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Ben Cooper

The best personal snippet I have ever been offered on one of my Commentator’s Information sheets was ‘born on a motor racing circuit – well, very nearly!!’ See what I mean? Guaranteed to catch the eye, and a line I have used numerous times in circuit and television kart commentaries.

But was it really true? Oh Yes! The date was 29th April 1990 and Ben Cooper Senior, the National Hot Rod champion of 1990, was just lining up for an important race at Arena Essex, now the Lakeside Raceway. In the grandstand, his wife and number 1 fan, the heavily pregnant Sharon, was cheering him on in her usual enthusiastic way until she started to have problems. Her friends rushed her to the St John’s ambulance bay and the race controller told Ben, who was by now on the grid about to start the race, what was happening. He immediately came off the track and drove straight to the ambulance bay – in his race car! There the ambulance crew decided to take Sharon as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital where she was given an emergency caesarean.

A couple of hours later Ben Jnr. entered the world. So there was never much doubt as to what the infant Ben was likely to turn to when it came to hobbies. But before we look at his career, it’s worth just having another glance at his dad’s racing CV. His career comprised 10 years motorcycle trials riding, until he moved on to the ovals from 1994 – 1997 in Group ‘A’ Hotrods, National Hotrods and Lightning Rods. He was pretty good winning 3 national titles and 1 British championship, only finishing outside the top three on 4 occasions in 14 years. Our Ben, if I can call him that since his dad never raced karts, got his first taste of kart racing at Sandown Park in April 1998.

That was in the Honda Cadet Formula 6 Series. He takes up the early story. ‘For the first year of my karting I just raced around at local tracks like Buckmore Park, Bayford Meadows, Lydd International Raceway and Sandown Park and I also raced in the local Formula 6 series. Obviously I thought I was going to win everything but that definitely didn’t happen. I was last in every race and that carried on for quite a few races. So my dad and I made up some targets for me to achieve. The first target was to not get lapped.

Then once I achieved that it was not to finish last, then after that it was just to try finish one place better than last time’. I first caught up with the Cooper family at a very cold Pomposa, near Venice in Italy at the first ever Rotax Euro Challenge. That was in March 2004. It was also the first occasion I had been commissioned to write a race report for Karting magazine. I was so pleased with Ben’s early efforts. He was one of the fastest in the junior class and I was already anticipating writing about the success of this young Brit. Shortly afterwards, he was involved in a shunt and was taken to hospital with an arm injury. That was my first introduction to what I later learned was the dreaded ‘Cooper Curse’.

This has definitely been part and parcel of Ben’s kart racing career. As he explains, ‘the Cooper Curse had been around for years, but probably saves its best (or worse depending how you look at it) for when I race at Genk in Belgium. The first experience there was in 2005 in the Junior Rotax Euro Challenge where all I had to do to win the championship was finish in the top 10 in both finals.

However, I couldn’t afford to not finish because I hadn’t done the first round that year, but had then come in and won every race up until the pre final at Genk. I had won all the heats and started on pole for the pre final. It was on the second lap when I heard a metal noise as if something had fallen off the kart. Then as I came out of the first corner my chain fell off. I quickly lifted the kart up to try and put the chain back on when I discovered that the clutch itself had completely fallen off. So that was the end of my championship hopes. So the aim was to now just go out and enjoy the final starting from the back.

I think I started 30th and finished 10th and that meant I came 3rd in the championship for the second time, but I did cheat the curse in a way because 3rd in the championship meant I had won the ticket to go to the Rotax world finals! The following year I hadn’t competed in the Rotax Euro Challenge, but we decided to race the last round at Genk just for some fun. I started on 2nd for the pre final and once again the curse struck as we seized the engine on the second lap in the same place as the previous year. So once again we started last in the final but came through to finish 8th .

The next year we competed in the Euro Challenge and during the second round at Wackersdorf in Germany the curse struck again. We were having a good round constantly in the top 3 and there was no change in the final. We were lying 3rd going into the last lap almost in contention of taking 2nd, when at the end of the straight the engine made a huge bang and the kart cruised to a stop. It turned out that on the last lap of the last race that weekend the con rod had snapped in the engine’. But enough of the Cooper Curse. Ben has repeatedly pushed that to one side as he has collected an impressive list of major titles. As he recalls, ‘probably my two greatest drives ever, would have to be in Genk in 2007 in the Final of the Rotax Euro Challenge and then in the final of the Rotax World Challenge at La Conca, Italy in 2008.

Typically at Genk, the Cooper’s Curse struck in the pre final. The championship was between three of us and it was literally whoever finished first out of the three would win the championship. The last thing any of us needed was to not finish. That’s what happened to me though. On the second corner I lost a chain and that was it. We all thought the championship was over when one of the championship contenders had finished 2nd and the other was mid way up the field. So we started last for the final just having to do our best knowing that the championship win was probably out of the question but second was possible if I finished 11th or higher. I had a great first lap and went from 34th to 15th. I was slowly picking off a few places and was in 11th place, when all my birthdays and Christmas’s came at once!! I saw that one of my rivals was given a 10 second penalty and then one lap later my other rival was involved in a crash. That crash promoted me to 5th on track, but with my other opponent’s 10 second penalty we finished 4th and won the championship by 1 point!

The 2008 Rotax World Finals has to be the perfect weekend racing I have ever had. We dominated the weekend and won both finals comfortably by 3-4 seconds. We had finally won the Rotax World Championship. I thought it would never happen after finishing 4th in Langkawi, Malaysia in 2005 after dominating all the heats and the pre final, and then again after having a puncture in the pre final at Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates in 2007 after starting on the front row’. So Ben began 2009 as a World Champion although he had by now chosen to move away from the Rotax classes. Was it a satisfactory year? Ben was in no doubt about that. ‘This year has been great. We had changed teams from HRS Motorsport who provided me with great support over the years winning many races with them and topping it off with my last race when I won the Rotax World Final. I raced in 2009 with Strawberry Racing and the Tonykart Junior Team run by Paul Spencer.

We changed from Rotax to KF1 in the UK and to KF2 in Europe. It was a very successful year with another international title in the bag’. Ben had indeed maintained his impressive run of major international successes. Following his Rotax Euro Challenge title in 2007 and his Rotax World championship win in 2008, he had a comfortable victory in the 2009 WSK Series in KF2, winning the title in Zuera, Spain with a round to spare, and closing out with a podium place in the final round at Lonato, Italy. ‘I am obviously thrilled with our international results’ he said, but he was keen to point out that ‘we also had a good S1 season at home until we came to the last 2 rounds. We had 5 podiums in 7 rounds including 2 wins and led the standings. But I went down with tonsillitis a few days before the second last round at Larkhall. I did race but crashed, and so had to go to the last round at Fulbeck needing a 3rd place to take the title.

Unfortunately this was not a happy time and after several disputes, when I still feel I was the party who suffered the most wrongs, I was excluded from the meeting which obviously lost me the championship. Despite everything I feel I have learnt a lot from that experience and I believe I have shown what I can do on the national stage as well as the European and World Stage. So what does the immediate future hold for this talented young driver? In 2010 he will be racing Super KF in Europe having signed as a factory driver for Kosmic with whom he will be looking for further success. But what about the longer term future? Ben has a short answer to that one. ‘My goal has always been to be a professional driver. What could be better than enjoying going to work every day doing what you love to do?’ Well, yes, who could disagree with that sentiment, and since this very level headed young man has a habit of achieving the goals he sets for himself, who is to say that he will not succeed. Getting signed up by Kosmic as a factory driver could be just the start.