By Mary-Ann Horley
In the last 12 months, there have been several high profile accidents causing serious injuries, both in the UK and abroad.
Brad Shaw broke his back at La Conca in the WSK Master Series in October, Jake Dawson suffered head injuries at the Shenington club meeting in February, and Swedish driver Anton Haaga was rushed to hospital with suspected serious kidney damage at this year’s La Conca WSK Master Series event in early March. All of these crashes happened at the start.
Thankfully all the above drivers are on the mend, and Shaw is expected to be back on track in April for Super One.
Preventing serious injuries must be the priority but they aren’t the whole story. Countless race weekends are ruined after start crashes and Chris Walker could show you hundreds if not thousands of photos of the aftermath.
For the last few years, the CIK-FIA has had a speed limit in place in an attempt to make starts safer. In March, at the CIK-FIA’s quarterly decision-making session at the World Motor Sports Council, the 50kph speed limit was removed.
Matteo Vigano and Tanart Sathienthirakul were European KF2 Champions for less than half an hour in 2009 and 2011 until they were excluded for going over the limit at the start.
As usual, the WSK followed suit and has already had their first events without a speed check.
“It is not to judge this rule after a single event. It will take some time to get an accurate picture. However, my observations and the feedback I got from many drivers are in agreement. In fact, accidents are not more numerous at the starts in procedures or in the difficult transition from the first corner. Starts will always remain a critical moment in motorsport. Safety does not suffer from the absence of speed control” said the WSK Race Director, Oranzo Di Bari.
“However, everyone could see that the two lines were not together at the lights. Often, the pole sitter took the opportunity to make a difference and that they can more easily accelerate at will. We have seen competitors at the front play skillfully with the brake and the accelerator to cross the line several tens of metres ahead of the other line. Things are more difficult to judge for the race director. When we had the speed limit, the rule was known to all and we could easily apply it.
“I do not mean that we should return to the previous situation which had disadvantages. The speed at the start was really slow and it could cause problems. Several drivers and team managers think that a limit of 60kph would have been a good thing. I am personally in favour of their opinions. I think we need specific rules for this level of competition. Now we need to step back and see after several races” Di Bari said.
Most drivers don’t have any involvement in international racing, but one of the benefits of it is that it’s the cutting edge and advances can be filtered down to the mass market.
Two of the national Clerks of the Course were kind enough to talk to us about it – Nigel Edwards and Alan Bryant.
“Speed indicator: I don’t think removing it alone is great, that said it was only the pole man who got penalised, I do believe they have some other ideas about creating a non-acceleration zone prior to the start – we will have to see” Nigel said.
“The problem with speed limits is that the pole man goes too fast and the rest keep up with him on the start and he’s the one that’s penalised when you could have the whole grid speeding and they get away with it,” Alan said.
Chris Walker, who has probably seen more starts than anyone, and in lots of different championships, also doesn’t think the speed limit will be missed. “The CIK speed limits put too much pressure on the pole man, to the extent that it was almost a disadvantage to be in pole position. Also at some circuits it seemed to lead to loading at the first and second corners.”
So if the CIK-FIA’s attempt to improve starts with concrete regulations has been abandoned and hence won’t be applied anywhere else, what could be done in the UK?
“I have proposed to the MSA that we change our current start rules regarding having to go over the line before breaking formation – I think this leads to more loading in the two lines as they approach the start and also creates a ‘dive’ to the inside line directly after the line. The CIK method of lights out: race on (use any of the track) is much better” Nigel said.
“Personally I would rather a quite quick start with all the drivers not bunched up as they tend to be at the moment. I think that there should be a visible gap between every kart as they approach the start and until they cross the start line and any driver disobeying this be given a 10s penalty. Also that penalty should be shown on the start line so that everyone knows who has been penalised.
“The biggest cause of first corner accidents is in my opinion the fact that too many starters/clerks insist that the whole grid are right on each other’s bumpers when they approach the start and that is a recipe for disaster as we see most weekends.
“Because they are so close you get the loading going on where drivers in the middle and the rear are pushing on the ones in front causing the loading. If there has to be a gap at the start then it should make it easier to spot those who do load wheras at the moment it is very difficult” Alan said.
“I also recommended the UK use the now-universal start light arrangement of Red Lights On: Red Lights Off: Start (not red to green)” Nigel said.
“We also need to stop teams, parents etc from telling their drivers to make sure they are touching the kart in front so that they don’t get passed at the first corner. This is a fact as a couple of very well-known team managers have admitted to me that it’s the instruction they give their drivers.
“The way I am going to run the starts at S1 Rotax rounds is that there will be two rolling laps at race speed with the grid slowing slightly as they approach the last couple of corners before the start line and the starter will be told that if the grid is in formation but spread out then he lets them go. Spreading them out with a visible gap should make for cleaner starts.
“Of course the problem that we will get are the starters that want to do it their way but they will be asked to do it the way we want it done. If they don’t and they start messing about then I would have no problem speaking to them and if they refused to listen then, as the MSA Blue Book states, the Clerk of the Course can start all races or appoint someone else to do it and I would! The biggest problem is that starts have been the same since the year dot and change can sometimes be painful!” Alan said.
But we’ve also spoken to team bosses and although they didn’t want to be quoted in this article, a comment that kept coming up is that it needs to be made very clear to all drivers what they are expected to do. For example, the poleman is supposed to control the speed and is often reminded of this, but the 2nd-placed driver also needs to be told to stay next to him and not to go at what he might consider to be a more appropriate speed.
The World Motor Sport Council decisions
At its meeting on 9 March 2012 in Milan and on proposals of the International Karting Commission Members, the FIA World Motor Sport Council took in particular the following decisions concerning karting:
The World Council has validated the Appendix to the Sporting Regulations of the CIK-FIA World KF1 Championship, setting the modalities for the engine distribution by drawing lots, the minimum number of engines which must be stored in the Parc Fermé by the engine manufacturers before they are allocated to drivers and the conditions allowing competitors to change their engine brand during the championship.
The weighing procedure and the sanctions further to cases of breaches of the minimum weight rule provided by the regulations have been revised. Exclusion for failure to comply ascertained during qualifying practice and heats is maintained, but exclusion is replaced as a minimum by the driver being classified last in a race of the final phase. This change aims at avoiding any effect of double penalty as exclusion from a race of the final phase used to be accompanied by the interdiction for the driver concerned to discount this null result from the general classification of championships held over several events.
In the start procedure, the speed control (50 kph maximum) when karts approach the start line has been totally removed.
To align with the automobile regulations, stopping a race (required in case of immediate danger) is replaced by the principle of suspending the race. Gaps between drivers before the suspension will thus no longer be taken into account. To restart the race, the new start will be carried out according to the «SLOW» procedure (all karts in one single file, behind the leader). The final classification of the race will be the one corresponding to the order of the karts when they cross the finish line instead of the one resulting from the addition of the two consecutive parts of the race.
Technical and Homologation Regulations
For safety reasons and immediate application, only batteries with «EC» and «RoHS» markings will be authorised in karting. Additionally, batteries shall be placed on the chassis in an area located to the left of the seat behind the central strut or behind the seat.
As from 2013, the following controls will be deleted regarding KF engines: transfer duct volume, exhaust duct length, internal profile of the exhaust duct outlet, chord widths of the ports and of the lower gasket plane of the cylinder. The maximum value of the exhaust angle in KF2 will be set at 194°, irrespective of what appears on the Homologation Forms of the engines.
New technical prescriptions have been validated for ignitions to be homologated as from 1/1/2013 for KF engines, which consist in particular in standardising the principle sketch and the connectors.
In view of the next tyre homologation session (for implementation as of 1/1/2014), it has been decided to delete the «Soft» classification, and for «Medium» and «Hard» tyres to differentiate them by their carcass for direct-drive karts and for gearbox karts. The KZ2 category will be fitted with «Hard» tyres, and KZ1 with «Medium» ones.
Calendar of the 2012 CIK-FIA Championships, Cup and Trophies
In order to avoid any clashes of dates with the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy and that of Abu Dhabi, the dates of the following events have been modified:
– date of the fourth round of the CIK-FIA World KF1 Championship and of the CIK-FIA World Cups for KZ1 and KZ2, scheduled for Sarno-Napoli, brought forward from 6-9 September 2012 to 30 August-2 September 2012;
– date of the third and last round of the CIK-FIA «U18» World Championship and Academy Trophy, scheduled for Bahrain, postponed from 1-3 November 2012 to 8-10 November 2012.
Article 18 of the FIA International Sporting Code
The WMSC has confirmed the provision of Article 18 of the International Sporting Code according to which any kart driver must be holder of an International licence to participate in any event (national and international) outside the territory of his ASN.
In addition, the CIK-FIA has been mandated by the WMSC to provide specific solutions whereby an ASN can establish to the satisfaction of the CIK-FIA the absence of any karting facilities in its country. Therefore, following a proposal by the CIK-FIA, the WMSC has decided to enable national licence holders from the Luxembourg (ACL) and Monaco (ACM) ASNs to compete at national French karting events (in the Alsace-Lorraine region only for Luxembourg drivers) sanctioned by the French ASN (FFSA).
Furthermore, the CIK-FIA has been mandated to develop guidelines for a more global implementation of this system from 2013.