Since my experience of the F100 festival at Fulbeck back in 2017 I have craved getting behind the wheel of a 100cc rocket again. Thanks to Jay Fairbrass who leant me his pride and joy, a 1994 Tonykart Esprit along with an ex Bobby Game IAME TT75 engine, I was able to take part in round 1 of the F100UK championship at Llandow in the Pre95 class a week ago, and what a weekend it was!
The ‘F100 – spirit of the 90s’ is a championship run by 100cc karting enthusiasts who loved the era of the late 80’s and 90’s. Walking around the paddock you can really feel the passion for the sport, and speaking to the drivers everyone is in love with their light, 100cc, 20k rev screaming karts. The combination of, the light and nimble chassis, the hours spend restoring their equipment, combined with the simplicity of the direct drive engines gives them the same excitement about karting that many of them had at the time – something few get from modern karting.
I arrived at Llandow, a new circuit to me, on Saturday morning where I was introduced to the team once again for the first time since Fulbeck, and the excitement ahead of the upcoming race weekend was palpable. Chris Derrick, 2017 Pre95 champion and a competitor of mine for the weekend was quick to offer me a track walk to help me get my eye in. Moreover a few words of wisdom from Formula A world champ and all round legend Colin Brown meant I was as prepared as I could be. My Tonykart had been prepped beautifully by GMS on behalf of Jay and looked as ready to get on circuit as I was.
Warm temperatures and sun bathed the Welsh circuit as I got to grips with the kart in the morning. The Pre89 & Pre95 class run on Mitas SRC slick tyres, a fairly hard tyre designed to be usable for hundreds of laps, and this seemed to be the case. Once I got my eye in I was able to lap within just a couple of tenths of champion Chris Derrick on tyres nearly a year old. The Pre2000 class run on the popular Komet K1H tyre used in X30 both for performance and availability giving great grip and performance similar to the tyres of the Formula A era.
If you’ve seen the article I wrote from the F100 festival you will know how much I enjoyed driving these karts, and for me this weekend was a huge treat. I love driving karts, and kart was an absolute pleasure to drive; nimble at just 148kg in race trim, the kart glides around the circuit effortlessly, it felt like the kart was encouraging me to back it into every corner – of course I obliged, would be rude not to wouldn’t it…
Cold, windy and wet, Sunday was to be a very different day. First practice was just about dry enough for slick tyres, however for heat 1 the Komet K1W treaded tyres were certainly needed. My first lap on wets was the formation lap, and add to that, I was starting from pole position, I was being thrown straight into the deep end.
After nearly falling flat on my face while trying to bump start, and taking my mechanic Dave Wooder with me, I had a guess at the wet line. The lights went out and away into the unknown I drove. Miraculously I held the lead until lap two when whilst hitting approximately 18k revs the big end on my ex Bobby Game IAME motor let go and ended my race practically before it had begun.
One thing I especially liked about the karts was how amazingly simple everything was, the only setup changes we made from full dry to full wet was a small increase in front width, a few extra teeth on the rear sprocket, and of course wet tyres. The karts are much stiffer with fewer adjustments than a modern kart meaning it is harder to get lost with setup.
Heat 2 I was to start from 7th on the grid, the was track still wet, new engine bolted on in a hurry, I had an awesome race. After a good start, I made it into 2nd position and I was closing the leader, meanwhile Alistair Topliss was closing on me fast. A Three way fight ensued with Alistair making it past me before passing the leader in the very next corner, which also allowed me to follow him through; 2nd place is where I would finish.
This is quite a convenient point for me to talk about an observation I made from the viewing gallery and on circuit. Everyone at F100 is there to race, however every overtake, battle, and move I witnessed was carried out with not only respect for the other driver, but also the equipment. Whether this is because everyone knows how much time and effort has gone into each kart’s restoration, or the lack of bumpers making the risk of a move higher, or the respect shown is higher overall, I’m not sure but the fact its there is important.
Heat 3, A choice had to be made, slicks or wets. The track was drying, dark clouds were overhead, it’s would be a gamble either way. I decided on slicks to save my only wet tyres for the final. Wets were the tyre to have, with only my last couple of laps being faster than any wet tyre runners, however I enjoyed having a play sliding the kart around in the greasy conditions.
Shortly after our final Pre95 heat the Pre2000 grid were all lined up and waiting, the majority on slick tyres. The heavens preceded to open triggering a frenzy of tool wielding and nut running. The whole grid lending each other tools, an extra pair of hands, all to make sure everyone made the grid. The community spirit meant everyone could start on wets and a great race it was too!
The time had come for the final race of the day, this time there was no doubt about tyre choice, it would be wets for all, despite some having severely worn their only set out in the previous heat. Starting 7th once again the start was going to be crucial, however a situation I have never experienced meant I lost a little ground over the line due to my toes getting caught under the bumper of the kart in front (no pods here remember).
Around the outside of row 3 I gained two positions at turn 1, then one more place further round the lap; the kart was on fire and I felt I could place it wherever I wanted. My master mechanic and former British/European karting champion Dave Wooder had given me the perfect setup, tyres, gearing, front width were all spot on. I had great pace in the early stages allowing me to pick off the drivers ahead one by one as I went. I’ve rarely felt so at one with a kart as I did during this final, before I knew it I was tucked up behind leader and No.1 kart Chris Derrek, ‘how have I got here’ I asked myself. After sitting behind Chris for a lap or so I made my move and was able to drive away and extend the gap to about 3 seconds by the flag.
From the outside, the last few laps may have looked fairly eventless, however having had my motor go pop from the lead once, and my revs hitting 19k and above twice a lap I was far from chilled. Choking at every opportunity, I wound the jet out further and further in the hope of prolonging the ticking time bomb by my right hip as I felt the heat radiate on the side of my seat. Thankfully I could bring it home, and in first place! What a buzz, I did not expect to be fighting for a win in my first race in the series, and I was delighted which was fairly obvious from my face for about half an hour after I stepped out the kart.
What a weekend indeed. Looking back now, I don’t think I could have had a more complete F100UK experience, I sampled it all; dry running at maximum speed, getting drenched in the rain, blowing and engine (a rite of passage from what I’ve heard), even driving on slicks in the wet. Every moment I spent on circuit I felt alive and with a smile on my face, and almost as importantly I had an amazing time off track, in the paddock, dummy grid, wherever I went everyone was there together enjoying the ‘golden era’ of karting, now. The atmosphere was amazing and not like I’ve experienced before and it’s a credit to everyone in the series, and the whole F100 team.
A huge thanks must go to Jay Fairbrass without whom this would never have gone ahead, he sorted everything from the kart, my mechanic, to the engines, as well as all of his normal duties leading up to and at the race weekend. He deserves a medal, but should you have the pleasure of knowing him, he will tell you he wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for the huge enjoyment and satisfaction he gets from being a part of the wonderful series.
Thanks of course must also got to the whole F100UK organisational team, Chris Derrick, James Fox, the scrutineers, marshals, Lee Crampton for his awing space and everyone I met throughout the weekend and made it so enjoyable. Finally, Dave Wooder who ‘spannered’ away on my kart all weekend giving me a great and sturdy machine to drive and putting up with my indecision and changes of mind when the weather looked changeable.
This series deserves every credit it given, everyone goes about their racing in amazing spirit and the feeling of community and belonging is what causes people to get hooked and want to come back, much like I now do…
Written by Piers Prior
Photos courtesy of ‘Jessica Maund – Busy Bee Photography’, F100UK, and Elizabeth ‘Mummy’ Guest (who’s son won Pre2000, congrats Glenn!)
…oh, and sitting at 20k revs before hitting some choke while backing it in, that’s pretty good as well.