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!!!

Race 14: A first podium!!!

I know that putting the plaque/sticker onto 30-odd trophies must get dull very quickly but they could have put ours on straight!

I know that putting the plaque/sticker onto 30-odd trophies must get dull very quickly but they could have put ours on straight!

Ok, so it wasn’t the most glorious of podium finishes: adrift of the front two and only claiming third following an unfortunate mechanical flag for the driver who was holding us off fairly comfortably but we aren’t fussy! Junior got a great start from fifth to keep out those on the even numbered side of the grid as they looked to stop the odd-numbered train steaming through. His starts have really improved over the past few months and gaining places has become quite common but this was the most impressive start I have seen him make so far – there really was only three kart lengths separating the first, third and fifth placed starters in the final. He was never going to deny the S1 driver that was behind him for very long though – Junior’s pace was good considering it was only his third race at Llandow but we had been at least half a second off the real pace for most of the weekend. Llandow is a pretty tough track to master and, although I was hoping that we might be a couple of tenths closer than last time, our tyres (on their third race day) definitely had their best days behind them and I hadn’t changed the kart setup to accommodate the track which was a fair bit quicker than I had expected (the rain that had been passing over us for most of the day only finally arrived after racing had finished). As soon as the race was over, my focus switched to hoping/praying that we made it through scrutineering, having never gone through anything more than a brief carb measurement check before – our weight was perfect, only 300g over minimum weight and then it was onto the the engine check. Although I had had the engines confirmed legal only the previous week, it was still one of those moments where you just hope there is nothing wrong and, happily, that was the case!

The rest of the weekend had been somewhat uneventful, barring a major mechanic’s faux pas – we’d spent the Saturday on the practice engine and switched to the race engine for the final session of the day. Surprisingly we were three tenths slower and I’d spent most the journey home pondering which engine we should start with for the race day; had the track slowed that much? Had the bigger bore that was enforced upon us at the last rebuild affected the performance of the race engine? We decided to go with the practice motor for race day and were at the track nice an early on the Sunday morning to get the kart ready. I put the engine on and was just boasting to one of the other dads how nice a feeling it is when you get your engine mount bolts in the right place first time (if there is a secret in doing this consistently, please let me know!) as Junior was filling out the scrutineering form. As I went to confirm the engine number (the engine is still relatively new to me and has a two-digit combination of numbers that I keep getting muddled), I realised that I had put the race engine on. I couldn’t understand how this could be – the last engine we used on the Saturday still had the Mychron rev wire attached. It was then that I realised we had spent most of Saturday putting unwanted hours on the race engine!!! That also explained why we were three tenths off in the last session :S Our race engine lives in a certain box and, when then engines had had their cranks aligned, they must have gone back in the wrong boxes.

As for the heats, we were drawn 2-6-6 for the second successive month, which Junior really was unhappy about. I had emailed the club after last month’s meeting to express my dissatisfaction about a) having received the unfavoured even-numbered draw in all three heats (everyone should get at least one odd-numbered start) and b) receiving the same grid position for two of the three heats (a new experience for us at the time). The club assured us that the draws were random and I have no qualms about that but the process for doing so is clearly pretty poor, doing only the minimal to keep the drivers grid draws adding up to roughly the same whilst taking little else into consideration (our 2-6-6 draw being vastly inferior to the 7-3-3 of another driver, for example – especially once you consider their placings after the first bend). The club use the MyLaps timing system, a poor substitute for Alpha Timing in my opinion but it does its primary job (timing) and is probably a fair bit cheaper at a time when the clubs entry numbers are worryingly low (42 this month!). MyLaps does not have the grid draw functionality and the club are using something called Super Sports, which I know nothing about! I’ve been in touch with the club again since and I might even try to write something that might be able to do a better job but I was also at pains to point out that, whilst this could be improved, we’ve really enjoyed every other aspect of racing at the club since we came for the first time in August.

Back to the racing, Junior started on the outside in heat one and losing only one place around the first hairpin was a minor success in itself! We lost a couple more places over the course of the race to the quicker drivers but held onto fifth which was a decent result. Heat two was a low point, Junior had a driver all over him although we clearly had the legs on them in the straight. As he disappeared out of my view (somehow my ‘pushers’  bib was a different number to last time but was still assigned the post in the furthest corner of the track!), I heard a thump and the commentator announced excitedly “And he’s gone off, that was a huge impact”, there were an anxious few moments before Junior came back into view – his rival’s brake disc had snapped and he had hit the back of Junior before ploughing into the tyres. A few laps later our chain snapped – our very first chain snap and very likely a result of the incident a few laps earlier. Heat three saw us continue to trail the pace by half a second. We gained a place to finish fifth again and match our fastest time of the day. The day was nothing more than ok until the final and I really wonder whether a set of Maxxis slicks are good for racing anywhere more than twice – I had hoped it might just have been Clay, although the first race on these tyres at Clay had taken a surprising amount of tread from them. I still hope we can do three races on a set at Llandow alone.

So a second trophy for the Junior’s shelf (no signs of needing a cabinet just yet!).

Cost of weekend: £95 race entry and practice, £24 petrol, £10 fuel, £13 bridge toll, £160 new slicks (for next month), seat strut and new chain

Spent since last post: £170 crank alignment, a new seal and a sprocket

Total spent this year: £4,130 :S