Is This The Future of Karting?

We talk to Colin Wright, Chairman of the ABkC and find out why he feels karting is in crisis and why he needs your support to fix it.

Can we make karting better? YES! Says the new ABkC Chairman. Here’s why:

We’re hampered with regulation. There are 3900 registered drivers and we’re over regulated. I’ve not met anyone who wants to see more regulation.

The independents indoor tracks can be phenomenal. They’re brilliant, there’s not a great difference between a well run indoor track and an outdoor track.

We can’t bring new people in because we put too many hurdles in the way of people coming into the sport. If Little Johnny wants to get into karting, then he’s faced with a Start Karting pack, £75, an ARKS test at £95, you need this approved helmet which costs ‘this’ much and at that stage, we’ve lost them. You’ll need ‘this’ medical if you’re 18. It needs to all be ripped up completely. If I can go out and ride a motorbike on the road at 70mph and I buy a helmet that’s road legal then why can’t I use that to go karting? Why do I need a medical when I’m over 18? The argument is that it’s insurance but that’s absolute rubbish. It’s always a get-out, people claim it’s insurance this or rules that but it needs to change.

People who come into MSA karting, they’ve really persevered to get in. The only licence holders who are going up are Historic licence holders. Everything else is in decline.

In theory a PG licence is a good idea but now it’s just a money spinner. It was brought in so that a parent would be penalised if they transgressed and not have to put points on the child’s license. It doesn’t actually do what it set out to do, it’s open to abuse as he can then sign it onto someone else. Sure, it’s only £18 but it’s pointless. The MSA need to say: “I’m sorry we made a mistake with this, we need to can it” but they won’t do it.

The ABKC needs to be open and transparent. Our reason for forming was to pull away from the MSA. We formed in 1990 and it’s about time we did what we set out to do. To the MSA karting is a job, to everyone in the ABkC it’s a passion. No-one’s there really to make money, sure you have some people there as they’re representing their business but they wouldn’t be there unless they were passionate. There are some clever people at the ABkC who know karting inside-out, they’re passionate about it but we all need to stand up and say: ‘We need to fix karting’.

Club 100 is brilliant, the way the format is run is superb. In a normal club race you have a right to appeal but it’s gone beyond the realms of sensibility where people and marshals and officials are volunteers. They’re there as they have motorsport in their blood but they’re now having to work until 10pm doing judicials and paperwork. No-one from MSA House is up at 10pm doing judicials!

Our our own club, Forest Edge, we’ve had to build a second Clerk’s office to cope with the number of appeals and additional paperwork. You have these stupid mandated penalties, things like ‘You’ve overtaken under yellow flags, five place penalty, go and see the Clerk’. So you’ve got 30 judicials, you know, 25% of the grid in the Clerk’s office and they can appeal, chances are they will, so it goes on. The MSA say “Well that’s what everyone wants” and I say ”You never come to a club kart race, so how do you know!?” It’s frustrating. No wonder our sport is not seeing many new individuals wanting to be Clerks and losing the good ones we have.

Everyone is a customer. The club is a customer, the drivers are customers and if the MSA doesn’t give their customers what they want, they’ll walk out. The customer always has another choice, it may not be the right choice but they have a choice and if you don’t fulfil their demands, then they’ll go elsewhere. Non-MSA, IndyKart, Arrive & Drive, whatever you want to call it, it’s growing.

The MSA took a lot of revenue from karting last year. We don’t get that same return back into the sport. I have no vested interest financially in this sport and all I can do is relay to the MSA from the clubs, officials and drivers that they need to change; they’re strangling the sport.

The ABkC has never been so relevant. The ABkC exists to support MSA clubs but we’ll lose another 4 or 5 clubs this year to MSA racing and unless we change, then we’ll no longer be relevant.

I know one track who walked away from the MSA. The track owner said the MSA were too officious, they had no flexibility and they were too expensive. As a club you pay the MSA about £8 per driver for insurance. He’s never as a track owner, as an MSA-sanctioned club, had a call from the MSA asking why he left. I know of four other clubs who say the same thing.

Going non-MSA isn’t the Wild West. They’re sanctioned, insured, the drivers have fun, they’re treated like customers. The clubs and circuits that have left the MSA, they follow the Blue Book, they make their decisions on the day but there’s no right of appeal, you’re done and dusted. No extended paperwork sessions. We are making things way too complicated.

Lewis Hamilton is the best and worst thing that’s happened to UK karting. Some people might say ‘You can’t say that Colin!’ But I can because everyone grasped on that and said “Right let’s go karting” and they came in with completely unrealistic expectations and they didn’t come in to have fun, meet people, make friends. They came in with an aspiration to go to F1. I’m not saying we should crush anyone’s dreams but we need to understand karting is a complete discipline in its own right. We’ve been guilty of showing it just as a stepping stone to something else.

We need to go back to basics. Club racing needs to grow significantly, if we just concentrate at the higher end then we’ll have failed karting. We need to put emphasis on clubs, it’s good for everyone. It’s good for SuperOne as there will be more drivers wanting to get into that, it’s good for the trade as they’ve got more people to supply to and it’s good for everyone as it’ll help make karting more affordable.

Karting kids have three lives. They have their home life, their school, college of work life and they have karting. If you ask someone who’s sixteen or so in karting where their best friends are from, they’ll tell you they’re from karting. Meanwhile the Mums and Dads can have a beer and a BBQ together while the kids are off playing in a safe environment. It’s a great social scene and it teaches kids discipline too.

We have a handful of clubs doing really well but we need EVERY club to succeed, we fail the whole sport if that can’t happen! My challenge is to make sure that we all pull together. We have 34 clubs doing well but we should have 50.

If someone comes in now with an MSA licence, then I think they’ve got thick skin …and a big wallet. I’d love the ABkC to be in a position where every club has their own awning supplied by us. When you come into the sport, as a Dad and a Lad, you start in the awning with somebody who knows what they’re doing for three or four races so you can find your feet. We need to keep these guys in.

We know karting inside out, so why doesn’t everyone else? Perhaps we think this like and we’re a bit too complacent. We need to take a step back and understand what it’s like for people coming into the sport for the first time. We’ve all got to put ourselves in that mindset.

Karting doesn’t have to be expensive. We need to do things differently, we need to do things for the benefit of karting and perhaps not for the benefit of motorsport as a whole. It’s heart breaking when you see someone get to the age of 15 and they’ve never driven a senior kart but they’re straight into cars.

The first thing I’d do is remove every hurdle. If the ABkC were in charge tomorrow, that’s what I’d do. No ARKS test. It doesn’t prove a driver can drive on a track. Let’s introduce a Clubman licence. They start at the back for 10 races and they have to do their first 10 at that club. After that if you want to try out another track, then you have maybe a Regional licence or National licence. We don’t need a medical, I can go rallying with a co-driver and drive at 130mph and I don’t need a medical to do it. Karting is not on life support but it’s getting close, but we all know the problem. We could fix karting in three months!

We have companies that would fall over themselves to insure us. I can drive a car at 70mph with oncoming traffic and I’m fine. If I want to drive a kart at 50mph with everyone going in the same direction, then I have to have a medical and that’s allegedly to satisfy the insurers. It doesn’t make sense. Some people won’t even get considered as they have diabetes but you can have diabetes and play football for England! Every karter could have insurance with their ABkC issued licence. That would enable them to race at any ABkC track.

We need to have a Driver’s Association. We need the drivers to have more of an involvement, they’re our customers they need to help us shape the sport. This is something we’re working on.

I’d get rid of judicials at Club level. No right of appeal, that’s it, done. SuperOne or National, yes, you can have a right of appeal. If someone’s been a bad-boy at Club level, they get sent home but give them an entry to the next month’s race. They’re customers.

We’re not checking who is working with our children. I want to protect everyone in our sport, so I’d introduce a Mechanics Licence which any mechanic would have to pay for but guess what, I’m going to give everyone the confidence that you’re completely checked and spotless. It’s a horrible thing to say but we are in a society where these things happen. We need to be open and honest. The mechanics then have something tangible that’s adds value to them.

Less than 0.3% of karting in the UK is MSA racing. Everyone is a potential customer. We need to spend money promoting the sport and when I speak to people about why they tried karting but didn’t take it up they almost always say; it’s too complicated.

We have nine junior classes, is that too many? In 2017, under the MSA’s Green Paper that’s going to change to two classes; one higher powered and one lower powered. So what’s going to happen to the seven that don’t get in? The reality is new classes cannibalise the sport. So if a manufacturer wants to introduce a new class, they should have to go to a club that has entries of less than 100 and that’s where your drivers go for the first year. The class promoter then has to support that club and they work together to grow that class.

SuperOne runs fairly well. It’s a commercial operation and what I would say is that it’s become very professional and that’s no bad thing but a Dad and Lad can’t make much impact. So we need to have more Regional championships to bridge the gap between Club racing and SuperOne. We focus too much on national level karting but national karting can’t exist without a healthy club scene.

Our sport is guilty of focusing on the kids. Sure, some of the grids at some tracks are 85% Junior classes but I’ve met people who are 35 to 40 years old and they say ‘I only got into this a couple of years ago, why didn’t you tell me about this a decade ago!’. So how many people are out there that we could get to? The trouble is, with all the regulations we put them off before they’ve even started. We need to knock down the old way of doing things because it’s not working.

It doesn’t matter who runs karting. It can be the MSA or it can be the ABkC but it needs to be run by karters for karters for the right reasons and at the moment that isn’t happening.

Do we need to get rid of nose cones? I think so. Driving standards would improve overnight. I lay this completely at the door of the teams, I hear it constantly: ‘If he’s out in front, load him’. That’s disgusting. Now if you take away nose cones people will think twice before they do that, because they might come off worse. Sure the karts won’t look so nice but if I took that idea to the MSA now they’d say we couldn’t do it down to insurance. That’s rubbish, we could get insurance tomorrow.

The rules aren’t right. If a driver drives maliciously and smashes someone off the track, they can be excluded from the race. I don’t have a problem with that but if a driver is 0.01kg under weight, they can be excluded too. That doesn’t make sense. You can be penalised for a nut falling off and you get the same penalty as someone who actively went out to drive someone off. It’s ludicrous.

Tyres are cheaper than they were 20 years ago. However, we’re getting through more and more of them, so costs are getting out of control. Just look at the Tyro class, it’s simple, it’s affordable. They have one tyre, it works.

Every Dad should have to go out and stand on a Marshall’s post once. So the next time they think about shouting at a Marshall or a Clerk, they will at least have experienced what it’s like on the other side. It’ll help bring the sport together.

We’re in crisis, no two ways about it. Regulated karting is in crisis but no-one’s stood up and said that but that’s what I’ve said to the MSA. We either need to come together and work closer with organisations like the NKA and with a Driver’s Association or we need to go our separate ways. We need to protect the sport.