Written By: Dave Bewley
Standfirst: Christmas Day, 1959 was a memorable occasion for me. Seven weeks after Graham Hill won Britain’s first kart race I received my very own speed machine, a second-hand Hercules bicycle with full size wheels.
My dad bought the bike from Eddie Thornborrow’s garage at Lowca, where it had been taken in part exchange for a car. It cost £3 (more than £90 at today’s rates), but was already pretty old. However it polished up well and I thought that the bike was all any nine-year-old lad could possibly want. Eddie’s nephew, Ian, had been my best friend since we started infant school together. Santa had been even more generous in Ian’s case and brought him a brand spanking new Philips bike that boasted at least one unique feature. It had a bicycle speedometer not seen anywhere else in the neighbourhood. Rather optimistically, it could measure speeds of up to 40mph.
Amidst much talk of “going around the clock” we planned a test run. The only stretch where such speeds might conceivably be attained was a very steep downhill section from Moresby to Lowca. It was followed immediately by a tight hairpin bend requiring heavy braking and much squealing of tyres. Despite several hair-raising attempts and one perilously close encounter with a Cumberland Bus, the 40mph mark remained out of reach. Ian claimed that he’d actually got up to 35 mph and, following close behind on my old Hercules, I could boast the same achievement. Boast about it we certainly did, at least amongst school pals, although neither of us ever dared breathe a word to our parents.
I look back at the buzz this gave us and have a smile to myself. It was almost as if we’d broken Donald Campbell’s world records. We certainly never imagined back then that kids several years younger than ourselves would one day be racing quite legally at speeds in excess of 50mph. In this respect it’s easy to understand the MSA’s insistence that Cadet racing should be slowed down next year. Health & Safety experts would no doubt express outrage at the very notion that eight-year-old boys and girls could be placed in control of such high speed motorised vehicles.
Ask any Cadet of whatever age and you’ll no doubt get a different response. They’d prefer to be going quicker rather than slower. Those of us who have observed this class over many years may well agree. I certainly haven’t noticed any signs that current speeds achieved by Comer and Honda motors are too high for eight-year-olds to handle. You could argue that Cadet speeds have changed very little over 25 years and accidents are even less common in this class than elsewhere. Why, then, is there a sudden desire to slow things down?
The reason it’s happening in 2013 is because we’ll have a brand new motor and with it comes an opportunity to introduce change. I can understand perfectly the view that speeds shouldn’t be allowed to increase year upon year. The prevailing theory is that any new engine will, in time, get quicker as engine tuners become more acquainted with its subtle characteristics. If it starts off half a second slower, the argument goes, then speeds will reach the median in two or three years time.
The problem is that, for 2013 at least, many clubs will be running combined grids consisting of Hondas, Comers and IAME engines, so it’s imperative for them to attain similar speeds. The MSA has insisted that measures will be taken to slow Hondas and Comers so that they are certainly no quicker than the new IAME motor. I can see all kinds of complications arising from such a policy and we’ll no doubt hear complaints from aggrieved Comer or Honda owners that their motors have been unfairly restricted.
Rather than introduce restrictions on all three motors, the simplest solution would be for IAME engines to be maintained at the benchmark figure set by a Comer currently competing in top level events. If the MSA fears are confirmed and these engines keep getting quicker then further measures could be taken to slow them down. However, I don’t believe that thoroughbred race engines, built to exacting tolerances, should actually get any quicker with the passage of time. 2007 was the year in which outlet restrictors were imposed upon WTP B5 motors. Records set on many circuits that year have remained unbroken since then. Any significant increase in Comer W60 speeds can be attributed to a relaxation of the rules regarding castor-based oil plus, of course, the larger Tryton carburettor now in use.
There’s an obvious contradiction in MSA philosophy with regard to speeds reached by young kids. Whilst still aged 13, the 2010 WTP champion Sam Priest stepped out of his 50mph Cadet kart straight into a Ginetta sports car capable of speeds well in excess of 100mph. Admittedly he wasn’t allowed to actually race it until his 14th birthday but could still quite legally take part in test sessions. Rather than advising against such a move, the MSA seems to encourage it. To borrow a phrase commonly used by the legal profession, “I rest my case.”