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Round The Bend – Me ears are alight

Luke Whitworth_6826Me ears are alight*

Is the answer to the question ‘Should kart racers choose one class over another if they want GP teams to notice them’ to be found in old commercials on YouTube?

In the 1980’s a company flogging frozen, oven-ready chips had the nation’s children – and their parents – asking one of the key questions of the day; Daddy or chips?

Like the little girl in the classic McCain TV advert -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ksmb6iwPZYo – I have been turning over a similarly thorny question in my mind; Rotax or KF?

This particular conundrum was the subject of much debate at the opening round of the Super 1 Rotax season at Whilton Mill. Apparently, the source of the argument is someone who works in Formula One and their contention is, that if you want to get on his team’s radar, you have to compete in KF. I believe this to be a received wisdom – but do admit there was a time when I would have agreed with him. However, after watching and writing about both categories for several years now, I’m not so sure.

There are some team owners operating in KF who still believe that Rotax is little more than a hobby class and that the genuinely talented drivers are in the principal classes they cater for, KF3 and KF2. It is a neat little argument and you don’t have to be wily Edmund Blackadder to think, ‘Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?’

I can see their point. KF was born out of the demise of 100cc, which was what the Europeans amusingly called the ‘Queen class’ and through heritage alone, it regularly attracted the crème de la crème of karting talent. Then came the recession.

With many drivers’ budget directly affected by a change in the family fortunes, many either stopped racing, jumped to cheaper car formulae or found a more cost-effective branch of karting. It is hardly surprising that Rotax boomed during this time and today its Super 1 entries far outweigh its MSA counterpart. Moreover, Super KF and KF2 are now moribund in Britain.

The effect of the global Credit Crunch has had far reaching ramifications, which Jarno Trulli highlighted bluntly when he said that F1 would return to how it was in the 1980s – with a select few competitors who could make up for their lack of genuine talent by tapping into huge corporate budgets or family money and buying themselves a race seat.

Of course, this has always been the case in motorsport and karting, but it is getting worse. In Europe seeing the sons and daughters of successful parents working in the tiger economies being able to acquire the best opportunities is nothing new. Russian and Brazilian drivers are hardly a novelty but those from Asia – including India and China – are increasingly entering the fray and having an impact on the results sheets.

As cities like New Delhi are granted a Grand Prix, so the desire to see home-grown stars on the grid is a natural response. When everybody had, or thought they had, money, this was not a problem and the KF classes were packed with quality. Now, they arguably have kids with money, but less who have the star quality to match daddy’s spending power. Don’t get me wrong, I rate some individual drivers extremely highly but I would advise caution against the ‘less is more’ defence.

If you look at KF3’s opposite number, Junior Rotax, the driver who wins Super One on Sunday has had to beat nearly sixty rivals. Yes, not all are capable of winning – but surely if you have a class that has double the number of drivers, statistically the talent pool will be greater?

Karting has always had ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years where the level of competition is tougher and closer than in others but to blithely ignore the Rotax classes and some of the supremely talented youngsters therein could leave some of the chaps in charge of driver development programmes feeling like the little girl – and dad – in this advert, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM8Q92YsyPM&playnext=1&list=PLE03C537E3F56E0D9

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbP_wBn3Lsc&NR=1