A happy return to CPKC

Racing at Clay Pigeon Kart Club’s feature round, the annual Cancer Research weekend, hadn’t previously been a consideration for our season-ending schedule. Having initially ignored the appeals of one of their more enthusiastic members, who had taken it upon himself to drum up the TKM support (which, from my efforts at Llandow, I could empathise with!), it became a lot more appealing as I thought about the amount of time between our last race (the TKM Festival in August) and our next (the TKM Britain’s Finest event at the end of this month). Ten weeks without any seat time wouldn’t put us in the best position to compete at Whilton Mill. With Junior never having raced there, I know that we aren’t likely to compete at the sharp end anyway but you don’t want to be too rusty from a race perspective. Junior was keen so we decided to put in a late entry. In contrast to the Extreme grid, which had attracted some Super One entries, the Junior grid was fairly small comprising mostly of the newer Llandow drivers and a couple of other guest entrants, one of whom had earned a top ten finish at the Festival so I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have it all our own way. We’d also be holding back on our race engine (with 9.5 hours on it and destined for the race day at Whilton before being converted to Extreme) and tyres (our prize slicks from the Festival are also reserved for Whilton). This meant that we’d be taking a punt on the tyres we had used at the Festival and, based on our experiences at Llandow last year, could prove a serious disadvantage. It didn’t really matter though; This was all about keeping Junior race-fit and helping our old club to support a great cause. It was almost exactly three years to the day since making our race debut here and two years since we had left the club for the final time, our spirits crushed once again.

We arrived at the track nice and early to find TKM Corner was a bit of a ghost town! What had once been the life and soul of the paddock was largely empty; The area surrounding the new reception/café/viewing area was now the place to be. That was fine, this was about old times so we pitched up and peered into the fog across the track. Some things never change! By the time the first session arrived, the mist had gone. From the minute he hit the track Junior appeared to be on it!

Welcome back!

Welcome back!

The day went perfectly. The JTKM drivers had been grouped with Mini Max/ Formula Blue and Junior appeared to be the fastest in his group even without our race setup. Perfectly that is right up until the final session of the day when the practice engine seized entering Billies. With us nursing our race engine to Whilton, this was absolutely the last thing we needed to happen. Junior knew this and was leant against the tyres with his head in his hands. I feared the worst but hoped that he had just spun out and was disappointed in himself. That wasn’t the case unfortunately and we wheeled the kart back to the paddock. As soon as I saw the dry spark plug, I knew what I would find when I removed the head and barrel: The piston head was bone dry and the ring clearly pinched at the rear. The barrel was scored but only lightly. The piston had an inch shaving on the rear where it had clearly hit the barrel. Our day was done and, almost certainly, our weekend too. I had paid the race entry fee at the start of the day against my better judgement and it looked like we’d be writing that off. I daren’t risk the race engine in such a small race, so close to rebuild time and with Whilton only weeks away.

We had some very generous offers of engine loans but I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them: If you aren’t prepared to risk your own engine, you cannot really take someone else’s! We began to pack up and then one of the dads offered to take an engine to Whilton for us just in case anything happened to our remaining engine. With the race engine having had a bottom end build a few hours ago, I was happy to give it a go knowing that we had a backup plan in case the worst happened at Whilton; It isn’t as if seizing engines is common for us (he said touching lots of wood) and we were here to race after all!

We arrived at Clay on race day to see the track basking in glorious sunshine, something of a contrast to the practice day. Our GoPro failed scrutineering for the first time ever: The scrutineer didn’t like the tether being drilled through the case and wanted me to knock the metal bar out of the hinge and run the tether cable through there. Forget that! We just took it off instead. Ahead of the warm-up, one of our rivals pointed out to Junior that used slicks would cost us around 0.3s around Clay. We knew that, the question was whether we’d be competitive… not only on used slicks but Festival-used slicks. Our experiences last year had suggested this would be a factor. We’d soon find out.

What is this?

What is this?

If things had gone pear-shaped from a tyre perspective at this point, I had a brilliant headline already planned: “What goes on at Kimbolton, stays at Kimbolton”. It wasn’t obvious over the three lap warm-up but Junior was adamant that we’d need to drop a tooth before the first race. There is a small difference between our race and practice engines and, since we hadn’t intended to use the race engine at all over the weekend, we hadn’t done any test sessions on it. Heat #1 would set the tone for the day: We’d either be on the pace or not. Starting on pole was a good thing since it would allow us to properly gauge our pace. Junior got a good start and soon eased clear, helped by our main challengers having a really entertaining tussle for the last half of the race, and we won by a little over 5s. Our tyres were clearly good enough and it would be interesting to see how we fared starting in less optimal grid positions in the following heats. As we were in parc ferme one of my friends, a Tal-Ko henchman no-less 😉 , thought he would point out that it would be my fault if Junior lost today! I’m not one to count my chickens (and, if you’ve read my blog, you’ll understand why) but I could see his point: There was a chance that the biggest risk to our chances would be me (or a mechanical failure, which is still my fault!).

Heat #2 was better still: Starting in 4th, Junior found an inside line through Billies and emerged in the lead. You don’t see that very often! The race proceeded to play out just like the first heat; Junior pulled a 5s lead as his two rivals again duked it out and he had eased things down as he approached the finish. Heat #3 would be the biggest challenge. Starting 7th, Junior just had to make sure he didn’t get caught up in anything and we’d assess the scale of our task once we had the leader in our sights. Again, he got another great start and was second entering The Esses. He whiffed at a couple of moves before taking the lead on lap three, pulled clear and managed the gap to second to take the win.

So far, so good. We would start on pole for the final and everything was looking rosy. Why then was I feeling so much pressure!?! I had checked and double-checked everything, checked the side pod bars, bumper bolts, even inspected the exhaust brackets for cracks! The final looked as if it was ours to lose. Lunch was quite late and our final was at the tail end of the card by which time, the temperature had dropped significantly. The first time that Junior ever had a pole at Clay, he completely messed up the start: Carrying far too much speed in his excitement, running wide and dropping to last. I wouldn’t blame excitement this time (and he blamed my bleeding of his brakes giving him more stopping power than he had expected) but the result was the same: He locked up and had to save the back end. Fortunately it had a knock-on effect on almost everybody else as their corners were compromised and he managed to deny second a passing move on the entrance to The Esses. Once clear, Junior was under instruction to again manage the gap and avoid the bolt-snapping potential of the rumble strip exiting The Esses. He did enough to win by a little under 5s 🙂

So that was that! It wasn’t as close as we thought/I hoped it might have been and, although they went off a little at the end, the tyres held up well all things considering. The trophies for the event were pretty impressive: We’ve never been given a solid wooden storage box for a trophy before and Junior was now the custodian of a second large, perpetual trophy 😀

A trophy that comes with it's own cupboard!

A trophy that comes with it’s own cupboard!

My lasting memory of this weekend will be watching Junior absolutely nail Billies time and time again. This won’t sound impressive to you but I spent countless hours stood in the centre of the track watching Junior taking this corner thousands of times over a year and a half; Entering The Kink too early, running too far across the track, not able to get back to take the right line and having to get on the brakes all too early. He had always been a sitting duck. In the time that we had been away we’d finally stumbled into the brake issue that had hindered Junior for *so* long and it should be no surprise that Junior has improved in his time away from Clay. His woes, our woes, at the track had been in-grained into my mind ever since and, watching him now, really hit home how significantly he has improved (or how poor we had been!).

There was a stark contrast between the atmosphere in the car on the way home this time and those journeys home in 2014. We’d contested the Cancer Research weekend back then and been awful. It would have been amazing to have had the 2014 grid here: Many of them have moved onwards and upwards and I’d love to have seen how we fared against them. With the Extreme races having been the highlights on the on-track action all through the day, we’ll definitely return for the event in 2017.

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago!

Our race debut at CPKC, three years ago almost to the day. Can anyone spot the noob?

Three years on and he's starting to look the part!

Three years on and we’re starting to look the part. I think the helmet, hubs and stubs are all that remain! Fantastic pic courtesy of Steve Wood Kart Photography

*That* race

Although the Festival seems like an eternity ago and the kart hasn’t been touched since, the excellent Motors TV coverage (the track action starts five minutes into the video) courtesy of Alan Taddei and TDi Media this week brought things back to the fore. I didn’t really expect the Festival Cup to get much coverage but it did and I’m now looking back at the Festival Cup final much more positively than I had originally: Had we made the Elite final we might have made the top ten but we’d certainly have gotten nowhere near as much coverage as we did running at the front of the Festival Cup. The video is there for all time and it is one of those things that we can always look back on. I think that Junior only made three passes in the race but the moves he makes are good ones and the dummy he sells to take the lead always bring a smile to my face, not least because I had told him to do it 😉 The block two turns from the end was a necessary evil unfortunately. I didn’t like it at the time (I was only yards away at a nearby marshal post) and I don’t really like it now but it had to be done: It was way too deep into the race to simply give it up. The lesson is that the best way to shut the door is not to open it in the first place! Of course the Tal-Ko and Argos vouchers, coupled with a set of slicks and some nice trophies also makes it worthwhile 🙂

It might be our only win but I’m not sure I’d go as far to say it was our finest hour. I think that honour still goes to the time we finally found *the* pace 😀

The consolation prize

Thursday was going to be a busy day: With the newly welded chassis meeting me at the track, Junior and I set sail for Kimbolton at lunchtime hoping to be ready to build the kart as soon as it arrived. We were sharing three large paddock spaces between six of us and we were the first to arrive. We put the tents up and waited for the chassis. Three hours later we got to work on the kart assembly!

I've made loads of friends in JTKM. At least I *think* I have...

I’ve made loads of friends in JTKM. They just, um… aren’t here yet. Something missing on the trailer too!

There wasn’t really any rush and I spent more time than I had intended faffing about with the seat position. By 10pm it was time for a beer and an hour later it was time for bed. I’d brought ear plugs this year to try to avoid any repeat of both of our previous camping stays at Kimbolton which saw Junior unable to sleep either due to snoring or strong winds and then attempting, unsuccessfully, to sleep in the car. It worked 😀 Bringing my regular pillow also helped me a lot; I was unable to remember anywhere near the same amount of the night as previous months. Result!

Time to get cracking!

I wouldn’t say I was unprepared but I was further behind than some of those who hadn’t even departed for Kimbolton at this point!

Friday was a long, hot day. It was clear early on that we were nowhere near the pace that we had shown at the club round in July: Our 0.4s deficit had doubled! Lots had happened since then though: Junior had been sick and lost so much weight that we’d dropped down a restrictor, the engines had both had issues repaired, the chassis had been welded and there was simply no way of knowing how good our practice tyres were compared to those of our rivals. Our setup was a little out for the start of the day but, basked in glorious sunshine, I knew that the track would come to us so I didn’t really tinker other than changing the exhaust flex length. We chipped away to find a couple of tenths but it was hard to be confident about our chances for the Saturday:  We would just have to bolt on the fresh rubber, hope Junior could nail his [still not altogether consistent] lines and see where we were at. On the plus side, it was refreshing to run the entire day without any engine problems and, having bought the proper OTK side pod bar fixings, we hadn’t broken our new side pod bar!

This year, I was adamant that we wouldn’t be eating MacDonalds every night: We’d stopped at the services enroute on the Thursday for some cooked food (I love Harry Ramsden’s!) and had meatballs on Friday thanks to some of our awning buddies. It was only after that he asked if we had been OK overnight as he and his lad had felt a little rough!!!

Saturday was the start of the serious stuff. We elected to scrub in our slicks during warm-up so that we would be able to attack qualifying from the outset. I wasn’t happy with the qualifying grids: Almost every single bit of pace appeared to be in the first group,so much so that there was little chance that the groups had been drawn randomly. I almost complained but didn’t… it transpired afterwards that someone had apparently decided to give the ‘O’ Plate entrants more time between their Festival and Plate qualifying sessions (although I never heard this officially). More on that later! The kart was a little slow to start so our intended target escaped us (with his TaG engine) but Junior still found himself in a good group of three drivers and put in some decent laps. With the TAG Heuer timing system, everyone on the balcony was glued to their phones watching the live timing. Junior was prominent early on but dropped to 7th, seemingly unable to better an early 43.3s: 0.2s off the pace in his group but a massive 0.7s off of the Super One boys and girls in the first session. It wasn’t too bad, confirming our pace deficit from the Friday but, on the final lap, Junior finally hooked everything up with a 43.1s of his own: qualifying third of his group and an impressive ninth overall 😀

I knew that a boost was coming courtesy of the 101% rule. It is intended to address situations where track conditions change between qualifying groups and is a perfectly valid and useful rule in my opinion. The grids were published and Junior was due to start in 5th position for every heat, which was great for us 🙂 And then somebody spotted that the 101% rule had not been applied! The heat grids and official qualifying results were taken down and the club announced that their software had not initially factored the rule into the official results. The qualifying positions were decided by taking the fastest driver in group #1, then the fastest in group #2, second in group #1, second in group #2 etc. It only bumped us up from three places to 6th but many of those who had qualified well in the first group were badly affected. Cue the storm of protest. It didn’t really have much effect on us: We would now start 2nd, 3rd or 4th instead of 5th in every heat although it did mean that we would have one or two quicker drivers behind us. The complaints went on; One dad even blamed the second group of drivers for being too slow!?! OK, mate – whatever you say! Had there not been any bias shown to the ‘O’ Plate entrants, we’d likely have had two standard groups with pace in each and there would never have been more than 0.4s between the two. Although well intended, setting the groups had done more harm than good. Here’s hoping this is a lesson learned…

Heat #1. Junior’s brief was to accept that he had some quicker drivers behind him, to let them past if they were quicker and bring it home. Unfortunately our race was soon over: We dropped from 4th to 7th before getting fired off on lap #4 as we exited Dan Wheldon Corner. Let’s give our opponent the benefit of the doubt and call it clumsy. Junior rejoined but was so far back the he found himself having to concede ground because of blue flags. Junior doesn’t take these things lightly and, as I had been on track to restart him, only caught the end of the ‘discussion’ in parc ferme: Junior should apparently have looked behind him as he exited the corner and noticed someone wafting their nose on the outside of his rear bumper!?!

Heat #2 was a really poor race for us. Junior started second and he just needed to drive with his head. He didn’t. He soon got in a battle for 3rd as the front two made the most of it and scooted off. Junior would get passed at the Bus Stop and re-pass into Turn 1. All the while he got more and more defensive, entering the corners ever earlier and, almost inevitably, somebody hit us from behind. They flipped up onto our engine and wiped out our spark plug, ending our race. Junior was furious at the incident. I was furious at Junior’s driving: He could easily have let these people go, just tucked in and see where they were quicker than us. Instead he had to battle and lose his composure (not to mention his lines) completely. I could see the incident coming five minutes before it happened. I’ve never criticised Junior’s racing, not in our time in owner/driver racing at any rate: I’d tell him if I thought he was doing something wrong but leave him to make the final decision. Driving a kart on the edge is hard enough without people beating you up over things. This time, however, I gave him my frank opinion whilst he was sat on track: The incident wasn’t his fault but he’d brought about his own demise. Not making the Elite final would be disastrous but our chances now were remote to say the least.

I didn’t see too much of Junior after that. Having booked a table at a nearby pub to ensure that he had a proper meal at least once over the weekend, the talk over dinner was going to be… interesting! Before we got to leave for the restaurant, I was accosted by an entourage demanding action over the advantage of the TaG engine!?! I’m not sure who they thought I was or what I was going to be able to do. I pointed out that I had done little more than set up a Facebook group for the class, that I had no links into Tal-Ko and I certainly had no intention of boycotting Sunday’s racing!!! There has been a lot of debate about the TaG performance: You couldn’t visit the Gents on Saturday without overhearing a conversation about it. The works drivers were a long way ahead in Juniors. My own personal opinion, based on no facts whatsoever, is that an off-the-shelf TaG is a match for most DD engines. There is great consistency between the new TaGs and, conversely, a lot of variance in DD engines so some of those drivers on older/lesser engines have seen their rivals switch to a TaG and jump them on track. The concerns in my mind surround the team engines, those built from a much wider pool of parts than your average driver might have access to. It is clear that the best drivers have switched to the TaG so, ignoring why they have ditched already strong DD engnes for TaGs, does this account for the obvious advantage that the top drivers currently hold? Is there time to be found in weighing, measuring, testing and selecting parts? There is no way of knowing for sure; I have friends who are very close to the teams and they’ve not necessarily convinced me yet! One thing is certain: It isn’t good for a single engine type to dominate any class, especially one as fragile as TKM. Dinner at The George in Spaldwick was very good by the way – I can recommend the fillet steak and chocolate torte 😀

It was something of a solemn start to Sunday. Back of a fag packet calculations told us that we would need at least a top seven finish in heat #3 to stand a chance of making the Elite pre-final. Junior start in third, had a great start and was soon in second. He was unable to hold onto it however, got into some tussles and his 6th place finish felt about right. He’d posted his best time of the weekend since qualifying so we couldn’t really have any complaints about  the performance. It wasn’t enough though: we missed the cut by two places 🙁

I was gutted. I would have much rather started the Elite pre-final on Row #17 than start the Festival Cup pre-final in second. Looking at the lap times of our rivals, one other driver was very quick and had also had two bad finishes. Purely on paper, they’d be the one we had to beat. Junior got hung out at the start of the race, dropping to 5th on the opening lap. The two-horse race soon transpired. Junior was a fraction under 2s behind but closed at 0.3s/lap. His rival went defensive a long way from home and, although he had five laps to try to find a way past, the leader held on to take pole for the final with the two finishing 5s clear of the field.

We made a couple of tweaks for the final. So did the pole-sitter, as she swapped the DD engine that she’d won the pre-final on for the TaG that she was using in the ‘O’ Plate. Game on! We got another poor start, dropping to fourth. The final wasn’t proving to be a repeat of the two-horse race I had expected and, when Junior finally hit the front on lap #5 (selling an impressive dummy into Turn #1), third came with us offering us a small cushion over our main rival. At this point I hoped that Junior was going to drive away but our tyres started to go off a little and Junior had to show his own defensive metal for the final three laps. He almost opened the door too wide entering Kestrel, two corners from home: He quickly realised and shut it again, squeezing his rival somewhat aggressively but needs must, eh? I’d have been annoyed had he given it away that late on!

We won a 'thing'! Nice pic by Bethanie Lawson :)

We won a ‘thing’! Nice pic by Bethanie Lawson 🙂

Scrutineering was by far the most thorough I have ever experienced: The engine had to cool then off came the head, manifold and barrel with me needing to send Junior off to our awning every time that I realised I was missing another tool! Winning is great. Rebuilding your engine after scrutineering, not quite so! You wouldn’t want it any other way though, this is the TKM Festival after all…

I missed most of the other finals although both of the ‘O’ Plate finals had dramatic finishes. One of our closest friends proved to be the surprise package of the Extreme final and challenged for the lead on the final lap before making contact with the leader and finding themselves in the tyres. It was a real shame as second place would have been such a fantastic result. With the last of the finals run, it was time to pack up. We had taken the tents down on Sunday morning but had been hand-tied really until racing was over, the trailer could be packed, the kart strapped on top, the trolley put in the car and then everything else packed around it. It was difficult to make any real progress until the trophy presentations had been completed. Both of them (one for TV, the other, um… not for TV)! We didn’t leave the track until 7:30pm and, after stopping with the boys (and girls) at a nearby KFC for tea, it was 11pm by the time we got home.

So this was our last TKM Festival in juniors… A bit sad in a way as Junior has gotten to know the grid pretty well despite only seeing them on a handful of occasions. I’m unsure which of them are moving up to Extreme next season. Although we did end up with the consolation prize, it’s hard to not be disappointed with our results. We would never have contested the podium but I think we could have challenged for a top ten position. Junior has to learn when to battle and when to give it up and work with the pack. If we enter Extreme in the same manner I think we’ll DNF more often than not; Extreme doesn’t tend to take any prisoners!!! The social side of the Festival is always great. We had shared paddock space with five of our closest friends and most of our other friends could be found not too far away. We wouldn’t have been there without them: They had welded our chassis, lent us an awning, fed us, helped transport our stuff to the track, kept our food/drink chilled and charged our phones! It was one of those times when you realise how much richer your life is for the new friends we’d made since starting karting. This might have been our last national event in JTKM but I’m leaning towards the event at Whilton Mill in October, especially since we’ve now got a set of new slicks for it 🙂

I should also add a note of thanks to the staff at Hunts Kart Racing Club, all of whom had been very welcoming to us over the past two months at the track. I know that it can be a very officious place but it really is needed for a weekend such as the Festival and, barring the odd blip, was a thoroughly well run event.

You don’t always need to stand on the top step to be a winner

So, for the first time, Junior took the chequered flag… and was excluded shortly after! Although adamant that he was alongside his rival as he made a pass at Chandlers before the two came together, his rival and, more importantly, the marshal report said otherwise. Unusually for me, I could have no opinion: standing at Raymonds affords a view of only half of the track (hence nobody else wants to cover that corner!). The Clerk read out the report first (they really should hear from both parties before reading the report), our rival said their bit and then chirped in a few wisecracks as Junior put up his defence. The marshal was summoned who reiterated his write-up (I’m not sure what else he would do) and we were hung, drawn and quartered. More disappointingly, we rushed to review the footage within the 30-minute window (should really have learned how to pair the phone with the camera *before* we had an urgent need) only to find that the battery given up for the day almost as soon as I had switched it on for the final 🙁 I’m not sure why that was so important to us, I would never put any money down to launch an appeal anyway (appeals are for the ‘haves’, not the ‘have nots’). Junior still feels hard done by but, in all honesty, I’m really not that bothered. The truth is that he was a winner in my eyes long before the incident that ended what was an engaging tussle. To have driven so well all weekend, to the extent that he totally offset any new tyre advantage on race day was a fantastic achievement. I’d only ever seen it done once before and by a driver far more accomplished than us. We should have been three seconds behind in every race so it was hard to be anything other than delighted with the pace that Junior had shown. If anything, not having the camera footage did us a favour: Had it shown Junior to be the guilty party, it may have knocked his confidence. Had it shown Junior to have been robbed a maiden win by an inaccurate marshal report, I’d have likely gone off on a rant that would still be going on now and very likely would only serve to haunt me later! As it is, he’s itching for the next round and a chance to show his pace on fresh rubber 🙂

Practice Saturday was really only about two things: bedding in new brakes and testing new rims. Unfortunately we did neither: I realised only on the Friday evening that I lacked the caliper support bracket to accommodate the different sized disc and the ‘pristine’ rims that I had bought off of ‘that auction site’ turned out to have been used for two years and were cracked and/or bent! :/ As a result, we decided not to set an alarm, get up whenever and then head to the track when we were good and ready. We were still on-track by noon and, pleasingly, on the pace instantly, even on our ‘travel tyres’ (our best tyres stay indoors but the kart needs to sit on something when in storage; these are known as the travel tyres!). We were quicker again on the practice tyres, affording us the rare luxury of spending the afternoon testing. Whilst things went really well for us, the only negative thing to happen was the loss of one of the entries as one of our friends had their sole engine seize in the final session of the day, the second time in a matter of months by all accounts 🙁 It was that awkward moment when you want to help but, with only two engines ourselves and being this close to the Super One round, I couldn’t risk anything happening to the #2 engine as much as I would love to offered it to them.

We were in a good place for race day. Even with losing one entrant, we still had a very respectable grid of eight. Junior TKM at Llandow is hanging in there and still the biggest grid at the club. We didn’t have the best grid positions: 5,2,5,2 in our *four* heats 😉 but Junior’s starts were very good and we found ourselves in a familiar pattern: we’d get to the front and then get passed at some point by our rival for the day. Not being on fresh rubber once again, it was something that I had expected. Our goal was to be within 0.3s per lap and, to that end, Junior was massively exceeding my expectations. There was no harm in defeat and he was showing a consistency I’d only ever seen glimpses of before. Junior started in #P2 for the final, lost a place at the start (as you do) but soon got the place back and was tucked in behind the leader for half of the race before two karts left my sight going down the hill into Chandlers and only one came back into sight at The Dell. I cannot say anything about the contact although I wear my rose-tinted spectacles just like any other karting dad. I will say one thing though: I’ll never again be the push starter at Raymonds. I’m going to stand at The Hook so that I can watch the race (and have an opinion) like everyone else! I do regret the lack of race observers at the club this year. Any kind of officiating is difficult but marshals are there to ensure the safety of drivers in their section, reporting incidents isn’t their primary task (ok, so I really said two things!). No matter, what’s done is done. Junior took the chequered flag and, having spent far too long trying to review the on-board footage, we packed up and were the last to leave the track.

It was hard to be too disappointed considering the pace we had shown, it so nearly could have been the perfect preparation for next month and what will be our biggest month in karting. Roll on Super One.




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!!!

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