All posts by Ronalea Karting

Track Testing: The best kart Axles

Since one of the most important parameters of a kart chassis is the rear axle hardness, and since in the Rok category it can be changed, we decided to carry out a test to verify that theoretical rules referring to chassis set-up were confirmed by track tests.

Start of test: soft rear axle

We started our test with new LeCont CIK H LH tyres, the hard compound homologated by the CIK. These tyres have a superficial tread hardness of 54 DIDC-IRHD compared to the 42 of CIK M LH08 medium tyres we tested some time ago. Since the tyres were hard compound we decided to start with a soft axle, which we know is not the best solution with these tyres as, in theory, a soft axle does not help grip, but on the contrary usually gives a sliding effect to the rear of the chassis. This can help on high grip tracks and with very soft tyres to “free” the kart when exiting corners.

We started our test at the Pista D’Oro track near Rome with not much rubber on the track and consequently quite low grip. We set the tyre pressure at 8psi, quite high for a start, but the cool temperature led us to start with something that could help with finding some grip fast. The set-up was 1400mm rear width and minimum width front. Neutral caster was set. The kart started running with very low grip on the rear tyres. The sliding was very smooth, so quite controllable, but excessive. Only after eight laps did the grip on the rear tyres become acceptable, but still not sufficient. The lap times started at 51.50s and decreased constantly to 50.11s but this was still too slow. Once stopped, the tyres showed a very smooth surface and a total absence of the bulky areas on the tread that usually show evidence of good grip.

The only possibility was to move on to the next step of the test, changing the rear axle from soft, indicated by the letter P, to medium, indicated by the letter U.

Changing the rear axle

Some quick tips on rear axle changing:
• To avoid having the rear axle stuck in the bearing passages, always clean it very well before trying to slide it out.

• Also remember to unscrew all bolts from the axle and loosen disc and rear sprocket carriers.

• Then use a rubber or plastic hammer to hit the rear axle sideways, this will permit to avoid ruining the edges of the axle. In fact this would spoil the axle and also make it impossible for it to slide inside the internal diameter of the bearings.

• Once the axle slides you can help it with an aluminium tube or bar if the edge of the axle gets stuck just inside the internal ring of one of the bearings. Just put the aluminium tube on the edge of the axle inside the bearing and hit the tube on one side with a hammer.

Test with medium rear axle

We pretty quickly changed the rear axle which was perfectly straight so it slid out of the bearings’ internal cylinders easily. Sometimes when the TECHNICAL axle is slightly bent the process is much harder, and we have to be careful to understand which side the axle is bent and make it slide on the other side to help it come out. We proceeded with the same parameters and nothing was changed in the chassis set-up except the rear axle. The kart immediately, from the first laps, showed much better performance with rear grip increased strongly. Also the greater stiffness of the rear axle helped exiting curves, pushing the kart out of the bends thanks to the axle bending and returning to its straight position with greater strength due to the greater stiffness.

The lap times decreased quickly, and after the first two laps times decreased to under the best laps of the previous session with the soft axle. The lap time was 50.02s on lap 3, and decreased down to 48.98s on lap 8. After that the lap times were more or less constant and we stopped to check the tyre treads. They definitely showed a more bulky surface confirming my sensation of greater grip.

Conclusion

It generally helps to have a stiffer rear axle when on hard compound tyres and a low grip track. But with more grip and softer tyres a softer rear axle helps, giving more predictable behavior from the chassis and smoother sliding of the rear tyres. Sometimes in fact too much grip can lead to the chassis remaining “stuck” to the track with loss of speed and slower lap times.

International Karting Insight: April 2011

 

So it’s the start of a new season again and after a few weeks off I finally started driving again and testing for the season ahead.

This month I did two tests, one at La Conca and one at Lonato and I also drove in the Winter Cup which was also held in Lonato.

This year I have changed category. With all the professional drivers now racing in KZ I had to start driving in KZ and getting used to that class again. The tests I did in La Conca and Lonato were OK, my speed seemed good in the dry compared to my team mates Ardigo and Dreezen who both drove in KZ in 2010 but in the rain I still need to find time compared to them, but I hope with time in the kart in the rain I will improve. The technique in the wet and dry is very different to the way you would drive in a non-geared kart especially with the four wheel brakes just on a pedal rather than having a rear brake with your foot and a front brake by hand.

So after the tests I had a race too: the Winter Cup at Lonato. The Winter Cup is always usually our first race of the season and I always enjoy the race. Although it’s always very cold at that time of year it’s good to get back in a kart and also see all the drivers with their new teams and
seeing who’s changed categories. The tests during the week of the race were good for me and again my pace compared to Marco and Rick was OK.

I didn’t really do a good job in qualifying though and although I was only two tenths off pole I was still 20th overall so as you can imagine it was very close between us all in the top 20. The heats were quite good. I made a bad start in the first heat but then came back through to 10th and then I had another 10th and a 7th in the next two heats and my speed was similar to the leaders in all the races. I found the racing again much different to racing in KF. You have to anticipate everything early so you can change into the right gear and not lose time and the gears in each corner can vary if you’re alone or behind someone else, it’s just one of the many things I need to get used to. After my heat results I would start 14th for the prefinal but just before we drove in the prefinal it rained and the track was greasy, half of us decided to go on slicks

with the other half choosing wets. I chose wets and in the beginning I went from 14th to 3rd but the water on the track disappeared and by around halfway the people on slicks were the ones at the front. The big problem was that all the people on wets completely destroyed their rain
tyres by driving the rest of the race in the dry with wet tyres. This became a massiveproblem when it began raining again between the prefinal and the final and all of us that used the wet tyres in the prefinal had to use the same tyres and for most of us the tyres were like slicks whereas the people at the front who had used slicks now had a brand new set of wets for the final. Halfway through the race I had a problem with the fuel pump and had to retire but I was a lot slower than the leaders anyway due to the tyre situation. The weather had ruined the race really but I was still quite satisfied with how the week had gone and I now have a better idea of the things I need to improve in race conditions to be at the front.

So that’s it for this month. Next month I will be very busy as at the end of February I have a race in the WSK Master Series at La Conca and then in March I have the first round of the WSK Euro Series at Sarno then i will be heading to PF for the first round of the Super One Series to help the young driver I look after in Super Cadet there and then finally the week after to Castelletto to the second round of the WSK Master Series. It’s going to be a hectic month!

 

Nigel Edwards – Clerk of Champions

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We give officials a lot of stick in this sport but it’s time we gave the country’s top clerk a chance to have his say..

Nigel Edwards’ karting career certainly goes back longer than mine. I first got to see him race way back in 1983 at Wombwell and Fulbeck, when he was competing against the likes of Paul Fletcher and Lew Marsden, who were the guys to beat around that time.
For most of the current breed of karters though, Edwards will be the face recognised from Champions of the Future/Formula Kart Stars races, and especially atPF International, where his ‘firm but fair’ approach is experienced on a regular basis at club and championship events alike.
Like a lot of good officials, Nigel Edwards has graduated from the ranks, emerging from the karting ranks and progressing, against financial odds, up the motorsport staircase of talent, before making that brave decision to use his experiences in the ranks of officialdom. But as a champion in both karts and saloon cars on the major circuits throughout the UK, he is a man with a solid racing CV and so well worth listening to.
“As you know I will be involved with Super One this year, and coming from Formula Kart Stars, and comparing the way the two championships are run, I probably have a different point of view to some other people. I do not think of myself as being a ‘big I am’, and for me it is important to build a relationship with the competitor. It is not something that is easy to do and only comes from time. But I do honestly think that the way the Blue Book is at the moment, and we understand the customer, because that is what the drivers are, it is important for those who run races, to understand that we have got to give them value for money.”
Nigel acknowledges that there are a lot of people in the sport who spend a lot of money, but he feels they are spending it more wisely now, possibly because of the current economic climate, than they have ever done before. And with that in mind the person spending what can be a substantial amount of money, must be happy with the value they are receiving. As Nigel put it, “they do not want a ‘Mickey Mouse’ decision to be made at championship level”, and, by being on the receiving end of such a decision, because customers can be right as well as wrong, find they are not being treated with the respect they are entitled to.
“If people find they are being ill-treated here (in the UK), then they will just go and race abroad. I have spoken to a lot of team owners who have threatened to move abroad,” and by association would take their drivers with them, which is not what British karting needs at the moment. “But having said that, and I know you have written about this recently, sometimes a black flag has to be given based on the information available to the officials. And every Clerk that I know, knows that a black flag is ‘judge and jury’.
“So we absolutely try not to do it unless we are as certain as we can be that it is right. Yes, it can go wrong, and I can agree with the drivers when they say, ‘don’t tell me you got it wrong after you black flagged me, because by then it is too bloody late!’ But… it is a deterrent and it is something a Clerk can use without putting points onto a driver’s licence, which is a debatable and emotional subject, and it is a deterrent that is witnessed by lots of people.
As an experienced official Nigel understands that a mistake can sometimes be made, and there can be no finer analogy that the one we discussed, where in the England World Cup match, when television play-back showed absolutely, and without argument, the ball going over the goal line for a clear-cut goal, only for it to then be disallowed. So sometimes a black flag will not give the right result, but from years of watching how officials operate, and from personally being on the receiving end of some rather obtuse decisions in the past, I am confident that Nigel goes to great lengths to avoid making a potentially wrong decision.
“It is always going to be difficult, and in the current age we are moving more towards using cameras in racing, but it is still debatable (how much value they have). They have some merits, some good points, but even so, and you are an expert in photography, it is not always clear cut even from watching a video of an incident, or some pictures of it, of what really happened. Even after witnessing an incident, it is not just what happened in that incident, but also of what went on before it, how the race built up, the ‘feel’ for it, and what happened on the whole lap before the incident, so it might not be as clear as some people think. Part of the issue with officials, and Clerks in particular, is that they need to get that ‘feel’ for it. A good kart Clerk is out on the track getting a flavour of what is happening, which helps you to understand if a particular class, or a particular driver, or just that ‘something’, is actually not quite right.”
As for things not being quite right, Nigel expressed some regrets at the antics ex-karters can be seen getting up to as they move on in motorsport, albeit at arguably too young an age, and we spoke in particular about the Junior Ginetta Silverstone race in 2010, which had been televised. “Yes, I was not there at the time, but I heard a lot about it afterwards. And I must admit that it disappoints me, because a lot of those drivers came from karting. You would have hoped they had learned the lesson of how to behave in a professional manner both on and off track.”
One of the more frustrating parts of attending a race meeting, let alone competing in it, are those individuals who immediately appeal by reaching for a wallet or cheque book when something happens, regardless of the fact whether the driver involved was right or wrong. We had already touched on the football scenario, and how nothing could or would be done to change the result, so why not have something similar in karting, if only to stop the have’s from trying to get one up on the have not’s?
“I’ve certainly put it to John (Hoyle) for this year in Super One, and certainly in Euromax where I am the Clerk for this year, we ran it in 2010, and again at La Conca, which is for two warnings throughout the whole meeting. So a driver can be given one warning, but then if a second warning is needed, then at that point it becomes a black flag. There can be no appeals because it is a black flag. I agree it can sometimes get a little bit messy, and I do have some sympathy for the driver, as there might be a valid reason to explain what happened. So maybe two warnings is not enough for a whole meeting, and could better be two warnings in one day? It is something that maybe we could have a look at, but it would then be like a yellow card, red card scenario. Yep, get your videos out if you want and make claims that something different happened. With hindsight, and when looking at it from two or three different angles, and with 10 minutes analyzing it, something different might be learned, which is fine, but it would not change the decision made…
Nigel is very keen to make people aware of the efforts being made by karting officials not to come down too hard on a driver after an incident. It would appear that the MSA believe that a penalty should be an automatic ‘points on licence’ position, but for his part, Nigel feels a karting Clerk needs to be able to show discretion, and with this in mind he wants to see as much as possible, a way of avoiding giving out too many points for relatively minor indiscretions. “If a driver commits a professional foul, or even if it was in fact a genuine mistake, but by running into the back of another driver he gained a place, then it is not unreasonable to give that driver a one place penalty, but not necessarily with points on his licence.
“Remember that a Super One Clerk has been given a National A licence, and so they must be allowed that freedom to make a judgement. If I think it was deliberate then I will put points onto a licence, and a place penalty, exclusion, or whatever. Then again it might well have been a tough race, and the drivers fought for 14 laps, but something did not go quite right towards the end? I think officials and drivers would be more comfortable with Clerks being allowed to use their experience of what happened, and therefore make a decision without unduly penalising the driver.
When listening to Nigel Edwards speak it is clear he has a passion for the sport and for trying to make sure that officials are doing the right thing. It does not necessarily need a genius to watch what is happening on the track, and then, wrongly, make a penalty points decision based on every potential contact that took place. When bearing in mind the way this was explained, being penalised for a possible advantage, but in a way that did not also leave points on a licence, does to my mind show a lot of wisdom and is certainly the right way forward.
In the past I have often felt that some ‘blazer’ decisions, made by people who would not know what each pedal was used for, have led to the wrong result, so I put Nigel on the spot: should officials have race experience? “I really do think that,” he said in response. “You need to have a little bit of empathy of where the drivers have come from, what they have done in the sport, and all the time and effort put into what they do… and some silly decision by an official can then spoil a championship. There is a lot of money being spent, and it is now very professional at national level. Having that experience can be a big benefit,” and whilst not said, just knowing that should help the driver under scrutiny to maybe appreciate a little more where the official was coming from?
And when considering the extent of that experience? “I started karting back in 1964 when I was 13 years old, which was the
youngest you could start racing then. It was just 100cc juniors then of course, not junior this or junior that. It was a steep learning curve for all of us, and we started reading Karting magazine and going to Blyton, and then Fulbeck and Wombwell became part of our racing. Terry Fullerton was also a junior back then and was a junior champion, but the championships were nothing like what we have now.
“I did not win a British Championship, but I suppose my claim to fame was in ‘Kart & Superkart’, I remember winning at Wombwell and Fulbeck, and one weekend we even went to Blackbushe, which in those days was like a million miles away – getting there felt like a major feat. And I won like this national championship there and thought, ‘wow, I’ve made it!’
“As I became a few years older I then became a senior, and my connections then were with Reg Deavin, at Deavinson’s down at Rye House, but it was all a bit complicated with tuning because of the distance, although I had a reasonable time using Komet engines, before using Dap T70’s from Mills’ and a Zip kart, which was with Mark Hines.
“I then retired for a bit after getting married, but I owe it all to my wife Sarah, who got me back into karting after a couple of years. I got as far as the early 80s, probably around the time I made the four- man British team and raced in Germany. I also won the Middle East karting
championship, which was just something I felt you had to do then, and Millsy (John Mills) helped me out there – we took four engines as hand luggage!” Now it would probably be cheaper to buy engines on-site rather than pay additional airline charges…
Retiring from karting in 1984, it was in 1986 when Nigel saw the new MG Metro Turbo’s in action at a British GP support race and was quite taken by the idea of entering mainstream motorsport. This subsequently led to a Metro van being purchased and turned into a racer so he “could play about at the back of the grid” a year or so later after building up the van. In 1990 it turned a little more serious and with a new car results started to improve with podium finishes.
Mike O’Hara then provided a new tuned engine to give the Edwards wagon the extra speed he needed, and he was set for an outstanding race until a spin under the bridge at Silverstone took the sump off the engine on a high kerb, but perhaps the cost of repair is best saved for another story!
After eventually becoming an MG Metro champion, helped by Bridon Ropes in Doncaster, Nigel moved onto the Rover 216 series under the Rover Sport banner, winning a few races and raced at Spa in Belgium, Zandvoort in Holland, and Le Mans in France. Again with Bridon backing, the Rover 220 Turbo championship followed in 1994, where as a privateer the Edwards team took on the might of a number of big teams. “My highlight was winning the 1994 British GP support race, which was a fantastic achievement.”
It is clearly a career that deserves respect. Being an official is never going to be an easy job, and it must be remembered that the majority do it on a part-time basis, with little real reward, apart perhaps from the knowledge that a job was done well. For me I can confidently claim that Nigel Edwards can Clerk at any race I take part in… and trust me that is saying a lot!

View from the Edge

After my last month’s article, I’ve been having a deeper think about what I said and what I hope could be the light and the future of karting.

Thinking about it, and I felt strongly, after hearing people’s reception to my last article and I think most people that I’ve talked to seem to agree with the things I’ve said so it only makes me believe more in my feelings and my feelings are still the same.
I think the Rotax category other than Micromax is fixed so I need say no more than that other than good luck guys and have great racing in the future.
I believe that Cadet and Super Cadet are fantastic. Normal Cadet is fantastic, and Super Cadet, having been testing for the last five weeks, is equally as good. The tyres in Europe are great, the engines are very reliable, for me it’s perfect.
Then thinking about KF3, I also think that’s close to perfect. If they could just tweak the wiring loom a little bit and make it a much more professional product similar to the BMB thing, I think KF3 is fixed. So, on to the premier classes: KF1 and KF2. Well, I hope that the manufacturers of our current engines will get together and make some regulations whereby the homologation of the engine actually means what it says. The rod and every moving part in the engine, and also the liner were homologated for a given period, which means that the manufacturers cannot change them at all in the given period.
So my only hope for this is that the big engine manufacturers all get together and create a common engine where the engine tuners could tune again instead of a new cylinder every week or a new barrel every week. The engine tuners could actually do their job again and tune engines not just fit pistons and tell you it’s the best engine on the planet – because the manufacturer has created a new cylinder or a new whatever they create every week. Let’s have a common engine where it stays the same for ten years.
And then let’s get back to how it used to be where the engine tuners tuned engines and when if you had a good engine it was good! And it was good for the next five years!
For me the other things that need to go from the engine are the water pump, we don’t need it, the water pump on the axle was perfectly good enough and also we need to get rid of the power valve, it’s a joke! The best racing, for sure, is in KF3 where it has no power valve! And while
we’re getting rid of things let’s get rid of the limiter because it’s not necessary either, it’s just an encumbrance on the engine that we don’t need. If you want to limit the engines at a given track have a maximum sprocket. Just say at PF the maximum sprocket is 82 and it’s the same for everyone and you can slipstream people up the straight.
This is my hope for karting, that the manufacturers all get together and said let’s create a common KF engine that is fixed for ten years and the piston, the liner, the con rod, the crank shaft and any moving part in the engine is fixed for ten years and it doesn’t change.
So then the engine tuners of old can come back and we can have some great racing. Because for all the big drivers in the world to be racing in shifter is a sin. The KF1 thing this year is going to be a joke! I mean what interest could you have in 31 drivers who are not the best drivers in the world? I hope and pray that the manufacturers get together to make it mean something.
When I buy an engine it should be an engine that lasts me a long time, not something that’s out of date in a week. But I fear this: I don’t believe that the big three or big six or whoever, is actually capable of doing it as they all want it to stay as it is as that’s how they make their money, with a new part every week and it’s sad for karting as the first WSK proves conclusively.
I’m there now, at La Conca, and there are 75 60 Minis, which is effectively Super Cadet, there are 70-something KF3s, so those two classes are definitively right, and at the very first round of WSK there are 50 KF2s. So that tells us with numbers that the two major classes are where the
problems are, and the problem is that it costs too much money, because people are constantly changing stuff in their engines and we don’t need it.
So lose the power valve, lose the limiter and lose the water pump in the engines. Common engine, engine tuners live again, we can have a fantastic sport.
But I don’t think they are capable of working together. I think that probably the only company that can make any of this happen would be Rotax. If Rotax can make a KF engine they would clean up completely because so far they’ve done an unbelievable job with their classes.
I’m not saying they want to do it and I’m not saying they will do it but I think that if the big three can’t learn from what Rotax have done then we’re all in trouble.

Driver’s Diary

The first race of the Easykart championship is only around the corner (having had the date moved forward… yikes!) and is happening on the weekend of the 5th and 6th March.
Time to get down to the serious business of Pre-season Testing. (ahh.. pre-season testing… buzz words like that make me feel like a proper racing driver!
Testing is not what I initially imagined it to be. In all honesty, I don’t think I even knew what I’d imagined it to be! After all, my experience is with hire karts. With hire karting, you wake up whenever suits you, take a leisurely drive to the circuit, pay your money and have 30 minutes on the track, and bingo! You’re a happy customer. Companies call this Testing, but in reality you’re just paying to get your jollys off. But in ‘proper’ karting… It’s different. You don’t just drive around aimlessly like you would normally do in hire karting. You need to have a plan. A structure. This is where owner-driver karting really comes into its own. It’s all about being professional.
A day of testing for me usually means an early start and a late finish. A typical day would mean a 0530 wake up call, 30 minutes to get myself together and then another 40 minutes loading up my vehicle with my tools and spares. For me this is particularly back breaking as I live on the top floor of a three-storey block with no lifts! Usually, I’m then ready to go by 0700. Then (depending what track you’re going to) anything from a 1 hour, to 3 hour drive just to get to the track. Once at the track it takes me 30 minutes to set up my equipment and another 40 minutes setting up my kart. Kart tracks are notoriously cold places to be, almost as if god wants to make you suffer for all the money you’re spending on your pride and joy! Always make sure you bring everything with you, in order to be ‘self-sufficient’. This means adequate warm clothing,
food and refreshments to keep you going throughout the day. Don’t live by the motto “It will be ok..” because If you fail to plan, you could very easily fall into the trap of ‘You’re cold, tired, hungry and your kart wont start.’ Not much fun and tempers can then rise and you almost forget why you’re doing this in the first place. Yes, you want to win and be the dominating champion of the world, but it’s about enjoying yourself and having fun.
When I first started testing (September 2010) and with no knowledge of the kart I was driving, I spent the first three days’ worth of testing on old rubber and simply making one adjustment at a time. I wasn’t too concerned about lap times at that point. I simply wanted to see how the kart behaved when I made these changes.
I was in for a shock. Karts (despite the general public’s perceptions) really are little racing machines. But once you’ve got to grips with them, they’re really not that complicated. On the Easykart you can adjust tyre pressures, carburettor jet settings, front and rear track widths, steering geometry, torsion bar and exhaust flex. Gearing is fixed to each circuit to promote equality. Other karts in different classes will have more scope for modifications with regard to types of parts you can use. But trust me, when you’ve got hands on and possibly been guided by experienced eyes, things will quickly fall into place.
Right, you’ve got the gear, got a few spares and consumables and now you’re at the track. Why have you come there? What’s your purpose? Is it a track that you will be racing at all year? Are you going to spend all day learning the circuit or making set up adjustments? As long as you have a plan, no day need be wasted. Do whatever you’re comfortable with. Karting is full of people who are willing to offer advice. But be careful whose advice you buy. There’s nothing wrong with listening, but judge for yourself if the advice you’ve been given is the direction you want to go.
Most importantly, realise and accept that you’re going to have good days and bad ones. Always reflect on what went well and badly during your test sessions and try to improve. There’s no point in beating yourself up and making yourself miserable. Otherwise you might start calculating how much it has cost you to get this far. You’ll feel depressed. Your morale will hit an all-time low. You’ll begin to doubt yourself and your intentions for racing in the first place. You’ll feel stupid. Ashamed even, that you’re trying to compete with the big boys
and yet you couldn’t even do the simplest of things.
If you know nothing about karts, you might want to consider hiring a professional to accompany you on your first outing or two. I was lucky enough to be guided and advised by some really fantastic people, who without their help, I would have stumbled at the first hurdle. There will
be many who will argue that this is wasted money, but ask yourself, when you’ve spent thousands already just to be in a position to go testing, is it really worth risking a catastrophic day when all that could be troubling you is a loose wire on your kart? When for anything from £100-£300 you could have a fully trained professional with you to ensure that you day runs smoothly. It’s a no brainer to me. You don’t have to look far either. Just look in the magazine you’re reading. There’s plenty of people who are willing to help. If you do decide to get some help, don’t be afraid to haggle either. Don’t push your luck too far, but I always find informing people that you will be paying in cash seems to help reduce costs!

Ben Cooper

The best personal snippet I have ever been offered on one of my Commentator’s Information sheets was ‘born on a motor racing circuit – well, very nearly!!’ See what I mean? Guaranteed to catch the eye, and a line I have used numerous times in circuit and television kart commentaries.

But was it really true? Oh Yes! The date was 29th April 1990 and Ben Cooper Senior, the National Hot Rod champion of 1990, was just lining up for an important race at Arena Essex, now the Lakeside Raceway. In the grandstand, his wife and number 1 fan, the heavily pregnant Sharon, was cheering him on in her usual enthusiastic way until she started to have problems. Her friends rushed her to the St John’s ambulance bay and the race controller told Ben, who was by now on the grid about to start the race, what was happening. He immediately came off the track and drove straight to the ambulance bay – in his race car! There the ambulance crew decided to take Sharon as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital where she was given an emergency caesarean.

A couple of hours later Ben Jnr. entered the world. So there was never much doubt as to what the infant Ben was likely to turn to when it came to hobbies. But before we look at his career, it’s worth just having another glance at his dad’s racing CV. His career comprised 10 years motorcycle trials riding, until he moved on to the ovals from 1994 – 1997 in Group ‘A’ Hotrods, National Hotrods and Lightning Rods. He was pretty good winning 3 national titles and 1 British championship, only finishing outside the top three on 4 occasions in 14 years. Our Ben, if I can call him that since his dad never raced karts, got his first taste of kart racing at Sandown Park in April 1998.

That was in the Honda Cadet Formula 6 Series. He takes up the early story. ‘For the first year of my karting I just raced around at local tracks like Buckmore Park, Bayford Meadows, Lydd International Raceway and Sandown Park and I also raced in the local Formula 6 series. Obviously I thought I was going to win everything but that definitely didn’t happen. I was last in every race and that carried on for quite a few races. So my dad and I made up some targets for me to achieve. The first target was to not get lapped.

Then once I achieved that it was not to finish last, then after that it was just to try finish one place better than last time’. I first caught up with the Cooper family at a very cold Pomposa, near Venice in Italy at the first ever Rotax Euro Challenge. That was in March 2004. It was also the first occasion I had been commissioned to write a race report for Karting magazine. I was so pleased with Ben’s early efforts. He was one of the fastest in the junior class and I was already anticipating writing about the success of this young Brit. Shortly afterwards, he was involved in a shunt and was taken to hospital with an arm injury. That was my first introduction to what I later learned was the dreaded ‘Cooper Curse’.

This has definitely been part and parcel of Ben’s kart racing career. As he explains, ‘the Cooper Curse had been around for years, but probably saves its best (or worse depending how you look at it) for when I race at Genk in Belgium. The first experience there was in 2005 in the Junior Rotax Euro Challenge where all I had to do to win the championship was finish in the top 10 in both finals.

However, I couldn’t afford to not finish because I hadn’t done the first round that year, but had then come in and won every race up until the pre final at Genk. I had won all the heats and started on pole for the pre final. It was on the second lap when I heard a metal noise as if something had fallen off the kart. Then as I came out of the first corner my chain fell off. I quickly lifted the kart up to try and put the chain back on when I discovered that the clutch itself had completely fallen off. So that was the end of my championship hopes. So the aim was to now just go out and enjoy the final starting from the back.

I think I started 30th and finished 10th and that meant I came 3rd in the championship for the second time, but I did cheat the curse in a way because 3rd in the championship meant I had won the ticket to go to the Rotax world finals! The following year I hadn’t competed in the Rotax Euro Challenge, but we decided to race the last round at Genk just for some fun. I started on 2nd for the pre final and once again the curse struck as we seized the engine on the second lap in the same place as the previous year. So once again we started last in the final but came through to finish 8th .

The next year we competed in the Euro Challenge and during the second round at Wackersdorf in Germany the curse struck again. We were having a good round constantly in the top 3 and there was no change in the final. We were lying 3rd going into the last lap almost in contention of taking 2nd, when at the end of the straight the engine made a huge bang and the kart cruised to a stop. It turned out that on the last lap of the last race that weekend the con rod had snapped in the engine’. But enough of the Cooper Curse. Ben has repeatedly pushed that to one side as he has collected an impressive list of major titles. As he recalls, ‘probably my two greatest drives ever, would have to be in Genk in 2007 in the Final of the Rotax Euro Challenge and then in the final of the Rotax World Challenge at La Conca, Italy in 2008.

Typically at Genk, the Cooper’s Curse struck in the pre final. The championship was between three of us and it was literally whoever finished first out of the three would win the championship. The last thing any of us needed was to not finish. That’s what happened to me though. On the second corner I lost a chain and that was it. We all thought the championship was over when one of the championship contenders had finished 2nd and the other was mid way up the field. So we started last for the final just having to do our best knowing that the championship win was probably out of the question but second was possible if I finished 11th or higher. I had a great first lap and went from 34th to 15th. I was slowly picking off a few places and was in 11th place, when all my birthdays and Christmas’s came at once!! I saw that one of my rivals was given a 10 second penalty and then one lap later my other rival was involved in a crash. That crash promoted me to 5th on track, but with my other opponent’s 10 second penalty we finished 4th and won the championship by 1 point!

The 2008 Rotax World Finals has to be the perfect weekend racing I have ever had. We dominated the weekend and won both finals comfortably by 3-4 seconds. We had finally won the Rotax World Championship. I thought it would never happen after finishing 4th in Langkawi, Malaysia in 2005 after dominating all the heats and the pre final, and then again after having a puncture in the pre final at Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates in 2007 after starting on the front row’. So Ben began 2009 as a World Champion although he had by now chosen to move away from the Rotax classes. Was it a satisfactory year? Ben was in no doubt about that. ‘This year has been great. We had changed teams from HRS Motorsport who provided me with great support over the years winning many races with them and topping it off with my last race when I won the Rotax World Final. I raced in 2009 with Strawberry Racing and the Tonykart Junior Team run by Paul Spencer.

We changed from Rotax to KF1 in the UK and to KF2 in Europe. It was a very successful year with another international title in the bag’. Ben had indeed maintained his impressive run of major international successes. Following his Rotax Euro Challenge title in 2007 and his Rotax World championship win in 2008, he had a comfortable victory in the 2009 WSK Series in KF2, winning the title in Zuera, Spain with a round to spare, and closing out with a podium place in the final round at Lonato, Italy. ‘I am obviously thrilled with our international results’ he said, but he was keen to point out that ‘we also had a good S1 season at home until we came to the last 2 rounds. We had 5 podiums in 7 rounds including 2 wins and led the standings. But I went down with tonsillitis a few days before the second last round at Larkhall. I did race but crashed, and so had to go to the last round at Fulbeck needing a 3rd place to take the title.

Unfortunately this was not a happy time and after several disputes, when I still feel I was the party who suffered the most wrongs, I was excluded from the meeting which obviously lost me the championship. Despite everything I feel I have learnt a lot from that experience and I believe I have shown what I can do on the national stage as well as the European and World Stage. So what does the immediate future hold for this talented young driver? In 2010 he will be racing Super KF in Europe having signed as a factory driver for Kosmic with whom he will be looking for further success. But what about the longer term future? Ben has a short answer to that one. ‘My goal has always been to be a professional driver. What could be better than enjoying going to work every day doing what you love to do?’ Well, yes, who could disagree with that sentiment, and since this very level headed young man has a habit of achieving the goals he sets for himself, who is to say that he will not succeed. Getting signed up by Kosmic as a factory driver could be just the start.

What’s The Future?

In 2009 I completed twenty-five years involvement in karting and 2010 is the first year I have felt concern for the future of MSA racing. I have, since the age of 18, been involved in motorsport and was fortunate enough
to be employed in the motor trade when
the Mini Cooper appeared in 1961.

I soon purchased one and prepared it for club rallying. I spent many years enjoying the sport competing in local and national rallies. I competed in three Welsh International Rallies and two RAC Rallies during the 70’s, after which I decided to spend more time and money developing my business and enjoying family life. However, once you are addicted to motorsport it is very difficult to get it out of your blood, so when my son was 12 it was an excuse to again be involved in motorsport.
I was introduced to some laid back guy (he was so laid back you would have thought he was dead if he hadn’t been chewing gum) who, I was told, was a karting champion
and ran a national karting championship. His name, Neil Hann. I told him I required
a couple of karts for my son and a friend
and he told me to look in the barn and pick out two.

Knowing nothing about karting I selected a couple of ‘good looking’ karts. Less engines and wheels and agreed a price. When asked about engines and wheels Neil said “those are kept at a store in Gillingham” (about thirty miles away), “I will meet you there next week”. We eventually obtained
a complete outfit and went to Clay Pigeon
to practice and soon we were ‘hooked’.
I will not bore you with our racing, but I
will tell you that, despite some lows, the enjoyment and friendships that came from our involvement in racing was considerable.

Kart racing at this time was comparatively very much cheaper than it is today and was organised by kart clubs whose committees consisted mainly of parents of those racing together with marshals and officials who were volunteers and unpaid. I joined the committee of the Clay Pigeon Kart Club and in 1988 we were informed that the freehold owners of the circuit had gone into liquidation. The head leaseholders and the kart club decided that they did not, or could not, afford to purchase the freehold. The circuit could have been lost so a company was incorporated to raise funds to purchase the freehold. Five ex-karters or karters’ fathers decided to purchase shares in the company and then tried to raise the capital to purchase the freehold, obtain full planning consent, and widen and resurface the track.

The committee of the kart club was very strong with parents, karters and supporters having to be elected to one of
17 committee places at the AGM where in excess of 100 members attended. On our committee was Neil Hann whose enthusiasm for karting was undeniable. One of our committee, Andy Clarke, befriended a TV Producer who was persuaded to televise a race meeting on terrestrial television. After negotiations with the programme producers it was decided to open the event to proven national, regional or club champions and specially invited drivers.

The TVS Superprix and the following year’s Gulf Oil Superprix were arguably the most successful televised events being shown on prime time terrestrial television over six weeks on a Saturday at 1.30pm. Ian Mulliner raced in these events
and when the kart club won the right to organise the TKM ‘O’ Plate it was agreed
to find a sponsor and organise a ‘special’ event. Ian Mulliner found this sponsor,
Hill House Hammond, and they agreed, if successful, to run the event every year. We therefore organised the hugely successful Hill House Hammond TKM Festival, with marquee, barbecue, bar and entertainment and, of course, fantastic racing. Hill House Hammond were so impressed that, after discussions, the sponsorship was transferred to the MSA ABkC Super 1 Championship.

The first and only time the TKM Festival was held at Clay Pigeon. During this period the circuit’s other activities were progressing, most importantly the relationship between Bob Pope and Chelborough Limited (the circuit owners). Bob had decided that a 6-hour endurance team race using the new Pro-Karts could
be successful. Bob operated these as a commercial series and at its peak 50+ teams were racing for six hours. Serious racing, fun racing, and, most importantly, without serious accident or injury. The teams came from all over the country but, as other commercial circuits opened, teams joined their local track’s series and numbers slowly dropped off. Unfortunately for us, but certainly fortunately for Bob, he was offered Langbaurgh circuit – an offer he could not refuse.

Paul Bowler and Ted Poole continued
the successful series at Clay, and to try
and encourage some of our teams back
from other tracks we invented the Pro-Kart Festival – two days of endurance racing
and, most importantly, FUN. Those who competed will know what I mean! Why did they cease? Twin 160 Honda engines were the most successful ever used, and still are, but along came the larger Honda engines, World Formula and, surprisingly, the Rotax MAX – completely dividing the teams that raced. As we were offering about £2,000 in prize money and spending on ‘entertainment’ it became unviable. However, as the use of the Pro-Kart is recovering, it is a weekend of fun and great racing that I am considering restarting.

When in 1988 Neil Hann, Colin Clark, Trevor Brown and the late John Donovan and I formed Chelborough Ltd. we were
all 100% supporters of MSA kart racing
and not really interested in the commercial use of the circuit. However, over the years with ever increasing costs such as business rates, insurance and maintenance, we
found it necessary to invest in hire karts
and corporate hirings. The hiring of the circuit to the hugely successful Club 100 championships and British Universities championships has cer tainly opened my eyes to alternatives to MSA permitted events. I have been on the ‘coal face’ of karting
for over 20 years and have not witnessed such disappointment and disillusionment amongst licensed competitors and officials as I have over the past eighteen months.

The criticism of officials and accusations of cheating is non-stop and the atmosphere
at race meetings is less than sporting. We are losing competitors and officials and
with the increasing costs of operating these commercial circuits and the success of our own Arrive and Drive championships and commercial championships such as Club 100, MSA racing could become unviable at club level. This is probably an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that with the increasing costs of equipment and the continuing increase in the number of regulations the sport is becoming elitist. Proof of this is the huge success of non-MSA racing. I believe that some very radical changes are required – and quickly.

1. JUDICIAL PROCEDURES It is well known that if you have the money, 70% of all appeals will be won by default
on the failure of officials at club events to follow the correct procedure or carry out
the correct administration. Our officials are volunteers, not overpaid knowledgeable solicitors, and this leads to financial bullying at club events by those fathers with money to waste on solicitors and appeals. I believe that at British and National Championship events (National ‘A’) the procedure should remain, but at club events (National ‘B’), the judicial procedure should end with the meeting stewards unless the stewards refer the matter to the MSA. Two examples that should end with the stewards are those caught tampering with tyres or fuel. After simple tests have been carried out by scrutineers to check for additives the matter should be dealt with
by our scrutineers, the clerk of the course and finally, if necessary, the event stewards. That should be the end of the matter.

The penalties issued for these indiscretions should not affect the drivers other than at our club meetings. If, however, the stewards consider this to be an habitual problem with a particular competitor it could then
be referred to the MSA and dealt with accordingly. This then cuts out the cost
of appeals and expensive testing of the equipment and the problems with procedure and administration.

2. RULES AND REGULATIONS Over the years, and particularly since the introduction of the commercial classes (TKM, Honda, Comer, Rotax etc) and the disappearance of generic classes (National, Britain etc) the simple regulation of stroke, bore and venturi size has been replaced by regulations written by the commercial operators which, instead of reducing the cost of karting, has massively increased expenditure. Equipment becomes obsolete very quickly and has no resale value other than to leisure karters or, as is developing, non-MSA racing. I appreciate the problems with Health and Safety and understand the need for regulations that provide as much protection as possible for competitors, but this also restricts the use of older and cheaper karts and, once again, encourages competitors into non-MSA Racing.

3. COMPETITORS, KART CLUBS AND THE ABkC
As well as being employed by Chelborough Ltd., the owners of the Clay Pigeon Raceway, I am also the Treasurer of Clay Pigeon Kart Club. I mentioned earlier that at the AGM of the club say fifteen years ago, there were in excess of 100 attending with many attempting to join the committee. At this year’s AGM on January 17th we had ten committee members and one member with his father. At the AGM of the ABkC
at KartMania there were only thirty-five attending representing fourteen clubs, some clubs with stands at the show but not sending a representative to the AGM. After listening to complaints all year of the inconsistency of officials decisions, cheating by competitors and listening to members
of other clubs saying that the ABkC only represent the bigger clubs you would have thought the AGMs would be well attended. These are the forums for competitors and clubs to express their opinions and for committees to explain their actions, so either competitors are happy in the way their clubs are run and the clubs happy in the way the ABkC is run or they just cannot be bothered.

Unfortunately I think it is the latter. I occasionally visit the UK Karting Noticeboard and I am amazed at some of
the opinions expressed and I was pleased
to see the site management place a warning regarding ‘accusations of cheating’.
I recently read a thread stating that competitors have no say in how their sport is managed – of course they have through their club committee and the club will then process their ideas and complaints through the ABkC. I am sure many competitors
do not realise the extent of work required
by voluntary committee members in organising a club championship and a race meeting. Clubs such as Clay Pigeon, who are situated in the wilds of Dorset, have very few members who live within thirty miles
of the circuit and many members who live
in excess of one hundred miles, and so it is difficult to find members who can attend a monthly committee meeting, but your club needs you! I sat on the committee of the ABkC for a few years and, I must say, that, despite guest speakers, was disappointed to note that only thirty-five attended the AGM. However, with George Robinson attending and, hopefully, soon reporting to the MSA on the decline in numbers competing at MSA events, he was able to observe some of the problems that are causing this decline. I would suggest that the Open Meeting after the AGM was the most informative part of the meeting with George reporting the serious decline
in MSA racing, Trent Valley wanting more control for the larger clubs and funds to attract more senior drivers and Clay Pigeon KC enquiring about funds raised by tyre contracts and whether they could be used more beneficially. I have always believed the Association of British Kart Clubs was formed to control karting for the benefit of all kart clubs,
not for the benefit of the larger clubs and commercial championships.

Unfortunately,
I would suggest the ABkC committee is biased towards the larger clubs and the national championships, with the smaller clubs poorly represented. That is not the fault of the ABkC committee, but usually apathy of the smaller clubs. I would also suggest that no club should have more than one voting committee member, and those championship, MSA representatives or visitors do not have a vote. I also believe that membership of the ABkC should be free to every club in the UK, and to encourage delegates to the meetings travelling expenses should be paid from ABkC funds. I know some of my suggestions might be contentious, but karting should be a sport for all and not just the wealthy and elite drivers. The ABkC control the sport and expect the clubs to abide by regulations agreed with the MSA. The clubs abide by these regulations, in particular the tyre regulations, and, because of this, contracts are issued to the successful tyre supplier. The fees received are used as a prize fund for elite drivers. If the committee feel that is the best use of the money, fine, but all the clubs in this country should benefit from these fees. If the contract states that all funds should be given in prize money to these championships, then fine. I am sure they can be renegotiated as it is in the interests of the suppliers that club racing recovers from this slump. I find it difficult to understand how the ABkC expect the smaller clubs to pay for the chance to organise an ABkC ‘O’ Plate, yet £30,000 in prize money is offered to commercial national championships to run ABkC championships. I am certain the MSA expect fees for them to organise the British Championships and does not provide prize money. The championships with control tyres, control fuel and sponsors are able to raise their own funds to provide the prize money.

The ABkC contract fees could not only allow free membership to every club, all expenses of the ABkC to be paid, no fees for the smaller clubs to organise ‘O’ Plates, but could find some funds to promote karting as a family sport – both for young Formula 1 prospects and older adrenaline seekers. I appreciate many will disagree with much of the above, and I know George Robinson will have investigated karting, both MSA and non-MSA, thoroughly, and at the end of the day we all should listen to what he has to say if we want MSA racing to progress. Finally, at Clay Pigeon we have always tried to encourage ‘all’ into MSA karting, but particularly the more mature driver. I would like to invite all those over 35s to visit the wonderful Costa Dorset in flaming June and compete in our 2010 Masters Karting Challenge. The bigger the entry, the bigger the prize money