No turkey for Christmas!

The Clay Pigeon Turkey Trot: the end of season race for a turkey formerly hosted by Clay Pigeon Kart Club but, with CPKC scrapping their December fixture, inherited by Clay Pigeon IKR and incorporated into their winter series. We had contested the CPKC version in our novices days when we finished a distant last of three!

The day began undesirably early when I got up, washed and dressed before realising that it was 5:20am and not 6:20! With another 45 minutes lie-in, normal service was resumed. I hitched up the trailer and loaded most of the stuff and Junior got up 30 mins before we left, looked at his phone, had breakfast, packed his kit and got in the car! It was going to be our first outing without an awning; the forecast was for overnight rain but a mostly dry day. Upon our arrival, I laid some flowers at the site of our awning’s demise last month before getting ready for racing 🙁

We weren’t really on it in the wet practice sessions; Junior complained that he was struggling for grip. I made a few adjustments and decided to bolt on the race carb for heat #1 (my default approach is to save the race bits for MSA racing) in which we’d start 5th. Junior had a poor start at the first attempt and an even poorer one on the restart as he was hampered by slow starters in front of him and the even side of the grid scarpered. He recovered to finish 5th, 0.3s off of the fastest lap but generally only a tenth off. Heat #2 was something special (it’s all relative, you understand!): the track was drying further, it was another of those borderline calls that seems to affect the TKM class more than any other (I am sure it’s just a perception). We arrived at the dummy grid on slicks; a brand new, unscrubbed set of Savas but the junior race on track saw the sole slicks runner well adrift of the field. Junior made the late call to switch back to inters with only 2 mins of the junior race remaining. The tyres were on in good time but putting the lead back on (which I’d removed since the Sava tyre is so heavy!) cut it fine. He started in 11th. There was contact between a couple of the karts ahead as the pack entered the Billies and Junior just avoided the spinners and he made up a further three places with an outside move before entering The Esses. Gaining five or six places only two corners in was nice going but the best was yet to come: 2nd/3rd/4th were bunched but the leader had scooted clear. Junior fought his way through and hunted the leader down. I’ve seen a lot of dominant displays in races but I’d never seen Junior dominant! I like it… a lot 😀 He passed the leader with two minutes remaining, survived something of a banzai riposte into The Hairpin – I’ve promised I would not name the guilty party (sounds like Wax Clad) 😉 – and was 4s clear by the finish!!! To be 0.4s faster than a very strong field was a unique and very pleasing feeling 🙂 🙂 🙂

Over lunch the track was clearly drying further. Unfortunately for us, slicks were the only option so on went the much-lauded (by me) Sava hard tyre. Unscrubbed, untested and unwanted at this particular moment in time! Junior would start on 3rd for the final but the gameplan was hard to determine: we had to stay with the pole man but would have to be *very* careful under braking into the first corner with our fresh tyres and cold track. Junior slid wide at Billies on each of the first two laps, got hung out to dry for entry into The Esses and quickly slipped to 8th. We were soon half a lap down and finished 7th. Even with the tyres coming on towards the end we were 0.7s adrift of the winner’s lightning pace. We’ll take the credit for making him bolt on his MSA race motor in response to our pace in heat #2 even if it ultimately was unnecessary 😉 Junior wasn’t happy but didn’t sulk for too long. It was nice to see him congratulate the podium finishers; they have a really good grid at Clay IKR and we’ve felt very welcome. The track themselves certainly know how to put on a good event. We were left to take the positives from the day: only our third heat win anywhere and the first time we’d ever dominated a race. It was probably the first time that I have felt that I had provided Junior (as opposed to somebody else doing it for me!) with a kart that really suited his driving style. Building on our learnings from the previous weekend at Llandow, hopefully we have a very strong intermediate setup that we can rely upon in future. We were unlucky with the weather (the rain moved in as we packed up as you would expect) and were left cursing the very tyre I’d had been so vocal in support of. Junior isn’t a fan although my view is unchanged: it’s a perfect tyre for a budget class, we just need to learn to set up a kart for it.

And that was our 2015 season. Here’s looking forward to 2016!

Cost of race day: Race fee £40, petrol (car) £12, fuel (kart) £5, Chain lube/Shell M £24

Total spent this year: £5,117 < Holy sh*t, our most expensive year to date!!!

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!!!