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Vintage Karting’s Travelling Barbecuer and Max-Torque Clutch Mechanic

The Max Torque Special Banchi FKE kart  Frank Weir
The Max Torque Special Banchi FKE kart
Frank Weir

By Frank Weir

There’s a gentleman living in the western suburbs of Chicago who drives across America to vintage karting events.

He has travelled to Barnesville on the east coast, to Riverside on the west coast, and all the other meetings in between in a little BMW mini with a flat pack mobile kitchen in the back. He wears an Australian bushman’s hat that he picked up during his travels down under and he can usually be found at lunch time cooking on a hot barbecue producing very tasty hot dogs with all the trimmings. And here’s the great thing about this caterer, he does not have a cashiers till. The food is complimentary; the gentleman just enjoys cooking for the folks involved with vintage karting.

The gentleman also performs another important duty. He services the Max-Torque clutches so favoured by many of the vintage karting community. The clutch service bay is located adjacent to the kitchen worktop. Let me immediately add that the cooking and servicing are separate and do not take place at the same time!

Max-Torque has been popular with karting competitors from the early days of the sport. Their advertisement in the November 1961 edition of Karting World magazine proclaims that 26 of the Go Kart Club of America Trophy winners at the Mansfield Nationals that year were equipped with Max-Torque clutches.

The gentleman’s name is Jim Donovan and he is the Vice President of Max-Torque. Jim was not an engineer when he was initially asked if he would be interested in acquiring the Max-Torque business; he was more of a finance man, a sort of venture capitalist. Since buying the Max-Torque business Jim has acquired an impressive amount of engineering knowledge, so much so that you would not know that his background was not mechanical engineering.

It is said that you only get one chance to make a first impression and what an impression I got when I entered the lobby area of the open plan front office at Max-Torque. Centre stage was one of Harv Aschenbrenner’s beautiful 1966 Banchi FKE karts, the famous Max-Torque Special which was clocked at 148 mph when driven by the late Don Surwall. The Banchi on display is actually a replica of Surwall’s machine right down to the decals.

The Max-Torque plant is large. The automation and outside sourcing means that few operatives are required, just seven folks are on the payroll. There is plenty of space between the different stations involved in the manufacture. The place is clean and bright and there is order to the manufacturing process. The inventory is controlled by one of the office computers. When required a huge press is set up to make the clutch drums, other parts are out sourced to be finish in the factory and then feed into the final assembly. After assembly it’s on to the shipping area to wait for the mid afternoon UPS pick up.

Four-stroke competition and leisure karting accounts for much of the business but other forms of engine propelled activities such as vintage karting, snowmobiles and golf course green clippers provide additional product outlet.

At the rear of the factory various karts, from competition machines to fun karts, are stored. These karts are used as test beds for the clutches. It takes about an hour to drive to the test circuit in Norway, Illinois, but if a quick test is required the parking lot is large enough to accommodate a short trial run. Also located in this area is a subsidiary of the company run by Jim’s son. Here engine and rear axle belt drive sprockets are machined as well as rear axle sprocket carriers.

Earlier I said that Jim was in work by 5.30 am. His day at the plant finishes about 6.00 pm. This is an indicator that he very much enjoys what he does and his involvement with vintage karting at the track proves that the VP of Max-Torque is very much a hands-on guy.

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OFF TRACK

Moss
Almost 52 years have elapsed since the first official kart race in Britain was won by Graham Hill on a Progress kart. Just how much progress has actually been made in the sport since then is a matter for debate.

Sir Stirling Moss was recently asked by Octane Magazine to give his impressions of karting as an occasional participant in the sport when it first came to Britain. “I thought it was great fun,” he said. “It hadn’t taken off as the big deal that it’s now become. It was something completely new, and I never imagined that it would later be used as a stepping stone for every F1 driver. It was just a sport where you could compete against others in similar little vehicles.”

I don’t doubt that the comment was sincerely intended as a compliment and would probably be regarded as such by most readers. Others, though, might interpret the last sentence a little differently. The phrase “just a sport where you could compete against others in similar little vehicles” probably doesn’t chime with many parents who are seriously intent on setting their kids on the path to F1 stardom.

It’s always possible to exaggerate the so-called improvements that have taken place. There’s a popular conception that karting is much bigger and faster today than it was 50 years ago. This is certainly an opinion shared by most journalists and television commentators who genuinely believe that karts throughout the sixties were all powered by lawn-mower engines incapable of exceeding 25mph.

In fact, from the very outset, some gearbox karts were recording top speeds of 70mph because of their high power to weight ratio. Records at several circuits in 1960 showed average lap speeds of 60mph which would be a respectable pace even today. At the 1961 Rest And Be Thankful Hill Climb Paul Biagi’s 200cc Bultaco Buckler kart was more than two seconds quicker than the fastest car, a 3.8 litre Jaguar.

Sir Stirling’s assertion that “karting hadn’t taken off as the big deal that it’s now become” warrants closer scrutiny. His first recorded race meeting took place in November 1960 during the Nassau Speed Week and this event really was a big deal. Hailed as the Karting World Championships, it was fiercely contested by 200 drivers from eight different countries. Joining Stirling in the British team were Dave McMullan and Roger Biss both driving Trokarts

Just a few days earlier, Moss had claimed his 14th Grand Prix win at Riverside and started this event as a firm favourite. However, his Keele-kart powered by twin Bultaco motors proved to be no match for the lighter American machines and he finished well down the running order. After 100 laps of this half mile circuit had been completed, 16 year old Bobby Allen from Miami Springs collected the $5,000 winning prize together with a trophy that almost matched his own height.

There was no shortage of big events in Europe either. More than 50,000 spectators turned out to watch Britain’s Lennox Broughton win the 1960 Barcelona GP on a Fastakart/Villiers. Many other Formula One stars joined Stirling Moss in trying out karts, including world champions Jack Brabham and Graham Hill. Ferrari’s top star Wolfgang Von Trips had actually built a kart circuit near Cologne on which to try his recently acquired Italkart with twin McCullochs. This track, now known as the Michael Schumacher Circuit, is still in use today.

Sir Stirling says that in 1960 he never imagined karting would become a stepping stone for every F1 driver. I don’t think anyone else at that time did, either. There were certainly one or two very promising drivers who would eventually move into cars. However, these young stars were prepared to wait until they’d reached karting’s pinnacle before expressing F1 ambitions.

Thirty or forty years ago I’d follow the motor racing careers of men like Peterson, Williamson, Brise, Rosberg, and Mansell, taking pride in the knowledge that they’d come from karting’s ranks. Every single one of today’s F1 drivers started off in karting, but I’m not sure that there’s any particular merit in being regarded as the first rung on a very long and precarious ladder. It’s far better, in my view, that karting should stand as an independent branch of motorsport, operating in its own right.

When Sir Stirling Moss expressed the sentiment that karting has come a long way since its first introduction into Britain, many will have nodded their heads in silent agreement. Personally, I’d like to go back 50 years when we had over 5,000 licence holders and almost 120 registered kart clubs in Britain. If the MSA can bring in measures to reduce the cost of competition and somehow replicate these figures, then we really will have made progress.

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Off Track

Sissons

Call out the Instigators, Because there’s something in the air, We’ve got to get together sooner or later, Because the Revolution’s here. Thunderclap Newman (“Something in the Air” 1969)

By Dave Bewley
Down at Motorsports House radical changes are afoot and many knickers have been getting in a twist. Team bosses mutter about moving their operations abroad, while some of the richer clubs complain that they’ll be forced into liquidation. There’s a whiff of revolution in the air as conspirators whisper darkly about setting up a rival governing body even though such attempts have always met with abject failure on previous occasions.

Much, if not all of the discontent is focused on an idea to run the British Championships over three rounds with regional qualifiers. As this plan also involves dispensing with the various national championships now running, there is widespread consternation amongst teams, organisers and participating clubs that their income will be radically reduced.

My own club will be particularly affected. This year, Rowrah has already benefitted from lucrative FKS and S1 Rotax rounds, together with a very successful ABkC O Plate meeting. In addition, another S1 round is scheduled for September, this time taking in MSA and TKM classes. Club meetings in the months leading up to these events attract greatly enhanced entries so losing them will certainly have an impact upon the Balance Sheet.

The first British Kart Championships in 1961 were held over a single meeting at Brands Hatch. By all accounts it wasn’t particularly well organised and several competitors complained about wrecking their karts after hitting the wooden sleepers which marked the circuit. Tony Sisson was happy enough as he became the first of eight outright British Champions.

For the next two years, the championships were contested over eight rounds. Bobby Alderdice, the 16 year old son of an American airman, won in 1962 and George Bloom, almost 40 years his senior, claimed victory 12 months later. Some competitors complained about travelling to eight different circuits, claiming that many talented drivers were being excluded because of the costs involved.

This led to a different arrangement in 1964 when regional qualifying rounds were held with a final taking place at Shenington where more than 200 drivers turned out. So keen was the competition for places in this prestigious event that many qualifiers had reputedly sold their entries to less fortunate drivers. Amazingly Bruno Ferrari won three of the six class titles on offer, but it was Chris Lambert who emerged as the outright British Champion.

The same formula was repeated in 1965 when Chris Merlin came away from Debden as the outright champion. In 1966 the championships were held over three rounds at Fulbeck, Flookburgh and Brand Hatch. Mickey Allen claimed the outright title after a tense battle with Paul Fletcher. It was back to a single round formula in 1967 when Dave Ferris won the number 1 plate at Little Rissington. Stephen South was successful the following year at Shenington.

“The British Championships could be decided over a single weekend with S1 winners allocated “O” Plate titles.”

By 1969, the championships had grown too big for a single event and they were split into two groups. Flookburgh played host to the gearbox classes and Fulbeck was chosen for all of the 100cc categories. It was decided to dispense with the title of outright British Champion. Instead of a single driver being allowed to sport the number 1 plate, we suddenly had six. With hindsight, I feel that this was a mistake and has led to widespread confusion with literally dozens of drivers now claiming that they are British karting champions.

The British Championships in various classes continued to be contested over a single meeting right up until 1991. Before then the popular Super One Series was allocated national O Plate status. There’s a very persuasive argument that titles won over several rounds ought to carry more weight than any of those decided at a single meeting. However, it’s also true that, with only a couple of exceptions, the World Championships have been held at a single venue each year.

The argument almost 50 years ago that multi-round championships excluded competitors on low budgets is even more valid today. In 1962 many competitors were travelling to each round and returning back home in a single day with no hotel bills involved. In 2011 drivers tend to allocate five days for each meeting. Whereas ten years ago Super One contenders were recognised chiefly for their ability, the main distinguishing feature now is that they’ve all got sizeable budgets.

I sympathise with the view at Motor Sports House that British Championships need to become more inclusive. You can achieve this without necessarily causing a major upheaval. For one year, purely as an experiment, the roles could be switched back to how they were before 1991. That means MSA British Championships being decided in one weekend, with S1 winners allocated O Plate titles. It probably wouldn’t succeed in keeping everyone happy but at least there would be no need to “call out the Instigators”.

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OFF TRACK! – Age

RyeHouse65 001Tongues were wagging in the tiny West Cumberland village of Aspatria. The gossip revolved around my paternal grandfather who had been born out of wedlock to an 18 year old girl. Rumour had it that Glaister Bewley, a local poacher and renowned Jack the Lad, was responsible. Upon hearing these stories his wife, already a mother of two children approached the baby who was sleeping peacefully in an orange box outside. She took one look at his face, saw the resemblance and immediately marched back home with him. What would now constitute a heinous crime was regarded as an act of charity in those days. Granddad came off pretty well. He was brought up in a loving family and always remained extremely close to his adoptive mother. In later life he became a lorry driver and preached in the Gospel Hall every Sunday. His other great passions were motorcycles and Rugby League, in which sport he served at one time as a referee. He would have made a good kart racing official and had the paperwork to prove it.

Attitudes and legal requirements have changed a lot in the 120 years since my grandfather was snatched from his orange box. Lax regulation may have had a happy ending for him, but in all walks of life we generally need a system of well enforced rules to protect personnel and their possessions. Motor-sport used to be relatively lightly regulated and some good people lost their lives as a result. In 1958 when Mike Hawthorn became Britain’s first F1 world champion two of his Ferrari team-mates, Luigi Musso and Peter Collins had already been killed that year. Even as Mike celebrated winning the title in Casablanca, fellow Brit Stuart Lewis-Evans was being airlifted to hospital suffering from severe burns that would claim his life within six more days. Ten years later, Mike Spence Joe Schlesser, Jim Clark and Ludovico Scarfiotti were also killed. Thanks to much improved safety regulations, more than 16 years have elapsed since Ayrton Senna became the last F1 fatality.

The high profile F1 campaign for greater safety has undoubtedly had a knock on effect in karting. All sorts of rules and requirements have been introduced, most of them entirely sensible. At one time, the only rule regarding clothing was that you had to wear a crash helmet. Many drivers chose to race in boiler suits, but quite a few opted for pullovers and flapping flannel trousers. Joe Eaves, President of the Ribble Kart Club, never raced without a cigar clenched firmly between his teeth, while Zeke Myers often went out smoking a pipe. Many races took place on airfields, with the circuit marked out by disused oil drums. Spectators were allowed to stand close up, often without any barriers separating them from the action. Where fencing did exist, it was often inappropriate. One day at Catterick, two karts crashed into the wire fence, dislodging a concrete post. This went sailing in an arc before smashing into a Ford Corsair parked nearby. Serious injury was avoided, but only by good fortune.

There can be no doubt about the immense improvements made in protective clothing, circuit design and kart construction over the years. Kart racing certainly appeared to be much more dangerous four or five decades ago, yet I stand by my previous assertion that we actually have more accidents in today’s highly regulated climate. How this can possibly happen is a matter for debate. One competitor rather glibly argued that, as today’s karts are much quicker, you’d expect the risks to be higher. The problem with this theory is that the karts of 30 years ago were faster than modern versions, as recent tests have conclusively proved.

An answer may lie in the type of people who are attracted into the sport today. When Moss, Hill, Surtees, Clark and Stewart were all plying their trade, the risks of mortality were pretty high so that very few parents actually encouraged their offspring to take up motor racing. F1 is considered today to be a relatively safe and extremely lucrative business. Suddenly, parents who wouldn’t previously have given karting a second glance are pushing their kids into the sport, believing that this will lead to bigger and better things. It’s brought about a dramatic change in the karting landscape. 40 years ago, only around 5% of kart competitors were aged sixteen or under. Today, that pattern has been almost completely reversed. There’s a simple reason why insurance premiums are so high for drivers of a certain age and it’s all to do with young blood running that little bit hotter.

Average age isn’t the only thing that’s come down. Older hands insist that driving standards have also been greatly reduced in recent years. Many parents are now spending large amounts of money so that their children gain success and they demand an instant return for their cash. It produces greater pressure for team owners as well as young drivers. With professional tuition and lots of time in the seat, it’s relatively easy to produce fast times. Race-craft takes much longer to develop. As more events take place based upon timed practice, it’s possible for some drivers to get good results without ever learning the skills of overtaking. If they suddenly find themselves at the back, it’s no wonder that some of them will react by making wild lunges. The system of allocating every competitor with front, back and middle grid positions in their Heats has served us well for more than half a century and I’d argue that, for club meetings at least, we should stick with it.

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Same as it ever was

SKMBT_C25310102711010Tories in Number Ten and the unions calling for everybody out. The status quo has returned to life as I know it. But as the poster says – Keep Calm and Carry On
Have you noticed how local commercial radio stations are obsessed with 80’s nostalgia? Guided by invisible, non-expert focus groups Programme Controllers the length and breadth of the country believe that your cheesily cheerful male-female breakfast crew must feed you a diet of fake jollity and Come on Eileen.

The irony is, between inviting you to guess What Was the Year?, remember Pixie Boots and the smell of vinyl records, DJs rarely encourage you to look back with fondness to the rubbish bits of life in the 80’s.

Then, just as now, we had cuts – and of course the seemingly ever-present threat of strikes. In fact, I recall virtually all of my mates from south Yorkshire suddenly stopped racing as the impending miners’ strike loomed over us like a dark cloud.

As the Conservatives increasingly appeared on the telly with determined, set jaws to tell us it was going to be tough – but ultimately for the best – the noisy lefties would rail against the nasty poshos, before smashing the place up.

So imagine how flicking open a copy of The Times and seeing a photograph of a vegetarian holding a Socialist Worker placard calling to ‘Stop The Tory Wreckers – TUC: Call A General Strike’ seemed all so familiar. This time around the cuts will affect everyone, but so far it is the middle class squealing the most. The Government has already quite rightly removed Child Benefit from those who don’t actually need it and squeezed the BBC (creating a new opportunity for the luvvies and comedians it employs to display their socialist credentials on the airwaves like John Prescott flaunting his, albeit trousered, genitals at Prince Charles).

For someone brought up in the 70’s and 80’s it is all vaguely reassuring. Before you start filling bottles with old racing fuel and stuffing rags into the top and preparing to chuck them in my general direction, I am not trying to be glib or make light of what will surely be a time of awful anxiety for many. However, this could genuinely be a great new start for some.

After being made redundant in the 90’s I considered my options. I’d worked in media sales for five years and wanted a new challenge. I considered retraining to be a chef but opted to go for a job in something I really loved – motorsport. At the rather odd closing round of this year’s Super1 MSA series I noticed several new teams were present. These have been established by people who are clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about the sport and reminded me of my great friend Dannie ‘Dadson’ Pennell’s sage advice when I daydreamed aloud that ‘I’d love to work in karting’. He said, “You’ve got a bit of a problem there. As a driver, you’re too old and too slow to make it, and mechanically you’re stupid. You’ll just have to find something you can do.”

‘Bit ‘arsh’, I thought to myself. But he was right. Ironically and not long after, I was offered an advert in the London Cup programme. ‘What am I going to advertise?’ I asked, given that by now I was regional head of creative for a national radio company and writing the occasional race report for Karting Magazine. “Y’know, what you do. It’s there if you want it,” came the encouraging reply. I thought about it and did indeed advertise. I created a company name, an email address and – when I agreed a deal with my first ever customer on the balcony of Rye House at the race – an opportunity.

In the 80’s, racing a Wilson Premier chassis (made by six-time World Champion Mike Wilson’s father Brian) gave me reason to cross the Pennines and visit the Wilson’s former Co-Op near Barnsley and race at Wombwell. This made me fully aware of the effect the miners’ strike had on Yorkshire’s communities and I sincerely hope that people in the public sector will not be persuaded, as Scargill did the miners, to engage in open conflict with the Government. This serves only the ideologies of the union bosses on £100k+ salaries and grubby ne’er do wells with statement haircuts. The coming months and years will be tough and scary, but beyond the “hair-shirted, purse-lipped, middle-class dinosaurs” (as Giles Coren recently called some members of the left-leaning press) crying not fair, there could well be a chance for some to start afresh and bring a new wave of entrepreneurial spirit into karting. After all, at the beginning of the decade we just had three basic 100cc classes; Britain, National and International, but less than ten years later this had doubled – and next year Super 1 alone could be offering in the region of 15 classes.

Just as karting is a great way to blow your money, it is also an exciting market in which to earn it.

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Tiff and Tam

_17H1450 AA recent article in Karting magazine (Round the Bend: September 2010) reflected that today’s kart racing scene doesn’t have the heroes of yesteryear. Well I wasn’t around in karting 20 years ago so I wouldn’t know, but I would argue that today’s scene, if short on heroes, is not lacking in heroines – a couple of them in fact.

I’m thinking of the best, and most famous, kart racing sisters in the world, our own dynamic duo, the Chittenden girls, Tamsin and Tiffany.

Why should we see them as heroines? Well maybe Celebrities would be a more appropriate title, although neither of them would claim to be either a heroine or a celebrity. To be blunt they would both be very happy to be judged purely on their racing skills. However, having recently unearthed some facts I didn’t previously know, and I suspect a lot of karting folk don’t know either, I have no hesitation in saying they are well worthy of their non-sought-after status as Celebs.

Nor are they short of brain power. For instance did you know that Tiffany has a university degree in Media and Communications, has worked at TV studios where Electronic Animation was her speciality and where she produced a film on Ayrton Senna? She also won an award for an NSPCC film on childminding ‘Horizon’ and all this whilst continuing racing and working as a race instructor in her spare (?) time.

Tamsin had been a successful student at Art College at Redhill and subsequently at Croydon College. She had always been interested in Special Effects and worked with a film company in this field.

Then in a complete change of direction, she began to train in Dentistry. By common agreement, she was good enough to have gained her full Dental Qualifications but she was unable to resist the lure of the racing scene and settled instead for qualification as a Dental Nurse and which profession she practices today in between the heavy racing schedule. Nevertheless, she did point out that ‘I still wouldn’t mind working towards the full qualification in the future when the racing finishes. My boss is a high profile lecturer and I constantly learn a lot from him anyway’. So that door may not be closed for all time.

Like her younger sister, marshalling her available time and trying to fit everything into a 24 hour day is the big challenge. She’s very much a 7 days a week worker fitting in the mechanic’s role for her racing husband Dave as well as running her own drivers within Dave’s DG Racing stable. Dave incidentally was a successful Formula Ford 1600 and F3 driver and returns the favour by taking care of all the mechanic’s duties when Tam is kart racing.

How did it all start? Well the family motor sport pedigree is deep and strong. Dad, Mike has been racing for decades, and still turns out in World Sports Car and Group 6 Sports Car classes. He’s raced all over Europe as well as here in the UK with Germany’s Nurburgring probably rated as his most enjoyable venue. He would race more but the demands of his daughters’ racing schedules restrict what he might otherwise do.

Tamsin is 7 years older than Tiffany and they have a brother Jonathan born more or less half way between them. He started racing first, though the girls weren’t slow to follow. Their early racing days were spent in Formula 6 on their local track, Buckmore Park, but their young lives were already those of a racing family. ‘We’d be constantly going away with Dad when he was racing. We went everywhere even when we were still at school’ Tam recalled.

However, as Tiff remarked, ‘I wouldn’t like to be him when we are both racing in the same event and especially in the same race. When Tam and I qualified on the front row on a particular occasion he was at full stretch with everybody winding him up’. But she’s full of gratitude for Dad. ‘We wouldn’t be racing but for him’ she said, but then realising that that was a something of a statement of the biologically obvious she qualified her comments. ‘He brought all of us up in difficult circumstances but still looked after us brilliantly as a racing family, and managed to race himself, and get us all racing even though we’ve always had to do everything on a shoestring budget’. There was a fulsome cocktail of emotions – love, admiration, pride and respect – in her voice as she spoke.

Tiff, as the youngest of the 3, had been the last to start racing but when she won her first race – on Mothering Sunday in Jonathan’s kart – Dad thought that perhaps she could also become a serious racer. ‘I already knew I wanted to’ she told me.

All 3 made good progress and graduated from F6 into 100cc racing and into Super One. All this time Mike was still running the three of them as well as trying to satisfy the demands of his own motor racing career.

The much later switch to DD2 racing, where the girls have made their best mark on the international kart racing scene, came unexpectedly. John and Jean Gravett of JAG had offered encouragement and Tristan Oman then of HRS had got in touch. ‘This is a new class. Do you want a go?’ was the message. ‘Yep’ said Tiff, without really knowing what it was, and without having raced in ordinary Rotax Max!

When she had won a couple of rounds of the British Championship on her way to the title, she was asked by Tristan if she fancied racing in Europe in the Rotax Euro Challenge. Tamsin had already made her debut in that series a year or so earlier in a one-off appearance in France in the Max Senior class. Now both of them are regulars in DD2. ‘It’s a brilliant class, fast and technical with good racing between top drivers. If people saw it they would rate it, and yet there seems to be a prejudice against it in this country’ they reflected.

The class has given both ladies the chance to firmly establish themselves on an international stage primarily in mainland Europe although Tiff also qualified for the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi in 2007, before making her American kart racing debut in the DD2 class in early 2009.

But back to Dad. What’s Mike’s view of his racing daughters and out of curiosity, which of them does he think is the better of the two? Well he wasn’t going to be drawn into that latter argument but volunteered this. ‘All three of them, Jonathan as well as the girls, have a competitive streak in them. But none of them would gain an advantage unfairly’.

‘The girls are both very dedicated and professional. And they both stick up for each other’. The one moment when I was able to get Mike to pass a potentially partisan view was when he compared Tam’s racing when her younger sister was in the race and then when she wasn’t. ‘If Tiff is in front, Tam will really go for it. If Tiff’s not there, Tam will still have a good Go but maybe not with quite the same dedicated focus’.

What of the girls’ views of each other? No dissent whatsoever to be found there. ‘She’s a very good racing driver’ Tam said of Tiff. Same story the other way round though Tiff came up with a lovely additional sentiment. ‘She has always been good. I used to look up to her when I watched her before I raced. Now when we race together I have to put that aside. But in my head nothing’s changed. She is still my big sister that I have always looked up to and always will’. Mmm, I liked that.

Then there is the obvious point that they are both very attractive ladies. Long blonde hair and eyes of blue for both of them and Tam must surely have the longest hair, blonde or otherwise, male or female, anywhere in karting. Was that a deliberate ploy to get noticed? ‘Not at all’ Tam explained with barely a second’s thought. ‘I just decided to keep it long. It’s easier when you’re racing. I just tuck it down my suit. As simple as that’. But then she did find one personal angle for a closing remark. ‘And anyway Dave likes it long’.

Tamsin married Dave Germain 3 years ago and they travel everywhere together when Tam is racing. Tiffany is unmarried but Dad is always on hand to see things are taken good care of mechanically as he still tries to balance his attention equally between his girls.

Tiffany, and her long blonde hair, was the subject of a rather eye catching glamour shot in a magazine some months back. Could that signal the start of a photo modelling career perhaps? She was keen to spell out the context of the story and the photo. ‘I’m a racing driver, and that article was to make the point that women and girls can be motor racing drivers, or other things in a man’s world, yet still look feminine’. So it wasn’t a glamour shot in isolation. ‘I had won the DD2 British Championship first and only then did I do the glamour shoot. I have actually turned down many similar offers because first and foremost I want to be taken seriously as a racing driver. That’s far more important’. Fair enough I thought as I felt ever so slightly put in my place.

What about being a Mum one day? ‘Yes, me and Dave obviously talk about it but there’s no time at present. Right now we are too busy with the racing so it will have to wait – but one day……’ was Tamsin’s response to that question. It was much the same with Tiffany. ‘I am single at the moment with not a lot of time for boyfriends. In fact there’s no time for anything else besides racing.’ Then after a short pause she continued ‘One day yes, but at the minute I love doing this. I am happy as things are at present’. Then, after another pause, perhaps a little personal insight emerged. ‘Dave and Tam are made for each other. Racing’s the big reason’ she explained, with maybe just a hint of wishful thinking in her eyes.

Tamsin incidentally gained a sort of celebrity status a while back courtesy of winning a Karting magazine competition launched in the March 2006 issue. A year’s supply of Miller’s Oils was the prize. As she recalled, ‘they were really good to us and even helped us out afterwards. Dave is still in touch with them and we continue to use their products for our team at home’.

Let’s check out with the ladies what they think are their best achievements in kart racing. Tamsin reflected on a general theme rather than specific victories. ‘In Formula ‘A’ I always felt that we did well to get the results we did on nowhere near the fastest motors. Then I was in at the start of Senior MAX and in Super 1 we kept plugging away with regular top ten finishes. A 4th place in the ‘A’ Final at Wigan Three Sisters comes to mind beating Michael Simpson on the day. Also in the Rotax Euro Challenge I’ve had 6 podium finishes in 3 years in the DD2 Masters category which I am quite pleased with’.

Tiffany points to a couple of specific moments of immense pride. ‘When I began racing in the Rotax Euro Challenge, I really had to up my game’ she acknowledged. ‘That was DD2 racing at its best with some great drivers. So I was very proud to become the first girl to make the podium in any class in that series’. I saw that race. It was indeed a great effort in a very competitive international entry. She feels that that achievement eclipsed her previous karting ‘first’ when she became the first ever girl to qualify on Pole in Formula ‘A’. Then in an afterthought she remembered a satisfying victory over Karting magazine columnist Gary Catt also on her CV.

As for further ambitions in karting, neither of the sisters has a specific goal in mind. ‘After racing in the Euro Challenge, I’d quite like to race in America’ Tamsin suggested, but then immediately saw the obstacles. ‘But at home, I am a fully fledged mechanic to Dave’s team and we are very busy. I also do Driver Coaching. Jonathan Palmer’s son, Jolyon, was with us in his kart racing days’ she pointed out, ‘and he’s currently leading the Formula 2 championship. I find that working on a kart and understanding the mechanics of it, and also the coaching and other duties, helps my own driving’ she added.

Tiffany also does driver coaching. She worked with Dannie Pennell of Dadson Motorsports on that aspect of karting and followed up her 2009 kart racing debut in the Florida Winter Tour series with a return visit in 2010 only this time as a Coach and Mentor. In 2009 she also presented the official DVD coverage of the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals from Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. ‘I’m keen to do more coaching’ she told me ‘and I’d be happy to get more involved on the media side of things in the future’ she confirmed.

But both girls were united in their immediate aims. Clearly they still love their racing and are simply keen to just get the best results they can both domestically and internationally. Neither has any plans to cut back on their racing, although Tiffany had an involuntary interruption to her career in mid 2010. She had treated a painful thigh injury, picked up when racing in Belgium, as nothing more than a minor irritation to be tolerated. The following weekend in Germany, she was left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the condition when she unsuccessfully pleaded her case to be allowed to race.

That reminded me of the only occasion that she had ever had a sharp word with me. She had a wrist injury a couple of years previously which, when I saw it, I wondered if it was a fracture, and I said so. ‘Don’t you dare say anything on the microphone’ she commanded. ‘I don’t want to be stopped from driving’ and indeed she raced on.

I’ve also seen Tamsin simply getting on with it when carrying racing bumps, bangs, burns and bruises, and at an early stage I had realised that both women were as tough as any of the guys when it came to accepting the inescapable fact (printed on the back of the admission ticket as Martin Brundle would point out) that motor racing is dangerous.

So, whether or not today’s karting scene lacks the heroes of yesteryear, in my book ‘our’ Tam and Tiff are worthy celebrities of today’s international karting scene. However don’t fall into the trap of seeing them only as celebrities. They take their racing as seriously as any of the guys they regularly compete against. As I said early on in this article, they would be perfectly happy to be ignored as attractive women and simply judged on their respective records as racing drivers.

Ken Walker

 

 

 

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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.