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Debate: Are competitors in MSA events getting good value for money?

The first in a new series discussing karting’s most controversial issues

What’s your opinion? Send your replies to news at kartingmagazine.com and we’ll print them in the next issue.

Are competitors in MSA events getting good value for money? It’s a question that’s being asked ever more frequently today. Everything, as they say, is relative and, compared against many motorsports events, karters still get quite a lot of racing for their money. At some of our bigger club meetings, though, time actually spent out on the circuit is getting increasingly shorter, while entry fees and other expenses move in the opposite direction. Like participants in any other sport, karters tend to gravitate towards those events that attract the highest numbers and race organisers are left with a major problem fitting everything in. Their preferred solution is to reduce the number of laps available or, in many cases, cut out a few Heats. Either way, I believe the punters are being short-changed.

When my own club first started up at Rowrah more than 50 years ago entry fees were £1 for seniors with junior drivers paying just ten shillings (50p). The difference wasn’t quite as great as you might think. Back then, 90% of the entry was in senior classes, so clubs could afford to be generous so far as juniors were concerned. Wages have increased by at least 30 times since then so the entry fee for seniors equated to about £30 in today’s money. Even so, it was around half of what it costs to enter a race meeting at many circuits right now

The really big difference back in those days was that you didn’t have to fork out further fees for Saturday Practice, quite simply because it never existed. Apart from your race fuel, travelling expenses and any damage to equipment, that single pound amounted to your total outlay. Everyone turned up early on Sunday morning and had at least two 15 minute practice sessions starting off at 9.30 am. Racing began at 12.30pm with three Heats and a Final allocated for each class. This amounted to a total of 42 laps actual racing for each driver. At most meetings we were only talking about an entry of 50 or 60, but the same format was applied to a British Championship round when over 100 turned up. The reason it could all be comfortably fitted into a single day was because, back then, we just had 5 classes to deal with.

In February I attended a race meeting at PF that attracted 245 entries. In addition to the £55 race entry fee everyone forked out another £50 for Saturday Practice. Quite a large number had also been out on Friday, too, but we let’s ignore that for now. Sunday’s proceedings commenced at 7.30 am with signing on and scrutineering. There was no free practice and Timed Qualifying began at 8.30, with eight minutes allocated for each session. For most drivers that worked out at six laps. Instead of three heats, there was just one (called a Pre-Final) amounting to nine or ten laps. Each “A” final consisted of 11 laps. One father of a Mini-max competitor complained bitterly that his son had completed 28 laps on Saturday and 26 on Sunday at a cost of £2 for each tour.

The answer isn’t to reduce entry fees for meetings that are oversubscribed because, in truth, they represent just a drop in the ocean. It’s a sad fact that many competitors will be spending £1,000 or more for a weekend’s racing. Apart from cost considerations there’s also the small matter of young kids being forced to hang around a circuit for ten hours or so when they are only getting 30 minutes actually out on track. To be completely fair, winter time at PF is an extreme example. Entries are usually at their highest levels and, of course, there are less daylight hours to cram everything in. Even so, I think there ought to be some recognition of the “value for money” perspective.

I’ll own up to a little personal prejudice here. I’ve never been a fan of Timed Qualifying, especially in ordinary club  each driver. At most meetings we were only talking about an entry of 50 or 60, but the same format was applied to a British Championship round when over 100 turned up. The reason it could all be comfortably fitted into a single day was because, back then, we just had 5 classes to deal with.

In February I attended a race meeting at PF that attracted 245 entries. In addition to the £55 race entry fee everyone forked out another £50 for Saturday Practice. Quite a large number had also been out on Friday, too, but we let’s ignore that for now. Sunday’s proceedings commenced at 7.30 am with signing on and scrutineering. There was no free practice and Timed Qualifying began at 8.30, with eight minutes allocated for each session. For most drivers that worked out at six laps. Instead of three heats, there was just one (called a Pre-Final) amounting to nine or ten laps. Each “A” final consisted of 11 laps. One father of a Mini-max competitor complained bitterly that his son had completed 28 laps on Saturday and 26 on Sunday at a cost of £2 for each tour.

The answer isn’t to reduce entry fees for meetings that are oversubscribed because, in truth, they represent just a drop in the ocean. It’s a sad fact that many competitors will be spending £1,000 or more for a weekend’s racing. Apart from cost considerations there’s also the small matter of young kids being forced to hang around a circuit for ten hours or so when they are only getting 30 minutes actually out on track. To be completely fair, winter time at PF is an extreme example. Entries are usually at their highest levels and, of course, there are less daylight hours to cram everything in. Even so, I think there ought to be some recognition of the “value for money” perspective.

I’ll own up to a little personal prejudice here. I’ve never been a fan of Timed Qualifying, especially in ordinary club meetings. For one thing it’s not particularly fair wherever split grids are concerned. Track conditions don’t remain exactly the same and usually it’s the first group out that seems to be disadvantaged. This problem was compounded at PF in February when the first group of Minimax competitors went out on a completely “green” circuit. Fairness aside, though, my main complaint against such a system is that it dilutes overtaking skills. It’s now possible for drivers versed in the arts of setting fast times to go through their entire karting careers without learning how to overtake safely. That probably accounts for many of the crashes occurring when such competitors suddenly find themselves at the back.

Had everyone at PF in February been allocated the traditional three Heats and a Final, then it would have been possible to complete the entire programme in just under seven hours. That would mean turning over every heat and B Final in 12 minutes with “A” Finals completed in 15 minutes. You could allow an extra hour for unforeseen stoppages and still wrap everything up before 4.30pm. It requires slick organisation, with each race following on immediately after its predecessor, but you’d expect Trent Valley officials to be amongst the best in the Business.

I’m not having a pop at Trent Valley Kart Club here. TVKC officials are victims of their own success as just about every kart competitor in the country wants to race at PF. I’ve singled out this particular meeting as it best illustrates my point about competitors now forking out more money for less actual racing. The same argument applies, to greater or lesser extents, throughout British karting as a whole. I believe that the MSA could help by setting out in their race permits a minimum amount of track time that each competitor should expect. Fines could be imposed on any Club failing to meet such criteria unless there are genuine extenuating circumstances. What do you think?