Off Track – 2007

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Like many members of my generation I used to be an enthusiastic Radio Caroline fan. Back in the sixties, this station used to broadcast pop music from a ship moored off the Isle of Man. Amongst the DJs working on board was a Canadian called David “Kid” Jensen, who later became closely involved in karting by presenting Champions of the Future for Sky TV and also overseeing his son Viktor’s racing. Occasionally David and several other DJs would land in Workington not far from my home. On such occasions, they actually risked being arrested by the police. This was because Radio Caroline had been set up as a “Pirate” station broadcasting illegally without the required licence. So long as they remained outside the three mile limit, the authorities were powerless to apprehend them but it was a different matter once they’d come ashore.

Piracy was popular in those days. Before their lead singer was killed in a motoring accident, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates had two big sixties hits with “Shakin’ All Over” and “I’ll Never Get Over You”. In an act that Harold Wilson described as blatant piracy, Ian Smith declared UDI for Rhodesia in 1966.  Also that year, Jim Laker formed a pirate airline called Skytrain which offered cheap flights for holidaymakers. Eleven years later, Kerry Packer announced his pirate cricket series. Four decades ago at Rowrah, I remember there was much talk of hiring the circuit out to a group of individuals who intended staging pirate karting events there. These plans collapsed when the RAC threatened not only to withdraw the circuit’s licence but also those of any drivers who took part in such nefarious activities.

Today, of course, non MSA meetings are common occurrences and they usually attract large numbers of competitors. Free of any interference from karting’s governing bodies, these meetings can offer cheap racing without the hassle that normally accompanies officially sanctioned events. So far, however, the MSA’s autonomy over mainstream karting hasn’t really been threatened. 2007 could be the year when this state of affairs begins to alter. According to official figures, the number of MSA licence holders has fallen by 3%, although informed sources claim that the real reduction is actually closer to 11%. Many clubs report that entries are dropping at a more alarming rate than these figures suggest and so one or two embers are starting to glow in the fires of discontent right now.

Next year, the Motors TV Ultimate Karting Challenge is going nationwide but hasn’t, as yet, been granted an MSA permit. Both the MSA and ABkC believe that we have too many championships in existence already and they are concerned that this one will detract from S1 and Stars of Tomorrow. However, the organisers maintain that, if need be, they’ll run this competition as a series of non MSA events. Held exclusively at Wigan this year, the Ultimate Challenge has adopted a unique system of starting competitors in reverse order to their championship standings. It’s provided very good entertainment and has been extremely popular with the drivers themselves. With or without MSA backing it will be a high profile competition in 2007 and could well act as a catalyst for many clubs to run break away meetings of their own. Whilst understanding and even sympathising with their reasoning, I think that our governing bodies might be playing with fire on this occasion.

Readers of this column may be aware that my support for the MSA isn’t entirely unequivocal. I believe that it could and should have done much more to expand the sport in this rather special year. Some of its decisions I find totally bewildering, especially those that affect the WTP cadet category. All too often, in my view, the interests of commercial outfits have been placed above those of competitors. However, I’m also aware that the MSA has brought a degree of stability that can’t be guaranteed by break away organisations. We need an authoritative legislating body that can act independently of the kart trade. For all its faults, the MSA is better placed to fulfil this requirement than any likely successor. For once, I’m in agreement with the conservatives who preach evolution rather than revolution.  

It seems as though nothing short of a revolution will prevent Paul Fletcher’s outfit from dominating Formula A once again.  Four years have elapsed since Mark Rochford won the S1 title in Formula A after a controversial decision to disqualify Mark Litchfield during the final round. Fletcher’s driver Gary Catt claimed the honours in 2003 and Litchfield has been invincible since then. Paul suffered a set back last month when Jamie Croxford announced that he’d accepted an offer to drive for the Birel factory team. However, within days Chris Rogers had replaced Jamie and his partnership with Litchfield promises to be the most formidable force in British karting.

Whenever his drivers are racing abroad, Paul Fletcher always uses a small firm of travel agents from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. This arrangement dates back to 1969 when he took over from Doug Jest as British team manager and continued using the firm based in Doug’s home town. This link has been further strengthened now that the Fletcher team is relying on Octane karts produced by Doug’s grandson Nick. “We’re very happy with the Octane chassis which suits both Mark and Chris,” Paul affirmed. “I’m quite sad about breaking away from Birel as we’ve been very successful with them up until now, but it’s nice to be back with British built karts once again. Last year I lost Gary Catt to the Tonykart works team and now Jamie has gone to Birel. I suppose that’s a form of flattery in its own way. As with Gary beforehand, I wish Jamie well in his new surroundings, although we’ll be doing our best next year to show him that he’s joined the wrong team.”

Chris Rogers has always been a formidable competitor whose budgets in previous years haven’t quite matched his obvious talent. With Fletcher providing the finance, this won’t be a problem for him in 2007. You won’t find many in karting who would bet against Paul Fletcher’s team lifting their 5th consecutive S1 title. Whether it will be Chris or Mark claiming the honours is more open to question. On the international scene, too, lots of questions will be asked especially now that long term Tonykart driver David Fore has defected to Maranello. I first heard this news from Mark Rose who commented, “It’s bound to be a big blow for Tonykart because in my book Fore has been and still is the world’s best driver. He should have become world champion for the fourth time in Angerville this year and by today’s standards that’s a fantastic achievement. He’s a great ambassador for the sport and is always showing interest in younger drivers. I think he’ll bring a lot to the Maranello team.”

 

Whether you’re involved at home or abroad, 2007 promises to be an interesting season.