OFF TRACK – BRM

Luke Varley_7468Mention the letters BRM and I instinctively think of that famous motor racing concern founded by Raymond Mays more than half a century ago. The idea back then was to produce a world beating Grand Prix car funded by British industry. The distinctive green cars with orange nose bands were campaigned by such heroic figures as Jean Behra, Harry Schell, Jo Bonnier, Tony Brooks, Richie Ginther, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart. Despite the obvious success of British teams like Vanwall, Cooper, Lotus and Tyrell, BRM victories were always that little bit special, perhaps because they occurred so infrequently. This car claimed just 17 Grand Prix wins over a period of 21 years, an achievement that Cooper was almost able to match in as many months. Jo Bonnier was first off the mark at Zandvoort in 1959, followed by Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Pedro Rodriguez, Jo Siffert, Peter Gethin and finally Jean-Pierre Beltoise at Monaco in 1972. By then, of course, BRM had lost its famous green livery and, instead of being supported by the might of British industry, had to rely on an American cosmetics firm for financial backing. BRM had failed to meet just about every target set for it and yet no other car either before or since could arouse patriotic emotions to quite the same extent.

British Racing Motors found support in some pretty unlikely places. Despite living in Ferrari’s heartland, Signor Bracchi had been a lifelong BRM fan and, when he started building karts in 1990, he chose these initials for his product. Seven years after first being set up, the Company was sold to Barbara Pinzoni who has tried to expand BRM’s market share and recently tempted Beggio away from Birel as the chief designer. For almost 5 years now, Bournemouth Kart Centre (BKC) has been the UK’s sole importer of BRM. The proprietors, Rob and Karen Dodds both worked extremely hard to promote this chassis and their efforts have been rewarded by some impressive results this year, especially in JICA where Nigel Moore, James Godbehere and Paul Marsh have established themselves as front runners. Thanks to Rob and Karen’s influence, Nigel is now an official works driver with full backing from the factory. BRM’s UK profile has been further enhanced by the news that JM Racing has also become associated with this make. Mike Mills is full of enthusiasm for this new project and has arranged for karts to be built especially in the team’s traditional colours of British Racing Green. To maintain the F1 image, an orange floor tray has also been incorporated.

Karen Dodds is keen to stress that this arrangement doesn’t alter BKC’s position as the sole importer for BRM. “It’s true that JM Racing will be importing a kart made especially for them at the BRM factory, in much the same way as Tonykart make Redspeed, Kosmic and Alonso models,” she explained. “However, this is a different chassis to the one imported by us and we’ve received confirmation from the factory regarding our status as sole importer. We’re still a relatively small concern and can’t offer free equipment to top drivers in the way that some traders do. That’s lost us a couple of drivers recently as they’ve been tempted away by lucrative deals. However, many others have realised the merits of this kart and our order books are looking very healthy. I think we’ve done a good job for BRM up to now in expanding their share of the UK market. I also think that the arrival of Beggio as chief designer has had a big impact and we’re certainly getting lots of enquiries about the kart now. Nigel, James and Paul are doing fantastically well in JICA and Dean Stoneman’s efforts are starting to be noticed in ICC. We also have a new European ICC champion in Roberto Tonninelli and that should help lift BRM’s profile even further.”

Luke Varley also did his bit for BRM during the July round of S1 at PF, even though most casual observers thought he was still on a Mari chassis. Luke’s kart arrived in this country literally by accident after James Mills had a bad smash whilst over in Italy. The JM van was written off but insurance assessors insisted that it be returned to Britain first. As it was being stored at the BRM factory, someone took the opportunity of slipping in a chassis “for testing purposes.” In Luke’s hands, this kart certainly looked pretty impressive as he won the Junior Max final quite comfortably from pole position. Luke always looks formidable at PF and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s added a Kartmasters GP title to his CV by the time this column is published. He’ll certainly have lots of competition as this class looks like being oversubscribed once again. Every year, this event manages to look bigger and better than ever before and that’s a tribute to the organisational skills of Trent Valley Kart Club. I’ve just received a superb flier for the GP through my letterbox. It’s been designed by Mike Mills who has always shown a particular flair for producing such promotional material. My own club, CKRC at Rowrah, has demonstrated similar imagination with a very good flier for its own race meeting on August 13th celebrating 50 years of karting. I’m sure that the Rowrah meeting won’t be able to match Kartmasters in terms of numbers, but both clubs deserve praise for their initiative.

There’s a streak of vanity hidden away in most of us, I suppose, and writers are noted for possessing more than their fair share. The first thing I usually do on picking up Karting magazine is check to see if my own contribution has been published. My next port of call is almost always George Robinson’s Max column, even though I’m not particularly involved in the Rotax scene. Not only do I admire George’s style of writing, but he often manages to espouse views very similar to my own, so perhaps I’m not such an oddball after all. Last month, he sounded out a powerful warning that too much emphasis is being placed on top level events with insufficient attention given to the grass roots. Leisure karting ought to provide a rich source of potential members for clubs. In the past, however, we’ve tended to treat this huge resource as being irrelevant and, in some cases, have even regarded it as a threat to organised racing. Offhand, I can’t think of anyone who has left club racing specifically to go leisure karting, but there’s been a fair amount of traffic moving in the opposite direction. If this traffic is to be significantly increased, then we badly need a buffer class that can tempt leisure karters into club racing for relatively small increases in their budgets.

The preliminary costs encountered by anyone embarking upon such a course have always been an obstacle to progress. By the time you’ve bought an ARKS pack, gone through the test, had a medical and paid for your licence, your wallet could be almost £200 lighter even before race day comes around. I was heartened to read in Graham Smith’s ABkC report last month that the MSA has finally agreed to introduce a Clubman’s licence for 2007, dispensing with the ARKS test and medical. Before going overboard in our praise, however, perhaps we should be questioning why this move has taken so long, whilst also insisting that much more needs to be done. Imagine if the MSA had met with clubs, traders and other interested parties 12 months earlier to establish a genuine Intermediate class that could provide a stepping stone from leisure karting into full blown racing. Imagine, too, that no effort had been spared in promoting this category in newspapers, motorsport magazines and on television. Karting’s 50th anniversary presented the perfect opportunity to lift our profile and advertise the merits of such a class at no great cost. My argument with the MSA isn’t so much that they’ve let this opportunity go begging. The real crime is that they pretended to have all sorts of grandiose plans when, in reality, their cupboard has been totally bare.

Expressing such criticism may leave me open to charges of being anti establishment. Just to redress the balance, I believe that having a nationally recognised regulatory body like the MSA has been largely beneficial. 47 years ago, when karting over here was still in its infancy, there was an attempt to launch a national organisation called the British Kart Association. Immediately, the RAC stepped in to take control so that this Association virtually died at birth. Had it survived, then the sport may well have benefited from an organisation that was totally focused on karting. However, we might also have suffered in the same way as America, where all sorts of rival bodies sprung up overnight, each with their own different sets of rules. In Britain, there was no chance of such diversity as the RAC ruled with an iron fist. Those found competing in an unofficial event automatically lost their licences and, although several half hearted attempts were made to set up rival organisations, these quickly petered out because no-one dared risk supporting them. The benefits of such stability were obvious. Ten years after inventing the sport, America actually had less licence holders than Britain. Not that we appreciated such austerity. Even as far back as 40 years ago I was still ranting and raving against our governing body. It’s just that, back then, I didn’t have the benefit of a column in Karting magazine to make my views known. I guess that believing you’ve got all the right answers is the worst form of vanity.