How far would you be willing to travel to pursue your kart racing hobby? Your local track obviously, and probably some circuits elsewhere in the vicinity. Maybe you regularly travel over 100 miles to race, perhaps even going into Europe from time to time. But what about real globe-trotting inter-continental kart racing? That’s probably something else altogether.
Martin Pierce is an amiable, easy going guy born in middle England but now living in Dublin, Ireland. He’s been on the domestic kart racing scene for several years now. Yet when he won the Red White Sangari Kart Prix at Sepang F1 Circuit, Malaysia in November 2009, it was, astonishingly, the 3rd time he had stood on a podium in Malaysia, a country which but for karting, he would probably never have visited in his lifetime.
Yet, this was not his first inter-continental success. In 20xx he had won the famous and prestigious Rock Island Grand Prix in Illinois, USA as well as having been a member of a kart winning team in the glamour capital of world karting, Monte Carlo. The globe-trotting continues. His 2010 campaign began in Japan at their inaugural Winter Cup.
So how has this world wide success come about? Well Martin’s first forays into kart racing followed a familiar enough pattern. He takes up the story.
‘I was very fortunate that my father is not only a mechanic by trade but also raced Stock Cars in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with a lot of success. Although we were both new to karting he was able to help me with my driving and setting up the kart. His favourite trick to get me to brake later was to follow me round and then drive into the back of me if I braked too early. I guess that was a down side to the fact he did stock car racing. Having said that, with the new style rear bumpers, he would fit in perfectly now!’
I should point out that Martin is a very modest guy, and that modesty extends to talking about his dad as well as himself. Dave Pierce was more than just a successful Stock Car racer, he was twice World Champion, in 19xx and 19xx. So there was certainly a competitive edge to the Pierce motor racing family of the 60s, 70s & 80s.
Martin’s first contributions to winning ways were at a couple of tracks in the south of England. ‘My first 2 years of karting were spent only at Tilbury and Blackbushe racing Junior Britain. Tilbury was good place to learn as it isn’t much bigger than a football pitch and I was told that if you could overtake there, everywhere else would be a piece of cake. In my 2nd year I won the Junior club championship at Tilbury so we then ventured further afield to Rissington, Shenington and Clay.
Those early years have caused Martin to reflect on the success of British racing drivers both in that era and subsequently.
‘I think the reason why the UK has so many good drivers is that the circuits are fairly tough. Button started at Clay and Hamilton at Rye House. PF is a technical circuit where it is difficult to be consistently quick’.
Martin stayed in club racing for quite a few years, and he is very candid about why. ‘The main reason was money but also I probably wasn’t good enough to enter Super 1. Back then S1 was restricted to 46 entries and only the top drivers who had made it through pre qualifiers could race the series. I eventually entered Super One when I became a senior, racing in Senior Britain/ICA. I had a few good years and eventually in 1997 I won my first ICA race at Rissington and ended up 5th in the championship.
During these years the racing was getting harder with high entry costs, bigger teams, more testing, more engines and more money. Dad and myself were still slumming it in the caravan, an old transit van, testing on old rubber and hiring one good engine for the weekend. In my last year in ICA I was around 23 years old and I finished 6th in the series despite ending up in hospital and on crutches for 2 months after the last round at Shenington.
The following year the rules would be changed again to introduce softer more expensive Bridgestone tyres so I thought that would be the end of karting and I could start spending my money on going out drinking and getting fat!
The only other option was Rotax Max which was starting in Super One the following year, but I wasn’t seriously interested as it was nothing like ICA and looked to me like a fun kart with a push button start. Half the fun of 100cc was when bump starting the kart, not knowing if the throttle would jam open and you would get dragged halfway down the track!
But after I was off my crutches I had go on a friend’s Rotax Max at Lydd. I ended up as quick as the previous year on an ICA. I was also told you only needed one motor as it lasted for 20 hours between rebuilds and had a warranty. I figured I would enter the Rotax Super One qualifiers and see how I got on.
Things didn’t start well. We ran the engine in at the qualifier then on my first quick lap it seized. Fortunately Dave Griffiths lent me a spare and we ended up making it to the main series.
I won 2 out of the 6 rounds but I remember the racing being harder than I thought it would be. I won the championship at the last round without having to go out for the final due to heavy rain. I think Dad was the most nervous I had ever seen him that weekend so we were both delighted after all the years of effort’.
So much for the domestic racing, but how did the inter-continental racing begin?
‘During the year I also won the qualifier for the Rotax Max Grand Finals in Langkawi, Malaysia. It was slightly surreal as I had never raced abroad before but there I was on a tropical island in 30 degrees of heat. It was probably the closest I came to winning the outright world final but I had an accident when going for the lead on the penultimate lap.
I should count myself lucky for being able to race at all as the night before timed practice myself and James Mills had a coming together on our rented mo-peds. I slid a long way down the road in just shorts and tee shirt trying to keep my head off the ground to protect my crash helmet!’
After this I started to race with Simon Frost and we had some good years racing in the Euro Max series which again made a change from racing in the UK.’
In fact that was the cue for more international succeses. A regular top three finisher in the Euro Challenge, he has stood on 4 podiums in the 10 years of the Rotax World Challenge Grand Finals, a record, and his world title was won at La Conca, Italy when he became the 2008 Rotax Masters World Champion.
I have had the privilege of seeing several of Martin’s successes in places like Monte Carlo, both Sepang and Langkawi in Malaysia and his world championship in La Conca. But I have never been to the Rock Island GP in the USA. Even the name fascinates me. What was that all about? Martin takes up the story.
‘During the 2006 season I was asked by Martin Collard from Dartford Karting, who I had known for some years, if I would like to compete using a WildKart running out of the American WildKart importers tent.
I remember Martin and I arriving in Rock Island wondering what we were doing as there was no sign of a circuit or any karting and the streets were fairly empty! However, the next morning the circuit had appeared – and so had several thousand people!
As it was a TAG event there was a mixture of engines and not many Rotax Max which is what I had. The Max had the smallest horse power out of all the motors allowed in TAG but had a lighter weight limit. It worked out well in the end as I got pole and won the final. It’s the first time I had more money at the end of a meeting than at the beginning!
I suppose the other differences other than the fact it was street circuit was the large crowd and the amount of sponsorship and prize money. The organisers said after the event it generates around ½ million dollars for the local economy so the event is very popular with the locals’.
Fascinating stuff, and I wondered where that victory, and his Rotax world championship podiums and title stood in Martin’s overall assessment of his finest achievement in karting. I was very surprised at his answer, because it was’nt at any of those glamorous locations but back home on the domestic scene.
‘Probably winning the Super One with Dad as it took such a long time and hard work to get there.’ Yeah, I could understand that sentiment, but I was determined to root out his views on his international success.
‘I was probably fortunate Rotax came along when it did and it has been a worldwide success. I would have stopped racing a long time ago otherwise’ was his considered response. I was only partly satisfied. There must have been more he could tell me about what I see as the glamorous side of his racing. Then it dawned on me. Martin is a genuinely modest guy, and I wondered if my prodding and cajoling for views on these successes was beginning to embarrass him.
Indeed the old saying Let the Results do the Talking was probably never more relevant than with Martin Pierce. He never was one for crowing about his victories. And anyway, the record books are there to confirm how good he is.
But there was one last topic I was determined to press home. Having now turned 30 years of age, might 2010 be the year when Martin and the lovely Elizabeth tie the knot?
‘Yes’ was the unequivocal answer, ‘and that is also the reason why I shall not be racing so much this year. The wedding is going to be the focus. It has to be. Most of Ireland seems to be coming!’ He later tried to kid me that he had spotted a couple of Super KF races he could take in if they postponed the wedding, but I recognised his mischievous sense of humour and didn’t buy into that.
After all my questions to him, Martin finally had one for me. ‘Is it possible to add at the end that I would like to thank my dad, Simon Frost, Martin Collard and Bonze Billings for all their help and support over the years?’ Yes, of course Martin, and typical of you to want to acknowledge their contribution to your illustrious career.