Karting in the year 1981: a history


The televised Race of Champions at Rye House attracted an excellent star-studded entry from overseas. Martin Smart set the fastest time using a Hewland motor but the eventual winner was Terry Fullerton on a Zip DAP.Exhaust power valves were at the leading edge of technology at this time for racing two-stroke motors and were estimated to add £1000 to the cost of an engine.The Birel Parillas of Mike Wilson and Lars Forsmann were 1st and 2nd in the CIK Asian Open Championships held at Sugo in Japan.


Sweden’s Lennart Bohlin was rated as the top 250 driver of 1980 after winning both the CIK European championship and the World Cup.Despite growing opposition to the introduction of the 135cc class at the expense of 100cc, the CIK went ahead with the scheme and it would take ten years before they saw sense and dropped World Championship status from the 135s.

MARCH 1981

Heinz-Harald Frentzen took his first steps up the ladder to Formula 1 stardom by winning the final of the West German Karting Junior Cup. The CIK All-Africa Championships at Zwartkop were an outstanding success. The 100cc event was won by the Austrian Toni Zoserl on a Birel Parilla from Forsman. Winner of 250cc was Sweden’s Lennart Bohlin on a Star Yamaha from Rogers. More problems over the legality of tyres surfaced with the news that some were using Goodyear Blue Streaks bearing forged RAC code markings.

APRIL 1981

The first Cadwell meeting of the year attracted 208 entries, with 250 International being won by Dave Buttigieg using a Yamaha motor. The event marked the debut of the mighty water-cooled Rotax in-line twin. With the exception of 3rd place, John Mills prepared DAP engines took all top seven places at the Middle East Championships held at the Ahmadi track in Kuwait. The winner was Nigel Edwards from Roger Mills. Jason Plato, later to be a successful car racer, won all the heats and the final in Junior Britain at Felton.

MAY 1981

The European Kart Show, on the outskirts of Limburg in Germany, was a great success with long queues waiting for admission. Sisley Karting had a prominent stand that was very popular. 272 entries competed at Donington Park with Martin Hines, Hermetite/Rotax, winning 250 International. Deavinsons launched their new 125 and 250 Sprint karts while John Mills introduced the JETA for the 100cc Britain and National classes.

JUNE 1981

Even a major earthquake disaster in southern Italy didn’t prevent the Italian manufacturers from homologating an enormous variety of frames. The piston-port Yamaha KT100S was used to power many classes seeking to provide economical racing. The Pilty racing kart at the German Kart Show was made from 1mm sheet steel box-sections. IAME started making KFM (Komet Flying Motor) aircraft engines, as did Hewland.

JULY 1981

The Laker-sponsored 250cc World Cup at Morecambe was won by Reg Gange. This was the first time it had been won by a Rotax, defeating hoards of Yamahas. Terry Fullerton won the Global Cup at Rye House. The power-valve equipped 250cc Yamaha TZ-H became available but the Japanese motor’s days in karting were now numbered. There were angry recriminations at the RAC Championship round at Rowrah about the use of illegal tyres.


Future F1 stars at the Champions Cup meeting at Jesolo included Ayrton Senna, Johnny Herbert and Stefano Modena. The eventual winner was Harm Schuurman and the 135cc Formula K Grand Prix was won by Modena. The British team won the European Team Champs at Biesheim. Mike Wilson, driving for Italy, won both finals. The Hermetite TV Masters 250cc race at Donington was won by Calvin Fish driving a Dino/Yamaha.


A series of technical, weather and noise problems plagued the 100cc European Champs at Horrem in Germany. The eventual winner was the then current World 100cc Champion, Peter de Bruijn, on a Tecno/Parilla. Another Dutch driver, Michel Vacirca, using an Allkart/PCR, won the World Junior Championships.The latest version of the Hewland Arrow 100cc motor, the D type, had extra slotted ports and was extremely rapid.


The Silverstone Grand Prix had 363 entries.The 250 Int. GP plate was won by John Ball, Zip Rotax, fastest lap 112.89 mph. The first news arrived from Japan about Mugen making a 100cc kart motor. At the RAC Open Day it was said that the RACMSA had £500,000 in the bank which should have been put to work for the good of motor sport. With no additional homologations permitted for the 135cc World Champs, TKM decided to follow the market with emphasis on USA sales. Their range of reed and rotary valve motors proved to be very successful.


The World Championship at Parma in Italy was the first to be held for 135 cc engines rather than the usual 100 cc. This change discouraged drivers from countries which did not have this class back home so the size of the entry was considerably reduced. The winner was an Englishman working for IAME in Italy, Mike Wilson, on a Birel Komet. Other competitors included Ayrton Senna who came 4th and Capelli 9th. Both would would become F1 drivers.One of the top Italian 100 cc tuners, Baroni, using a Birel-Rotax, won the CIK l25 cc Champs at Axamo in Sweden. There was very close racing in 250 National between Kennedy and Collard at the Oulton Park round of the RAC Long Circuit championship with the former winning the race but the latter gaining the Number 1 plate.


Due to noise problems at the Three Sisters track, noise meters were present at the final round of the RAC Short Circuit Champs. Number 1 plates were won by Kerkhoven, Allen, Cortijo and Ziemelis.The 210 National class at the Tudor Rose sponsored Championship at Donington was won by Bill Longdon with a Barlotti kart.The Green Man Championship round at Three Sisters saw class wins for Martin Prior, Jeremy Cotterill and Biff Harris.The televised Donington kart meeting was ruled to be a ‘Wet Race’ by the Clerk of the Course and there was a frantic scramble to fit wet tyres. The spectators included Nigel Mansell while an excited Murray Walker provided an excellent commentary for TV viewers. The winner was Rob Kerkhoven on a Zip Rotax from Owen Jones.