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Asif Kapadia Interview

stock-karting-logo-two“78, I came to Europe to compete for the first time. It was pure driving, it was real racing, and that… makes me very happy.”

That a documentary charting the life of Ayrton Senna da Silva, or more simply Senna as became known to the world, should begin and end with grainy, slow-motion images of the future superstar and three-time Formula One World Champion during his karting days shows incredible sensitivity towards its subject.

Asif Kapadia, Manish Pandey, James Gay-Reece and Eric Fellner have produced a remarkable film, in which Senna’s voice is artfully and so heartbreakingly edited with the Super 8 footage of him competing [at Jesolo] during the opening and closing moments of the film as talks about his love of karting.

What also makes this documentary all the more special is that its BAFTA-winning director, Kapadia was not an out-and-out F1 enthusiast. “I’ve always been a sports fan and used to watch F1 on TV. I remember the Prost/Senna rivalry, and of course, Imola. I certainly wasn’t an expert, but I knew enough,” he says, then confesses “Before the film I had never read a book on Senna, never looked at one website and never read a book on Formula One. I had never been to a race. So that’s where I came in to it. I felt very much the outsider at the beginning of the process. I could see that Senna was an amazing driver and had this deep spiritual side, which was really fascinating, and it became all about paring the film down to the bare minimum so that somebody who doesn’t like Formula One, or a person who has never heard of Senna, will get the film, understand the character and actually be moved by his story. It’s all about the character; we were trying to make a film about racing. I was directing a feature film with non-professional actors.”

Asif describes Senna’s life being “like an epic novel” but found that structuring the film was harder than he first thought. “We knew the middle of the story would be Ayrton/Alain [Prost] and we knew the ending [that awful May weekend in 1994] but the challenge was where did we come in?”

“His story is amazing and we have this great three-act structure to work with. You have his rise, his success, and then the challenges he faces when he gets to the top. There is the ‘comedy bad guy’, Jean-Marie Balestre, the rival with four world titles – Prost – and then there’s Senna’s personal side, his family, his girlfriends, the relationship he has with Brazil. There’s tension, drama, tragedy – it is absolutely what films should be, and it is all real.”

The film was first screened at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix and proved a big hit with the F1 fraternity. Not least reducing Ron Dennis to tears for ten minutes afterwards. What also began to gradually emerge amongst those who had seen it, was that Kapadia and his team had included the much-talked about quote from Ayrton, naming the driver he most enjoyed competing with – “There was an interview Ayrton gave in ’93 before the Australian Grand Prix. He knew Prost was retiring and was asked by an Australian journalist about who was his greatest rival. He spent ages thinking about it. I saw the interview in Bernie’s archive. No one expected the answer.”

Senna shocked the assembled journalists by naming his former DAP team-mate, Terry Fullerton. Virtually all had no idea of whom Senna was referring. Asif admitted he too was initially baffled, but Manish Pandey not only recognised the name but also the man in the cine film they had discovered in France. Asif takes up the story, “In Paris we found a father and son team who had shot a lot of footage. Jean-Paul and Jean-Claude Guiter had travelled across Europe watching and filming various forms of motorsport and both had an amazing eye. I came across this Super 8 footage with no sound. We took two very separate things – the Adelaide interview and their film – and put them together. It made perfect sense. You know, from really early on I knew that would be the ending. That Super 8 footage of Senna racing karts had to be it.”

The original Paris footage runs for more than thirty minutes and is of the 1980 Champion’s Cup at Jesolo. Asif confides that “Senna is leading all the way and then he makes a mistake and Terry beats him.” This has been judiciously excised from the movie but a candid, unposed image of Fullerton in the paddock, adjusting the spark plug of his engine while a cigarette dangles from the corner of his mouth, is retained and given incredible poignancy as Senna’s own voice names the Englishman as his greatest rival. “It’s a funny image of Terry smoking a fag. Senna was furious after that race. Those that know Terry was the best at what he did but for the vast majority of people, it’s a ‘Rosebud’ moment and it makes me cry,” says Kapadia referring to the child’s sled that comes to symbolize the loss of innocence and carefree youth in Citizen Kane. “The Super 8 is a defining moment of the film. That moment speaks to me. Everyone loves it. It is something very special and it is a beautiful memory. It is when Ayrton is happy. The later period of his life was all about technology. It says something about his character. He was someone who fought for purity. Racing is all he wanted to do. At Imola he looks like someone who doesn’t want to do it anymore. The subtlest way to end the film was to show him in a go-kart. The way he talks about Terry, he was talking about himself. He’s speaking about someone else but for me, he’s describing himself.”

Just as it opens, Kapadia’s remarkable film closes with the Guiters’ images of Senna, in his trademark yellow crash helmet and black leathers. “It was pure racing, pure driving. There wasn’t any politics then, right. And no money involved either. So it was real racing. And I…I have that as a very good memory.”

‘Senna’ opens on June 3rd. For more information visit http://sennamovie.co.uk/ or ‘like’ on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/sennamovie
TRANSCRIPT TAKEN FROM ‘SENNA’ OF INTERVIEW HELD AT ADELAIDE RACETRACK PRESS ROOM, AUSTRALIAN GP 1993

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Kelvin Tatum MBE

f38004c6bc9470daIt’s nothing new or unusual when a motor sport world champion retires and then decides to pass on his experience or stay in touch with his racing roots by becoming a Driver Coach or by running his own team.

But it IS unusual when the world champion won his titles in a completely different branch of motorsport to the one where he subsequently reappeared as a team manager or Coach.

That’s precisely the situation with karting’s Tatum Racing team. Kelvin Tatum, MBE had been fascinated by motor bikes as a kid and when he was old enough to try his hand at speedway, it was soon apparent that he was something special. He made his debut at Wimbledon speedway in 1983 and went on to win over 50 caps for England and Great Britain, and was a regular in Speedway’s World Finals. He also captained the 1989 World Cup Winning Team.

But it was in the lower profile, though far faster, sport of Long Track Speedway that he really made his mark winning 3 world titles in 1995, 1998 and 2000 as well as coming within touching distance of a 4th title in new Zealand, and taking the runners-up spot 3 times.

Now that he is retired he is still significantly involved in speedway being the immediately recognisable joint presenter of Sky Sports excellent TV coverage of British Speedway.

However, in the time since his retirement from active racing, he has built up a respected following for his kart racing team.

This aspect of his motor sport career began whilst he was still racing speedway and when he bought a Dyno for his own use, but made sure that it would take 4 wheel vehicles, thinking that he might also put quads or karts on the machine.

He’d bought the Dyno from John Dent and his son Kevin. Kevin was winding down his kart racing career, and like Kelvin had raced in the faster though less high profile version of his sport. He was a 250cc superkart racer on circuits like Donington Park, Brands Hatch and Silverstone. Like Kelvin’s Long Track Speedway, squeezing every last ounce of performance from his superkart motors was vital to achieve any significant success.

Kelvin was also quietly winding down his speedway racing career and looking to the future, but wasn’t contemplating karting particularly, when he got an invitation to call in at Buckmore Park. ‘Why not’ he thought, ‘let’s go along’, and the seed was sown.

He was friends at the time with the Drysdale family and Harry Drysdale became the first karting client of Tatum Racing. Harry has no doubts as to the value of that link-up. ‘Every little detail was checked on the Dyno. Kelvin’s diligence and thoroughness was obvious. I got the benefit of his years of experience preparing speedway racing engines, and it inevitably worked to my advantage in my kart racing’ Harry readily confirmed. Did it show in Harry’s karting results? ‘Definitely. Without a shadow of doubt’ was the emphatic answer to that question.

‘I ‘d been involved in racing all my life. I knew I would miss the hands-on work when I packed up racing’ Kelvin recalled, ‘but here was a chance to stay involved in the nitty gritty, dirty-hands side of racing’. It was the start of a successful phase for the now increasingly kart orientated Tatum Racing organisation.

Florent Lambert was to provide Tatum Racing with their first international karting success when he won the Rotax Winter Cup in Campillos, Spain in February 2010. Florent already had the trappings of a colourful career before meeting up with Kelvin.

For example, how many current ‘English’ kart racers were born in Paris, lived in the Ivory Coast, where he became the middleweight National wind surfing champion, and hold down a High Powered High Finance job in the City of London? Incidentally, Florent has an interesting angle on karting and his City Trading job which we will delve into later.

He started racing in prokarts at Buckmore Park in 2003 and had his first full season racing Rotax 175 in 2004. ‘I won my novice races and also beat the more experienced Nick Rogers and another beginner, but a very enthusiastic one, Dave Wooder. But above all, and more importantly, I had fun and enjoyed all of it, the failures and, of course, the few victories’.
This is where that comparison with the ‘Day Job’ comes in. Florent takes up the theme. ‘I do a job that is very competitive and very tense, and where trading markets are ONLY about ‘winning’ or losing’ money. I have learnt and applied a lot of winning attributes from trading to racing and vice-versa. I have to say that trying to win (and losing more often) in karting has helped me greatly in winning most times in Trading whilst losing only very few times. This is my bottom line and my kart racing philosophy’.
‘I still enjoy the sport, and can still afford it thanks to the Trading, and even at 43, I think I am still improving’. Indeed he is. I have witnessed this improvement first hand from middle-of-the-grid racer to that Winter Cup victory in Spain followed up with a deserved third place in the Masters Championship in the competitive and prestigious Rotax Euro Challenge. And that’s where Kelvin Tatum comes in.
‘It’s no coincidence that my best ever results have come since joining up with Tatum Racing’ Lambert readily acknowledges. ‘I also thoroughly enjoy working with Kelvin and I believe that we are very similar in many ways. He certainly has a passion for anything with an engine and has a drive to maximise everything that can be maximised. This constant attention to all details adds up to a formidable package.

Does being a team owner/manager give as much satisfaction as being a racer or TV Presenter? Presumably not, but where does it stand in ‘fun’ terms as opposed to commercial money earning terms. ‘Well in a strange way it does provide as much fun’ was Kelvin’s response after a moment’s thought. ‘You see, if I wasn’t doing this, I would have absolutely no direct involvement in racing and having been a racer all my life, I dread the thought of being left out in the wilderness so to speak. The TV work compensates for not racing to some degree but I still love the hands-on side of racing.

The beauty of what I am presently doing is that I can combine these different aspects and still feel fulfilled and earn a living. I am very much enjoying my role with Florent. He allows me to satisfy my own Racing Instinct and Passion. I enjoy immensely the challenge that karting presents and would like to continue for the foreseeable future. But we have no Long Term Plan. We will just seek the successes that between us we can achieve’.
What was the story behind the award of the MBE? ‘Completely out of the Blue’ Kelvin admitted. ‘I was still racing back then in 2003 when I learned of the award for ‘services to speedway’. It was a wonderful day with a visit to Buckingham Palace and being invested with the MBE by Her Majesty the Queen. A day I shall never forget’ he acknowledged.

So where does Tatum Racing go from here? ‘Well I am looking forward to another successful season with Florent who tells me he plans a full racing season in 2011 taking in the Rotax Euro Challenge AND the French Championship in Masters and/or DD2 Masters. Winning both championships outright and qualifying for the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals is the optimistic target, but why not aim high and see where the journey takes us.’

‘Flo is also looking even further ahead. He reckons he has unfinished business with the British Championship and is already eyeing a 2012 campaign. Additionally, he intends to spend some time bringing on his young son Jacques who started racing Minimax in 2010.’

At a personal level, Kelvin had just received the good news that his contract with Sky TV had been renewed. So we should be seeing him on our screens for the next 3 seasons presenting Sky’s speedway coverage. As he pointed out to me, his initial involvement in karting was not pre-planned nor does he have a clearly mapped out programme for his continued involvement. The TV work will be a prime commitment and source of income, but with the opportunity to combine that work with the hands-on racing involvement that karting, not speedway, now gives him, Kelvin is more than happy to keep going on the present successful formula.

So, if speedway racing on 2 wheels and kart racing on 4 wheels might seem not too closely related, gaining the optimum performance from your motors and bringing a professional and thorough approach to your race preparation are clearly attributes common to both sports.

Ken Walker

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Vicki Butler-Henderson – A karting queen

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What you see on television is what you get in real-life, and as sporting personalities go, the first thing that becomes immediately apparent is just how friendly Vicki Butler-Henderson is. Within minutes you could be forgiven for thinking you had known her for years. Her smile and captivating laugh are rarely far away from the surface, and as far as the term Ôpetrol-headÕ goes, it is a description that could have been invented for her!

The young often follow in an older generationÕs footsteps and Vicki, not surprisingly, was born into a racing family. Her grandfather Lionel used to race, no less, a Frazer Nash at the famous Brooklands circuit, whilst her father Guy raced for the British kart team, and used to have his own kart racing engine business. Then there is her brother Charles who is also a former kart racer, as well as a former British Touring Car racer, who was often seen around the tracks at Fulbeck and Wombwell back in the 1990Õs. VickiÕs sister, Charlotte, however, remains the exception to the rule, perhaps taking a leaning towards self-preservation, rather than Òhanging it on the edgeÓ Vicki style.

During a quick career summary, it soon becomes clear from talking to her how much VBH (an abbreviation she picked up whilst at Max Power magazine) likes a challenge After several years of karting came a period as a racing instructor at Silverstone, before undertaking a dual career in journalism, working on a number of British motoring magazines, including Auto Express, What Car?, and Performance Car, before becoming the assistant launch editor of Max Power magazine.

She then joined the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC”BBC’s flagship motoring show HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gear_(1977_TV_series)”Top Gear, but when the BBC cancelled the original show in 2001 (in the days before Clarkson, May, and Hammond), Vicki, along with co-presenters HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quentin_Willson”Quentin Willson and HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiff_Needell”Tiff Needell, moved to Channel HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_(channel)”Five in 2002, to continue their work on a then new show called HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Gear”Fifth Gear. Three years later she presented HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITV”ITV’s coverage of the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Touring_Car_Championship”British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), in which her brother Charles also appeared.

We had met to talk about her passion for cars and motor-sport, and in particular her new book Ô100 sexiest CarsÕ, but karting first things first though. If Butler-Henderson Snr is called Guy, then why were his kart engines known as CBH-Comers? ÒYou know,Ó she said laughing at the thought, ÒI have always wondered about that, seeing as I was older than Charlie! (Being six years apart Vicki and Charles never raced against each other). ÒNow thereÕs a challenge for Karting Magazine?Ó she laughed. ÒGive me a few months though, OK?Ó she said grinning. ÒThe baby is due in a few months time. Seriously though,Ó she said whilst trying to keep a straight face, ÒI think dad was thinking that if the karts with his engines appeared with ÔGBHÕ on them, people might get the wrong impression…Ó

So not ÔVBHÕ then? ÒWell, you know how it is in families, the boys always get the attention… Charlie did more kart races and championships than me, so I would have to grit my teeth… But,Ó she giggled, ÒI have probably had more opportunities to drive sideways as a ÔtartÕ on TV, and be able to show off more in a car, so I think I have ended up with more of an edge on him! You have to try and make things a bit of fun, donÕt you, and show just how much you are enjoying yourself.Ó

From the moment when she had her first kart race at 12-years of age, she still smiles at the memory of one of her race rivals on her debut being David Coulthard. ÒThat was the youngest we were allowed to race back then,Ó she remembered, Òand I was in Junior Britain. But David lapped me..! Overall though I think as I got older I preferred 100 National, because by then I had got a lot more experience. I always had to carry extra lead to make the weight, but I felt the karts gave more ÔfeelÕ for me. I never did any championship races though, although my brother did, because I did not stay in karts too long as a senior, moving to cars when I was 17 years old.Ó
Vicki gave her customary giggle when I mentioned how I had been speaking to Denis Davidson, father of former Super Aguri F1 driver and current Peugeot LMP1 Le Mans ace, Anthony Davidson. Denis had been more than happy to talk of good memories towards the Butler-Henderson clan, and she was keen to hear about some of the things he had to say.

ÒVicky was racing in 100cc when we started Cadets with Ant in 1987,Ó Denis told me, Òas did her brother Charlie who was also a Cadet. She was the first of ‘our’ generation of kart racerÕs to have a race in a single seater, in a Formula First (using Ford Fiesta engines). I was that interested I went to Brands Hatch toÊspectate, intrigued to seeÊhow she would do, but I think she broke down?Ó

ÒYeah,Ó she recalled, Òit was not actually in my first ever race, but I remember I did have a start-line problem in one of my Brands races. My drive-shaft broke right on the start/finish line, so I could not even start the race. That is the race he must be thinking about; it is so lovely that he cared to do that. What else did he have to say?Ó
Ê
ÒOne funny story was when Anthony was the BAR-Honda test/reserve driver, Vicki was putting together a go kart team for an indoor do, and when she got to him with her clip-board to write the names down, she asked for his name! Typical of Ant, he laboured it out slowly waiting for the penny to drop! Of course he had changed quite a bit since she had last seen him as a Cadet, but it gave Ant a laugh at her expense!Ó

ÒI remember that,Ó she said laughing, ÒI knew what you were going to say and it was so embarrassing! I was so keen just to get all the names down for the race I just did not recognise him at the time. I had not seen him for so long and the penny dropped big-time! I have had the pleasure of meeting Anthony on many occasions; he is such a talented driver.Ó

Keen to hear more, it was back briefly to another of the Davidson memoirs, when he had offered the story of how he Òfirst meet Guy B-H at Zip in 1987, when I bought our first kart from Martin Hines. Guy was an old family friend of MartinÕs who was behind the counter and volunteered to rebuild my Comer, and invited me to go over to the family pig farm in Sandon, near Royston (Herts).Ó

ÒOh, I love that story Ð it is so funny,Ó Vicki said. ÒYep, the farm is still there. I also remember that my father used to race against Martin Hines when they were younger, so for me it seems as though dad has known Martin all his life. Dad would end up behind the counter and there would be rows of kart and engine bits on display. I was a teenager then and I would go and have a look and a smell of the engines Ð it was the sort of thing that I really enjoyed, watching dad re-build engines. Oh, that oily, petrol mix…Ó As she drifted with the memory, the impression VBH would dearly love to get back into a kart again, seemed to be very clear indeed.
Ê
Aware of her passion we turned to the televised Fifth Gear Williams F1 test she did with Tiff (Needell), when Vicki was in a very quick BMW M-Sport saloon, but spent the entire test giggling with excitement. ÒThat day just about ended with me in tears Ð I enjoyed the experience so much! I really ÔraggedÕ that car around Rockingham, and there was of course no chance of me getting anywhere near Tiff,Ó who caught VickiÕs BMW within three laps or so. ÒBut it was his own passion as well that got to me Ð it was like watching a little boy, who had been let loose in the garage to enjoy himself; it was just a lovely, special day for all of us.Ó

Now 38-years old VBH admits how maintaining a very positive outlook on her life keeps her motivated. ÒI think I get it from my dad actually. Rain, sun, whatever… whenever I get up in a morning I just try to be happy. I think you have to aim to be optimistic and it helps to deal-with whatever life throws at you.Ó And no doubt from this comes the passion and excitement associated with anything that is not only quick, but can be driven sideways, when such opportunities are on offer come Òrain, sun, or whatever…Ó And with it came just such a recent opportunity, to bring her many driving experiences into her new book, which as one might now appreciate, has been written in VBHÕs truly, inimitable, passionate style.

ÒWell, I do admit I have been very fortunate, and I had wanted to do something to show the types of cars I had been able to drive. It then just happened I was approached by Carlton Books to do something and we came up with the sexiest cars idea. The book goes from the 100th down to one, which for me is the best of them all, and includes cars that have been the most unusual, as well as the worst,Ó a decision not helped by the simple fact the steering wheel came off in her hands…

Comparing our top 100 cars had VBH in hysterics. It meant having to include all the cars I had driven, so matching LamborghiniÕs, PorscheÕs and FerrariÕs paled against my lesser models like Ford AngliaÕs, Morris MinorÕs and a rusty Hillman Imp Sport Ð I showed my age with such cars, without doubt much to my intervieweeÕs considerable amusement.

And the best VBH car? A Lamborghini Diablo GT, (a car that VBH found so intoxicating, Ò… as I walked out to see the car for the first time, goose bumps shot over me.Ó) ÒItÕs just so gorgeous to look at. I first drove it in 1999 and for me no other car has yet pipped it. It was the last of the really big cars, rear-wheeled drive with no traction aids on it, and needing to know what you were doing to be able to drive it properly and not end up in a hedge. I find it so disappointing that modern LamborghiniÕs are now all four-wheeled drive, with this, that and the other…Ó

Our conversation continued to cover entertaining stories about cars and racing, although the immensely enjoyable t�te-a-t�te with VBH ended, perhaps quite rightly, with two final karting thoughts:

ÒI have to say that karting gave me the best grounding I could ever have wished for in my career. I went to an all girls school, and without karting I would never have met so many men in my life. I remain grateful to have been able to live my childhood amongst the many different people I met in karting, surrounded by fast cars, which I believe has helped to make me the person I am today.

And secondly, on safety. ÒI remember one race at Rye House when I got to close to the kart in front. We did not have the protection kart racers have today, and somehow my foot got caught under the back of the kart in front as we accelerated towards the starting lights. It was one of the hairiest moments of my life, but thankfully I managed to free my foot in time Ð it is not a problem todayÕs drivers have to worry about.Ó
Ê
Drawing our meeting to a close Vicki agreed to sign a copy of her book for me and, rubbing salt into the already jealous wound, wrote ÒTo Mike, HereÕs to your top 100!Ó She was still grinning when she wrote it!

A classy lady!

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Mike Wilson – The favourite son returns

karting-mag-logo-15“Pronto…?” The voice at the end of the phone beckoned in a relaxed, Italian accent.

“Mike?” I asked. “Oh hi – how are you?” The accent seamlessly changed to the warm, distinctive tones of Barnsley.

I was talking to Mike Wilson – six time World Kart Champion, hero and former favourite son of the Birel factory. Mike won three of his World titles with Birel before moving on and ultimately starting to manufacture his own ‘MW’ karts and chassis for another legendary motor racing name – Fittipaldi.

But now he’s back full-time at Lissone to share his massive experience to the factory, the team and Birel’s network of distributors and customers…

Karting: Mike, tell me about your new role. What does it mean?

MW: (Chuckles) My new job means going all over the place! I’ve just come back from America and I’m going to England next. I’ll be at Paul Fletcher’s Kart Masters too for technical consolidation – I’ll give the necessary support and information to make the kart work. Plus I’ll be developing the sales side of things, beyond the normal categories [JICA, ICA and Formula A].

Karting: Like chassis for the Rotax class?

MW: Yeah. Obviously my job is to sell more chassis into all karting classes. But for example, in Britain you’ll have a grid full of Rotaxes and only one Birel – and that’s not normal! I think over there, you have someone testing one chassis against another and they say ‘Oh, this one’s half a second slower than the other one”, so everyone jumps onto the supposedly quicker chassis. More often than not, it’s down to the set-up. So yes, I’ll be there to dispel certain myths.

Having said that though, it goes beyond words. We can’t just say, ‘Our karts are great’ we have to give drivers a good kart. I’m there to help make sure that we do – in whatever category you race in. Birel are going to develop a good, basic kart that will be competitive wherever you’re racing – something that’s easy for everyone to set-up. I think Tony Kart has that at the moment and we’re looking for that. There are more chassis to come, and there will be more choice.

Karting: When can we expect to see these new karts?

MW: There’s no set date at the moment, but we’re working on the project now for the coming season.

Karting: Given your experience will you be testing the karts yourself?

MW: (Laughs) Probably not! I broke seven ribs during a race in America back in February. To test a kart you have to be physically fit and after what happened in America – and of course my heart-attack – I think I’ll let someone else do it.

Karting: Talking of fitness, you once told me that you didn’t think that training in the gym was a substitute for being in the kart…?

MW: That’s right. Driving a kart at least once a week will give you that fitness but not everyone, yourself included, can do that. When I raced for Birel [in the 80’s] I could drive a kart every day. But if you can’t do that, then yes, you do need to exercise.

Karting: How does it feel being back to Birel after all these years?

MW: It feels good. The factory’s now ten times bigger than it was before -when I raced it was just one or two drivers in the team, now the awning can easily take ten to fifteen drivers! But there’s still a lot of people here that I knew from before, so it’s great to see them all again.

Karting: So apart from your sales and technical support brief, will you be getting more involved with the racing department?

MW: Yes. I’ve been to Parma a couple of times already, testing. I’ve got a really good relationship with Ronni (Sala, Birel Vice-President and race team boss). If I have an idea that I think can work then I can make the suggestion. This year, I’m going to all the major European races and I’ll be at the World Championships. Ronni will continue with the official drivers and I’ll look after the semi-official drivers 9like Ollie Millroy).

It’s important that people don’t feel alone. I’m there to give Birel drivers set-up support, technical advice and of course, pass on my knowledge as a driver – like how to focus on getting through the heats, the pre-final and then winning the final. I’ll say “This is how we’ll do this” and explain about getting the best from the materials around you and yourself. I’ll definitely be passing on my knowledge and making the drivers feel confident.

Karting: Including your old recipe for success?

MW: Yeah – attack from the start! Drive as hard as you can for the first five or six laps. Then look at your tyres to see what they’re doing, are they graining, are they OK?

Karting: So why did he give up producing chassis for Fittipaldi and yourself?

MW: I’ve been making my own karts for sixteen years but the market’s just so difficult now. The costs are getting higher and I couldn’t compete with the big manufacturers. I was going through so much stress and didn’t want another heart-attack. MW and Fittipaldi will continue to be made until the end of the year. After that, I have no idea…

Karting: I’ve got to say, Mike you sound really pumped about everything.

MW: I am.

Karting: So let me summarise, we can expect new karts and a greater level of support – not just to the dealers and factory drivers, but to the club driver who races a Birel?

MW: That’s right.

Karting: What, so if I’m struggling with my kart’s set-up I can e-mail you for advice?

MW: Absolutely.

This is incredible news for Birel drivers. You can get support and advice from the most successful kart racer ever, straight to your laptop or PC.

I mean, can you imagine ringing Michael Schumacher and saying – “Hiya Schumi, how do I take that roundabout near Tesco’s in my FIAT?”

Mike says that you’re welcome to e-mail him direct at m.wilson@birel.net.

I wonder if he does driver coaching too…?!

 

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Drew Price Engineering AKA Arrow Karts

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Drew Price has been exclusively involved with the kart industry for the past 32 years.

The name is known, but perhaps not really understood here in the UK and Europe, DPE is the biggest name in Karting in Australia bar none. There are 7500 licence holders in Australia, which makes their ASN substantially more numerate in kart terms than the UK. DPE serve all the non-competitor kart shops in Os which equals an astonishing 96% of all retail outlets for kart equipment.

Drew Price is still very much in control of his domain, he remains Managing Director with 35 employees under him. That is not to say that the company is run as an autonomy, by all accounts a close knit family management atmosphere exists. However I am sure that the Drew Price attitude for excellence permeates right through to the tea boy!

DPE manufacture at least 200 chassis per annum, 60% of these are for their most popular class, Rotax Max. 20% go to the 100cc Yamaha category, 15% to the 125 ICC classes, although much of this production is exported to the USA and Canada. The final 5% of their production total is for Junior and Cadet. There is no mention of a 100cc Formula A percentage, how things have changed on the world stage.

There is a serious development programme ongoing for the new Rotax DD2 chassis. DPE believe that there is good potential for this class in their home market.
Drew Price and his team believe that the time is now right to make a bigger splash in Europe. Wherever Arrow appear they are front runners, the Rotax World finals bear testament to that.

Because DPE are net importers into Australia they are able to benefit from advantageous export rates. This allows them to compete on the European market without too much of a transport penalty. The product is very good and we can expect to see some more aggressive marketing in the near future. 40% of the current production is already exported and the factory has the capacity to increase production to match demand.

The factory is geared to volume production, much of the chassis welding is done by robot, the quality is plain to see. Since I last looked at an Arrow chassis closely, just a couple of years ago, there has been another step forward in terms of finish and the quality of the welding. All the main chassis tubes are imported from Italy. This steel is sourced at the same factory as most of the top Italian manufacturers. Where Arrow are unique is that their chassis are all heat treated. Heat treatment is not a subject that they were keen to discuss, save to say that it is done and that they have accrued much experience over the past 16 years in exactly how to apply the treatment to best benefit their karts. Such is the confidence in their product that DPE offer a conditional warranty on all chassis sold.

Australia is famous for the quality of its Aluminium. It will come as no surprise therefore that DPE produce all their Alloy accessories in house. Their trademark purple anodised finish is still in evidence, but joined these days by many components of all the colours in the anodiser’s spectrum, which are marketed under the Kartech banner. Hopefully, without detracting from the brand image, Kartech is to Arrow what Freeline is to Birel. To cope with this volume of production DPE have 5 modern multi axis machining centres, which run constantly. All hubs,sprocket and disc carriers as well as steering bosses and engine mounts are produced this way. There is no slavish copying of European design. There are many practical innovations, which make the Arrow brand stand-alone from the regular designs that we find hard to tell apart. 80% of all Arrow products are manufactured and finished in house.

DPE have cornered 80% of the Australian market with their Arrow chassis’ that is the statistic without factoring in the distribution of the Kartech range of products in addition.

Rotax is an important part of the DPE organisation. As distributors for Australia DPE have been very successful in marketing the Max range of engines since the came into being in 1998. Australia remains, as it has always been, in the top three destinations in the World for Rotax Max. As a driver, if you are not a Max aficionado you will certainly be involved in the Yamaha class. DPE are also very active in this area. They have a specific model of chassis, which is particularly designed around the Yamaha, in this way Arrow cover the great majority of the Ausralian karting scene’s needs.
DPE are also the Bridgestone tyre distributor for Australia, as a result much of their national racing competes on Bridgestone rubber.

DPE are housed in a very modern facility, which has large spotlessly clean work areas. The stores are also within the main factory building but separated and have up to the minute packaging and dispatch methods in place. The factory has all the attributes of the best that Europe can offer with a great product line.

The Management of DPE is as I said, headed by Drew Price, however he has a team of eight in management with twenty seven on the factory floor
Second in command is George Turton who is the company general manager.
Jon Bussell is in charge of International marketing. Jon has many years of experience with Top Kart and Energy in Italy as well as helping the talented John Targett onto the International scene as a driver. Jon has turned his passion for Karting into a career, he is one of those people who knows everybody and has accrued a vast amount of knowledge about the sport along the way.

DPE have done well to recruit him, I am sure he will be a valuable driving force behind any future plans to invade Europe!
The role of production manager falls to Jo Posch, this is the interaction between shop floor and management, ensuring that the two are always working in harmony. A vital link in the family atmosphere that is so important to the company.

National Sales manager is Carl Neilson needs no explanation, 80% of the Australian market speaks for itself, nonetheless a very important role maintaining the existing markets and developing new opportunities.
Sales and production coordinator is the dynamic Adam Clunyk. Again an important role ensuring that production meets sales requirements and that targets are met.
Product development manager is Bart Price, eldest son of the family and a young man dedicated to the ongoing evolution of Arrow Karts and Kartech components.

Drew Price and his wife Donna are very much at the helm of the DPE / Arrow company their younger son Shane is a successful racing driver in Super V8 and Bart is a full time member of the management staff. A close knit community with some great products… Look out Europe!
Darrell Smith, the Rotax official test driver, is heading up a team using the latest Arrow AX9 in the forthcoming 24hr at Le Mans. The team will have two good English drivers and two Australian including Darrell himself.

The Kart looks to be very well suited to this event, many of the standard features make set up easy and the quality is exceptional, this has to be a bonus when you are expecting the thing to stay together without maintenance for the equivalent of three seasons racing in one go!

I cannot thank the management of DPE enough for their help in putting this article together. In particular my thanks go to Jon Bussell who flew in especially for this interview. Thanks also to Neil Walker at Walker Racing for arranging it all.

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Dave Bewley talks to Barrie Williams

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Barrie Williams is reunited with one of his father’s creations

It had been a long day at the 17th International Kart Show and it was almost time to start packing things away. A distinguished looking gentleman made his way rapidly towards the historic karting stand where a 1960 Fastakart/Villiers was being displayed by its owner, Steve Greaves. “Do you know, my father used to make these things,” he exclaimed delightedly. Barrie Williams is 67 years old and has taken part in over 800 motor racing events, including 280 rallies. A BRDC member for more than thirty years he still competes in historic car races today and acts as an instructor at several circuits. Back in the early sixties he was a familiar figure at kart events all over Britain, including such venues as Olivers Mount, Oulton Park, Mallory Park, Shenington, Rye House, Aintree, Southport and Buxton. Along with his father Frank, he won a famous victory at the Aintree 200 racing with slick tyres in pouring rain. “Although Frank was his real name, my dad was better known in karting circles as Tony,” Barrie points out. “Along with Graham Hill and Dick Tarrant, he actually appeared on the front cover of Karting magazine when it first appeared in February 1960. Before taking up karting he’d been involved in motorcycle racing, so he had good contacts with firms like Sunbeam, Villiers and BSA. For many years, he ran a garage in Herefordshire and did lots of small engineering jobs on various aircraft during the war. Afterwards he was persuaded by Eddie Evans to set up an engineering works alongside the garage. It was known as Bromyard Engineering and our main line of business was producing coal mining equipment.

Mel Bayliss, another motorcycle competitor, worked at Saunders Valves nearby. When he was made redundant, Mel came to work for us. He read about a new branch of motor racing that had been imported from America. Eddie Evans, who was by then our chief engineer, expressed some interest and together they attended a local race meeting. Soon, Eddie had designed and built a kart which we eventually started to produce commercially at our factory. Dad used his motorcycle contacts and found a plentiful supply of cheap Villiers engines.” The Fastakarts I remember were all painted blue. Barrie provides the reason why. “We supplied one of our karts to a daughter of the Shearling family who produced Babycham and, from that time onwards, champagne blue became our trademark,” he explains. “I think around 600 Fastakarts were produced, all with Villiers engines. Arthur Mallock bought two of our karts for his sons Richard and Ray who later produced the Formula Ford cars. The television commentator Raymond Baxter also bought one of our karts ‘to see what all the fuss was about.’ Lennox Broughton, Ken Stansfield and Mel Bayliss became works drivers. We deliberately chose a simple design aimed at producing budget priced karts. There was certainly lots of competition from other manufacturers and I believe someone has calculated that over 60 of them suddenly appeared over a twelve month period.” Among Barrie’s outstanding memories are the 1961 Barcelona GP (won by Britain’s John Brise) and the Shenington World Championships of that same year. “My dad’s experience at the Shenington event was a painful one,” he recalls. “He’d crashed into a straw bale when another kart ran over his foot. He escaped with a broken ankle but it curtailed his activities for some time. Apart from the traditional race meetings we also took the Fastakart to various hillclimbs and usually shocked other competitors with our speed. I claimed a class win at the Radlett Hall hillclimb but a couple of weeks later we went to Shelsey Walsh and encountered some difficulties.

Tico Martini had also arrived with a kart at this one and the organisers refused to let either of us race because we had no front suspension. As Tico had travelled over from Jersey to compete, my dad took his kart back to our workshop and incorporated some valve springs from a Morris 1000 I owned. We went back and presented this kart for scrutineering but they still rejected it on the grounds that there was no rear suspension. Compared with today’s motor racing scene those were happy carefree days. We were all determined to have a bit of fun and everyone remained firm friends off the circuit.” Well over 40 years had elapsed since Barrie and his father last raced this famous marque but he couldn’t resist sitting in the seat once more, pointing out one or two finer details. “In many ways the Fastakart was an innovative design,” he claimed. “We were the first for example to incorporate front wheel brakes on our chassis and then led the way once again with a column gear change. The Keele kart and Progress were much more complex as both incorporated rack and pinion steering but I don’t believe they performed any better out on the circuit. After three or four years though, other manufacturers did come out with more modern design concepts. Dad and Mel Bayliss had a parting of the ways, Mel took another of our employees Bill Withers with him and together they set up in business ten miles away at Malvern. With dad’s consent, Bayliss & Withers took over manufacture of the Fastakart. They introduced a Class 1 model with JLO power but went bankrupt several times before Pepper & Haywood took over. I was disappointed when the Fastakart name disappeared altogether around 1968.” After his karting career, Barrie made quite a name for himself in F3, initially racing Coopers alongside Chris Lambert in a team run by Alan McKenchnie. His last significant outing in karts occurred at Rye House during the early seventies when David Hardcastle from Motor magazine persuaded him to compare a batch of Class 1 machines with Kelvin Hesketh’s World Cup winning class IV chassis. It was good to catch up with him at Donington and talk about a chassis that has an important part in the history of our sport. I’m probably just a little bit biased on this score. We bought our first kart back in 1963. Naturally, it was a Fastakart, produced at that time by Bayliss & Withers. I still have very fond memories of it even today.

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SIMPLY THE BEST: Mike Wilson interview

The dialect was distinctly South Yorkshire and his appearance could only be described as nondescript. He was there beside the Delta Karting stand in his Parka jacket, looking like a market stall trader who had perhaps strayed into Donington Park by accident. One or two eminent personalities, including Paul Carr and Ricky Grice engaged him in animated conversation. However, 90% of visitors to the International Kart Show at the end of November didn’t spare him so much as a second glance. Their attitudes may have altered if they’d known something of his background. For ten years he totally dominated the international karting scene, setting a record of six world title wins that is never likely to be equalled. Fernando Alonso acknowledges that his expert tutelage was responsible for setting him on the path towards F1 glory. Ayrton Senna reputedly called him the best driver he had ever raced against. Pablo Montoya praises him for the valuable advice which he eventually passed on to his son Juan. His name is Mike Wilson, the karting champion whom Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen and many other top F1 stars all failed to match in serious competition. This is his story. The place was Shenington on a crisp and clear day back in September 1974.

1
Catching up with Michael Simpson at Donington

The young teenager hobbled painfully away from his kart, managing a brave smile in response to the expressions of condolence from various supporters and friends. It should have been a triumphal occasion, the biggest in his life so far. Several weeks earlier he’d been a hot favourite to win this particular event and become the British Junior Champion. However, a bad smash during an international event at Rye House had left him with a broken leg. Determined not to miss out on the action he’d arrived at Shenington with his leg in plaster and required permission from the medics before he could race. Mechanical failure in an earlier heat had further compounded his problems. From a lowly grid position, however, he’d managed to gain 4th spot before colliding with Bryce Wilson in the final. Unable to restart his kart, Mike watched rather disconsolately as Martin Smart claimed the title. Move the calendar forward 8 years and there’s a familiar figure limping around the paddock once again. The occasion is rather more important. It’s the 1982 World Championships at Kalmar, Sweden and Mike is now the reigning champion having won this title at Parma 12 months earlier. Just two weeks earlier he’d removed a plaster cast from his ankle before walking down the aisle with his new bride Nicoletta. Racing under a handicap has now become almost second nature to him and he wins his first final quite convincingly from pole position. The main event proves rather more difficult as his teammate, Lars Forsman, has a clear power advantage. However, he manages to keep the rapid Swede at bay for 28 gruelling laps and comes home to win his second consecutive world title. His road to fame and fortune had begun in modest surroundings 11 years earlier. “I was on a week’s camping holiday at Prestatyn with some mates from school,” he recalls. “On the second or third day we came across a track running rental karts.

It was owned by Graham Liddle who had won the World Cup at Morecambe a few years earlier. I spent the entire day there and blew all my money on these karts. I had to ring my dad and ask him if he could come to Wales with some more money. He wasn’t very pleased and demanded to know what I’d spent it all on. When I told him, he went with me to the kart track and we both had a few goes together. He actually had a kart of his own at that time, but I’d never shown the slightest interest in it, preferring football instead. After arriving back home, he went out and bought me a secondhand Blow Gnat with a Komet K77 motor. I remember my first outing at Wombwell with this kart. I oiled the plug up three times going so slowly. Dad came up to me and said, “Look Mike, this is a racing kart, not a toy. You’ll have to put your foot down.” I did exactly what he said and promptly finished up in the tyres.” Despite such an inauspicious start, Mike was well and truly bitten by the karting bug. “We were soon spending every weekend racing at Wombwell, Fulbeck, Rye House and any other circuit that happened to be holding a meeting” he claims. “I was lucky to have parents who loved the sport even more than I did myself. It occupied every spare moment of our time. Each week we’d spend until Wednesday discussing the previous race and then three days would be taken up planning for the following Sunday’s event. Mum and dad were working class people and they must have made enormous personal sacrifices to finance my karting activities. Winning my first world title at Parma gave me enormous satisfaction because I felt that I’d repaid their dedication in some way.” Mike’s breakthrough occurred early in 1977 when he joined the Zip team and immediately made a big impression in domestic karting. His reputation took on international dimensions later that year when John Mills took him to Parma for the World Championships, running with factory backing from DAP. His performance was good enough to catch the eye of Bruno Grana who promptly offered him a 12 months contract with IAME. “It was a difficult decision for me because DAP had given me my first real opportunity at international level” confesses Mike. “However, I was 17 years old at that time and the chance to join the world’s biggest team was too good for me to turn down. It was a contract I kept renewing every year until my retirement from active karting. Mr Grana obviously preferred to keep his drivers on short term contracts and they suited me also because I could keep my options open. The downside was that I had no real security and this put me under lots of pressure when things weren’t going particularly well.”

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Kalmar, Sweden, 1982 and a second World title for Mike ahead of teammate Lars Forsman

Indeed there was immense pressure placed upon a young lad barely out of school. He’d come from a very close knit family and suddenly found himself living in a strange country trying to cope with an unfamiliar language. “It took me six months to learn very basic Italian and another year until I could hold a proper conversation” he says. “I did feel homesick on many occasions but there was a job to do and I simply had to knuckle down. The relationship I had with Mr Grana was always very businesslike. He could be very kind but even after I’d become world champion, he’d make sure that I knew who was the boss. Angelo Parrilla (head of DAP) was an engineer at heart, whereas I’d say that Mr Grana was strictly a businessman. I broke my ankle shortly before getting married to Nicoletta. There was no way that I intended walking up the aisle with a plaster cast on my leg, so I had it removed. When Mr Grana found out, he went ballistic. He said I’d jeopardised my World Championship prospects but I was able to calm him down by pointing out that the plaster had been hindering all of our testing.” Mike’s early association with IAME had been fraught with problems. He failed to make much of an impact at Le Mans during the 1978 World Championships won by American driver Lake Speed. The following year’s event at Estoril was dominated by Peter Koene and an unknown Brazilian driver called Ayrton Senna Da Silva, both of whom had been taken on by his old DAP team. 1980 ought to have been Mike’s year, but a sudden bout of pneumonia prevented him from contesting the World Championships at Nivelles in Belgium. Peter De Bruijn won this one ahead of Senna and Terry Fullerton. At Parma the following year, Mike was unstoppable. This particular event was run with the best of three finals to count. With two wins under his belt, he’d secured his first world title before the third final took place and was able to cruise home in this one behind his teammate Forsman. Another IAME backed driver Ruggero Melgrati beat Senna for 3rd. Then came the 1982 victory over Forsman which gave him a famous championship “double”. He was on top form again at Le Mans in 1983 to win his third world title, despite intense pressure from Forsman who appeared to be several tenths quicker. This hat trick had been achieved by only one other driver, François Goldstein and so there was cause for special celebration. The following year he went over to Liedolsheim in Germany determined to make it four in a row.

Things certainly looked good after he’d built up a massive lead over Jorn Haase and Guiseppe Bugatti. With less than two laps remaining, however, his Komet engine expired leaving Haase to claim victory. Money had never been an important factor in his career but, with a young child to support, it suddenly assumed greater significance. “I asked Mr Grana for an increase in salary and he told me to speak with Oscar Sala from Birel” Mike recalls. “Oscar told me that it wasn’t company policy to pay their drivers, but he offered me six karts which I could sell. That wasn’t really satisfactory and so I switched over to Kali karts with Mr Grana’s approval. They paid me very well, but it took quite a while before I could develop this kart to my satisfaction.” The 1985 World Championships were held once again at Parma. Mike emerged a convincing winner with Bugatti this time finishing ahead of Haase to claim 2nd place. Goldstein’s record of 5 world titles was looking under threat as they moved to Jacksonville in Florida for the 1986 event. This meeting turned into a total farce when all the European drivers staged a boycott. “The circuit was a complete joke and wouldn’t even have been fit for a club meeting back in the sixties,” Mike recalls. Along with all the other competitors who had boycotted this event, Mike had to serve a six month ban which excluded him from most of the 1987 European rounds. This severely hampered his prospects in the World Championships at Jesolo, won by Giamperi Simoni. He recovered the following year, however, to take his 5th world title at Laval after a classic tussle with Simoni. The following year at Valence he broke Goldstein’s long standing record by winning world title number 6. This put the lid on a truly fantastic karting career and Mike immediately retired to concentrate on manufacturing his own karts. He also ran his own team and could count Fernando Alonso among the many talented young stars to benefit from his expert guidance. As a competitor, he’d taken on and beaten many top personalities who would eventually win fame and fortune in F1. Included in this list are Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen, Fisichella, Magnussen, Capelli, Zanardi, Coulthard and Herbert. The record books and anyone who attended world championship events throughout the eighties will confirm that Mike Wilson was ‘Simply the Best’. There’s no doubt that Mike Wilson could claim to be the top driver of his era, but his last world title was won 17 years ago and even 17 months is a long time in karting. I wondered how one of today’s rising young stars might react to him. Kalvin Quinn is thirteen years old, around the same age as Mike when he first arrived on the national junior scene. In 2006 Kalvin will contest the S1 Series in Minimax under the guidance of former British Champion Rob Jenkinson. He arrived at Donington armed with lots of questions and, during an interview lasting for almost two hours, received some interesting replies. The gist of their discussion is reproduced here, along with Kalvin’s observations. Quinn: Which performance do you rate as your best of all time? Wilson: That’s a difficult question to answer because I had so many memorable races. I’d probably choose the 1988 World Championships at Laval because I won this one against all the odds.

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Laval, France, 1988 and title number five, his second for Kali

I was the old man in the IAME camp by then and attention was focused on the younger drivers. From a purely business perspective, I understand why this happened, although it hurt me at the time. I had an excellent battle with Giamperi Simoni who had a power advantage, particularly in the later stages. Winning this one gave me lots of satisfaction and I went home believing that I’d proved a point. Quinn: Did you ever feel nervous? Wilson: Yes! I’d get butterflies before every race, no matter how big or small. They disappeared once I’d got my helmet on and I could concentrate on the task ahead. Quinn: Did you ever do any special fitness training leading up to an important race? Wilson: No, never! I’ve always believed that the best preparation for racing is time spent in the seat and nothing I’ve experienced so far has altered my opinion. My brother in law is a weight lifting fanatic and, after trying out one of our karts for ten laps, he had to come in suffering from fatigue. The muscles he’d developed were completely wrong for karting. So working with weights or whatever won’t make you a better driver I’m afraid. Quinn: Do you think of yourself as being English or Italian? Wilson: That’s quite difficult to answer. I made my home in Italy 28 years ago and obviously my wife and children are all Italian. My own roots are in Yorkshire though, and every time I arrive in England it feels like I’ve come back home. When I won my world titles I believed that I’d captured them for Britain as much as for the IAME team. Quinn: Have you always had the support of your family during your karting career? Wilson: Yes, absolutely! I also believe that karting brought us much closer together as a family. Quinn: Were you disappointed when your son chose soccer instead of karting? Wilson: A little bit at first, perhaps, but I could understand his reasons. Alex is 22 years old now and currently on loan to Monza having previously played for Atalanta.

He puts in a lot of effort which I’m sure will be repaid. Soccer is more of a team sport than karting, but the dedication required at top level is similar. I always believed in encouraging children to take up sport in one form or another and it’s a bonus if you can get paid for something you enjoy doing. Quinn: As a Junior, did you ever imagine being employed by a factory like IAME? Wilson: No! That sort of thing never happened back then, at least not to British drivers. I did get some help from Jack Barlow (Barlotti) and Martin Hines (Zip), but it was very limited. Quinn: How confident were you in your own ability as a driver? Wilson: Very confident. That may sound big headed, but you’ve got to believe totally in yourself if you’re aiming for the top. It’s like two boxers entering the ring. Sometimes you already know which one will lose because he’s psyched himself out even before a blow’s been struck. I never allowed myself to feel beaten before any race even when I knew that my equipment wasn’t quite quick enough. Quinn: Who do you think was the best kart driver you ever raced against? Wilson: There’s no doubt in my mind that Terry Fullerton was the best driver I ever encountered. Senna was obviously pretty exceptional too, but Terry always managed to squeeze the maximum from every kart he ever drove. My old teammate Lars Forsman could count himself very unlucky not to have been a world champion himself. He was very rapid and also a remarkably clean driver. Perhaps that was part of his problem. I always felt very comfortable having Lars alongside me, whereas I’d have been nervous with Terry as a teammate. At Kalmar, for example, Lars was definitely quicker than I was but couldn’t get past me. If it had been Fullerton behind, then I know he’d have tried to come through and we might both have ended up in the tyres. Hakkinen was another driver who greatly impressed me during the short time I knew him in karting. It wasn’t a great surprise to me when he went into F1 and eventually became the champion. Quinn: Who amongst today’s drivers have particularly impressed you? Wilson: There’s a very long list and it’s too long to go through right now. If we stick with the Brits, then Mark Litchfield, Jon Lancaster, Martin Plowman and Jason Parrott all strike me as being capable of winning the world championships. I don’t have to mention Oliver Oakes because he’s already achieved that distinction. Until he moved into cars 12 months ago Ben Hanley was obviously a world beater too.

It’s great that Britain is producing so many top quality drivers. Back in the sixties we had just one or maybe two drivers who could genuinely be classed as world beaters. It’s a well known saying that success breeds success and you need lots of strong competition to bring out the best in yourself. I was fortunate to enter karting when we had a lot of very good British drivers so I cut my teeth racing against the likes of Terry Fullerton, Mickey Allen, Paul Fletcher, Roger Mills, Terry Edgar and Ricky Grice. Quinn: Did you ever think about moving into cars yourself. Wilson: Yes. In fact I did test an F3 car about 20 years ago but I didn’t have the budget available to do a full season. Whereas karting was providing me with a good wage, even just a few races in F3 would have taken up every penny I had. For some that isn’t a problem but it certainly would have been for me as I had a young child to support. In my last year of karting I earned around £30,000. That’s small beer compared to the salaries commanded by today’s F1 stars but still enough to provide my family with a comfortable lifestyle. Quinn: What was Alonso like as a kart driver? Wilson: He was pretty exceptional as you might expect. Like many young karting stars he wanted to make the move into cars as quickly as possible, immediately he’d reached the age of 16 in fact. I talked him into remaining on karts for another two years and I think he benefited from this advice. Quinn: Was there anything in karting you wanted to achieve but didn’t? Wilson: I’d have loved to have won a British title, whether in Juniors or Seniors, but somehow it never happened. Even after a few years with IAME I still retained my RAC licence and went to Felton for the 1979 British Championships hoping to lift this prize. Mickey (Allen) was very quick in that race but I still thought that I’d beat him until my engine seized. It was quite a crushing blow for me at the time. If someone told me that I could have a British title in exchange for one of my world championship wins then I’m not sure what my reaction would be. It’s the one thing missing from my karting CV and something I regret not achieving. Quinn: How many hours did you spend each day as an IAME contracted driver? Wilson: A lot more than most people would imagine. It was definitely a full time job, especially in the early years of my contract with IAME.

Valence 1989
Mike takes his record breaking sixth title at Valence in 1989

The hours would vary a lot but test sessions often involved 8 hours of solid driving in which I’d be setting up motors for myself and other competitors associated with the factory That was on top of kart preparation working alongside my mechanic Giulio Rabaglio. It could be pretty exhausting work but came as part and parcel of being a professional driver. Quinn: If you could change one thing in karting today, what would it be? Wilson: I think I’d like to make it simpler and more affordable. Thirty years ago I was able to race successfully because my parents made all sorts of sacrifices themselves. Lots of kids don’t have that advantage and karting’s probably even more expensive in real terms than it was back then. Quinn: I’ve been racing for 5 years and would like to do well at national level. What advice could you give me so that I might achieve my full potential? Wilson: I’d tell you to do your best in every race and never give in no matter what obstacles you might encounter. If at the end of a race you know in your own mind that you’ve done the best job possible, then the actual result is of secondary importance because next time out you’ll be racing with that little bit extra confidence. Remember what I said about the two boxers. it’s very important that you start a race believing in your own ability. I’d also advise you not to have too many options with regard to equipment. It’s quality rather than quantity that matters. If you’re trying to choose from half a dozen motors, or even numerous setups, then it can become very confusing and 9 times out of 10 you’ll finish up making the wrong choice. Be decisive, select the equipment and set-up you think is best and then have confidence in your own judgement. The same principles apply to your tactics out on the circuit. Don’t make half moves, if you attempt to overtake then make sure it’s going to stick.

That way you’ll gain the respect of other drivers, however grudgingly given. But above all else, make sure you enjoy your racing because once it becomes more of a pain than a pleasure then it’s time to get out.

KALVIN’S COMMENTS “Before carrying out this interview I didn’t know all that much about Mike Wilson, although I’d heard his name mentioned at a few race meetings. I looked on the internet and found an interview that had been carried out a few years ago by Gordon Kirby. I also had copies of a few articles in Karting magazine that had been written at the time of his world championship successes. I realised that he’d been a great driver and was very nervous about meeting him. When we met I was really surprised at how easy it was to talk with him. He answered all of my questions honestly and the whole interview was very enjoyable. I came away hoping that I could become just like him. I don’t mean by winning a world championship or anything like that. I’d just like to copy his attitude towards racing because I think he had the right approach. That’s why he was six times world champion and it’s what made him better than all the rest.”