On May 10th, 1970, a former Swedish karting champion called Ronnie Peterson made his F1 debut at the Monaco GP.
He was the first driver to reach F1, having risen from karting’s ranks. Many others followed shortly aft?erwards, including Britain’s Roger Williamson and Tony Brise who were both killed within a few months of their F1 debut appearances. Peterson, too, had his life cut short during the 1978 Italian GP at Monza.
Initially Nigel Mansell had a difficult transmission from karter to F1 star and resorted to selling his house as a means of raising the necessary finance. Nigel survived to tell the tale, however, and his single mindedness paid off in 1992 when he became F1 world champion. Three other British drivers, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Bu?on have since joined him.
Ex karters reaching the top tier of motor racing ceased to be newsworthy decades ago. A?er sharing the Le Mans winning Porsche with Nico Hulkenberg and Earl Bamber this year, Nick Tandy made Monday’s newspaper headlines for a rather novel reason. Tandy had won one of motor racing’s top prizes despite never having taken part in a karting event. He’d learned his trade on oval tracks, racing in Ministox events.
What significance might Tandy’s success have for cadet racing? There’s a small chance that it might encourage more would-be stars to look at different avenues other than kart racing. I’d actually welcome such a development. There’s only one certainty in F1 right now and it is that the next few world champions will have all come from karting backgrounds. Anything that changes this scenario in the future can’t be bad.
The simple truth is that F1 stars are no longer gambling with their lives every time they venture out onto the circuit. That’s a good thing, but it has led to parents pursuing F1 careers for their kids. Furthermore, they are happy to spend lots of money in doing so. I know of several families that have followed Mansell’s lead and remortgaged their houses as they chase a?er success. Six figure sums are being spent in a madcap dash for British Championship glory. Outsiders would shake their heads in sheer disbelief, and such antics aren’t confined to an elitist group. There’s been a knock on effect cascading all the way down to club racing. It’s not a healthy situation, in my view, which is why I’m hoping that Nick Tandy may just have started a ball rolling.
At kart meetings throughout Britain, “respect” is a word that’s being bandied around. This follows on from campaigns at football grounds where the primary aim was to stamp out racism.
Of course it’s desirable that drivers of all ages should be encouraged to respect race officials and their fellow competitors. I’d add that this works both ways. Clubs and race officials should show respect for their customers, too, rather than treating them like imbeciles. Consistent application of the rules is something that most competitors claim to want. In pursuit of such consistency, however, today’s Clerks of the Course have had their discretionary powers severely curtailed.
In a choice between pedantic officials and those prepared to be flexible, I’d generally opt for the la?er. One thing I like about the Li?le Green Man Series is its relaxed atmosphere and the fact that Mike Mills always endeavours to be accommodating wherever possible. It’s one of the reasons why he has managed to create Britain’s most popular karting championships. During Round 3 of the LGM Series at Larkhall, however, I felt that Mike might have been just a li?ttle too accommodating.
There’s a rule at all race meetings forbidding any work to be carried on karts once they are on the grid. Adjusting tyre pressures is permi?ed, but anything involving spanners or screwdrivers definitely isn’t. Just a few minutes before the Cadet “A” Final was due to get underway at Larkhall, several drops of rain could be felt and grey clouds overhead suggested that more would follow. It was reported to the grid marshal, Robert Haynes that two karts were being worked on as they lined up. A quick check confirmed this allegation and Robert requested both karts to be removed from the grid. One parent complied immediately, but the other one refused point blank to do so.
This led to a fierce argument breaking out and, during the inevitable delay, circuit conditions worsened immeasurably. Rod Taylor, as Clerk of the Course, declared that slicks were now unsafe and he ordered a further delay for wheels to be changed. Under these circumstances, Mike decided that the two errant drivers should be allowed to resume their normal grid places. “I understand Mike’s reasoning, but it doesn’t do much for the respect agenda when those who shout loudest are seen to profit,” said Robert.
Several days aer the ABkC “O” Plate entries officially closed at Rowrah, only 16 IAME cadets had shown interest. However, a spate of late entries pushed up the number 23 contenders.
Fortunately such tardiness wasn’t reflected in race pace. Dexter Paerson topped the charts in Timed Qualifying for IAME Cadet, but he was outpaced by Jonny Edgar in both Heats. Things went Edgar’s way in the Pre-Final, too, as he led this 14 lap race from start to finish, with Paerson never more than a couple of yards behind his rear bumper. None of these races count for much in an “O” Plate, so there was still everything to play for as they awaited the Grand Final which would be run over 18 laps.
Once again, Paerson was content to let Edgar seize the initiative but it looked as though Taylor Barnard would also be joining in the bale. Gradually, though, Taylor began to drop off the pace and soon came under pressure from Harry Thompson. That allowed the two leaders to run their own race, with Edgar eventually claiming his third “O” Plate victory, a record so far unequalled in any cadet class. Harry Thompson and Brandon Martland had a coming together with less than two laps remaining, allowing Bray Kenneally to take 3rd spot ahead of Joseph Taylor.
Thompson was brave enough to try his hand at both cadet classes. He’d proved to be quicker
than anyone else in the Timed Qualifying session for Hondas and promptly won both Heats. Things began to go wrong in the Pre-final when he slipped down to 13th spot just aer the start. Eventually he climbed up to 5th place, before losing another three spots at the finish. Harry quickly made up ground in the Grand Final, challenging for 1st spot well before half distance. Wesley Mason remained unflustered out in front and, when Oliver Clarke made a move on Ben Fayers with four laps remaining, the two leaders were able to increase their advantage by 15 yards or more. Thompson got his wheels in front on the final lap, but Mason recaptured 1st spot several corners later. Wesley claimed his first “O” Plate victory by a couple of feet with Fayers back in 3rd spot ahead of Clarke once more.
Thompson’s 2nd place possibly came as a disappointment aer two outstanding performances in the Lile Green Man Series earlier that month.
51 years ago I first set eyes upon a Zip-kart. It turned up at a Rowrah race meeting in the hands of Jim Benoit. Back then the kart was designed and marketed by Alec Booms. Martin Hines and his father Mark were Zip agents, although I have a feeling that this particular one had been purchased from Motor Karts in Staffordshire. Some months afterwards Alec sold out to the Hines family and Marts Karts suddenly became simply Zipkart. Ever since, Zip has enjoyed a prominent place in UK kart sales. Over the last 25 years cadet racing, in particular, has been dominated by Zip. Until recently it usually accounted for 90% of the entry in IAME or Comer Cadet Classes at any given meeting.
A seismic shift has now taken place, largely due to Gary Bya’s Synergy kart which first appeared 12 months ago. During a club meeting at PFI in February I counted 20 Synergies amongst an IAME entry of 52. Zips still remained the most popular chassis, preferred by 25 contenders but their superiority has undoubtedly been challenged. Gary’s son Owen has now moved up to Mini-max and set the fastest lap time in an exciting final at PF. I suspect that Owen’s sterling performance might not have been the only reason why his father’s trademark grin was even wider than usual. People visiting their very first kart meeting are invariably taken aback by the skills on display from cadets. They’d be equally surprised at the way many of these young stars perform in post race interviews. At an age when most of us were nervously stumbling over our lines in the Christmas Play at school, today’s young karters seem at ease when confronted by a microphone or television camera. They can graphically describe race, how their tyres performed and what alterations were made to chassis set-up. At the end there’s usually a long list of acknowledgements to sponsors, mechanics, friends, parents, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
Sometimes, the performance Dexter Patterson – ‘He did it all hi’sen’ can seem too polished. Dexter Patterson is a little different and Mike Mills claims that interviewing him is always a refreshing experience. We were treated to an example of Dexter’s quick-fire wit at last year’s LGM Awards Night. “Who’d you like to thank for your successful season?” Mike enquired. “Naebody!” responded the young scot. “Ah did it all mahse’en!”
Mike Mills is a worried man right now. While other championship promoters might be concerned about insufficient entries, the Little Green Man Series organiser has been confronted with a massive problem. “I predicted that LGM numbers would be running at around 100 for each round,” says Mike. “This was based upon an expectation of 50 cadets turning out, with single grids in Junior and Senior X30. We are now looking to accommodate double grids in every class. All three classes are oversubscribed and the total number of registered drivers, including reserves, is now approaching 200. Most of the circuits we visit can run grids of 34. Those that can’t are prepared to run “C” Finals.”
The LGM Series for IAME cadet is a bone fide championship, albeit privately run with no MSA or ABkC tag aached. However, the X30 categories, by MSA decree, can’t run as a championship and so it’s surprising that so many should wish to participate. Of particular surprise are the 65 drivers who have registered in Senior X30. It must be 40 years since a senior class was able to aract such numbers without a title at stake. Are these figures an indication that the pendulum may be starting to swing away from cadets back towards older age groups? For those worried that kart clubs are overly reliant on cadet entries, this should be a welcome sign. So what’s the big problem, then?
Unfortunately, large numbers reduce track time. In order to get through Sunday’s race programme, many clubs with run six Heats on Saturday. Other things being equal, this should knock off around ninety minutes from practice. When they are paying £50 or more for Saturday practice it isn’t unreasonable for competitors to expect a minimum of four ten minute sessions. With a couple of minutes added on for kart recovery etc that amounts to virtually five hours for LGM categories alone. As most clubs will be including another five classes, you’re talking of more than ten or eleven hours, excluding lunch. Without making special arrangements such as early starts and staggered lunch breaks for officials, such a schedule would be impossible to meet. It’s a big challenge, not only for clubs, but the LGM team too. Little wonder, then, that Mike can be seen wearing a worried frown.
Ask any of today’s top motor racing drivers to recount their first karting experiences and there’s a strong probability that the Honda GX motor will have been involved. Low initial cost, renowned durability and ease of operation make this ubiquitous engine a firm favourite amongst rental kart operators throughout the world. With the MSA’s “Let’s Go Karting” scheme becoming increasingly popular, even more prospective new entrants are learning their skills courtesy of Honda power. The basic simplicity of these motors is a significant bonus, especially for those drivers with no mechanical background or previous knowledge of karting. You might expect, then, that competitors would be queuing up to race in the Honda Cadet class. Unfortunately in many parts of Britain, the stampede hasn’t quite materialised as yet, although there are signs of increasing interest.
The Scots have always been pretty canny when it comes to obtaining good value for money and Honda Cadets have certainly gained a strong foothold over the Border. The West of Scotland Kart Club chairman Jim McDonald confirms that Honda entries at Larkhall usually vary between 10 and 15 with only a handful of Comers taking part. Over in Ireland and the Isle of Man there’s a similar tale to tell, but throughout Northern England Comer engines remain predominant. Travelling further south, you’re into Honda territory once more with Bayford Meadows, Ellough Park, Llandow, Rye House, Red Lodge, Kimbolton, Clay Pigeon Blackbushe and Buckmore all attracting good grids. At Buckmore, for example more than 50 Honda cadets are contesting this year’s club championships with similar numbers reported at Bayford Meadows.
Notable Honda graduates from previous years include the names of current European KF3 champion Alexander Albon, Ben Cooper, Jordan Chamberlain, James Raven and Harrison Scott. Gerard Cox of Project One produces by far the most popular chassis in this class and he has an extensive knowledge of the sport developed over many years. “I don’t believe Honda is ever going to become Britain’s premier cadet class nor, in fairness, would we want it to be,” he points out. “What we can definitely offer is best value for money you’re ever likely to find in karting at club or national level. A brand new kart and fully prepared motor will cost £2,200 + VAT, with good second-hand versions available at around £1,000. For those who want to compete successfully at Super One level, a sensible budget would be around £10,000 per year, but this figure is still well below the amount required for other classes.”
Proof of Honda Cadet’s growing popularity can be found in Project One’s sales ledger. In the first six months of this year, sales have been particularly buoyant. “We’ll be having a new homologation at the end of this year this year and I thought we might have seen a detrimental effect on our orders but thankfully that certainly hasn’t been the case,”” Gerard points out. “There’ll be no really significant design change and any improvements we do make can be retro fitted, so that older karts don’t become obsolete. We don’t do any engine preparation ourselves, but recommend the services of Pro-kart Engineering or RPM. You’ll always find parents who want to buy success and we’ve had examples of motors being sold for over £3,000. Personally, I wouldn’t advise anyone to pay much more than half of that amount even if they’re racing at the very highest level.”
On the subject of engine price, Gerard is very enthusiastic about a scheme first initiated at Buckmore Park and Bayford Meadows. At these circuits, a Honda Clubman category has been introduced with compulsory purchase the main feature. Under this scheme, If any motor looks particularly quick, it can be bought for a fixed price of £500. Around 15 drivers regularly compete in the Clubman’s class at Buckmore, with 20 or so taking part in the “Open” category. At Bayford Meadows, Clubman is usually more popular attracting around 18 entrants compared to a dozen or so in the Open events. It’s an exciting idea that could make the class an extremely attractive proposition if adopted elsewhere in Britain.
In this year’s Super One Series for Honda Cadet, Billy Monger, Jack Evans, Dave Wooder, Robbie Gallier, Luke Knott and Jack McCarthy have all featured prominently. Admittedly it isn’t one of the best supported classes in Super One with around 20 or so competitors regularly turning up at each round. Nevertheless, those drivers who do take part usually maintain high standards. In the Clubmans category, Jarvis Devon, Oscar Thorpe, Luke Wooder and Connor Grady and Thomas Manning have come to the fore. “Whether it’s a Clubman’s event at Bayford Meadows or a Super One round elsewhere in the country, you’ll invariably find that the Honda Cadet class will be won by a young lad run by his dad and I think that’s fairly rare in karting these days” says Gerard. “I believe it’s very important for the future of our sport that such a class is still available.”
Speaking selfishly from a purely spectator’s point of view, I have to admit that four strokes have never excited me in the way that Comer or WTPs can. It’s not a question of actual speed, because lap times show that Hondas are every bit as quick as any other current cadet engine. It’s more to do with noise and, I suppose, a smell of castor oil giving an impression that the two stroke machines are somehow circulating quicker. If I was paying the bill for a season’s racing myself, then Honda Cadet would obviously be my choice every time. Living in the North, there’s the small matter of finding sufficient venues to race at. Hopefully, this problem will be rectified as more parents discover the advantages that the class offers. As the recession begins to bite even harder, it’s worth asking whether clubs can afford to ignore an inexpensive entry level class which Honda obviously offers. 2011 could turn out to be an interesting year.
“It’s just a piddling Little Green Man Championship, after all.” That was how one parent described last year’s LGM Series. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I suspect that most of the drivers taking part would have heartily disagreed.
No less than 58 IAME cadets participated in last year’s Series and there’s been an increase of 14 this time around. That’s almost twice the number bothering to show up for the S1 British Championships. Off hand, I can think of only two S1 entrants who didn’t also take part in the LGM and that says quite a bit about how this competition is generally regarded. Having said that, I don’t suppose Teddy Wilson would wish to swap his British title for the huge LGM cup recently claimed by Tom Wood. I remember speaking to the 2004 Little Green Man Champion, Jordon Lennox-Lamb. He’d also finished as runner up in that year’s S1 Comer Cadet Championships. Had it not been for the round at Silverstone being cancelled, thus preventing him from dropping his worst score, Jordon might well have won the Stars of Tomorrow Championships which, in those days, carried a British title. He echoed the sentiments expressed earlier by his predecessor Jack Harvey.
“Mike Mills has done a superb job with the Little Green Man which has to be the best presented championship for cadets,” he declared. “It’s contested by a lot more drivers than any other competition but, if I’m being honest, I’d rather have won a British title as it carries far more prestige.” Jordon’s word still ring true ten years later. That’s how things should be and I doubt if even Mike Mills would want to see the British title devalued to such an extent that it becomes of secondary importance. Nor would it be right for such an honour to be moved from S1 to a club based series like the Little Green Man. If that ever happened, I believe the LGM Series would lose so much of its character that many contenders would desert in their droves. Although it doesn’t carry quite the same prestige as a British title, however, the Little Green Man crown is probably harder to win.
As Oliver York’s mechanic and mentor Roddy Taylor remarked more than 12 months ago, winning this championship requires a cool head in adverse circumstances, rather than being necessarily the quickest. In 2014 Tom Wood certainly demonstrated that he possessed this particular quality. A couple of days after Tom’s Little Green Man win at PF, Mike Mills suggested that I might work out the points scored from all of this year’s major IAME cadet championships to see who would emerge on top. These were S1, LGM, Kartmasters and the “O” Plate. I think Mike expected the outcome of such an exercise would be either Wilson or Wood emerging on top. On this, he was only half right.
Scoring 40 points for a win in each competition, 38 for 2nd and then diminishing by 1 point per position, I came up with the following rather surprising tally; Teddy Wilson (148); 2. Kiern Jewiss (142); 3. Jonny Edgar (140); 4, Zac Robertson (139); 5. Dexter Patterson (138); 6. Tom Wood (135). Interestingly the first three positions mirror those from S1. Tom Wood’s relatively poor showing is entirely due to his involvement in collisions at both Kartmasters and the “O” Plate. Equally, Edgar’s score was affected by missing two of the Little Green Man rounds. It’s not meant to be a serious exercise, of course. Very few would rank an “O” Plate title as being equivalent to S1, but coming up with an accurate weighting procedure is difficult when there are so many arguments as to the merits of each. Ultimately, I think it’s fair to say this year’s four main championships all produced different winners, but Wilson and Wood claimed the two titles that really mattered in most peoples’ eyes.