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Performance: measuring fitness

UntitledSuccess at the track is founded on hours spent training beforehand. But how fit is a multiple junior champion and what condition does he need to be in to cut it as a professional racing driver?

A cold, damp late-Autumn morning in Northamptonshire. Silverstone resounds to the throaty burble of a DTM Mercedes. It’s November and the McLaren Autosport Award finalists are being put through their paces – but karting champion Jack Barlow is not one of the fortunate contenders. Not yet. He is at another part of the home of the British Grand Prix, near Stowe Corner – and he’s on a treadmill. Andy Blow of Porsche Human Performance takes a blood sample from Jack’s thumb as he pounds away. Barlow had been invited to the Porsche Experience Centre courtesy of his partnership with adidas. The sportswear giant recently re-entered the motorsport market with its striking XLT race shoes and already enjoyed a relationship with the legendary Stuttgart marque. Its mouthwatering range of cars aside, the Porsche Experience Centre also boasts a conference suite, boardroom, cinema, restaurant, its own test track and, of course, the Human Performance lab.

“The perfect partner to a driving session is an assessment at The Porsche Human Performance Centre the brochure asserts confidently, and that is precisely why Jack is now in the compact room stocked with state-of-the-art technology from Technogym and Optical Express. PHP offers drivers – from Porsche road car owners to top F1 drivers – a range of assessments including blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol testing and a lifestyle review. Earlier, Jack has tested his hand/eye coordination and reaction speeds on the Batak machine. Before that, Andy, one of PHP’s directors, had analysed Jack’s body composition by examining its mineral content, muscle mass, body fat and water content. With Jack still on the running treadmill, Andy conducts a blood test every three minutes to measure his lactate threshold, giving him an idea of different training zones he can work on in the future with the young karter.

Around the walls, there are autographed framed photos from some of the Centre’s other well-known customers; Mark Webber, Ken Block and Moto2 star Bradley Smith. Former Team GB triathlete Andy urges Jack on for one more minute: “Drive it up, this is good running.” He counts down,”30 seconds to go… 15 seconds, 10 seconds, nearly there.” As Barlow towels himself down, Andy says matter of factly,”there’s room for improvement” before giving some advice on Jack’s current training regime. He has run for 21 minutes, Grand Prix drivers are expected to do 30. Next the pair move over to another part of the small room, but Andy darts off to set up a metronome. The gym suddenly sounds like the set of Countdown, minus the music. Every two seconds an audible beat sounds out a rhythm.

Andy demonstrates the next exercise, chin-ups, and Jack appears to pale. “I’ll stop you after five minutes” he says, adding “We have everything between 0 and 25 on this test”The long, lean-limbed Barlow struggles at the first attempt. Rather than find a negative, Andy sees this as an area to work on for the future and gives Jack another exercise to try, inverted rows. “They’re a good pre-exercise to doing chin-ups” he explains plainly. Jack performs ten reps and Andy sets him a chin-ups target: “Get up to five and that will be good” A series of counter-movement jumps and static jumps yield Blow’s approval.”Good, excellent!” he enthuses.

Once again, the Bose stereo beats out a metronomic pulse as he and Jack lie on the floor in preparation for that most simple and timeless test of strength and endurance – the press-up. Barlow’s chest must touch Blow’s fist to register each one.”How many?”Jack enquires. “Just about 307 Andy says with a hint of Sergeant Major,”Because I’m feeling generous!’ Reaching the required number is clearly a matter of some satisfaction for Jack: “I couldn’t even do one in January!” The ‘plank’ is “very important for core strength, especially if you’re a bit taller” advises Blow as he lies on the floor, propping himself up on his forearms. Buoyed by his press-up success, Jack quickly takes up his position on the crash mat.

“Hold it still, I don’t want to see any movement,” Blow says sternly. As the stopwatch counts down the three minutes, what initially looked easy begins to reveal that it isn’t as the teenager shifts uncomfortably and pants under the strain. At two minutes, he rolls to the floor with a groan. “It was a hard session. When you’re 16 years old your immune system is not as strong as it could be, so we don’t want to batter you into the ground. Jack is quite a bit taller than average for his age. Optimally (for a racing driver) you need to be built like a jockey, but that said Mark Webber is tall and very successful. As you mature, managing your strength-to-body weight is very important!’

Like any top-performing athlete, taking care of your nutrition is just as important as hitting the gym. “Focus on a very, very good diet. Sleep a lot. No matter how hard you work and what you eat, it is all determined by genetics.”Consequently, the Porsche Human Performance director recommends a move away from the traditional ‘three square  meals a day’ philosophy. “Eat five times a day. 80 per cent of your food wants to be natural. Avoid anything that has come out of a factory, like bread or pasta!’ Summing up in the spacious and airy atrium, Andy observes that Jack needs to strengthen his back and work on his upper body strength.

“You’ve got to be good all round and you’ve got to be strong all over.Isometrics (strength training exercises) are good for karters. There is room for improvement. Make sure you make all the right nutritional choices when you’re in control!’ Aware of the limited healthy catering options at virtually all kart tracks, Andy suggests taking your own food to each event. In terms of Jack’s physical conditioning, he sets a series of goals to be reviewed in six months. “We expect a top driver to do 10 to 15 pull-ups at a rate of one every two seconds. 50 press-ups, at the same rate, and a ‘plank’ for three minutes without a great deal of trouble, You should aim for a grip strength of between 60 and 65 kilograms. In terms of running, you should top-out at around 17 or 18 kilometres per hour. However, none of that we’d expect in a driver of 16, or less. Although a single-seater driver in one of the junior formulae should be close to these parameters.

Tom Blonnquist, Dino Zamparelli and James Calado are well above the average and they’re top drivers too. Some drivers exceed these limits – there are five or six in Formula One.”Who they are, he doesn’t say. “A lot of drivers focus on what they’re good at. I’m much more impressed with those who are good in all areas, rather than exceptional in one!’ Andy shoots a look at Measuring Fitness.indd 5 Andy Blow demonstrating the inverted row exercise Jack,”We’ll be keeping an eye on you!’ He then brilliantly encapsulates Jack’s training regime in one neat sentence. “So far you’ve been training to train. Your body’s adapting. You’re learning.”A pause punctuates the air as Jack takes on board his comments. Blow doesn’t need to say it because the understanding is already there – now the real work begins.


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Performance: the mind and body

stock-karting-logo-greenThere are many branches and camps in the field of working with the mind and one in particular works on the premise that the mind and the body are in fact one system rather than two separately functioning entities.

It is said that”whatever goes into the mind affects the body and whatever goes into the body affects the mind”, so what I want to focus on here in particular is the part about “what goes into the body affects the mind”.

There is a huge amount known about diet and nutrition for athletes and I cannot help but be astonished at some of the food and drink that competitors regularly ingest on race days without any consideration to the actual effects these have on both the mind and the body. The metabolism is the power house of energy operating in a very complex way to turn the food and drink into energy. The ideal scenario is to have the metabolism functioning at a constant productive level that is producing optimum energy, this is achieved by fueling the body regularly.

If the body is starved of fuel for prolonged periods of time the metabolism shuts down and goes into storage mode. The net effect of this is that less energy is produced by the body, leaving the individual feeling weaker than normal, less nutrients get to the brain and tiredness and fatigue begin to set in, concentration levels drop and mood swings can be experienced, reactions slow and decisions become clouded. This isn’t just the food, the liquids that any competitor takes in also have a profound effect on the mind and body if too little of the correct types are taken.

Basically everything slows down in a bid to keep reserves so that the physical body can survive. It can be likened to your car running low on fuel and you’re not sure how far the next petrol station is, you short shift the gears and avoid building too many revs because you know that this will use more fuel, basically you conserve what you have by using less and taking it steady. This is what happens when the body goes long periods without fuel, after a while it conserves and stores and thus slows down the amount of energy released.

As is traditionally said, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, eating and drinking first thing in the morning is the kick start for the metabolism to start functioning and producing fuel and therefore energy. Sometimes nerves can be heightened though, which can be the sole focus on the morning of a race and very often competitors skip their breakfast which is a big mistake, even if you aren’t hungry it will be far more beneficial to at least get some water or orange juice into the system along with even some small amount of food, even a slice of toast. This will get things functioning and later in the morning when the metabolism is running out of fuel you will start to feel hungry and the brain will receive whatever signals it needs to then get you fueling up again and keep a constant supply of energy.

The metabolism is very sensitive to what goes into the body, the worst mistake is that of taking in too high a concentration of sugars, how often are the younger competitors seen wandering around with chocolate and ice cream and fizzy drinks where the greater part of the ingredients are sugars? If the metabolism is highly responsive then just imagine what high concentrations of sugars do, they create a rush of energy, if there is a rush then there is also a big drop. In most cases the rush gives the competitor energy because the sugars are easily processed but when they go into the slump it leaves the competitor weaker and less able to concentrate.
There is much reliance on pasta as the food that has slow release energy properties but I believe this to be somewhat flawed. Have you ever had a big meal like at Christmas and then felt sleepy afterwards? I think that most people have experienced that. The body sends blood to the stomach and intestines to assist with the processing of the food and less is available to the muscles to receive the nutrients and energy and the body goes into low gear. Pasta is hard for the body to digest, also it is heavy. If you must eat pasta then I personally believe that it should be in small amounts.

Ideal Race Day Food: wholemeal toast for the slow release carbohydrate with honey thinly spread to kick start the metabolism, alternatively porridge made with water and honey to taste, drink should be water and/or orange juice.

Throughout the day Sandwiches made again with wholemeal bread containing a protein such as beef, chicken, turkey, ham and some salad, just taking a couple of bites every now and then every hour or half a sandwich every couple of hours. Alternatively, rice with a protein as described, or even taking in small amounts of the above and having a jacket potato with tuna at lunch, again avoiding over-eating.

During the day you should ideally be sipping water throughout rather than waiting until thirsty and gulping loads down. In hot weather it is important to replace salts and nutrients and the best source for this is isotonic drinks. However be careful because some are laced with sugars. Never ever take sugary drinks or foods, the secret is making sure the metabolism is constantly active and not having big peaks and big drops.

One of the little understood facts is that proteins are the most important food source for the muscles both in terms of providing energy and also that of recovery from exercise, a lot of people falsely think it is the carbohydrates found in sugars, but this is the area where most problems stem, it is better to have a balanced intake without being excessive in any given area. Experiment with these ideas and find what is best for you or your competitor as each one of us is unique, but the overall functioning will be the same, you will find better moods, better concentration, more energy and less fatigue.

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Tips on producing a hot lap

IMG_1847 CMYKCertain driving styles can be quick for one driver but not another. For me, smoothness and precision has always been the key, although over the years I have seen some wayward opposite-lock power-sliding that has been just as quick, if not faster, but not usually on an indoor track! Too much opposite-locking in what is a relatively under-powered ‘arrive-and-drive’ kart might look impressive, but is it quicker? Even a kart with twin Honda GX160 or GX200 engines can scrub speed far too quickly with the tail of the kart hanging out, leaving the driver a prime target for the next straight.

Some years ago the top champion jockey Richard Dunwoody invited me to join his indoor enduro team with fellow champion jockey Tony ‘AP’ McCoy. We won the race and in the process I set the fastest lap using the smooth style that became my trademark. At one stage in the race in a fast right-hand kink I found I was occasionally tapped going into the kink if someone was too close behind. One of those drivers came up to me after a driver change and said: “I am flat out through that corner and faster than you – why are you so slow?” I suggested he check his lap times, and he found he was 2 seconds a lap slower. Going flat meant his kart was sliding on the exit – mine did not. He lost so much speed from the exit of the kink apex to his next braking point that it meant he could not live with me on overall lap pace.

On an outdoor track I found the same scenario in several ‘arrive-and-drive’ races at one of the UK’s foremost karting circuits, where taking the first 180° corner flat out in a twin-Honda, left me on average around 0.2s a lap slower than a lap with a brief lift at the apex. It is a fault a lot of drivers’ have, they think that because they are flat-out everywhere, then they must be quick! It is not always necessarily the case so experimentation, and being willing to listen and try different things is the key to improving. A good driver will never stop learning.

So every driver, no matter what experience they have, will become quicker if they are prepared to listen and take advice. Having someone watch how you drive and then take heed of whatever suggestions follow can reap dividends. As soon as a driver thinks “I know what to do,” and ignores everything else, the chance of being beaten increases. A Chief Instructor at Silverstone once told me that a track novice he had just spent one hour with, was a much better, and ultimately quicker driver, than some of the multiple kart champions that had passed through his hands. The reason? “He was prepared to listen and do everything I suggested. Some of those champion karters’ thought they knew it all…”

The bull in a china shop approach might be fine for some, but smoothness is generally the best way forward. Just ask Jenson Button.

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How to build a successful Endurance team

1dimg40446Throughout for ease of writing I might use the term ‘he’, but for this also read ‘she’. Some of the lady racers on the ‘arrive-and-drive’ scene can be mighty quick!

To start with look at stamina, fitness, and concentration – how strong is yours? Are you a 100 metre runner or a marathon runner?

The truth of the matter is that an endurance race is in fact a sprint race, even if it is 24 hours long, but sprinting a marathon is going to be hard, if not impossible. The main difference with an endurance race is that it usually takes longer to recover physically from a longer event, and the older the driver the harder it is. One also has to remember that the skill set in an endurance race can frequently be very wide indeed, and by as much as half a dozen seconds a lap, so the likelihood of an incident increases substantially, whilst still travelling at sprint racing speeds. Try to identify the suspect drivers from racesuits and helmets and use caution.

One driver explained it to me as follows: “We did one of those special charity enduro races at an indoor track; we had a strong team. I was always told keep the kart pointing forward and don’t lose your temper! This came in handy when two karts from the same group of drivers conspired to pin me against the wall, and later one even attempted to hit me! Crazy!”

Being a successful sprint racer though does not always translate into being a successful team racer, unless as a driver you are fortunate to gather a strong pool of talent around you. A team is only as strong as its slowest member, who will have the expectation of looking for a fair amount of time in the kart, so the other team members need to have strength of character, as well as being prepared to offer some compassion and support. The last thing any endurance team needs is feelings of contempt for another team member because a quicker driver feels a slower driver is not performing to the level wanted.

After covering several 24-hour events, both as a driver and as a journalist, I have seen teams fall apart from a lack of commitment. Anyone who prefers to have a sleep, rather than remain fully committed to 24+ hours of team support, should not be thinking in terms of being an endurance racer. And indoor endurances are a lot more demanding than outdoor events too, with the usual cut-and-thrust of smallish tracks allowing no physical recovery time between corners. Tiredness equals mistakes, and with 90+ minute stints between fuel stops, those early Sunday morning hours in the dark can test stamina very well indeed!

Main pointers for an endurance outfit:

  • Work on fitness and stamina, although this is regardless of whether the races are sprints or endurance events. Indoor events can often be more tiring than outdoor tracks due to the lack of recovery time between corners.
  • Only have a driver in the team who shows the right mind-set of commitment. A good team comes from individual support – the last thing you need is having a driver too tired to get up in the early hours because they want to sleep instead.
  • Do not lose your temper. There will be slower (and often faster) drivers in the race and incidents will happen. As recent as the Malaysian GP Jenson Button ran into the back of Narain Karthikeyan fighting for 7th place, when the latter, who was a lot slower, was out of position after a Button pit-stop… and yet a collision occurred. It is not always the slower driver’s fault.
  • Work on your pitstops. Fernando Alonso and Ferrari are not quick from a lack of practice. Which side of the kart will the ‘tired’ driver get out of? So equally which side will the ‘fresh’ driver get in? The ‘tired’ driver could be slow getting out so will he need help? The other team personnel should know this. Advance planning means fewer lost seconds.


Remember too that a good Race Director should have his eye on the action and take proceedings against the unruly. So if he is not up to standard then race somewhere else – there are plenty of places to go to.

Successful endurance racers are often a breed apart, with strength built on solidarity and friendship, as well as patience and good team management.

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Attacking/defending techniques for karting

CMYK.CMYK.DSC_3711Readers of this article should not roll about laughing when I say this, but karting is a non-contact sport. Right, stop laughing now, because I know how funny that statement is. But the truth of the matter is that penalties are handed out if any driver is caught, let’s say, being a touch naughty. No penalty though can ever make up for being taken out of a race because of someone else’s incompetence on track.


Examples best describe the consequences, but my last endurance event was in the Daytona 24-hour race at Wembley back in December 2008, where the track was laid out inside the Stadium on top of the football pitch. At 4am on Sunday morning I was tapped, or should I say rammed, from behind entering the final corner, and pitched into what one marshal described as “the most spectacular kart shunt he had ever seen!” What he could not see were the cracked ribs and weeks of pain that ensued, and all because there was a driver (a loose term) in the race whose racing ability and standards were highly suspect.


Passing a quick driver, indoors or out, is not always the work of a few moments. Two equally paced racers might need to take time to work out the others weakness(es) and then exploit this. Pulling a rash move, by deliberately pushing and squeezing the other driver out of the way, can often result in a retaliatory move, which is not good for either driver. A clean move on the other hand should be respected. Deliberately turning into a corner when the other driver is already alongside is silly, as is blocking and weaving on the straights to keep a quicker opponent behind.


Over the years I have been fortunate to follow closely the careers of several top-flight karting graduates, including the ex-Formula 1 driver Anthony Davidson. Always willing to offer advice, when he raced karts internationally against the world’s best drivers he had this to say. “If I am under pressure from someone who seems to be quicker than me, you need to use some common sense. I know that if I block him to stop him getting past, we will just end up having an accident, because he will do everything he can to get past and teach me a lesson. It’s the way it works. In those circumstances it is often easier to let him past and then chase him. The pressure is off and it gives me time to watch and see if I can find some extra pace that allows me to get back on terms.” At the very least it means Davidson improved his chances of getting to the finish in one piece, as well as working out why the other guy was quicker at that stage of the race, and maybe even re-passing him later?


Points to remember:

  • Keep it smooth.
  • Use common sense.
  • Be prepared to listen and heed the advice given, because doing so just might make you faster.
  • Experiment with any advice offered and see if it works for you.
  • Do not block, it will only annoy the quicker driver behind, which is likely to lead to an accident, and an ‘off’ could mean a non-finish, loss of points and a poorer grid position later on.
  • If you are being blocked have patience and plan your moment. A slower driver will have a definite weakness so watch and exploit this to your advantage. A gentle tap will make them aware you are ‘hunting’, but deliberately pushing an opponent out of the way could, and should, be penalised.

If someone is tap, tap, tapping at every corner then let them go – clearly they are quicker and the likelihood you will be ‘pushed’ increases. Try to then follow and learn why you were slower before letting them past. More can be learned from following a quicker driver than blocking them.


Remember that patience is a strong virtue which can lead to race finishes in one piece, and race finishes mean higher finishes and more points and prizes.


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Getting started in karting

stock-joynerQuite often the best way to approach a new (ad)venture is to seek advice and guidance first, because jumping into the deep end with no preparation beforehand can be a daunting, if not an embarrassing, or even dangerous task.

Mainstream kart racing is certainly not for the faint of heart. It can be very expensive and some folk have suffered burnt fingers when they followed the line, “I’ve raced those go-karts (sic) at Blackpool and it was easy, so how difficult can it be?” After a severe depletion of the family bank balance, they end up wishing they had stayed at the ‘arrive-and-drive’ level, where just as much fun can be enjoyed without receiving letters from the bank manager!

Put in simple terms, it means a karting beginner can learn the hard way, by going mainstream kart racing, or they can approach this exciting sport from a different angle. The simple ‘turn up and race’ opportunities that are available today did not exist, even only as far back as the ‘80’s, so 21st century folk have never had it so good. What opportunities there are should certainly be exploited!

So the main questions then become: Where to start? What are the main points to consider? How much will it cost? Exactly what do I want from it? And should I race indoors or outdoors… or both?

To start with, most major towns and cities will have an indoor venue close by. Some of the indoor tracks are small and tight but can still offer a high fun factor to beginners and more experienced drivers alike. It is therefore possible to learn quickly and relatively safely. Equally, some indoor tracks can be found within larger surroundings, and whilst overtaking is never going to be easy against a skilled opponent, the larger venues do make it more possible. And then there are the outdoor tracks where ‘arrive-and-drive’ opportunities also exist, and where mainstream kart racing championships often take place, as indeed they can do at the indoor venues.

The beauty of kart racing this way is that the ‘arrive-and-drive’ venues provide everything for the ‘wannabee’ Lewis’s and Jenson’s. It is ‘arrive-and-drive’ in its purest form, where the participant, regardless of age (within limits – some tracks take youngsters into their junior race schools from a very young age), or whether male or female, are able to compete on equal terms. Helmets, racesuits, gloves… they are all provided, and usually with a food and a drinks bar (obviously for afterwards…) also on the premises for a good time, day or night.

The ‘arrive-and-drive‘ scene though can still cater for those wanting to develop further, by remaining at the hire kart level, but still wanting to be a little more serious, and look a bit more professional to a rival competitor, by taking part in the sprint or enduro championships many such venues have every year.

Psyching out a rival can be of some benefit, and whilst I am not a doctor, it is likely to be one of the reasons why ‘arrive-and-drive’ racers buy their own racesuits and helmets. Psychologically it could be worth a second a lap! I will always remember turning up at an indoor event wearing a racesuit with ‘Aintree Racing Driver’s School’ emblazoned across the chest, and smiling at the freaked out expressions that were evident. They were beaten before I even got in the kart. And my son gets more-or-less the same effect when he wears my ‘Karting magazine’ racesuit. The actual racing can be just part of the fun! Badge up your racesuit and go for it!

A quick look on the Internet or through GO Karting or Karting magazine, for example, will find advertisers offering racesuits and helmets, without having to spend the equivalent of a large monthly mortgage payment. Motorcyclists can naturally use their own gear and this helps to keep initial costs down. But also note one of the driver comments below, because Christmas and birthdays can be wonderful events.

The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is true, but do not waste too much time pounding the track for lap after lap in the learning phase. It costs money to practice and the learning curve becomes much sharper once the green light comes on, and race experience is earned, as you quickly learn to race on your wits and reactions.

I found that pulling a few strings can get the odd driver or two to open up, especially with a promise to keep their name(s) anonymous, and so with that understanding, stories of how they got into the ‘arrive-and-drive’ scene were offered. As one seasoned luminary said:

“I started karting doing indoor to begin with; I really enjoyed it. Hard work and physical, no straights to have a rest of the arms. I look back on my indoor days with fond memories. I then saw a championship advertised at Top Gear in Durham, and turned up at round one not knowing what to expect. There were 20-25 people nearly every round, so it was a good crack with good people. The racing was done in three 10 lap heats with a 12 lap final, and we started the heats in different spots on the grid. You have to defend before you can attack – the track is always narrow so if you hold a middle line it’s difficult to pass. You don’t usually make up many places on indoor tracks, but any overtake helps with points at the end of the day!

“As for buying racesuits etc., I looked on the internet and in the Demon Tweeks catalogue. I got my first suit as a Christmas present, and used my motorcycle helmet; the gloves were given to me by a work mate who almost had a career in Formula Ford. I bought the balaclava to help with misting issues in Scotland and prefer the full face with eyeholes – adds an air of mystery I think! I would highly recommend buying padding for knees and back before anything else, as I now have scar tissue at the bottom of my back! I would say don’t go and buy it all in one go – I am still adding to my kit list now.’

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Tips for beginning karting

Oliver BearmanThree very different drivers were at the start of their careers at Kimbolton this spring.

There are a lot of classes in British karting and there’s something to suit most drivers, although Minimax, Junior Rotax and Senior Rotax are the most widespread. The Cadet classes are the biggest at most clubs, at some places Honda Cadet is most popular and at others it’s all about IAME.

We spoke to a Cadet, a Junior and a Senior within their first year in MSA owner-driver racing to find out how and why they got started.

Eight year old Oliver Bearman has been racing just under a year but before I started work on this article I’d already seen him towards the top of the standings in Honda Cadet races across the South of England.

Oliver’s dad David had a kart when he was young, but didn’t get the opportunity to race. He’s making up for that now though as he raced Caterhams last year and is doing the GT Cup in a Ginetta G50 this year.

Father Christmas brought Oliver a kart last year and they went to Rye House every Wednesday and Saturday and he enjoyed it more and more.

“I got off novice plates in September and have been racing every weekend. I was knocked about quite a bit as a novice,” Oliver says. David added that it was a “leap of faith” but that Oliver has been quick but has needed to work on racecraft.

They race with Ashley Whitcroft’s Evolution Racing, with Richard Sharman as Oliver’s mechanic, who have been a tremendous asset. David says he decided to distance himself after arguing which added extra stress, which is why they decided to work with Richard.

“The whole family comes along, it’s a good family thing and we get to spend time with each other,” David says.

Honda Cadet was the natural choice as it’s by far the biggest Cadet class in the South-East, and David said “The first time at Buckmore we qualified 3rd as a novice. We thought Honda would be most cost effective although there’s good and bad engines at club level and you question what’s in them if they were taken apart. It has become a bit of an arms race.”

The high point so far has been 2nd at Kimbolton in February and as Oliver is planning to do Super One this year, he’s been branching out into tracks further afield. In the wet at PF International over the winter he was on pole in the wet by 0.2s against lots of Super One drivers who are often more than four years older. It is thought that Oliver will be the youngest Super One driver in 2014 but they are aiming for an explorative season this year and hopefully to get a seeded number (top ten), then to go for the win in 2015.

Oliver’s favourite tracks are Kimbolton and PFi as he likes high speed flowing sections, like the Litchfield Bridge at PFi.

Unsurprisingly Oliver wants to be in Formula One when he’s older although David reminded him that he needs to be a realist as well!

To other new drivers, Oliver says “It’s hard, you’ve got to not worry about being bumped around, and when you’re older it’s less likely that you’ll be bumped around.

In my first races I got bumped and bashed around all the time, I didn’t have much confidence in the kart out on the circuit. I wanted to get rid of the novice plates, then I wasn’t scared I was going to bumped around any more.”

Tom Rushforth is starting MSA racing after a long time in non-MSA, mainly at Ellough Park. He’s competing in Junior TKM and unlike Oliver, he’s going it alone with his dad and grandad. They aren’t in the dark though, as grandad Ian Rushforth is a leading light of the British Superkart Association, and dad Simon also races, in British and European Superkarts. Simon has also been racing a relatively short period of time.

Tom says the high point of his career so far was his first MSA race. Kimbolton in March was Tom’s second MSA race, even though he’s been racing since Cadets. He says “there’s a big difference, everything’s a lot more regulated, there’s a lot more entries and the standard is slightly higher. I’ve been racing at Beccles, against 4-5 TKMs, so it’s a bit of a culture shock, a big step up. But some people that used to race at Beccles that were way ahead are not as far ahead here.”

They chose TKM as it’s a “cheaper alternative to Rotax, we can look after it ourselves as it’s not sealed, and there’s really competitive racing”.

Tom is planning on taking on Shenington next, possibly the most competitive grid Junior TKMs outside of Super One, and maybe Fulbeck, although Kimbolton is still his favourite track.

Tom has the perennial reservations about a career as a racing driver – money.

“I want to go into gearbox karting (“He only wants to beat me,” says Simon) as I don’t feel there’s a big enough chance in motorsport because of money. I think motorsport revolves around money, if you have the money you have a good chance.”

Remember that if you do long circuit gearbox karting, you’ll get to race on some of the most legendary and exciting circuits in motorsport, lap faster than most cars and spend a fraction of the money.

Tom’s advice for other drivers starting out is “don’t be scared, it’s not actually that hard. If you’re used to racing among a group of five and you turn up and there’s a grid of 30 you don’t really notice once you’re out on the track.”

The oldest of our drivers is 23-year-old Lewis Ward, who has raced in Rotax 177 since January. He has loved motorsport as long as he can remember, with a lot of influence from his father. He’s racing on his own with help from his girlfriend.

He chose 177 as he heard it was a bit more tame and slightly less competitive, but he did say that the standard of the other drivers was better than he expected.

Lewis is lying 4th in the club championship at Kimbolton after the April meeting and has taken the novice trophy at each of the four meetings he’s raced in this year. He’s only raced at Kimbolton so far although he’s practiced at other tracks and he’s planning to race in the RAF (Lewis’ day job) Championship.

But like Oliver, Lewis has plans to move on from karting eventually: “I would like to go on and race cars in the future, karting is just a platform for that, I’ve got a kit car that I’d like to do up and race.”

“You need to have a background understanding of motorsport, so do your research before you start,” says Lewis.

Our three drivers show that there’s many individual ways you can approach karting and lots of different motivations. Family influence seems to be key and as you can see two of the dads in this article race themselves so age is unlikely to be a barrier.

But you don’t need to have a lengthy motorsport pedigree to enjoy and be successful in karting, as Lewis is starting to show. You just need to be enthusiastic and willing to learn.

Top five tips for new karters

* Non-MSA, or IKR (Independent Kart Racing) can be an excellent introduction to the sport. Race meetings usually have good medical cover and insurance, but a more relaxed approach to the latest kit means cost savings. You will still need to do your ARKS test and five races on novice plates if you decide to race MSA though.
* Keep a sense of perspective and enjoy the present. Yes, Formula One is the dream for most younger novices but you will also hear a lot of F1 drivers say karting was the best racing they’ve done. A fundamental love of racing will get you through the hard times.
* Don’t over complicate things. Your equipment isn’t the most important thing at this stage, you as the driver have a far bigger influence over your performance.
* Life is much easier if you have a good set of tools, and preferably two of what you use most often.
* Watch and learn from the drivers and teams at the top of their game, don’t get caught up in waffle from people who are only at the same stage as you.

The karts

Oliver Bearman
Honda Cadet
160cc Honda four-stroke
Project One kart
Age 8-12
For: Close, equal racing
Against: Racing in a pack can be intimidating if you’re new

Tom Rushforth
Junior TKM
100cc TKM two-stroke
Jade Kart
Age 11-16
For: Easy to look after as a dad and lad team
Against: Not raced everywhere

Lewis Ward
Rotax 177
125cc Rotax two-stroke
Kosmic kart
Age 16+
For: The higher weight limit accommodates more drivers
Against: No national championship if you want to progress from club racing

What class should you enter?
If you’re on a tight budget TKM Clubman or Honda Cadet Clubman. TKM Clubman is available at Shenington and Rissington or the TKM Midlands Club Championship and uses simple chassis, the standard TKM Extreme engine, and used TKM Extreme tyres. The Honda Clubman class runs in the South-East and a condition of entry is that any engine is for sale for £500, so there’s no point spending much money on development.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on set-up
In Easykart the karts are all the same (with Cadet, Junior and Senior versions) and your only set-up decision is tyre pressures. Or if you’ve got the budget you could race in any class with a commercial team supporting you.

If the mechanical work is part of the enjoyment
Junior TKM, TKM Extreme, or KZ. The Junior and Extreme TKM chassis are simplified, although not as much as Clubman, but the engines aren’t sealed so if you want to rebuild your own engine you can. KZ uses a gearbox engine, where you have the choice of several manufacturers, and it’s unsealed and open for tuning. The karts have front brakes and many possible set-up adjustments.

If you want to race on legendary motor racing circuits
Superkart classes 125 Open and 250 National are most popular on long circuits where they use full bodywork and you’ll get the chance to race at Silverstone, Cadwell Park, Brands Hatch and Donington. In the Division One Superkart class, the European Championship has been to circuits like Hockenheim and Le Mans. They are a bit fast for many beginners but you should be OK if you’ve got motorbike experience.

If you want to race all over the country and/or in national championships
For anyone aged over 11, Minimax, Junior Rotax and Senior Rotax are the mainstream of karting in the UK. The chassis have a lot of possible set-up changes although no front brakes, and the engines are sealed which means they need to be maintained by an approved service centre. As these classes are so popular they can get incredibly competitive at the bigger clubs and the national championships which means a lot of money gets spent, but there’s many drivers racing and having fun on a budget. If you’re over 80kg the 177kg senior class is available.

 Words by: Mary-Ann Horley