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International Karting – Africa

Track (from cliff top)(3)(note mosque in b-ground)One of the most rewarding features of working as an international Kart Commentator is seeing the growth of our sport from very humble beginnings, and learning of kart racing where you might never imagine it would be found. Take the continent of Africa for example.

There is a strong and long established Karting scene in South Africa. Their drivers have dominated the Rotax Max World Challenge by providing the first 5 winners of that event. Karting magazine explored why the South Africans are so good at this level in an article in the December 2004 edition.

What I didn’t know was that in the 1960s, South Africa led the sport in overseas competition with the International Springbok series. Many of the world’s top drivers of the day journeyed thousands of miles to take part including several from Europe. These included Italian Susy Raganelli when she was World Champion, and the legendary Bruno Ferrari from England. Beyond South Africa’s borders however, karting is a far more modest, but immensely fascinating scene.

To the immediate north in Zimbabwe, despite a difficult political situation, the sport keeps going. Marc Doppelfeld has tasted international competition but 18 year old Gerard Peters is their top man presently. He started racing at 10 years old, won the GP Junior National Championship in his first full year and has taken National titles every year since, including back to back National Championships. He is also the Lap Record holder at both of the Circuits at Bulawayo and Harare.

Zambia once had a thriving kart racing scene, but there’s not so much going on now. All that could change if Geoff Martin’s plans bear fruit. He’s trying to revive kart racing, and to this end, has already been in contact with John Osborne, the Chairman of the British Superkart Racing Club. John has provided model racing regulations and Circuit specifications, and Geoff has accepted an invitation to attend the British Superkart Grand Prix to see what he can learn. He’s also told me of his plans to visit sites of known former Circuits in Zambia. However I’ve found that that exercise can be a bitter sweet experience.

In North Africa, Egypt is trying to establish serious Motor Sports credentials. They were aided by the staging of the 4th Rotax World Challenge at Hany Soufrakis’s excellent Ghibli Raceway at Sharm el Sheikh in January 2004, and there are ambitious plans for further international meetings there.

Another track is at Ghazala Bay on the north coast near Alexandria. That was run by Medhat Badawi, and like Soufrakis at Ghibli, he had sought the aid of Englishman Steve Chapman to advise. Sadly, the recent death of Mr. Badawi senior has set back plans for the time being.

Ahmed Zidan has raced abroad at international level, and Ayman Hussain and Shady Osama have featured strongly in domestic competition, but we await the emergence of the first Egyptian Kart Racer with truly international capabilities. Perhaps the amiable teenager, Mohammed Abu Ghazala will make the grade. In the meantime the English based, Protrain tutored, Ali Heinemeyer, who has an Egyptian mother, is cleaning up all before him at Ghibli Raceway.

Still in North Africa, Morocco’s most famous track is the Circuit Atlas in Marrakech. The 1400 metres twisty track with it’s short straights was the venue for the Atlas Cup held in January. An international field was led home by the French RCN team with Team International second and the Atlas Boys with their Italian contingent completing the podium. In 4th place were the Atlas Girls, so no gender discrimination there. Near neighbour Tunisia also has kart circuits, but it is not known how good is the standard of racing.

To the east now, and we know that there is a track in Mozambique but the exciting news from that country is that another one is being built to international specification at Maputo. Rui Morgado, the father of Cristiano Morgado, who successfully races Karts, Formula Ford and Formula 3, has a leading role in the process. Although he is based in South Africa, he has extensive business interests in Mozambique and, more importantly, an enthusiastic appetite for Kart Racing. Consequently, I can see this country getting a significant foothold into our sport before too long.

Indeed Rui Morgado is one of those guys who always thinks big. I know that he is in regular contact with Ed Murray, the Rotax distributor in South Africa. Rui’s vision is for a Southern Africa Rotax Cup to embrace drivers from not only South Africa and Mozambique, but also Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, and Namibia. Wow, how international would that be? Let’s hope he can make it happen.

I have learned of at least one Kart Track in each of Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, though little is known of the calibre of the racing. Uganda has had kart racing in previous years and is presently seeking to revive the sport in their country.

There are two circuits in the Lagos area of Nigeria. One is permanent, but there is a second larger track operating on a ‘laid out on race day’ basis. This is within the Showground complex which was originally built to accomodate a horse racing track. I caught up with a couple of their drivers, brothers Joshua and Jonathan Reaume. Josh was born in California, USA, and Jonathan in Canada, but both have lived for a long period in Nigeria. Their father John is employed as Principal of a school in Lagos and the sport began when ex-pats brought some equipment over and raced in modest competition amongst themselves.

But sometimes that’s all it takes. Other ex-pats joined the party, and of course it wasn’t long before the locals witnessed what was going on, liked what they saw, and set about getting a slice of the action for themselves. Whilst Nigeria has a long way to go, they are now in the World Karting family with up to 20 drivers racing. Importantly, the Minister of Sport is actively encouraging John Reaume and the Automobile Club of Nigeria to promote the growth of Karting especially amongst the local youngsters.

Back east again and as long ago as 1968 there was the prestigious East African Kart Championship. This was staged by the Nairobi Motor Club in Kenya close to the famous Game Reserve. There was at that time a developing interest in all classes including Gearbox, but latterly the GP Karting Circuit on the south western edge of Nairobi was the only karting circuit in a 2500 mile radius. Nevertheless, upwards of 10,000 Kenyans have been introduced to karting at this venue. Incidentally there was a superb article – A kart track in Kenya – written by Nik Smulian in the xxxxxxxx xxxx edition of Karting magazine.

By the way, in 2004 Hanif Gillani became the first Kenyan born British Motor Sport champion when he won the Division One Superkart title and, for good measure, the UK Cup.

One cannot imagine much action in places like Mali, Mauretania, and their immediate neighbours. However, along with Senegal, they see the annual Motor Sports Circus pass through their countries in the shape of the Paris-Dakar Rally each January. Maybe that will be the first seed sown which in due course will yield a kart racing harvest there.

It will be interesting to see what progress these African Nations have made in 10 years time or even at the end of the present decade.

This is in no way intended to be a definitive guide to karting in Africa. Indeed during my research, I have regularly found further references to karting where I never expected any, and I’m sure there’s more out there. Do write and let me know if you are aware of other instances of karting on this vast continent.

I must gratefully acknowledge the assistance in writing this article, readily given to me by Vincent Caro, the Executive Secretary of CIK-FIA in Geneva. I should also record the fact that he drew my attention to extracts from ‘Going Karting’ published back in 1968. Likewise, I am grateful to Karting magazine editor Mark Burgess for putting me in touch with Geoff Martin in Zambia, and drawing my attention to Nik Smulian’s published article, a Kart Track in Kenya.

Ken Walker