Saturday had all the hallmarks of a tough day: The 5am start was sub-optimal but learning a new and tricky track was always going to be the real challenge for Junior. This would be where his relative inexperience (both in terms of seat time and experience of different tracks) compared to a lot of his national rivals would potentially be exposed. His task wouldn’t really be helped by our need to use our newly Extreme’d practice engine since we wouldn’t truly know where we were pace-wise until we switched to our sole remaining junior engine and our race setup. We spent the first session running-in the engine which had already spent time on a dyno. Junior spent the second mostly drifting back through the pack and, at somewhere like Whilton Mill, this meant spending most of his time being forced off of the racing line as karts passed before he could get back onto the line. He was also having a confidence issue with Oblivion, an aptly named corner with a very welcoming tyre wall should you get it wrong, and it was only in the afternoon that he was confident enough (with some stern prodding from his mates!) to take it flat-out. Having a couple of sessions ended prematurely by being punted off didn’t really help and we were some way off throughout the day. We did bring the gap down to ~0.4s in the final session running our race trim, which was quite encouraging all things considering, but we were clearly going to be off of the pace on race day. To top it all off, I’d caught some October sun[burn]. Again…
We had a rare hotel stay booked for Saturday night so we had plenty of time to prepare the kart after practice with the added bonus of no 50+ mile trip home and associated early Sunday morning start. We even had the comparative luxury of a Premier Inn 🙂 Best of all though was that eight dads/drivers were joining us for some cow at the Beefeater next door. It was a really enjoyable evening, as these things tend to be, even if it did double the cost of the stay. There was plenty of good TKM gossip to be had also 😉
Race day. It is said that what you get with one hand, they take with the other and that was certainly the case with our grid draw: The karting gods had given us a good starting positions, just not in the ideal order for a Whilton Mill virgin. Junior would start the first heat in P2. This would be his hardest race; His lines had been inconsistent on the Saturday and it would be a case of seeing how many places we would lose. It was hard to know what a good result would be and I really feared the ‘lost 15 places’ scenario, which would be a real blow to Junior’s confidence. As it turned out my fears were unfounded 😀 Junior got the perfect start (crossing the line 0.02s ahead of pole), held the outside line around the first part of Oblivion which gave him the inside run through Turn #2 and onto the run up the hill. Junior held a five or six-length lead entering Christmas Corner and, aided by most of the national racers having lower gird position starts, he was able to pull a lead which he maintained until the fifth lap when he was caught, forced wide and passed by two karts. He tussled for second at one point but his move didn’t work out and almost sucked him back into the chasing pack. He hung on though for a fantastic third placed finish. His pace was good too: He was only a couple of tenths off of most of his rivals so a great result and a real confidence-booster. It was funny how the brakes, that had only been so-so throughout practice, were now spot-on 😉
I had never seen a start quite like that of the second heat: There was so much weaving around as the pack entered Oblivion. Junior was in the thick of things and had made up seven places by the end of the first lap 🙂 He had climbed to P12 by the end of lap three but there his progress halted; He got into some tussles, lost his consistency when he had opportunities to break away and his P13 (11th after bumper penalties) finish was a little disappointing given that he had made so much early progress.
The third heat saw us start what was to be an unlucky 13th on the grid. Junior gained four places on the opening lap, consolidated over the following laps and was looking set for a solid top ten finish when he got Christmas Corner all wrong and whacked the kerb of the left-hand kink on the exit hard, knocking off chain. He had a little moment where he flapped about before the realisation of what had actually happened and why dawned upon him! Worse was to come: Back at the awning, I had checked the crank alignment and got everything ready for the final when I noticed that there was almost no compression in the engine. The rear axle was rotating almost freely. With 30 minutes to go before the final and our last race in JTKM, had we really damaged the engine? I removed the head: The piston had lost a ring of carbon around it’s outer edge. Not a good sign. Removing the barrel confirmed it: The ring was pinched tight. The piston had hit the head when the chain came off. And this was our only remaining JTKM engine 🙁
Don’t fret, readers! We had received a generous offer from one of the dads who had been at Clay with us a couple of weeks earlier. He had seen that we were all set to abort the race day after our practice motor had seized (and not wanting to push the race engine much beyond the ten hours it was approaching) and offered to bring an engine to Whilton just in case something disastrous befell us. We didn’t have much time to fetch and fit it before the final so Junior rushed off, cap in hand whilst I hastily removed the engine. Whilst I was fairly certain that mechanical failure had not been the cause of our engine damage, I couldn’t take any chances with somebody else’s engine: I bought a new chain, cleaned the carb, checked and double-checked the pop-off and triple-checked the settings to ensure we were rich enough! We were even in the assembly area with a few minutes to spare 🙂
Junior started 13th in the final and had yet another a great start, this had become something of a trait of his this year. Climbing to 8th after the first lap, Junior was running in sixth by lap #3 and things were going well. The lead pack had gotten away but Junior was at the head of the chasing pack until, with three laps remaining, he got forced wide in The Boot and lost *four* places!!! To his credit, Junior got his head down and the final laps saw some frantic tussling. Running in ninth as the he entered The Boot for the final time, Junior made a bold attempt to pass two karts around the outside of the left-hand entry to take the inside line for the right-hand run into the final corner. He managed it but ran in too hot to avoid conceding one of the places and he finished a very respectable eighth. It had been a really enjoyable race to watch although he got some criticism from one of his friends for turning across them as they looked to make passing moves on him. Whilst I had watched the race, I hadn’t really seen any problems. I think it stems from having come from a track where we been excluded on a couple of occasions for collisions where Junior had made a move up the inside but was found not to have been 90% alongside a rival when they turned into the corner and it was deemed that Junior should have backed out of the move. Junior’s driving has evolved accordingly; He’ll concede if a kart is alongside but a whiff of the nose up the inside isn’t going to make him jump out of the way. The other dad and I are very good friends and we chatted afterwards; He made the point that his rivals won’t back out so readily in Extreme and that Junior will find himself getting taken out a lot more often. I couldn’t say that we saw the race the same way but his racing in Extreme is a concern to me: Junior will need to evolve. He has to find a way to avoid scrapping, to get his head down and drive consistently without losing his composure when under pressure. For now though, we’d enjoy what was a good final race for us, with some good pace and some close racing whilst being thankful for the loan engine that ensured our JTKM career didn’t end with a DNS.