Off Track

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Call out the Instigators, Because there’s something in the air, We’ve got to get together sooner or later, Because the Revolution’s here. Thunderclap Newman (“Something in the Air” 1969)

By Dave Bewley
Down at Motorsports House radical changes are afoot and many knickers have been getting in a twist. Team bosses mutter about moving their operations abroad, while some of the richer clubs complain that they’ll be forced into liquidation. There’s a whiff of revolution in the air as conspirators whisper darkly about setting up a rival governing body even though such attempts have always met with abject failure on previous occasions.

Much, if not all of the discontent is focused on an idea to run the British Championships over three rounds with regional qualifiers. As this plan also involves dispensing with the various national championships now running, there is widespread consternation amongst teams, organisers and participating clubs that their income will be radically reduced.

My own club will be particularly affected. This year, Rowrah has already benefitted from lucrative FKS and S1 Rotax rounds, together with a very successful ABkC O Plate meeting. In addition, another S1 round is scheduled for September, this time taking in MSA and TKM classes. Club meetings in the months leading up to these events attract greatly enhanced entries so losing them will certainly have an impact upon the Balance Sheet.

The first British Kart Championships in 1961 were held over a single meeting at Brands Hatch. By all accounts it wasn’t particularly well organised and several competitors complained about wrecking their karts after hitting the wooden sleepers which marked the circuit. Tony Sisson was happy enough as he became the first of eight outright British Champions.

For the next two years, the championships were contested over eight rounds. Bobby Alderdice, the 16 year old son of an American airman, won in 1962 and George Bloom, almost 40 years his senior, claimed victory 12 months later. Some competitors complained about travelling to eight different circuits, claiming that many talented drivers were being excluded because of the costs involved.

This led to a different arrangement in 1964 when regional qualifying rounds were held with a final taking place at Shenington where more than 200 drivers turned out. So keen was the competition for places in this prestigious event that many qualifiers had reputedly sold their entries to less fortunate drivers. Amazingly Bruno Ferrari won three of the six class titles on offer, but it was Chris Lambert who emerged as the outright British Champion.

The same formula was repeated in 1965 when Chris Merlin came away from Debden as the outright champion. In 1966 the championships were held over three rounds at Fulbeck, Flookburgh and Brand Hatch. Mickey Allen claimed the outright title after a tense battle with Paul Fletcher. It was back to a single round formula in 1967 when Dave Ferris won the number 1 plate at Little Rissington. Stephen South was successful the following year at Shenington.

“The British Championships could be decided over a single weekend with S1 winners allocated “O” Plate titles.”

By 1969, the championships had grown too big for a single event and they were split into two groups. Flookburgh played host to the gearbox classes and Fulbeck was chosen for all of the 100cc categories. It was decided to dispense with the title of outright British Champion. Instead of a single driver being allowed to sport the number 1 plate, we suddenly had six. With hindsight, I feel that this was a mistake and has led to widespread confusion with literally dozens of drivers now claiming that they are British karting champions.

The British Championships in various classes continued to be contested over a single meeting right up until 1991. Before then the popular Super One Series was allocated national O Plate status. There’s a very persuasive argument that titles won over several rounds ought to carry more weight than any of those decided at a single meeting. However, it’s also true that, with only a couple of exceptions, the World Championships have been held at a single venue each year.

The argument almost 50 years ago that multi-round championships excluded competitors on low budgets is even more valid today. In 1962 many competitors were travelling to each round and returning back home in a single day with no hotel bills involved. In 2011 drivers tend to allocate five days for each meeting. Whereas ten years ago Super One contenders were recognised chiefly for their ability, the main distinguishing feature now is that they’ve all got sizeable budgets.

I sympathise with the view at Motor Sports House that British Championships need to become more inclusive. You can achieve this without necessarily causing a major upheaval. For one year, purely as an experiment, the roles could be switched back to how they were before 1991. That means MSA British Championships being decided in one weekend, with S1 winners allocated O Plate titles. It probably wouldn’t succeed in keeping everyone happy but at least there would be no need to “call out the Instigators”.