Exclusive interview: CIK-FIA president Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa
What’s the man in charge of the CIK doing to ensure karting’s future is better than ever?
The international karting world is in rather a stagnant position this season. Over the past few years, costs have risen to the extent that a season in junior single-seater racing can be financially similar to that in the sport’s grassroots. For many at this entry level on the motorsport ladder, there is a view of it being a playground for the financially rich rather than the genuinely talented.
Karting costs rose again last year when governing body the CIK-FIA outsourced the promotion of its world and European championship rounds to its main event rivals, WSK Promotions which hosted similar European contests. Many viewed it as a bad move and for the majority of the season, both parties were at loggerheads over exactly who was in control. WSK heads wanted complete authority over the whole race weekend, while CIK-FIA bosses were keen to remind teams and officials who was still in overall charge. When the opening round of the World KF Championship arrived in the UK last season for the first time in 48 years, clerk of the course and chairman of the hosting Trent Valley Kart Club at PF International, Nigel Edwards, slammed the event’s organisation, stating: “The WSK tried to be both the promoter and organiser, as it does in its own series’, doing too many things.”
This season, the CIK-FIA has attempted to clamp down on rising costs. Race weekends have been reduced from five to four days, the number of tyres permitted to be used over the weekend has been reduced, and entry fees have been cut.
Last season’s two-round world championship has also been reduced to a single event, mainly due to pressure from teams. Events at PF International and Bahrain, where only the top 15 drivers scored points, left many refusing to travel to the second round along with losing costly machinery and parts to a container ship for weeks.
CIK-FIA president Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa says a second season alongside WSK will produce more effective governance. “Overall last year was very positive,” he says. “I think the link between the CIK-FIA and WSK benefitted both organisations and especially the karters themselves. There were ups and downs, costs may have gone up because of such a merger but we have tackled this for this year. We are ironing out all the issues that we had last year so that in 2014 it will be a better season.
“It’s normal in any joint venture or partnership where two people are set in their own ways, to have differences of opinion. So when they sit down together, everyone thinks that they are correct. You hash out these problems and what I really want to know is how it ends up at the conclusion of the season, and looking back at it, it ended brilliantly.
“The racing was exciting and came down to the final races. Unfortunately in one of the world championships, the result had to go to the FIA Court of Appeal but that’s racing. At the end the outcome was exactly what it should have been. We encourage teams to going head to head even off the track to find a legal way to improve machinery around the rules and regulations.”
Al Khalifa, who became CIK-FIA president in November 2010, has a clear vision for the future of the sport: “My vision for the future of karting in simple: like all forms of motorsport, costs have escalated and become complicated. So my goal is to simplify the kart and to make it cheaper for the karter. Motor racing is expensive but it should be within reach of a lot of people. Unfortunately in previous years we have strayed off this approach and my goal is to bring it back.
“This year we’ve introduced rules and regulations where we limit tyres and test days and we’ve reduced the race weekend by a day. All these steps are to ensure that we have a control on the budget of karting and to make it more affordable. It’s something that I can’t do with a flick of a switch so it’s going to take a little time to curb it back to where it should be.”
Two of the world’s main classes, the KF-powered senior and junior championships, are in a state of transgression. The engine has been in use for a decade but when it was introduced, it was envisioned it would reduce costs. In fact, they’ve gone in the other direction and national domestic championships around Europe, including the British Super One Series, have shunned the senior class due to falling grid numbers. This season’s MSA British KF Junior class will for the first time use a pooled engine system.
In the meantime, the international karting community is holding its breath and putting its faith in the introduction of a new KF alternative, proposed for introduction in 2016.
Karting Magazine understands that Italian manufacturer IAME is one of the manufacturers asked to produce a new engine. However the CIK-FIA president, despite not announcing which manufacturers have developed and tested engines, says he is confident the deadline will be reached.
“All I can say is that there are powerplants out there which have been tested, they are very positive and very promising,” Al Khalifa says. “I’m extremely happy that we are going to meet the 2016 target with the budget we have set out to achieve. Now we have to hash it out and to make sure that they are more reliable. This year a team is only limited to two engines so we must make sure that we produce a product which is worthy of karting itself and not rush into it. We could have introduced the engine much quicker but I think we should take our time with it, make sure the engine is the correct one, not as a reaction to the current KF unit but to have something which is proper and sound, something that will be there for the future.
“There are two to three manufacturers which have produced new KF engines. We will not narrow that list down to a single manufacturer, instead continue with the status-quo which we have now and will work together to standardise an engine which will be implemented and homologated by 2016 which all manufacturers could produce.
“By 2016 the new KF engine is going to be cheaper, lighter and less complicated. I’m a firm believer in market forces and if you create that competition, that’s how you have the control on price. I am very much against monopolies and single-makes.”
Al Khalifa has strong views on the format of the CIK-FIA World KF Championship. He openly admits that he was against the alteration to a single-round contest this season, and would instead prefer a truly global competition. This year’s main international championships will all be held within Europe.
“I was a firm believer that the world championship should be a multi-round contest,” he says. “But discussions between teams and other parties, everybody wanted a single round this year.
“It’s not the case that the CIK-FIA has decided to re-focus the heart of the racing to within Europe. It just worked out to be that way but I truly believe that if you are going to be crowned world champion, you should prove yourself more than once. The teams and drivers’ excuse is costs. So let me get costs under control and then increase the racing. They’re happy with four rounds of the European Championships this season so they are contradicting themselves a little.
“A world championship event has to go all around the globe. The FIA rules and regulations determine that if you are going to call it a world championship, and it’s not a single event, then it needs to be held on more than one continent. I would like us to provide a sensible global world championship.”
Teams will be hesitant to sign up for that during this period of austerity and uncertainty. Until 2016 comes around, the future direction of global karting is still to be decided.
IAME technical manager Andrea Bossaglia, says the Italian firm has been one of the manufacturers tasked in creating a new KF-alternative engine. He gave Karting Magazine examples of what has been requested by the sport’s governing body.
“The CIK has the target to simplify the KF engine philosophy,” he says, “and this target is supported by everybody I believe. We as IAME proposed a radical simplification of the engine, but the solution shared by the majority of manufacturers was more-or-less a re-styling of the current KF unit.
“Power valve simplification, not removal, has been proposed for KF, coming back to the single-slide without booster obturator rings. The water pump can also be placed on the rear axle at the manufacturer’s discretion. The carburettor would be a floating chamber-type for both the KF and KF Junior classes. Personally I’m not in favour of this option. I can only foresee two advantages:
1- once the carburettor is well setup, it doesn’t need much maintenance for semi-professional or non-professional use (admittedly KF will have such a use in the future).
2- Dellorto will not make any development or improved versions of the carburettor. Therefore customers will not be forced to buy more carburettors during the season, or between one season and the next.
“Saying that, I don’t see any particular advantages either. The ability to setup the carburettor on the trolley will be what makes the difference on the track, like it is today in KZ.
“The CIK would like to remove the current clutch, in order to remove the necessity of clutch control with a Unilog system or similar. This is because many ASNs don’t have systems such as Unilog. The balancer shaft will remain on the engine. A discussion is still in progress about how to start the engine, once the clutch has been removed.
With the target of simplification in mind, we can’t forget that electric starter removal we significantly reduce engine cost, weight and a potential source of failures.
In my opinion the CIK wants to finalise the regulations very soon, in order to leave adequate time for the manufacturers to build samples, test and finalise their design. We will see how long it will take.”