Interview with brothers Toby and Ben Davis

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Ben CC 2010 3 castle combe full resThere used to be a perception that Long Circuit Gearbox Kart Racing was primarily for the, shall we say, more mature driver with little or no appeal to younger racers. That fallacy has been well and truly demolished in the last 10 years with the likes of Gavin Bennett, Jason Dredge and James OReilly winning the domestic sports top prize, the MSA British Superkart Championship whilst in their early 20s.

The even younger James Tucker had a couple of highly successful seasons highlighted by victory in the British Superkart GP before trying his hand at car racing. Cheshires Lee Morgan twice became the highest placed driver in a CIK European Superkart Championship round whilst still in his teens, and Gavin Bennett won that title and established himself at the very top of world superkart racing when still in his 20s.

But now, we are seeing an even more exciting and youthful phenomenon. Two teenage brothers from Ledbury in Herefordshire, the Davis boys, have both taken the sport by storm in their Rookie seasons.

Toby, the elder, was Rookie of the Year in 2009 and brother Ben has now followed him in taking the 2010 honours winning the 250 Superkart Clubman Challenge the competition just one notch beneath the MSA British title class.

The boys have always had an interest in Motorsport, with Toby especially being an avid F1 fan from a very early age. They started racing each other from the ages of 2 and 4 around the kitchen on toddlers ride-on cars, progressing to pedal cars with their friendly competitive (!) racing rivalry apparent from this early age.

Their first experience of karting was on holiday in Spain at age 12. This experience, coupled with Tobys already established passion for F1, led the family to Castle Combe Junior Karting Centre where Toby completed 2 years racing (3rd in the championship) and passed his ARKS test at age 15.
A Junior TKM kart was purchased for Toby to start short circuit racing at Little Rissington in 2007, whilst Ben, not to be left out as always, followed in his brothers tyre tracks at Castle Combe.

Toby completed 2 years in Junior TKM achieving fourth place in the championships, whilst Ben finished 2nd in the Castle Combe series and gained his own ARKS test.

Toby, then 16, decided that 250 gearbox was the obvious next step from Junior TKM and was already setting his sights on long circuit racing. The familys first introduction to the friendly 250 long circuit community was in seeking advice, willingly offered from Ian Harrison, Dave Harvey, Don Kennedy and several others culminating in the purchase of Steve Burtons Jade, complete with short and long circuit body kit.

2008 saw Toby in the Jade complete a year in 250N gearbox racing, primarily at Little Rissington, but also a handful of other short circuits to gain his National A licence, whilst Ben took over the TKM kart to complete his first year in short circuit at Rissy.

The purchase of Don Kennedys Anderson 250N kart at the end of the 2008 season allowed Toby to realise his dream of long circuit racing in 2009. His first outing in the kart and first long circuit experience was at Oulton Park, where he finished the meeting with three trophies; 2nd place for the Gearbox Masters round, 2nd place for the non-championship race and also Best Rookie. At the end of his first long circuit season he finished runner-up in the Superkart 250N Clubman Challenge series and 12th in the MSA 250N Superkart championship.

Ben, having completed just one season (2008) in Junior TKM, and approaching his 16th birthday in March, was eager to follow Toby and felt ready for the 250 gearbox class. He spent 2008 in the Jade at Rissy and a range of other short circuit tracks mastering the extra power and gaining his National A, determined to compete in long circuit as soon as he reached the minimum age of 17. At the end of the season, the Jade was sold and a second Anderson purchased from Don Kennedy, setting the boys up to compete side by side for the first time.

The lads, like most kart racing teenagers, owe much to their dad, Richard. He not only has to dip into his wallet to fund their racing, but can always be found in the awning doing his utmost to see that both his sons are turned out with the best possible chances of doing well.

But its a labour of love for the amiable Mr. Davis senior.
I feel we are fortunate to have found a shared passion that the entire family can enjoy. Personally, I enjoy engineering and have a science and engineering background. The 250N class is relatively open and we have been able to experiment with both the engine and bodywork. Toby, for example, has a homemade ram air system (which presented some interesting jetting challenges) and we designed and built a front wing mounted on top of the nosecone which definitely increased downforce but sadly added several seconds to our lap times at Cadwell!

Running two karts with one mechanic can pose quite a challenge and more than a little stress! For example, at Castle Combe, those challenges included a burst rear tyre at 100mph which destroyed the sidepod, a shattered nosecone (Ben missed a braking point) and two seized engines which had to be rebuilt between races. The CR250 engine can be both competitive and reliable, and at the end of our second season, we have learnt a lot lessons. This time both seizures were due to a blocked fuel filter (grateful thanks to Ian Harrison and Rob Walkinshaw who both gave a lot of their time as we worked to identify the cause.)

I think the special attribute of long circuit superkart racing is the camaraderie in the paddock. As newcomers, we have been welcomed and supported at every stage, with unlimited help from drivers and engine tuners. We have never been stuck for a part, or a specialised tool, as there is always someone in the paddock prepared to lend you whatever you need and offer an extra pair of hands. Don Kennedy was especially supportive in our first year offering us space in his awning as well as the benefit of his years of experience.

Another appealing characteristic of the community is the age range of the drivers. With the greatest of respect to some of those racing, the boys at 17 and 19 are competing against others old enough to be their father, and even close to being their grandfather! I should add however that these guys are definitely still capable of putting young upstarts in their place on the racetrack! There are few sports that can bridge generations in this way.
A major feature that struck us about the long circuit superkart community is the huge respect I have observed between the drivers. This extends firstly to doing everything possible to avoid contact on the racetrack, essential of course given the speeds involved, but its also apparent following the inevitable but relatively infrequent racing incidents; there is always an apology offered which is graciously accepted.
We are, of course, incredibly proud of both the boys, especially their attitude to the sport and support for each other. There is rivalry, but it is definitely friendly and one will always congratulate the other on their success.

Well, clearly the Engineer in Dad is well provided for, but what about Mum? Emma has no previous experience of motor sport. How does she view this unfolding chapter in the familys recreational life?
Watching them race at such high speed is a little nerve-wracking I must admit. I feel particularly nervous just as a race is about to start, but once it is underway, its exhilarating to see the boys drive so well and with such passion. I always position myself near a speaker so that I can listen to Kens commentary, keeping me updated with their progress around the rest of the circuit when theyre out of sight. Between races, back in the awning, however, I tend to make myself scarce, only interacting with the drivers and their overworked mechanic to give them food and drink (and keep the peace!). A really good bonus is that we have made firm friendships with other drivers and their families.

So, we have the family perspective on Superkart racing, but is it fair comment to say, as I did at the outset, that the lads are taking the sport by storm?
With Ben having gained his National A licence after 2 years experience on the short circuits, the 2010 season saw the boys appear together for the first time on a long circuit in identical Anderson chassis, at the opening meeting at Silverstones Stowe circuit. Toby finished with no points due to an ignition failure, whilst Ben, in his first outing came away with first place trophy in the Clubman Challenge and a special award for Best Rookie, just as Toby had collected an armful of awards on his long circuit debut.

Later in the season, Toby had his best ever finish at Northern Irelands Bishopscourt Circuit finishing 2nd in both races behind the eventual MSA British Superkart champion Jason Dredge. In the British Superkart GP at Cadwell Park, they were evenly matched with Toby gaining 5th and Ben 6th in the GP Final. Bens best result in his rookie season was a 4th place at Croft.
At the end of the season, the final round of the Clubman Challenge at Darley saw Toby start the meeting leading the championship 8 points clear of Ben in 2nd place and favourite to take the title. Toby suffered an engine failure in race 1, and despite Toby winning race 2 by a clear margin and taking the fastest lap of the day, the championship title went to Ben in his rookie year. Toby was the first to congratulate Ben on his success. In the MSA British Superkart Championship, Ben finished a most creditable 7th in his rookie year with Toby in 12th place after missing the final round at Croft as it clashed with his start date for University.

Weve heard plenty from Mum and Dad. What are lads own views on their proudest achievements so far, and also, their favourite tracks?
My favourite circuits so far are firstly Snetterton, fast corners, long straights and very enjoyable in Superkarts. I won both races there in a non-championship round. Secondly, I enjoyed Croft with an excellent mix of corners, a real drivers track, and I was very pleased to have my best MSA result with a 4th place.
Obviously finishing second in the two races at Bishopscourt was my best achievement so far, not just in terms of actual results but because I was very close to being bang on the pace. Favourite tracks? Well everyone will say Donington, I should think, but in terms of a driver challenge, easily Cadwell Park. Theres nothing better than getting the line right through the mountain and nailing a decent woodland section for a fast lap, and fifth in the GP was a good result for me

As well as being successful racers, both Toby and Ben are a kart racing journalists dream. They are always articulate when answering the journos questions but they most belie their tender years when in front of the TV cameras. Both of them come across as very professional and could teach their older counterparts much about interview technique and personal presentation, yet they are complete novices in this field as well.

Unfortunately, the first big cloud on the Davis superkart racing horizon came with the shock news when dad Richard was made redundant from his job in the Defence sector at the start of the 2009 season. He is now building a new career in Healthcare management but until that is established, it is proving extremely difficult to commit fully to the 2011 season without the support of a sponsor for the youngsters. (If anyone reading this feels they or their company would like to help ensure the boys can continue to pursue their passion, in a sport that produces lap times quicker than touring cars and Formula Ford, please contact Richard on 07766 134680.)
Tobys university course continues into 2011 and although he says it will have to be his main goal, he will not be absent from the superkart scene. We have to focus on competing in 2011, considering we have now done most of the learning that we need to do over the last couple of years. It was always a 3-year plan first year was just a learning process, and the second was introducing my brother and new concepts. The third year we have to attack (subject, of course, to funding).
Being at Uni does have implications on how much I can work on the kart in terms of preparation between rounds, but I will try to get involved as much as I can to help out.
Tobys perspective on Ben:
Ben adapted exceptionally well to 250s when he did short circuit in 2009, so it was obvious to me that he would be able to perform just as well in long circuits, and that has been the case. Certainly he’s generally been right up there with me this year, and has outright beaten me once or twice, particularly at Pembrey and Silverstone. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2011 with us as we are both aiming to be attacking the whole championship

Bens perspective on Toby:
I think Toby has a Lewis Hamilton-like aggressive style, pushing to the limit. He is very skilled in kart control. As a person he is very humble and modest and I never see any spite or malice arising from on track events after the races. He is also very understanding and patient when things dont go his way.

We will leave the final word to Ben, because apart from the anxiety to find a sponsor and to be able to continue in the sport, its interesting to hear a young persons perspective on superkart racing. It is very much underestimated by other karting people. Its very different to the short circuits, and to succeed on the long circuits you need a lot of skill. The lap times are comparable with F3 and fast driving skills are just as demanding as any of the challenges on the short circuits. But Toby and myself are both still keen to progress further up the superkart racing ladder.

Ken Walker