of eight? :S I digress… Junior has become proficient at his starts and managed to split the front row starters, jumping into the lead at the first corner. He gained a 10m lead, gradually lost it, saw himself passed into Raymonds on two occasions to different drivers but cut back immediately both times and then pulled a small gap that he held until the last couple of laps as second, third and fourth fought it out. He had to defend the final corner but, unlike as the Welsh Champs, did a decent job of it despite bogging a little and took the win. I’ve never seen a heat win celebrated before but Junior gave it some fist pumps as he crossed the line, bless him (keeping one hand on the wheel of course!). I had to laugh 🙂

Scrutineering was a minor drama: having weighed in at 135.8kgs post warm-up and finished Heat #1 with more fuel, the scales varied between 136.2 and 134.7kg! The scrutineer let us go with the scales reading 135.1kg. I’ve never trusted the scales at Llandow but it was clear we’d have to bolt on another kilo.

Our Alfano was playing up (although I since heard that others had issues so maybe there was a problem at the track) so we had no timing. The results were printed only just before the second heat and I was surprised to see us 0.4s off the pace. We’d been running the practice motor to see how it compared to the race engine post-rebuild. We’d have to get through Heat#2 and consider putting the race motor on. We started third, got passed soon into the race and then again mid-way through. Junior sought to get the cutback from Raymonds and the two karts appeared to enter The Hook together, Junior on the inside of the right-handed first section but soon-to-be on the outside of The Hook proper. There was contact and the other kart spun onto the grass, rejoined the track backwards and clipped Junior. Junior carried on to finish third and the other kart retired with a bent bumper. Shortly after we were summoned to the office. It gets a bit random from here on. Junior and the other driver had their views, neither of which matched the report from the marshal’s post. The Probationary Clerk discounted the marshal report and decided to exclude Junior because, in his opinion, he’d had the chance to avoid causing the accident (since he was not in front) and the other driver had to retire from the race. I’m still bothered by this. It has nothing to do with the other driver: the kids will race, sometimes they’ll come together and sometimes one or other will feel aggrieved. Sometimes there will be fault and a driver punished, sometimes wrongly so. Everyone will inevitably have differing views, especially where contact ends one driver’s race and, having had a distant view of the incident, my opinion was based completely on what I’d heard from others. Although you take it on the chin and move on, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth: the original report was discounted (should that have been the end of it?), the driver views conflicted (although perhaps Junior exposed himself by committing the cardinal sin of saying his bumper was only alongside the front wheel of the other kart when he and others had originally told me they were side by side) and the severity of the penalty issued was determined by the other kart not being able to continue rather than the standard of driving (which sounds a bit wrong but I’ve no idea whether or not there is any guidance on this).

I spoke to several people afterwards who had seen the incident – they were all surprised he’d been excluded. You see some poorly executed moves that rightly get punished but I’m not convinced this was one of them. The incident itself sounded very similar to the one we had in July when Junior was in the other driver’s position, the other kart had spun, retired and the same official (who had witnessed the incident on that occassion) deemed it a racing incident. An exclusion for side-by-side racing seemed very harsh and it’s a shame that Junior will now receive penalty points on his license for it. Junior was livid. I was just disappointed. I didn’t feel that the incident was as clear cut as it was made out but there we go. I certainly appreciate how hard it is to make an accurate assessment in the heat of the moment. Kicker #1 was our chances of challenging for third in the championship suffered a massive blow. Kicker #2 was that, having spent an age in the office, the chance to the change our engine was gone.

Heat #3 was interesting. Junior moved from sixth to fourth and there followed some pretty close racing between Junior and his Clerk’s Office cohort. Junior made what can only be described as an accidental pass into Raymonds as he took avoiding action only to be retaken at Chandlers and eventually finished fourth.

All of this excitement resulted in us starting fourth; *the* worst place to start on the grid if you are among the top five. Fourth inevitably became fifth despite a little attempt at a cheeky around the outside of The Hook attempt which the inside row were having none of! We briefly raced for third but just dropped away. It was almost as disappointing as the exclusion as I really can’t explain it. We’d cleaned the carb and switched to the race engine. Although our best was only 0.13s off of the quickest, we really lost pace in the second half of the race. Tyre pressures? I still need to check the data. It has me scratching my head for now.

So that was our weekend. A first ever heat win. A first ever exclusion. A disappointingly uncompetitive final. Junior is still learning racecraft but I wonder if he would benefit from tucking in after being passed and at least gauging for a corner or two whether his passer might help tow himforwards. There is a time to fight but it isn’t necessarily all of the time. I’m not going to criticise him for it; he’s just going to have to find that happy medium. Onwards and upwards?

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

Costs since last post: Oil £20, new trailer cover/cargo net £25, new slicks £148

Total spent this year: £4,163

Coming of age

This was our biggest race weekend of the year; the time to see how close we had gotten to the pace after our April front-running and a final year exam enforced break in May. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. Friday practice had been frustrating with Junior driving around largely alone and 4/10ths off the pace. I had booked overnight accommodation for the Saturday night without having really considered that scrutineering was taking place on Saturday and not Sunday morning so it was an early start as we headed to Wales.

With the awning already up, I got the kart built and had the relative luxury of an hours break before first practice. The morning was up and down; we were pretty close to the pace with the benefit of being able to chase one of Junior’s two friends who were clearly going to be setting the pace for the weekend but, when we were on our own and without a fast kart to follow, we were 3/10ths down. Junior was much too hot into a couple of the corners. Qualifying was always going to be interesting. The two pace setters were good friends of ours and have given us an awful lot of help over the months/years. One of the dads was the person who had ‘fixed’ our brakes and to whom I owe a life debt, the other had been helping me pretty much since Day 1! They knew that we’d be looking for a tow and you could sense a ‘cat and mouse’ type situation arising. We hung about waiting to see how the karts were forming on the grid. One of our potential suitors went to the very head of the grid, the other to the back. We stayed at the back and followed them out. I had briefed Junior that it was very likely they’d back off and let us pass; I told him to do likewise if that happened – at some point they’d both need to get their heads down since they only had 5 mins to put in a lap! As it turned out, our guide backed off and Junior just carried on. He was caught and passed and then the two of them started racing! It was one of those ‘WTF?’ moments that I was to have several of over the weekend. They diced and caught a pack of four drivers. Instead of backing off they just carried on!?! In qualifying it really did beggar belief.

Fortunately for them both, the timing sheets put them on the front row for Heat #1 with the my brake saviour’s lad in third. I felt awful! Although it would be rude not to acknowledge the benefit of the coaching we’d received in February, pretty much our entire karting turnaround was down them and Junior had just qualified ahead of them. Worse, I picked up the timing sheets from the office for the three of us (one of us or the kids  always does) but didn’t know what to say when I handed over the sheet. I couldn’t have looked more sheepish had you covered me in cotton wool and put me out to graze!!!

P2 is not a good place to be at Llandow, particularly since the start was switched from Hangar Straight to the finish line. In TKM especially, the karts bog down as they have to take a very tight hairpin and second can find themselves having to back off to allow the pole man to get alongside just as the pole man is thinking of going. Starting third is a much better place to be. That proved to be the case here and the race became something of a procession: junior dropped to third into the first corner and the three of them worked together, staying single file and finding themselves increasing their lead by half a second a lap. Junior was third but never challenged; to be honest we were really happy to finish there (matching our best ever finish but this time it was on merit and not reliant upon DNFs) and just wanted to continue in that vein. The rest of the field were nowhere near them. Perhaps it was a chassis thing, perhaps it was a track familiarity/setup thing for those visiting with the TKM Southern Championship (the field was missing a couple of very quick locals but those that were there were no slouches) or perhaps it was three very strong engines. I wasn’t bothered to be honest 😉

It was a great feeling to see Junior going so well. Saturday evening at the restaurant was a happy place even if my buddies stood me up and left Junior and I dining alone!

Considering we stayed over and didn’t have to scrutineer early, Sunday morning somehow became a mad rush. The kart was just about assembled for the 3-lap warm up although the fuel hose and tank were not cable-tied. I quickly sorted that out after the warm-up and soon focused on the strategic game that had become qualifying. This was to be probably the highlight of my weekend; on the Saturday we were clearly hanging on and trying to use our friends to tow us around. We took our kart to the back of the grid, alongside the friends with whom we’d qualified on the front row the day before and tentative discussions began over our plans. It was a little bit cagey as I didn’t want to be seen to asking for his help but it was clear that we’d been mutually beneficial to one another in Q1. We agreed to do something similar for Q2. We were joined by the other dad with whom we had formed the lead trio the day before. I think there was probably a point at which we were all wondering what each other was really thinking but we agreed to hang back, let the pack go and then we’d each do a stint at the front of our own group of three and just see how qualifying unfolded. The thing that struck me most was that we’d been accepted as equals, not as some leech to shake off 😀 Qualifying went really well and they were clearly going very quickly. The on-kart data loggers had Junior at the front and, pleasingly, it wa a lap he’d set when at the head of the group. Unfortunately, the circuit timers had him in second by 0.007s.

Heat #2 didn’t quite go according to plan: Junior had another poor start in second and lost two places but quickly worked his way back to third and had almost caught the leaders by the end, setting the fastest time in the process. Things were looking good.

The Pre-Final was the low point. The three drivers had been in a league of their own up until this point and, although things were starting to get a bit more serious, the plan remained unchanged: get clear without fighting, pull a gap then fight for the final grid positions. Unfortunately, Junior suffered a brain fade: he took the lead on lap #2 and initiated the kind of scrap the spectators enjoy seeing in JTKM (and that had been notable by it’s absence thus far) but that left the dads slamming their heads into walls. The pole-sitter fought back and was followed by third. I didn’t see any of this since I had stayed at the pit bend to act as a pusher if anybody span off (it’s funny how the closest post and the furthest post are largely unmanned with most pushers mid-track where the views are best!) but I think that Junior got miffed at some part of this process and the race mist descended. It ended with Junior losing momentum and position. He was third again by the final lap but defended the final corner poorly and was done on the line. I couldn’t believe it. ‘WTF’ doesn’t come near to describing my feelings. You could see it in the faces of the dads and their kids: “What was he thinking?” Junior couldn’t answer that one. I know that racers will race but there are times when you need to use your head and this one had cost us.

I’d have bitten your hand off if you had offered me P4 for the final at the start of the weekend and, although it was not disastrous, it was a huge setback. After a poor start to the weekend, P3 had made some serious inroads into what had been a comfortable advantage over the rest of the field and was now well in the mix. The start would be massive; Junior was going to have to take some chances in order to keep with the front row. Junior still looked a bit downhearted on the dummy grid and it was really nice that the person we’d had coach us in February left his own driver and spent a few minutes sat with Junior and gave him some encouragement 🙂 He made a good start, going around the outside of The Hook to maintain fourth and took third with a move down the inside in Surtees that continued to the entry to MacWhirters as P3 tried to hold it around the outside. There was contact and P3 touched the grass as Junior cut across into the corner. I couldn’t really see the incident properly from my pushing post at Chandler’s (do I sound like Arsene Wenger???) but P3 may have had reason to feel aggrieved with Junior cutting him up. As the race unfolded and the front four pulled clear Junior couldn’t shake off fourth, who was all over Junior up Hangar Straight. It was clear to me at this point we’d probably be ousted from the podium. Junior lost his place with three or four laps remaining, again into Surtees and again there was contact as it was Junior this time who tried to hold it around the outside, lost out and crucially lost momentum. It looked ok to me, just two drivers battling hard for the final podium place. He was angry when he came in but I think it was one of those very one-sided driver opinions; he’d given at least as good as he got over the course of the race. Our two other friends had duked it out on the last lap to take the ‘C’ Plate, with it going to our official Brake Advisors 😉 on the final corner.

It was a tough result to take and neither of us could help but feel a little gutted at coming home empty handed having been in the podium places most of the weekend. I was glad that we were third at one point in the final so that the Pre-Final nonsense was not the sole cause of our downfall. We held third and it was there for us if we were good enough. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Junior and I had an unusually long chat on the way home and he’s a little chirpier now that he realises what he has accomplished. From the back to the front in two race weekends. From not being able to put in a hot lap without following somebody to leading his homeboys and putting in some stunning times through the day, even without a tow and fastest in three of the final day’s four races including the final! At his cost he’s learnt how he needs to defend the final corner properly and that it is really important to know when to work together for mutual benefit. He has come a long way in a very short space of time. Being the quickest gets you nothing without good race craft and that’s something that will only come with experience of battling it out at the front. We never really looked like winning any of the heats all weekend.The hard work will start now as Junior seeks to rectify this but this felt like the meeting where we came of age. Hopefully we’re here now boys so watch your backs… 😉

Thanks to Llandow Kart Club for a very well-run weekend 🙂

Cost of race weekend: Entry fee £100, petrol (car) £12, fuel (kart) £6, accommodation £48, food £40, new fuel tank, chain lube, exhaust springs, £32

Total spent this year: £2,570

Competitive finally!!! Crashing back to earth literally…

After another early start we arrived at the track at around 7:45 and the brief was to get the race engine on, get through scrutineering and then worry about how the Hell I was going to manage push-starting with my bad back! I had had the the loan of a push-start bar at Saturday practice but I had no idea how it would work on a race day as there aren’t normally any ‘spare’ TKM dads about. Having applied four lots of sun cream and still caught the sun the day before, I was glad we stayed behind after racing on Saturday to get the awning up, slotting into one of the many gaps that appeared when the bambino dads left for the day taking everything with them.

I had the offer of help from the dad and/or mechanic of one of Junior’s friends (thanks, Team Johns!) so, number by half a tube of Deep Heat, push-starting turned out to be ok. With his newly adjusted brakes Junior was under instruction to just make sure he got a good feel for them. He didn’t look particularly quick but came in beaming like I had never seen after a session (it was a unique sight given his normal attitude towards his kart):  he had lapped within a tenth of his PB without really pushing and loved the feel for the brakes 🙂

The club had changed the start line for this meeting, starting and finishing on the finish line instead of starting on Hangar Straight and taking Raymonds as the first corner. I had some reservations about this but the change went really well, the drivers seemed to sort themselves out nicely and I saw no contact going into The Hook. We started 9th for Heat #1, made a reasonable start but got caught up with one of the Super One boys who was practising ahead of their series opener at the track next month; he made a move up the inside going into The Hook, there was a bit of a squeeze exiting the right-handed kink on the exit and they were side-by-side before their wheels got locked together and both karts went off. Junior caught and passed the last-placed kart but finished adrift. Positively though, the kart felt excellent and we were closer to the pace than we would normally be. Junior set a new PB of 45.4s 😀

We made very little change to the setup for Heat #2. Junior started 7th and found himself on the back of the front pack of six drivers. Amazingly, he wasn’t getting dropped and was even being held up by one of the quicker drivers! Although he observed the ‘follow me, let’s catch the leaders’ gesture for a few laps, he soon felt the need to make a move. It took a couple of laps to make the move stick as he kept losing out to the cutback and, when he did finally pass, the leaders had flown. He finished 5th and set another new PB of 45.2s. Overnight, Junior had gone from lapping at 45.8s on the Saturday to 45.4s in the warm-up and now 45.2s! Needless to say I was very thankful to the dad who had sorted his brakes – those 3/10ths he had promised were beginning to look like a conservative estimate!!! I cannot tell you how great it was to see him competing in the pack. We were still a couple of tenths off of the leader’s pace but that was irrelevant; we were properly competing for the first time *ever*, not because we were defending or scraping a result because of DNFs. This appeared as though it could be our true pace! I could have kissed the dad who had helped us there and then. But I didn’t… 😉

Heat #3 saw us start in third. Junior made a good start, holding off some early moves from the visiting Super One driver and tailing second. He was able to follow second through as he passed the leader at Chandlers and the next few laps were the highlight of my time as a karting dad so far: Junior and the leader were lapping within the same tenth of one another and, as third and fourth tangled, they pulled a little clear at the front. I’ll forever remember the commentator’s words as Junior set a new fastest lap of 44.929! A sub-45s lap?!? A few of the others had done this at previous rounds and I remember them being really chuffed but Junior to join the club so suddenly… initially I thought the commentator had gotten the wrong driver but, as Junior continued his pursuit of the leader, a grin spread across my face – a *really* big grin. There probably four laps remaining before things started to go wrong; third and fourth caught us and we got pushed aside entering Surtees, as third went for a gap that was always going to be closed. Junior controlled the kart but lost ground and the place and was now under threat from fourth; the driver we had tangled with in Heat #1 and who had proven to be pretty aggressive throughout the day. We survived one more lap and then, as Junior saw it, we just got wiped out entering Raymonds. He didn’t see the other kart at all but said he felt his rear wheel get whacked as he was on the entry apex. The other kart kicked up and span over Junior, hitting the engine, Junior and the steering wheel on the way over. I quickly ran up from the viewing area (with my bad back I had committed the cardinal sin of being a direct drive dad that wasn’t signed on as a pusher) as the race was stopped and the ambulance came out. The paramedics had Junior’s helmet supported (a technique I learnt at the marshal training day!) but, thankfully, the kart had missed his head with his shoulder taking most of the impact. They wanted him x-rayed and so our day was done. I picked up the broken parts of the engine (I had always wondered what it took to snap an engine fin) and, because we finished third after the count back, went through scrutineering (who proceeded to record everything that had broken!). I spoke to the Clerk after who reported it a ‘racing incident’. Hmmm… there had been a lot of those through the day; lot’s more than you would normally see at Llandow. I’ve some things to say on this but we’ll leave it for another time.

We had a choice: leave everything at the track and go to the local hospital, pack up and go to the local hospital (leaving the kart on the trailer in the hospital car park) or go home, unload the trailer and then head to hospital. Junior had limited movement in his shoulder at that point but I chose the latter – at least I could safely leave everything at home before heading to A&E. Whilst I was relieved that Junior was ok, Junior was gutted that he’d miss the final especially after having finally found some astonishing pace. I felt bad at having doubted Junior. There have been lots of thoughts about the future in my mind during our struggles but to think that we might have sold up and moved on had we not almost stumbled into the fact that his brakes weren’t good enough when, overnight and after a 5-minute adjustment, he had found 9/10ths of a second (I initially typed ‘we found’ but he derserves all the credit here). Of course, we had the race engine on and better tyres than we had used the day before but regardless – we had found so much pace and I was so glad that it wasn’t the driver that was the problem, as it had seemed for so long. I was pleased too that although our chassis is six years old, Junior had proven his equipment is good enough to compete.

So that was that! We packed up in record time. Junior had plenty of visitors whilst he was sat waiting for me to get a move on – partly because of his injury, partly because of his pace! The other party involved in the accident wasn’t one of them though, they just got sorted for the final! Maybe it was one of those awkward decisions whether or not to say something after an incident between drivers, maybe that’s the difference between those who compete for fun and those that *have* to win. We watched the live timing of the final in the car enroute to A&E – it wasn’t the result we would have wished for but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Two hours later we had left hospital with no broken bones confirmed – just an difficult conversation with Junior’s rowing coach that he would not now be available for the eight at a big competition this weekend.

I usually tend to keep things largely anonymous (although you don’t have to work in Cyber Security to figure out the names of most of the people discussed in the blog!) but I have to thank Lou and Ryan Edwards of RED Motorsport for spotting the issue and sorting the brakes out for us. Who knows how quick we’ll be when we return in June (given the predicted influx of Super One drivers for the next round, driving standards that were certainly more aggressive than are the norm at Llandow and Junior sitting his GCSEs, we’ll be skipping May regardless of whether or not Junior is fit to race) but it really does feel that we have just made a massive leap forward. It is unfortunate that I could have sorted this out months ago had I known better but, in my defence, a good few people much more experienced than I had looked at them! Maybe all of that time driving with sub-optimal brakes will now be an advantage 😉 We may not find ourselves competing at the very front of the pack but all we have ever wanted is for Junior to be able to race with his mates and it looks like we might be there at last. I’ll be found crying into a beer somewhere if proves not the case…


My new favourite number: 44.929 😀

Cost of weekend: £100 practice/ race entry, £13 petrol, £12 fuel, £13 bridge fees, £20 new chain

Total spent this year: £1,961

The mechanically inept noob!

Saturday was a bad one, even by my own standards. We arrived to find that almost all of the perimeter pit spaces had gone, it was nigh on impossible to get the awning pegs into the ground where we had chosen to set up camp, we aborted and moved to the very far corner of the track only to find that the pathetic velcro straps on the sides of our awning were no match for the wind and ended up ditching the awning and slotting the car/trailer in somewhere a little more desirable!

Despite this, we were still ready for the day’s first JTKM session but, when Junior was sat in his kart on the dummy grid, I noticed that there was a lot more travel in the steering column than I was comfortable with. It looked as if the steering column bearing (which wasn’t that old) had worn. Caught between the desire to at least get a few test laps in and removing the kart from the dummy grid, I opted for the former (I’m not sure I would in future) with a warning to Junior to take it easy and come straight in if he had any concerns. He duly drove straight back into the pits, throwing his gloves into the seat and going off on one: the steering column wasn’t the issue, the fuel tank lid was leaking. This isn’t the first time we’ve experienced this – why is it so hard to make a fuel cap that fits correctly??? After finishing his little strop, I sent Junior off to get some hand towels from the toilets so that we could get back out for a few minutes. In my rush to get Junior started, I just grabbed the back end, started running and immediately felt something go in my back. I dropped the kart way too soon and had to carry on pushing until he got going but I was in agony! I like to think of myself as being pretty fit – push starting has certainly never been a problem but sometimes these things just happen I guess. It was one of those back injuries that catches your breath. Not good at the start of a race weekend 🙁

The rest of the day was about trying to cope with the pain whilst keeping Junior out on track. Engine mount bolts were the biggest challenge given my restricted mobility. I was able to borrow a push-start bar from one of the other dads; I’d never before used one but I quickly became a big fan! Our pace was disappointingly as has long been the norm: we were around 7/10ths off the pace. We tried a few things like altering the front width and bleeding the brakes which Junior felt made a little difference. I was talking to one of my good friends and, at one point, questioned whether perhaps Junior wasn’t up to this type of karting – we hadn’t progressed at all from the summer of last year; Clay had been replaced by Llandow and, although we had the novelty of a new track, we were now back to familiar struggles. Junior had never shown any sign of unhappiness and, as long as he is still enjoying it, we would of course continue but in the back of my mind still lingered thoughts of IKR and Prokarts 🙁

Although we weren’t where we wanted to be, at least we had run fairly smoothly. Until the final session at least. Junior came in after one lap complaining that ‘something happened’. He couldn’t explain what. We’d just replaced a carb but it didn’t tie in with anything he was trying to describe. Although I’ve said before how you should always listen to your driver, I sent him back out to get more information. This time he came straight back complaining of a loud noise from the engine. I removed the chain guard and couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the chain was as tight as you can imagine, with no flex whatsoever. A couple of friendly dads passed and I asked if they’d ever seen a chain go so tight before. It was then that I noticed that the engine had lifted off of the mount in one corner, skewing the chain enough to cause the problem. I removed the engine and was working with one of the dads to remove the snapped engine mount bolts (it turned out that three had snapped). At this point the other dad was playing with the brake pedal and commented that our brakes were rubbish (these weren’t his actual words!), calling his lad over to have a look. I was focused on checking the engine for significant damage but was more than happy for them to adjust the brakes since Junior has long complained about them. The engine was going to need to visit my builder to have the bolts drilled out and the casing rethreaded (timely since the race engine was going to be off for rebuilding after the Sunday) and, once that was dealt with, the dad showed me how much more release there was in the brake pedal, claiming there were 3/10ths of a second in the improved brake performance. To be honest, I took this with a pinch of salt at the time. He was also less than complimentary about my mechanic skills: a ‘mechanically inept noob’ I think was the description although I don’t know where he would have gotten that from 😉 To be fair, I had had the brakes looked over by a number of people much more qualified than myself. No matter, they definitely felt better and we’d see how they fared on race day…


A variation on a theme 😉


Leading a race! Albeit briefly…

With Junior’s 16th birthday falling the day after the race weekend, we decided that it would be nice to stay at the track on the Saturday night and grab a beer/some food with a few of the Dads/lads from the JTKM grid. This was partly just a really nice thing to do for Junior’s birthday but also in part because Junior had very little to open present-wise on the Monday! 🙁 Having had the engine problems so soon after a major rebuild, Junior’s main present was the engine repair. The new slicks, chain, sprocket and brake pads were all ‘gifts’ from the family although all were fitted and ready for the weekend.

Saturday practice was good enough. The pit lane was mentally busy with the club having attracted twice the number of entries mostly thanks to Formula Blue. Arriving on Saturday morning, we were very lucky to secure a nice pit spot with plenty of space to set the awning set up. Our tyres weren’t the best so our mission was just to try to implement some of the new lines that we had been practising. In that respect we failed really to find the consistency I had been hoping for but, to be fair, track time was in pretty short supply – we were on track once every 80 minutes! It was fairly uneventful barring us developing a habit it seemed of turning the action camera on *after* a session and recording nothing more than a long walk to the trailer (although we do have our wait in the scrutineering queue and the event itself – ping me if you are stuck for evening entertainment). Rather alarmingly, Junior’s kart got hit by a 1kg piece of lead that came bouncing down the track in the final practice session! :S

We were staying in accommodation about 5 minutes from the track. It was nice to drop off all of the kit and have a hot shower before heading out 🙂 Even better to spend the night amongst friends at a nearby hotel/restaurant – I can heartily recommend the gourmet burger at the St Mary’s Hotel, it was up there amongst the best I’ve ever had 😀 Sunday morning was blissful: getting up at 7:15 instead of 5:30 left me feeling *so* much more refreshed as we completed the 5-minute journey to the track!

Having scrutineered the night before we had plenty of time in which to prep the kart. The grids were posted and Junior was miffed to find that, now into his sixth race at Llandow, he still had no pole position! I can kind of sympathise – with only ten competitors, you’d be expecting a pole every three or four months. I understand that the club use a random system that does not take into account previous grid draws… if only Carlsberg made grid draw systems for motor racing, eh? 😉 With one of the entrants withdrawing, our starting positions were a reasonable 4th, 3rd, 9th.

Heat #1 was ‘ok’. Junior had a poor start, losing a couple of places at the first corner before gradually sliding back through the field, six seconds off the lead but ~0.3s off the pace, which I’d happily gave taken beforehand.

Heat #2 was the highlight of the day: Junior started third and, amazingly, LEAD THE FIELD INTO THE HOOK!!! I couldn’t tell you how it happened, as I was stood at the opposite corner of the track, but it was nice that we were leading on merit and hadn’t even started on the front row! 😀 Junior held the lead for into the second lap before he was passed by two karts but, even then, was doing really well in third until lap #4  when someone made a move into Surtees, running wide into Junior (who was attempting to hold it around the outside) and their wheels seemed to lock with Junior coming off the worst! 🙁 I started a conversation with the marshal about what he saw (I wasn’t overly pleased in the heat of the moment) before one of the deputy clerks told him to stop talking to me! With incidents elsewhere, Junior dropped to 7th before making up a place on the final lap. Junior was angry at the incident that had taken him out of the running but, having had a few laps to compose myself, I think it was more or less a racing incident. He’d come off worst and certainly wasn’t at fault (although I had thought that last month too) but I would never have lodged a protest over it… not unless the other party had previously called one on us, at least 😉 It was kind of a bitter sweet result since we had spoken about Junior getting his elbows out a little and not making it quite so easy for people to pass him but, in fighting for position, we’d lost out. Junior had also been shown his first ever black/white flag for an attempted move in Raymonds a few laps from the end! 😮

Heat #3 told us we still had a long way to go. Starting 9th, Junior made up a couple of places after an incident but we struggled to stay with the pack and annoyingly lost two places on the final lap. We finished 8 seconds adrift and were 0.6s off the pace which was blisteringly quick.

As seems commonplace for TKM, the clouds gathered over the lunch break and there were spells of drizzle ahead of our final. The track looked damp but I didn’t think that there was really enough to offer encouragement to anyone looking at the wet option. The pole sitter, however, opted for inters and pulled a little clear of the pack although took one challenger (on slicks) with him and was soon passed. The leader was really flying, pretty much in a class of his own, as he had clearly sussed that the track was there to attack. After a big slide early on, the penny dropped a little too late for Junior; who only really got going in the last couple of laps. He was adrift of the main pack but was quickly catching the pole sitter on his inters at the end, passing him after a final lap incident to finish in 6th place.

The race day was a mixed bag for us: we had lead a race for the first time and raced in the pack for large parts of the races in which we started in the top half of the grid but we still struggled with the lines and I know that one or two of the faster drivers weren’t fully appreciative of Junior’s fighting for position. It’s a tricky one. I can see their point of view: Junior is just holding them up and they will eventually pass but just dropping through the field is no fun. We’d gone from being very simple to overtake to being much tougher (relatively speaking) although we definitely need to find a happy medium and learn when to just tuck in behind after being passed. I cannot promise we’ll find that balance imminently but we’ll work on it.

Cost of weekend: £95 practice/ race entry, £13 petrol, £12 fuel, £45 accommodation, £40 food

Total spent this year: £1,701 and we’re only into the second month of the season!?!