How do you select the top ten all time British Greats?
The answer is “with very great difficulty.” I’ve approached the task by choosing one outstanding personality from each of the five previous decades and then adding five others who have shown unique talents. Other pundits will no doubt have different ideas, but I’d be surprised if there aren’t three or four names common to all of the lists. Here is my own version.
British Champion 1965, ’66, ’67, ’68, ’72, ’76, ’77 & ’79; World Vice Champion; World Vice Champion 1969 & ’77; 3rd place World Champs; 1968 & ’71; European Champion (Team); 1972 & ‘78
This decade produced many outstanding figures. At 56 years of age George Bloom captured the outright British title in 1963, winning all eight rounds. A week later, Paul Fletcher took 2nd place in the European Championships and was considered unlucky not to actually win. Bruno Ferrari still remains the only person to win three British titles in one day following a remarkable performance at Shenington in 1964. Britain’s first Junior Champion Terry Fullerton was successful on three consecutive occasions from 1966 to 1968 and John Morrell notched up a hat trick of wins in Class 1V Super over the same period.
Ultimately, the choice was quite straightforward. Mickey Allen started karting in 1963 and burst onto the national scene during a British Team Selection Meeting at Shenington. In all major British events for the next four or five five years it was simply taken for granted that he’d emerge on the winners rostrum. He collected British titles in four consecutive years from 1965 to 1968. Mickey missed out on the 1969 event due to illness, but made amends in that year’s world championship by taking 2nd place behind Belgium’s Francois Goldstein. A year earlier he’d finished 2rd behind Thomas Nilsson (Sweden) and Guilio Pernigotti (Italy).
British Champion 1966, ’67, ’68 (all junior titles),’71, ’73, ’75, ’78 & ’80; World Champion 1973; European Champion (Team) 1972, ’73, ’78 & ’81) 1970’s Terry Fullerton 100CC
At Rissington Chris Hales shocked onlookers by beating Mickey for the 1970 Briish title. There was another surprise awaiting Mickey the following year when young Terry Fullerton got his British licence back. Terry had excluded himself from all domestic competition by taking out an Irish licence in 1969 so that he could race for Eire in the 1969 World Championships. Back in the fold once again he coasted to a comfortable victory in the 1971 British championships at Rye House. Mickey picked up his fifth British title at Wombwell but it was Terry’s turn to win again at Rye House 12 months later. Several weeks afterwards there was that remarkable weekend at Nivelles when Terry defeated Goldstein on his home circuit to become Britain’s first World Champion.
Throughout the 70’s Allen and Fullerton shared eight British titles, with only Hales and Paul Burgess (Shenington 1974) able to interrupt their total domination. A few years ago I asked Paul Deavin to name the best British driver he’d ever seen. Paul was responsible for running Mickey over a twelve year period and, for one season in 1976, actually took charge of Terry, too. His answer came instantaneously. “Fullerton, without any doubt, was the best of all time,” said Paul. “Both drivers possessed immense natural talent, but whereas Mickey was interested purely in getting out onto the circuit, Terry put lots of thought and effort into making sure his equipment was fully sorted beforehand.”
World Champion; 1981, ’82, ’83, ’85, ’88 & ’89; European Champion (Individual); 1982, ’83 & ‘84
The 1980’s produced a wealth of British talent with names like Alan Gates, Johnny Herbert, Allan McNish, David Coulthard, Gary Moynihan, Jeremy Cotterill, Steve Brogan, Piers Hunnisett and Richard Weatherley springing to prominence. Mike Wilson stood out from all the rest by virtue of his six world championship wins, creating a record that is unlikely ever to be equalled. Remarkably, the one prize that evaded this Barnsley born lad was a British title, although he tried on numerous occasions.
His interest in the sport was sparked by a camping holiday at Prestatyn when aged 11. Although his father, Brian, had been karting for some time, Mike himself showed no enthusiasm, preferring to play soccer instead. Once having tried the rental karts at Prestatyn, though, he couldn’t keep away from them and had to ring home asking for more pocket money. Brian responded by buying him a second-hand Blow Gnat/ Komet K77. “On my first run I was going so slowly that the plug kept oiling up,” recalls Mike. “Dad told me to put my foot down and I finished up crashing into the tyres a few corners later.”
Soon, though, he was winning races throughout Britain and got his big break in 1977 when Martin Hines offered him a place on the Zip kart team. That year he also received support from Angelo Parrilla’s DAP factory to race in European events. Bruno Grana was quick to spot Mike’s potential and, in 1978, he signed him up as a full-time driver for IAME. Still aged 17, Mike moved swapped his Barnsley home for a new one in Milan and has lived there ever since.
1990’s – Martin Hines (250cc Gearbox)
The 1990’s heralded a sea change in karting as the focus shifted to young drivers. This was an era when cadets such as Jenson Button, Tom Sisley, Luke Hines, Michael Spencer, Lewis Hamilton, Danny Wheldon, Anthony Davidson, Chris Rogers, Niki Richardson, Adam King and Paul di Resta were starting to make their mark. One driver in particular, though, managed to prove that older stars could still shine brightly. Martin Hines was 46 years old when he collected his 3rd World Championship title in 1992. He would win his 4th European Championships an incredible ten years afterwards.
He’d started off by racing pigeons as a youngster but soon expressed ambitions to become a Speedway rider. Recognising the dangers inherent in this daredevil activity, his mother persuaded him to buy a kart instead. Initially Martin concentrated on 100cc racing and gained a place in the highly successful 1969 British 4 man team. However, it was gearbox karting that brought him the most success. He won the 1976 British Championships and captured his first European title 12 months later. During the 1977 Motorcycle GP at Silverstone he kept 100,000 spectators entertained by demonstrating his 150mph Superkart. That persuaded the circuit owners to stage a GP specifically for gearbox karts some 12 months later. A karting demonstration at the 1979 F1 GP followed and, some four years later Ernest Buser was persuaded into allowing a CIK World Championship for Superkarts. Fittingly, it was Martin who became the first holder of this title.
During an astonishing career that spanned four decades Martin established himself as the king of Superkarts, creating records that none of his contemporaries could ever match. His flair for publicity occasionally irritated rivals, but was definitely good for karting and I have no hesitation in placing him up there with the all time greats.
S1 Junior Champion 1998; British Champ; 2004, ’05, ’06, ’08 & 10; S1 KGP Champ 2013.
The Noughtie’s – Mark Litchfield
Ben Hanley, Gary Catt, Jamie Green, Oliver Oakes, Robert Foster-Jones, Michael Simpson, Benjy Russell and a host of others made their mark in this particular decade, but none visited the winner’s rostrum quite so often as Mark Litchfield. An absolute master in wet conditions, he was also pretty difficult to beat even on dry sunny days. At the age of 31 you could argue that his best days are behind him, although those who took part in last year’s S1 Championships for KGP might have a different tale to tell. Mark’s five British titles are testament to his natural talent and he could have so easily added a world championship crown to his collection. At Braga eight years ago he looked to have this elusive prize within reach when a mechanical failure ruined his chances.
Instead, it was another Brit Oliver Oakes, who emerged victorious, with fellow Brit Jon Lancaster taking 2nd place.
Mark was born and bred in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, just a stone’s throw away from the Darley Moor circuit that, at one time, used to regularly host karting events. His father, Dave, is a former saloon car racer who most TKM competitors will know as the boss of Litchfield Motorsport. After his spirited performance in the 2000 World Champs at Braga, where he recorded a top ten finish, Mark was taken under Paul Fletcher’s wing and has remained with him since. He is one of the few British drivers lucky enough to have made karting a full time occupation and the vast experience is now being passed down to younger competitors.
Five other unique talents
Long before Art Ingels built the world’s first kart John Brise was well known in motor racing circles. A successful F3 competitor, he switched to stock car racing soon after it arrived in Britain and became a three times world champion. It was at a stock car race that he first met Bernie Turney who introduced him to the world of karting. In 1961 at Brands Hatch John became the first 100cc British Champion. Some weeks earlier he’d stunned his American rivals by winning the GPKA “world championship” round at Shenington. Thereafter he made a successful transition into the gearbox classes. John’s eldest son Tony eventually graduated into F1 but was tragically killed in an aircraft accident along with his team boss Graham Hill.
Anyone who was privileged to watch Dave Ferris racing during the sixties would have marvelled at his skill. In contrast to Mickey Allen’s somewhat aggressive style, Dave always looked totally relaxed but this deceptive appearance masked a steely determination. Just a few inches prevented him from becoming Britain’s first world karting champion when he took 2nd place behind Francois Goldstein in the 1970 event at Thiverval, Belgium. His racing days were cut short whilst testing a Formula 3 car at Brands when he was struck in the head by a flying lump of concrete.
Gearbox competitor Dave Buttigieg was also blessed with outstanding natural talent. In 1976 he became the first European 250cc champion, winning this title again in 1978 and 1982. There were also World Cup victories in 1976 and 1979. When Martin Hines established his highly successful Zip Hermetite team Dave became a prominent member along with Carolynn Grant-Sale whom he later married. .After their divorce she went on to become Carolynn Hoy, a name that most of today’s karting fraternity will be familiar with.
Jenson Button entered karting at the age of eight, not long after his parents, John and Simone split up. He completely dominated the 1991 British championship for cadets and won the Junior TKM crown 12 months later. After competing in the 1994 Junior World Cup at Ugento in Italy he signed as a professional with Tecno. He won the Italian Championships at his first attempt and took 2nd place in the 1995 world championships for Formula A. He was crowned the 1997 European Champion in Formula Super A before switching to cars. Jenson picked up the 1998 BRDC McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award and before embarking upon a successful F3 season. Following a successful test with Williams he was signed up by the F1 team. Almost ten years elapsed before he became world champion, this time racing for Brawn.
A family holiday in Ibiza sparked Lewis Hamilton’s karting ambitions when he was only 3 years old. He obtained his first kart as a Christmas present just before reaching the age of eight. After winning all of his novice races he also claimed victory first time out on yellow plates. With support from Zipkart he picked up the first of two national cadet titles and famously approached Ron Dennis at the 1995 awards ceremony saying that he’d like to drive for McLaren in F1 eventually. Racing in Europe with McLaren support he finished as vice European Junior Champion. 12 months later he won the European senior title before moving into Formula Renault. In his first season of F1 racing, Lewis almost became world champion, but made sure of the title 12 months later.
These, then, are my top ten drivers of all time. It’s been difficult enough selecting them from many outstanding candidates. Even harder is the task of placing them in order, but I’ve finally decided on the following;
1. Terry Fullerton
2. Martin Hines
3. Mike Wilson
4. Mickey Allen
5. Dave Ferris
6. Mark Litchfield
7. Dave Buttigieg
8. Jenson Button
9. Lewis Hamilton
10. John Brise