All posts by Ronalea Karting

Watching The Pennies

Anyone who has shivered and struggled through soaking wet race meetings might draw some comfort from the words of Sir Ranulph Fiennes. “There’s no such thing as bad weather,” the intrepid explorer insisted, “only inappropriate clothing.” As a Rowrah regular who has been occasionally caught out wearing a tee shirt in pouring rain, I can see his point. Three months ago, when news of the WTP factory closure first broke, it seemed as if we’d been battered by force 9 gales.

Since first introducing the motor to these shores back in 2001, Mike Mills has weathered quite a few storms and always keeps his oilskins within easy reach. However, he remains optimistic that, on this occasion at least, there’s a rainbow just ahead. He predicts that entries in the 2010 Little Green Man Championships will at least equal last year’s figure and could even exceed it by a comfortable margin.

“It’s true that we aren’t able to get our hands on any new motors, but there’s still a good supply of spares that will see us through 2010 and beyond,” he points out. “Fortunately, it doesn’t look as though many people have been deterred from entering the class and that’s very encouraging. We’ve had a healthy number of enquiries about the forthcoming Little Green Man series and there is actually more interest than at this point last year. I’m certainly very upbeat about the season ahead.” Well, of course, Mike would say that, wouldn’t he? On this occasion, though, there may be good reason to remain optimistic. The Little Green Man has never pretended to be Britain’s most prestigious cadet competition. So long as it awards an official British title each year, Formula Kart Stars will continue to attract our most ambitious young drivers. For the average individual, though, the cost of competing in such a series, even as an also ran, can be prohibitive. Previous Little Green Man winners have also possessed bucketsful of ambition and I have to confess that their talent has usually been accompanied by matching financial resources, allowing them to test or race virtually every weekend.

Time in the seat has always been an important factor and so the playing field is therefore tilted in favour of drivers who can afford to compete in all three major championships. Pretending otherwise would be both foolish and dishonest. However, it’s still possible to achieve good results without spending a small fortune as many WTP contenders have proved already. Equipment costs pale into insignificance compared to the money competitors will spend when running from teams. It would be hard to imagine any Stars or Super One cadet champion emerging without the benefit of team support. Six of the eight Little Green Man champions, though, have won their titles whilst running independently. That’s an important consideration for any prospective contender whose parents have yet to make their first million.

Right now there’s plenty of inexpensive but extremely competitive second hand WTP motors available. I’d like to think that lots of Comer drivers currently running at club level will seize the opportunity and join the Little Green Man ranks. As a further incentive, this column will be awarding £1500 in prizes and my initial plan is to aim them mainly at newcomers. It may not be the most prestigious national championships for cadets but I’d argue that it’s still by far the best one. Last month I wrote about four out of the top six WTP contenders in 2009. Elsewhere in this issue you can read a profile of the current champion, Matthew Graham. Matthew’s mother assures me

A Rough Guide to the MSA Judicial Procedures Part 2

A Rough Guide to the MSA Judicial Procedures Part 2 in a two-part series – thankfully! For many drivers, a trip through the judicial section of the Blue Book is a magical mystery tour, similar only to the workings of the human mind, sat-nav, or why Peter Andre ever wanted to marry Jordan. However there will be times when you’ll need a bit of knowledge, either when you’re on the receiving end of a penalty or when you wish to put your view on the driving standards of another. That’s where this rough guide comes in, although it should be said that nothing compensates for your own quick look through the relevant sections. It’s a few years since this article last appeared, but the Blue Book has been revamped and the original references have disappeared, whilst some new type regs have replaced some of the old and much loved ones. In the interests of balance, some of the unloved ones were replaced as well. The first time most of us find out something has gone horribly wrong is during post race compliance checks.

That normally kicks off with the scrutineers’ noncompliance form, which the entrant (for the under 18s) and the driver will fill in as well as the scrute and the clerk of the course. The bit the entrant fills in has a section where he or she either agrees or doesn’t that the component or kart does not comply with the regs. In most instances, drivers will fill in the ‘agree’ section, but if you are adamant the kart is OK then fill in the ‘do not agree’ bit if you plan to go to Eligibility Appeal (more on them later). At this stage it won’t make a huge difference as the eligibility scrutineer is a judge of fact who cannot exclude you, they will merely report the facts to the Clerk of the Course whose job it is to get it in the neck from competitors. The next step is for the Clerk to ask why the kart failed the eligibility checks. He or she is looking for your ‘get out of jail free’ card or some mitigation why exclusion is not an appropriate penalty. The regs now state that, upon receiving a certificate of non-compliance, the Clerk must exclude unless there are serious, mitigating circumstances why exclusion would not be appropriate. Take, for instance, a case of a TKM old-style inlet trumpet missing as a result of the sidepod being savaged by another driver. The presence of said driver waiting outside the office to see the Clerk might see you away without a penalty being applied, depending on the circumstances surrounding the savaging.

This is a bit clearer than it was some years ago when you’d both have been penalised. At this juncture, it is normal to tell the driver that he or she isn’t considered to be cheating, especially if just half a kilo underweight, but that the kart doesn’t comply with the technical regs. It should also be said that the imposition of an exclusion or any other penalty won’t be recorded on your licence for a technical offence and you won’t get any points either. Championship coordinators have to be very careful when writing technical and sporting regs to ensure that justice can be seen to be done without overly penalising minor errors. A case in point is a well meaning paragraph in one of the ’05 championship regulations stating any technical infringement would result in a loss of points for the whole meeting and the obligation to count a zero score. With no leeway for the Clerk to exercise judgement on the appropriate penalty, a driver who came in underweight could find himself with no points for the meeting. That was rectified for 2006 after a little discussion between various parties. At this point the Eligibility Appeal can come into play. Having ticked the ‘do not agree’ box on the non-compliance form, you may appeal directly to the MSA via the meeting’s Stewards. The fee for this is in the back of the Blue Book in the schedule of fees. Once at the MSA, the Eligibility Appeal Panel will consider all aspects and adjudicate accordingly on the evidence presented from both sides. These appeals have operated with varying degrees of success from the drivers’ point of view in recent times, with a classic edition of Motorsports Now! giving two differing decisions on what appeared to be identical problems. However, there were fundamental differences in the evidence heard, which is why the decisions were so different. Lack of space in the magazine also plays a part as even the decision can appear shorter that expected.

The majority of the cases a Clerk will deal with will mostly involve driving incidents and here’s where the fun really starts. Many incidents are merely errors of judgement, ‘racing incidents’, where two drivers aiming for the same square foot of tarmac collide and go out of the race or get delayed. There are very few incidents where one driver takes out another in order to be rid of the menace in front but they do occasionally happen. Normally (God willing and with a following wind), there will be a report from an observer or Clerk that can be acted upon with both parties in the office. If the drivers are under 18, a signed-on parent or guardian (don’t forget the letter of authority for the guardian if a parent isn’t present) will be present in the proceedings. This is to protect the young person’s interests but if daddy has a rant, it can have quite the opposite effect. New legislation that effectively placed a contract between the parent and the MSA has stopped some of the parental craziness occurring, but, with the onset of red mist, we are often looking at damage limitation. The Clerk will outline the case from the observer and ask for comments from the drivers.

The Clerk will then determine if an offence has been committed and, if so, the appropriate penalty to apply. Some clerks used to look at the licence before deciding on the penalty. I didn’t, as I preferred the surprise! The advent of the credit card racing licence has removed all the mystery now, as the points totals are held on a database back at HQ, with only the Stewards having the appropriate text number to find out if the licence already has points on it and perhaps warrants suspension if the 12 point limit has been reached. This can happen and not for the first time, a driver can find that a heat 1 incident pushes him or her over the 12 points needed for a three month holiday and it’s time to go home. Forget about racing under appeal either. This simply doesn’t happen after a suspension has been imposed. You can lodge an appeal against the penalty which accrued the suspension and even decide to lodge what is known as the “show just cause appeal”, which is your way of stating why the suspension will cause the driver excessive hardship. From time to time (OK, all the time), one hears calls for greater consistency in decision making. All well and good but there are just too many variables involved for that to realistically happen. For instance, Clerks and Stewards work generally from an MSA booklet giving suggested penalties for different offences. There is what is called the datum (or set standard) penalty, followed by a list of suggested alternatives depending on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Having heard all the evidence, the Clerk or Stewards will set off from the set penalty and determine whether any mitigating circumstances have been heard. This will reduce the penalty and mean less points on the all-important licence. On the flip side, any aggravating circumstances can end up in a fine as well as exclusion from the race or even the meeting. The Clerk’s decision will be communicated in writing and the driver will sign to receive the penalty, countersigned by an adult if the alleged offender is under 18. There will be occasions when, in the midst of a monumental six-way scrap for the lead, observers will miss an incident further back down the field. Aggrieved driver and dad are understandably miffed this has been missed. “After all, what are we paying you for?” is the general comment. Never a very good opening gambit in most cases, this tends to fail spectacularly at most kart events as most of us are doing it for expenses and the “fun” of it. It says here. You can understand the frustration of the aggrieved party, but what they generally fail to consider is that you can only see what you’re looking at and that’s generally the leaders as this is where most of the grief comes from. When Clerks and observers miss something, the onus is on the competitor to protest the other driver. It isn’t difficult to do and most Clerks will point you in the right direction, if you ask nicely. Start getting a bit stroppy and you’re basically on your own. The first thing you’ll need is a protest form. Contrary to popular belief, Clerks do not have a stash of these in their back pockets ready to dish out. The best person to ask will be the Competition Secretary or the MSA Steward, as both will have copies in the paperwork issued from the MSA. The Clerk will not, mostly because they don’t get any.

However, at the major national championships Clerks will probably have a supply somewhere, accrued over time. This reminds me of a tale of one entrant who would persistently ask for protest forms which never actually appeared. Rumour has it the driver was asked to give some of the protest forms back as the championship had run out! Once you have your form, you’ll need to know the fee as no pay, no play. Again, a schedule of fees can be found in the Schedule of Fees at the back of the Blue Book. With most national championships the meeting has National A status and the fee is clearly marked. For the rest the fee will be that for a meeting below National A but with an MSA Steward. On some very odd occasions, a split permit meeting is run, so it is as well to ask the status of the class you are running in. The wrong fee can see your protest rejected. Timescales are important and also subtly different. If you want to protest against another driver, you have 30 minutes after the race in question finishes. If you are unsure about the results, you have 30 minutes after the results are posted. The latter timescale also applies to grids. If you wish to protest another kart on technical grounds, make that intention known before the kart leaves parc ferme and the investigation can commence straight away. If you wait until the kart is released, you risk losing on the grounds that the alleged dodgy component may have been changed after scrutineering and the kart may not be ‘as raced’. Once you have your protest filled in, the fee sorted and some witnesses lined up, you can submit your protest. Read this next bit very carefully. You can submit the protest or appeal to the Secretary of the Meeting as well as the Clerk of the Course (or MSA Steward in the event of an Appeal). You don’t have to disturb the Clerk from his work. Once the Clerk has been informed of the protest, a suitable time and venue for the hearing will be arranged with both parties and they will have the chance to call witnesses. The hearing is a little like an informal magistrates court, but the realisation has to be that getting information out of all the witnesses is vital, sometimes a gentle touch is required for younger competitors. Juniors who have been coached beforehand are instantly recognisable, purely from the language used and the phrasing of their evidence. One parent a couple of years ago rolled his eyes to the heavens when number one sprog recited chapter and verse what his daddy had schooled him in but obviously forgot the bit about putting it in his own words. In the end it didn’t matter as more conventional evidence backed up the, “I was proceeding in a westerly direction” constabulary spiel and the protest succeeded. The general rule of thumb is that if you win the protest, you get the fee returned at the discretion of the Clerk, lose and you don’t. If you win the protest but have been stroppy throughout the proceedings, don’t expect to see the money again.

Appeal fees are subject to the same criteria. You may think you’ve won the appeal, but unless the paperwork says “fee refunded” it won’t be. Contrary to popular belief, the fees collected don’t keep the MSA Executive in cocoa and chocolate digestives, but are put into a pot which pays for the annual training seminars which alternate between club and licensed officials. These don’t come cheap and it is comforting (at least for us) that the money is being put to good use. Incidentally, don’t put in protests just for the fun of it. I had occasion quite a few years ago to threaten reporting a parent to the Stewards for putting in protests in bad faith after about the third one against the same driver in the same meeting! Video evidence. The Clerk may use it if he sees fit and if the video is under the control of the organising club. If it comes from someone’s handheld video camcorder, the Clerk can opt not to use it. I agreed to view video evidence once, with the protestor convinced it would make their case. It didn’t and upset them mightily when the protest was rejected. Once the Clerk has made his decision, it will be communicated in writing to the protestor.

This just means that the penalty has been received, not that the driver accepts that penalty and the time set down for the decision becomes important. The clock starts ticking for any appeal when the decision is set down and any arguing the aggrieved party might do just eats into that time. The Clerk doesn’t want to start discussing his decision as he may have to justify the thought processes to the Stewards later in an appeal. Appeals can only be made by a person directly affected by the Clerk’s original decision and should be lodged within 30 minutes of that decision, third party protests and appeals are no longer permitted. These can be quite good fun or very frustrating, or sometimes even both depending on the circumstances. Some years ago I had a decision appealed to the Stewards of the Meeting and was allowed to sit in after giving my evidence. What I heard and what the Stewards heard were two completely different things, although there was no indication of an intention to deceive, just not all of the evidence was presented to me. I was asked by the Stewards if I would have convicted based on the evidence of the appeal and I was bound to say no, so the appeal succeeded. However the original evidence was considerably different to the appeal evidence.

When the appellant changes his story from the evidence he (or she) gave in the original hearing and it is an apparently blatant attempt at getting off by changing the evidence, then I might feel obliged to bring it to the attention of the Stewards as it a clear attempt to deceive and your chances of success might slip a bit. A quick word on Stewards’ meetings etiquette. Don’t swear in front of the Stewards. EVER. Some of these venerable gentlemen are magistrates in whatever spare time they have and won’t allow it in court, even if they’ve heard it all before so you won’t get away with it at the track either. They also have the power to remove your licence for up to 30 days there and then and your involvement in the meeting ceases. You can forget about racing under appeal.

Your money will be accepted for a shot at a tribunal but you still won’t turn a wheel again for a month. As well as some MSA Stewards being magistrates, you may also find that some Stewards are quite senior members of the legal profession for their day job, so if you fancy your chances at being a bar room lawyer, fill your boots but be prepared to crash and burn. Tribunals are an entirely different animal and generally take place at Colnbrook, home of the MSA. For matters involving Scottish or Irish competitors, alternative arrangements can be made closer to home. I’ve only been to one tribunal, an appeal against the Stewards of the Meeting upholding my original decision. Opening arguments were heard from both MSA and competitor before I was invited to give my evidence as Clerk. After we’d finished, the deliberations took an apparent age before the verdict was read out from the written statement (obviously where the time had gone). A fairly straightforward case took about three hours. That’s how thorough it is. One final point. The perception is that most Clerks get a kick out of doing paperwork and penalising people. I’ve worked with quite a few up and down the country who don’t have that view at all. In fact, we’d much prefer to stay out of the office and watch some decent racing and people enjoying their competition. However, if those same people step over the line, then we will take action as we see fit. At club level, I see our role as educating as much as legislating but, if the education isn’t working, then other tactics need to be employed. At championship level, a certain level of skill and knowledge from the driver is assumed, so the emphasis will be less on education and more on legislation. There it is, a quick walk through of the judicial system. Please take the time to read Section ‘C.d’ of the Blue Book. It can be your friend as much as your enemy and it’s always best to know your enemy.

Round The Bend

We need a refuge from battered women. What are parents thinking when they get plastered in the paddock? As if silent marimba rhythms inspired the sway, she tottered through the crowded paddock. The warm rose wine in the plastic ‘glass’, as pink as the blush on her cheeks and in her eyes.

Eventually, having reached her destination, she threaded her way woozily through the awning flap and paused. Proudly seeing that she had the attention of everyone present, she let rip – “Youlotareallcheatin’an’everyoneknowsit!” Classy. I visited Kimbolton last season and a fair few mums and dads were clearly enjoying the odd drink – but the full scale of the fun was only revealed, appropriately, the morning after.

NATSKA had hired the circuit for a round of their championship and one chap commented that the number of bin bags bursting with empty wine and beer bottles and cans was astonishing. The tabloids are forever foaming at the mouth about “Broken Britain” and many of you will no doubt remember the image of 20-year old teaching assistant Sarah Lyons cavorting in the centre of Cardiff with a pair of knickers round her ankles. She wasn’t drunk though and they weren’t her own batty riders. She was apparently sober as a judge, after having just completed a course of antibiotics and had been given the pair of David Hasselhoff ‘comedy pants’ in a bar minutes before her photograph was taken. I’m not bad, she demurred, I’m just Miss-undie-stood. Alas, whether Ms. Lyons was actually three sheets to the wind is almost immaterial. She will be forever frozen in time in an image that totemic image of the binge-drinking, shameless generation. It was almost Hogarthian, Gin Lane for the Noughties. But let’s not be hypocritical. All of us have got up to daft, booze-fuelled japes at one time or another when we were young. Who hasn’t run round the streets naked for a bet? Even the Speaker of the House of Commons’ wife has admitted to some rather rum (geddit?!) behaviour in her earlier days. But since then she’s bent over backwards (snik snik) to put them behind her now thankfully, has got a grip, (fnarr, fnarr) on the situation. In short, we grow up (wahey!). I’m not a killjoy but I do believe that working with kids demands increased responsibility, whether in a professional or parental capacity. But I have noted that the sight of people swigging from cans or wandering around the paddocks with one or even two glasses on the go is becoming increasingly de rigeur.

At one race last year, I was separately barged aside by two proud but boorish mums, sloshing their drinks around as they pushed their way to the front of the trophy presentation. Intriguingly, I know both these ladies are trying to market their respective sons as future motor racing stars. I have some advice for them and other people that like to be something of a trackside ‘bon viveur’. If you are building towards your child becoming a professional racing driver, behaving like Keith Floyd won’t endear junior to the top teams. In my experience, F1 team bosses are as sensitive as cats and will often do a little research into a driver’s background – the City calls it ‘due diligence’. Furthermore, a big-hitting manager once told me that he looks very carefully at three elements in a possible signing’s make-up – results, budget and family. Having some decent initial funding, with oodles of talent and trophies to match, is one thing – but woe betide if daddy is a priapic old goat, who makes limp-wrist gestures and goes ‘woooo’ if you won’t put on your drinking trousers and join him getting ‘tight’ in the bar for a liquid lunch.

Similarly, getting jacked-up on Zinfandel and accusing youngsters or their teams of cheating, soon gets you a bad reputation. You might be able to get away with it for a while in karting, but it will very soon be noticed in cars. More to the point, if you wouldn’t ordinarily get hammered in your workplace, why would you consider it to be perfectly acceptable at a race meeting? For me a kart track is a place of work. Ask Ricky Flynn (of multiple-championship winning RFM) or Warwick Ringham (of Kart Masters, European and World Rotax title-holders Strawberry Racing) if they agree and I’d bet my mortgage that they do. New Year is of course the time for resolutions. Perhaps it’s time to realise that being off your head, whilst your kid is racing isn’t ‘being fun’. It’s a far more sinister thing. Not in a ‘You’ll die of cirrhosis and bowel cancer’ kind of way, rather more like gathering at a wake and reminiscing on what might have been for your progeny’s career, raising a wobbly glass, with a fag in the other hand and saying : “It’s what he would’ve wanted.” It isn’t. Not if you really think about it, in the sober light of day.

International Insight

This month I don’t have any race meetings to report on but I’ve been asked to write a little about what it’s like to be a factory driver and what my roles and responsibilities are.

For sure driving for a factory team is very different to driving for a privateer team. The priority is still to win but when you are a professional driver you also have to remember that you are representing the team too. I think the longer I’ve driven with Tonykart the more I’ve realised that although the aim is to win I am also employed to help promote their material and of course try to do my part to ensure that they sell as many chassis and engines as possible.

The main commitments I have are obviously the races. I still live in the UK so the team deal with all my fl ights and travel arrangements for all the races and tests. Although at the beginning of the year I know the dates of the races and when I will be competing, there are also times during the year when they could call me and say they need me to test the following week, whether it is to test a new chassis, or Vortex have something new for the engine and we need to test it or even a Bridgestone tyre test.

Now when I fi rst went to Tonykart I found it diffi cult to adapt and fi t into the team and the fi rst year I drove I had more bollockings than I can remember by the boss for doing things wrong in the races. When I was fi rst there I always had good speed but never got the results because I always made some mistakes even though I was 25 years-old. But looking back now I’m really pleased that I got through that and I’m now completely at home there. I have a good relationship with everyone in the team and for sure those bollockings improved me as a driver. At the beginning being a non Italianspeaking driver in a team full of Italians was very diffi cult. Now I can get by with my Italian and, although it’s not perfect, I can understand most things. The English of the people who work there is also so much better now too as in the last 4 years they’ve had me, Will Stevens, James Calado and Oliver Rowland all driving for them.

While driving for a factory team is a fantastic opportunity it does come with more stress at times too. I think you always have to perform and, like in every formula in motorsport, if you’re a professional driver there are always other good drivers who would love to take your seat and this is especially true when you drive for a top team like Tonykart. So it’s always important to do a good job with what you have even when you’re not the fastest or at the front.

I’m just 29 now and have driven for Tonykart for over 4 years. I still enjoy it as much as ever and I’m still as motivated to win as much as ever. I still never class what I do as a job and I’ve never got fed up of travelling to races as I know I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in with Tonykart and also when I was driving professionally with Paul Fletcher. I grew up all my life driving karts so now to be getting paid to do it is fantastic, and being with Tonykart I’ve experienced some great moments and one of these was to race in the same team as Michael Schumacher at the end of last year in Las Vegas.

I’ve won 4 British championships in different classes, the Italian championship, the Margutti Trophy and Winter Cup all in KF1, rounds of the European championship and been close to being World champion and European champion twice. While those crowns elude me I will still be as hungry as ever to win and hopefully I can achieve that.