Beginner karter tips

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Three very different drivers were at the start of their careers at Kimbolton this spring. So how did they get into it?

We spoke to a Cadet, a Junior and a Senior within their first year in MSA owner-driver racing to find out how and why they got started. Thinking going racing or in your first year? Then read on…

OLIVER BEARMAN

Eight year old Oliver Bearman has been racing just under a year but before I started work on this article I’d already seen him towards the top of the standings in Honda Cadet races across the South of England.

Oliver’s dad David had a kart when he was young, but didn’t get the opportunity to race. He’s making up for that now though as he raced Caterhams last year and is doing the GT Cup in a Ginetta G50 this year.

Father Christmas brought Oliver a kart last year and they went to Rye House every Wednesday and Saturday and he enjoyed it more and more.

“I got off novice plates in September and have been racing every weekend. I was knocked about quite a bit as a novice,” Oliver says. David added that it was a “leap of faith” but that Oliver has been quick but has needed to work on racecraft.

They race with Ashley Whitcroft’s Evolution Racing – with Richard Sharman as Oliver’s mechanic – who have been a tremendous asset. David says he decided to distance himself after arguing which added extra stress, which is why they decided to work with Richard.

“The whole family comes along, it’s a good family thing and we get to spend time with each other,” David says.

Honda Cadet was the natural choice as it’s by far the biggest Cadet class in the South-East, and David said “The first time at Buckmore we qualified 3rd as a novice. We thought Honda would be most cost effective although there’s good and bad engines at club level and you question what’s in them if they were taken apart. It has become a bit of an arms race.”

The high point so far has been 2nd at Kimbolton in February and as Oliver is planning to do Super One this year, he’s been branching out into tracks further afield. In the wet at PF International over the winter he was on pole in the wet by 0.2s against lots of Super One drivers who are often more than four years older.

It is thought that Oliver will be the youngest Super One driver in 2014 but they are aiming for an explorative season this year and hopefully to get a seeded number (top ten), then to go for the win in 2015.

Oliver’s favourite tracks are Kimbolton and PFi as he likes high speed flowing sections, like the Litchfield Bridge at PFi.

Unsurprisingly Oliver wants to be in Formula One when he’s older although David reminded him that he needs to be a realist as well!

To other new drivers, Oliver says “It’s hard, you’ve got to not worry about being bumped around, and when you’re older it’s less likely that you’ll be bumped around.

“In my first races I got bumped and bashed around all the time, I didn’t have much confidence in the kart out on the circuit. I wanted to get rid of the novice plates, then I wasn’t scared I was going to bumped around any more.”

TOM RUSHFORTH

Tom Rushforth is starting MSA racing after a long time in non- MSA, mainly at Ellough Park. He’s competing in Junior TKM and unlike Oliver, he’s going it alone with his dad and grandad. They aren’t in the dark though, as grandad Ian Rushforth is a leading light of the British Superkart Association, and dad Simon also races, in British and European Superkarts. Simon has also been racing a relatively short period of time.

Tom says the high point of his career so far was his first MSA race. Kimbolton in March was Tom’s second MSA race, even though he’s been racing since Cadets. He says “there’s a big difference, everything’s a lot more regulated, there’s a lot more entries and the standard is slightly higher. I’ve been racing at Beccles, against 4-5 TKMs, so it’s a bit of a culture shock, a big

step up. But some people that used to race at Beccles that were way ahead are not as far ahead here.”

They chose TKM as it’s a “cheaper alternative to Rotax, we can look after it ourselves as it’s not sealed, and there’s really competitive racing”.

Tom is planning on taking on Shenington next, possibly the most competitive grid Junior TKMs outside of Super One, and maybe Fulbeck, although Kimbolton is still his favourite track.

Tom has the perennial reservations about a career as a racing driver – money.

“I want to go into gearbox karting (“He only wants to beat me,” says Simon) as I don’t feel there’s a big enough chance in motorsport because of money. I think motorsport revolves around money, if you have the money you have a good chance.”

Remember that if you do long circuit gearbox karting, you’ll get to race on some of the most legendary and exciting circuits in motorsport, lap faster than most cars and spend a fraction of the money.

Tom’s advice for other drivers starting out is “don’t be scared, it’s not actually that hard. If you’re used to racing among a group of five and you turn up and there’s a grid of 30 you don’t really notice once you’re out on the track.”

LEWIS WARD

The oldest of our drivers is 23-year-old Lewis Ward, who has raced in Rotax 177 since January. He has loved motorsport as long as he can remember, with a lot of influence from his father. He’s racing on his own with help from his girlfriend.

He chose 177 as he heard it was a bit more tame and slightly less competitive, but he did say that the standard of the other drivers was better than he expected.

Lewis is lying 4th in the club championship at Kimbolton after the April meeting and has taken the novice trophy at each of the four meetings he’s raced in this year. He’s only raced at Kimbolton so far although he’s practiced at other tracks and he’s planning to race in the RAF (Lewis’ day job) Championship.

But like Oliver, Lewis has plans to move on from karting eventually: “I’d like to race cars in the future, karting is just a platform for that, I’ve got a kit car that I’d like to do up and race.” “You need to have a background understanding of motorsport, so do your research before you start,” says Lewis.

Top Five Tips for New Karters

■ Non-MSA, or IKR (Independent Kart Racing) can be an excellent introduction to the sport. Race meetings usually have good medical cover and insurance, but a more relaxed approach to the latest kit means cost savings. You will still need to do your ARKS test and five races on novice plates if you decide to race MSA though.

■ Keep a sense of perspective and enjoy the present. Yes, Formula One is the dream for most younger novices but you will also hear a lot of F1 drivers say karting was the best racing they’ve done. A fundamental love of racing will get you through the hard times.

■ Don’t over complicate things. Your equipment isn’t the most important thing at this stage, you as the driver have a far bigger influence over your performance.

■ Life is much easier if you have a good set of tools, and preferably two of what you use most often.

■ Watch and learn from the drivers and teams at the top of their game, don’t get caught up in waffle from people who are only at the same stage as you.

THE BURNING QUESTIONS

What class should you enter?

If you’re on a tight budget TKM Clubman or Honda Cadet Clubman. TKM Clubman is available at Shenington and Rissington or the TKM Midlands Club Championship and uses simple chassis, the standard TKM Extreme engine, and used TKM Extreme tyres. The Honda Clubman class runs in the South-East and a condition of entry is that any engine is for sale for ¬£500, so there’s no point spending much money on development.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on set-up

In Easykart the karts are all the same (with Cadet, Junior and Senior versions) and your only set-up decision is tyre pressures. Or if you’ve got the budget you could race in any class with a commercial team supporting you.

If the mechanical work is part of the enjoyment

Junior TKM, TKM Extreme, or KZ. The Junior and Extreme TKM chassis are simplified, although not as much as Clubman, but the engines aren’t sealed so if you want to rebuild your own engine you can. KZ uses a gearbox engine, where you have the choice of several manufacturers, and it’s unsealed and open for tuning. The karts have front brakes and many possible set-up adjustments.

If you want to race on legendary motor racing circuits

Superkart classes 125 Open and 250 National are most popular on long circuits where they use full bodywork and you’ll get the chance to race at Silverstone, Cadwell Park, Brands Hatch and Donington. In the Division One Superkart class, the European Championship has been to circuits like Hockenheim and Le Mans. They are a bit fast for many beginners but you should be OK if you’ve got motorbike experience.

If you want to race all over the country and/or in national championships

For anyone aged over 11, Minimax, Junior Rotax and Senior Rotax are the mainstream of karting in the UK. The chassis have a lot of possible set-up changes although no front brakes, and the engines are sealed which means they need to be maintained by an approved service centre. As these classes are so popular they can get incredibly competitive at the bigger clubs and the national championships which means a lot of money gets spent, but there’s many drivers racing and having fun on a budget. If you’re over 80kg the 177kg senior class is available.

THE KARTS

OLIVER BEARMAN

Honda Cadet

160cc Honda four-stroke

Project One kart

Age 8-12

For: Close, equal racing

Against: Racing in a pack can be intimidating if you’re new

TOM RUSHFORTH

Junior TKM

100cc TKM two-stroke

Jade Kart

Age 11-16

For: Easy to look after as a dad and lad team

Against: Not raced everywhere

LEWIS WARD

Rotax 177

125cc Rotax two-stroke

Kosmic kart

Age 16+

For: The higher weight limit accommodates more drivers

Against: No national championship if you want to progress from club racing