Track Test: Maranello RS7

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1Maranello was a relatively new name on the karting block when Paul Ibbotson and his Botech racing team started to distribute it in the UK back in 2003. However the marque was already becoming well known through the expert exploits of its star driver Ben Hanley who has since gone on to make a name for himself in single seaters and has just recently been signed to the Renault Driver Development programme. While Ben raced for Maranello they shared international success in karting and became one of the few who were feared as a David among the Goliaths of the sport. Meanwhile out in the western fringes of commuterland Steve Green, a 2long term karting enthusiast, was considering an offer for his Audi dealerships, Aston Green. Along the way Steve had employed former British kart champion Fraser Sheader who had learnt the ropes through the various departments of a busy motor dealership. Gradually the foundations were being laid, deliberately I suspect, for the day when an opportunity arose for a concession to import a blue chip karting brand into the UK. Steve Green came to a deal to sell the Audi franchises and founded Heritage TVR in Henley-on-Thames.

Steve was soon able to entice Fraser to rejoin him in this new venture, in the knowledge that talks were in hand to take over the Maranello kart distribution from Paul Ibbotson. Paul was by now heavily involved with the management of Ben Hanley following his move into car racing and at the end of 2005 the take over was complete. Steve does go back some way in karting having been a Deavinsons customer back in the mid 1970s when he campaigned a Sprint/Parilla TT27 at Rye House and Tilbury. Steve also raced a Senior MAX much more recently and now enjoys running his son Elliot at club level competition. This enthusiastic involvement in the grass roots of the sport is not to be allowed to distract the new company from taking on the best at national and international level. Jason Parrott has been signed as official team driver and brings with him invaluable support from Peter Morling of the Gerald White Group. Peter is another passionate enthusiast for this sport of ours and races in Formula A himself. As a natural by-product of the agreement with Jason Parrott comes the most famous Fish Fryer in Peterborough himself, Tim, Jason’s father. 3Tim, a multiple European and World Champion in Superkarts now manages several drivers under the Tim Parrott Motorsport awning at most major events in the UK. Many if not all of these will in future be Maranello mounted. The feedback from the factory via Fraser and Jason will no doubt be invaluable.

Ian Hawkins from Hawksport is another team manager to throw his lot in with the Maranello brand. Darron Gibbs who was already running the talented Devon Modell on Maranello karts last year will continue to do so for 2006. In Northern Ireland Gordon Duncan will promote the brand and already has a number of the faster pedallers in the region on board. Jonny Maconald from Atlantic Racing will cover Scotland, Jonny has a near neighbour named Bryce Wilson who was seen and heard at the Autosport show. Bryce was a very fast and charismatic driver back in the 1970s and 80s and he is seriously talking about getting back in a kart for the good of his health! I saw that the wild man was a little older and wiser but when the conversation comes round to racing a far away look comes into the eyes and you know there is still the steel core of the ‘Braveheart’ running just below the surface. Jonny be careful! That therefore is the infrastructure surrounding this new venture, new in the sense that the company and the people are new but they are working with a well proven product. The first production model Maranello was known as the ‘30-32’ and this was followed by the RS1. There have been various evolutions since and the new homologated model is the RS7, also a ‘30-32’ construction. There is no shortage of expertise when fabricating the chassis as this work is entrusted to CRG and their customary quality of workmanship is immediately evident.

The 50mm axle is supported in three 80mm outside diameter bearings within cassette housings that are bolted to rings of steel

Gone are the days when MIG welding was the cheap and fast option and the welds on this frame are neat enough to be gas. I don’t know whether the factory are using robotic welders, if so they are very good indeed and if not then hats off to Guiseppi! The chassis design and development are down to Maranello and so is the outsourcing of accessories. I have to say that many do have the look of CRG about them and indeed this may have been the original source of many of the anodised alloy components. However many parts are now branded Maranello and I understand the factory is now interested in the autonomy of developing their own bespoke accessory range. The RS7 has removable front and rear torsion bars, the front one is often used and the rear one, seldom. There is also a removable fourth rail on the left side of the seat. This may come into its own as the weather and grip increases. The longitudinal rails of the RS7 are 30mm and the cross rails 32mm. This makes for a kart with lots of natural grip that remains easy to drive. For so many people the ability to go consistently fast is so much about confidence. The kingpin arrangement is thoroughly modern, 10mm bolts with four bearings in the stubs and an eight position castor/camber adjuster make this a very strong marketing point for the kart as it comes as standard. The stub axles are not the new fashioned 25mm shafts but a beefed up version of the 17mm variety.

A 1050mm wheelbase is bigger than most

The stub axle material is very hard indeed and I believe that this is the only area of the kart that features TIG welding. The axle is the usual 50mm that comes in a variety of stiffnesses and torsional rigidities. Until the driver can really extract the very best from himself and his equipment it is probably better to stick to the standard set-up before embarking on the axle-changing virus that seems to infect some camps from time to time. Maranello have chosen to develop their kart so that it will perform well under most conditions using the axle as supplied. It is supported in three 80mm outside diameter bearings within cassette housings. The axle has to be passed through the chassis as the bearing housings are bolted to a ring of steel with four bolts spread evenly around the housings. This I understand is one of the secrets of the success of this chassis and is a design feature that was first used by Wade Cunningham when he won the World Championships on a CRG in 2003. There are a couple of unusual elements to the Maranello kart. The chassis has a 1050mm wheelbase, the norm used to be 1040mm although some other manufacturers are also stretching them a bit. The brake is also a new design with a floating disc and a self-adjusting mechanism. I have to say that I was a little sceptical at first but the brake performed faultlessly on both chassis I tested, easy to feel and break the grip on the brake, what more do you need? For the track test we met up with the team at a now familiar haunt, Whilton Mill. The weather was fine if very cold but as it was during a prolonged dry spell in February, there was no hint of damp on the circuit.

Fraser (front) and Jason improved the set-up with every change and also improved George’s driving

We were there after the track had been extensively used for two days, by Club 100 on the Tuesday and for an open test day on the Wednesday. There were two almost new karts to be played with and my only concern was the seat. Stationary in the pits it all felt fine but I did have my concerns. As soon as I was out on the circuit having gathered a bit of speed I was slithering about the thing like a fat snake in a barrel. The boys fitted various bits of padding to try to get me under control with limited success until they introduced the ‘piece de resistance’ a substantial knoll between me and the petrol tank. Please allow your imagination a moment to picture this. An immediate improvement in lap times and smiles all round. Considering that we were running a well used set of tyres the MAX powered kart performed really well. It had plenty of grip without compromising the corner exit speed. The engine felt very strong indeed. We tried a logical set of changes to set-up and did nothing but go better and better. There was one other driver there, a potential customer, who also improved as the day went on. Fraser and Jason were not only very attentive from a mechanical point of view, they also sorted out a couple of corners for me, improving my driving to the tune of about 3/10ths of a second. Thanks lads, pity it’s about thirty years too late! We ran the MAX powered kart for the majority of the day, saving the other one with an ICA powerplant as a treat for last.

The brake is a new design with floating disc and self-adjusting mechanism

This was more than just a fun thing to do. Maranello also run this model kart in all the 100cc international races, so there is more than a little relevance to putting in a few laps with Parilla power. Simon Wright had kindly lent a new Reed-Top engine for us to try, Jason completed the running in and then it was my turn. Run, jump and it goes! No problem so far. Don’t spin or they will all be watching the first G.R. self start for some years. Luckily after just a few corners it all seemed quite easy, the kart in 100cc form was just as predictable and forgiving as it was with a MAX on board. I really enjoyed my few laps back in a 100cc kart again. What a shame that the end seems to be in sight for this great and historic form of racing. 100cc karting was described by Ayrton Senna as “the purest form of motorsport in the world”. I believe that a good day was had by all. The potential customer bought one so that cannot be bad. I had a great time thanks to Steve Green, Fraser Sheader and Jason Parrott. Not forgetting Peter Morling who turned up at exactly the right moment with the lunch! Since Maranello UK took over the franchise just before the International Kart Show in November they have sold in excess of thirty karts with more orders in the pipeline. Quite honestly I am not surprised.

The RS7 had plenty of grip without compromising corner exit speed