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Rotax DD2 Test

Of course I jumped at the chance to return to the fabulous Genk facility in Belgium to try a range of the new DD2 Rotax karts.  Our team had been there only a few weeks earlier for the BRDC Stars of Tomorrow round, and greatly enjoyed the experience.  After all it’s only 160 miles from the ferry. And the icing on the cake was that the test would take place during the weekend of the Rotax Max Mojo Euro Challenge final round, with plenty British drivers to support.  In the event, Jack Hawksworth, driving for Protrain Racing, did more than enough to win the European junior title with third place in the final whilst compatriot David Sutton showed the competitiveness of the Brits with a strong second.  Both were upstaged by the diminutive bespectacled thirteen year old Jorrit Pex, a local driver and protégé of Jos Verstappen.  In the senior Max, British drivers occupied six of the top seven grid slots for the pre-final, but it all went to pieces for five of them, leaving John Boyd to win both that and the final for HRS Racing.  There were many impressive drives through the field in all classes, perhaps none more so than Ben Cooper coming from the back after his engine seized in the pre-final, to finish eighth just behind David Griffiths.  Another was Arnold Nevelling’s charge from seventeenth, second last, on the DD2 grid after a clutch problem in the pre-final.  He closed to within a couple of lengths of the winner.  This is a class with only one driver from the British Isles, Irishman James Tumulty.  He was on a rentadrive with a view to doing the complete season next year, having already had World Finals experience.  There was the possibility of Britain having three champions, rather than just the one.  Martin Pierce could not get his kart to handle properly through the heats, then was fired off at the start of the repechage.  He could only spectate during the finals, watching his title hopes dwindle to third.  Colin Davis lost his possible title in the Max Masters series when the clutch came loose forcing his retirement and relegating him to series runner-up, such cruel luck for both.  A hugely impressive six hours of live television, streamed on the internet as well as a satellite channel, was the equal of F1 coverage.  It had great graphics, live timing, splits between drivers and the impeccable Ken Walker as commentator.

But I digress!  Rotax decided for 2006 to open up their own RM1 2-speed category to any chassis manufacturer and rename it DD2.  Now there are thirty chassis from twenty-two manufacturers either approved or in the process, with a goodly number on show at Genk.  Twelve different manufacturers were represented in the European championship class.  Strangely enough the Rotax company traces its origins to making a bicycle hub with integrated brake back in 1920.  In 1959 they were taken over by a scooter manufacturer, then in 1970 by Bombardier.  The leisure activities of the BRP group are split away from the trains and business planes side, although still partially owned by Bombardier.  They have been making engines for BMW since 1983 and moved into the ATV market in 1998, now making the world’s most powerful ATV as well as the fastest water-craft and snowmobile.  The water-craft is powered by a three cylinder 1500cc supercharged 4-stroke motor producing 215bhp.  They also make engines for Aprilia motorcycles.  Fourteen hundred people work at the facility in Austria, and they churn out 230,000 engines per annum.  Impressive or what!  And they expect to reach production of 50,000 Max engines next year since the launch in 1997.  The whole emphasis is on ‘lean enterprise’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘passion and innovation’.

As is probably well-known by now, the DD2 is a development of the Rotax Max 125cc liquid cooled engine but with two gears and a chainless drive to the rear axle.  The DD stands for Direct-Drive i.e. no chain and the motor plus accessories weighs in at 27kg.  It produces 32bhp at 11750rpm.  The axle slots through the gear casing and is clamped to the output drive.  “No chain – no pain” is the Rotax catchy slogan.  In other words no chain oil to dirty the kart, no chain adjustment to worry about and no risk of taking the chain off on a kerb.  There are six options to the standard primary drive gearing, for different sized tracks. It only takes about ten minutes to swap gears, with the kart tilted over to stop the oil escaping, and then time is saved with no chain to re-adjust.  The two speeds are changed by push-pull paddles mounted on the steering wheel.  Rotax thinks this adds to safety as no hands have to be taken off the steering wheel to change.  Ignition cuts for a tenth of a second through their ESA (Electronic Shift Assistant).  An overload clutch is fitted on the output drive to take shock loads from heavy braking, and is said to be virtually maintenance free.  It does of course have an electric self-start, and a rev-limiter just like the Max so that only a 2% racing synthetic 2-stroke mix of fuel is required, keeping down pollution.  However it is audibly noisier than a Max, something Rotax needs to improve. 

BRP had wheeled out all the big guns for this media encounter.  The top boss of BRP Gerd Ohrnberger, General Manager, was seeing the Max Mojo Euro Challenge for the first time.  He had taken over the post in May although having been with Bombardier for nine years and had tested the karts, usually at A1 Speedworld.  He would take a DD2 out for twenty laps later.  Klemens Dolzer, Director Sales & Marketing, ran through a history lesson on the Rotax story, whilst technical whiz Robert Gumpenberger went into detail of the mechanical aspects.  Some of these names are unfamiliar, there has been a few personnel changes over the summer.  Rotax is now owned 35% by Bombardier with the rest split between an investment bank and a pension fund.  They have 53 distributors and one thousand service centres worldwide for the kart engines.  A Micro Max for Cadet ages will be launched in 2007.

I was able to try four of the DD2 karts on offer.  The South African PCR representative admitted the engine behaved like two bearings and they would be making some chassis updates next year.  Nevertheless his kart was quickest of the weekend in the DD2 final with second from the back.  All the karts are pure ICC 125 gearbox at the front end, with four wheel braking.  I found the PCR had excellent brakes.  They all had to consider the weight distribution being further back and the Kombikart boss revealed that their chassis was longer, at 106cms wheelbase, to compensate.  His kart won the final.  A lot of thought had clearly gone into this Kombikart design.  For instance they had dispensed with the usual clamps for engine mounting, fearing they would be too vulnerable on the kerbs, and instead bolted the engine to a sliding tube, with a fine adjustment to line up the rear axle before doing up the locking system.  In fact with an Intrepid third and a Gillard fourth the top four all came home on different makes of karts.  The Kombikart on test had fairly worn tyres, and it wasn’t really fair to do a comparison with the others on new or almost new tyres.  I also drove the MS Kart and the Intrepid and found the latter very much suiting my style.  The brakes were fantastic and the grip was good and progressive meaning I was able set a time only two or three seconds off the pace on the 1350 metre track.  Up into second gear coming through the pits bend onto the long main straight and down to first again whilst braking for the tightening right hand hairpin but back to second out of the following left hander.  Then down to first for the hairpin before the back straight, up to second for that and back to first for the chicane, holding that all through the complex until the short chute heading back to the club house.  First again for the right-hander along the front of the club house then into second again makes for a much less frenetic experience than an ICC kart with its six gears.  Yet the kart gave much the same feeling as an ICC without the pain if the driver is insufficiently fit.  Rotax say they are aiming this class at young or not so young professionals such as doctors or lawyers.  Wesleigh Orr, who won both the Max and DD2 championships, says it depends on the track which class he prefers.  He has also raced ICC and will concentrate on that next year. 

Will the class take off in the U.K.?  The cost is not far off that of an ICC outfit, and significantly more than a Max outfit.  But the maintenance needed on the DD2 would be much less than either of these others.  And it gives a highly enjoyable driving experience.  The karts would either have to tag on to the back of an ICC grid, where they would probably be two or three seconds a lap slower, or have their own race if numerically strong.  I’d guess a championship with good promotion, lots of on-track manufacturer and chassis importer support and a decent prize might get enough interest but the cry will always be there are too many classes already.  Time will tell.

Rotax see their championship as being the Olympics of Karting.  We are coming up to the sixth running of the International World Finals, in Portugal this year, with forty-three nations participating.  Others have copied the concept, and it could even be said the CIK are taking it all on board with the TAG concept for the international classes.  Where Rotax lead, others follow.