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Watching The Pennies

karting-mag-logo-15Perception, as any advertising mogul will confirm, is often more important than reality. It’s no accident that spin doctors have now taken on a higher profile than the politicians themselves and they know how vital first impressions can be in formulating public opinion. I was interested to read some statistics recently showing that petrol prices and the actual costs of motoring have fallen in real terms since the sixties. This won’t alter the perception of Joe Public who remains steadfastly convinced that motorists are being forced off the road by soaring costs. Most of us, in truth, have been guilty at some time of forming instant opinions and then adjusting the facts to fit our original prejudices. After the Little Green Man opener at Wombwell in June, I received several phone calls concerning an incident involving Sam Clarence and Luca Hurst. There has also been quite a bit of discussion on the Internet regarding this affair. According to one group, a video taken at the Wombwell event proved quite conclusively that Sam had deliberately forced Luca off the circuit.

It might not come as any great surprise to learn that some others viewed this video and reached an entirely different conclusion. Wombwell’s Clerk of the Course Brian Lord commented as follows, “My initial opinion was that No 5 (Sam Clarence) had done nothing wrong, but sometimes it depends on the angle you’re viewing the incident from and how fast events happen. Fortunately, Martin Bean and I were given access to a video which confirmed categorically that No 5 hadn’t deviated from his racing line by so much as an inch. I’d say this was one of the easiest decisions we’ve had to make and I don’t think anyone else who has seen it could possibly disagree.” Without actually having watched this video myself, I can’t comment about who is right or wrong here, but it’s interesting that two groups of people can look at the same footage and each see an entirely different picture. Perhaps it’s another example of reality not being allowed to interfere with our own preconceived ideas.

I’m not quite sure how the powers that be regard WTP racing, but I’ve a feeling their perception might be somewhat different to my own. During the GOLD event at PF, Andy King, Sennan Fielding and Ben Barnicoat were involved in a thrilling Grand Final for WTP and all recorded times around three tenths quicker than their leading Comer counterparts. Normally this would have been cause for celebration, but Mike and John had just attended a meeting with the MSA three days earlier. This came after strong rumours that the WTP B5 would be banned from competition once again due to excessive speeds being recorded. They were able to produce various arguments and statistics that succeeded in keeping the class alive. As he studied the time sheets at PF, Mike looked like someone who had narrowly averted a hanging only to discover that he was about to be shot instead.

If all this fuss stemmed from a genuine concern to stop cadet speeds from going through the roof, then that would be an entirely laudable motive. However, it’s worth pointing out that rigorous independent tests were carried out at four different circuits to ensure that Comers retained a speed advantage. John Mills had made a suggestion some months earlier that true comparisons could only be made under race conditions. His words were ignored and, as a result, we waited until June before the B5 motor was allowed to race in anger. Only by insisting upon a very tiny restrictor has the speed been reduced. Competitors are now using increasingly larger sprockets to get themselves out of corners and this is having an effect upon lap times. Consequently, the original calculations have probably underestimated performance at some venues where bottom end speed isn’t quite so crucial. That can’t be blamed on anyone at JM Racing and it’s even less the fault of WTP drivers who are being hit hardest of all.

There’s one aspect of this entire saga that must be of some concern to all WTP competitors. Higher revs usually mean greater fuel consumption and shorter engine life. With this in mind, John Mills went to the MSA meeting suggesting that a maximum sized sprocket should now be stipulated in dry conditions. However, our governing body was only prepared to allow this if John acquired 100% support from competitors. Considering that the restrictor size has been altered three times with no such consultation, I find this proviso rather curious. Achieving total agreement for any measure is always very difficult and, at PF in July, there was a single dissenter to this proposal preventing it from being implemented. Agreement was reached, though, for gearing ratios and maximum revs to be recorded by the eligibility scrutineer Brian Briscoe. Interestingly, sprockets ranged from 85 to 91 teeth with maximum rpm recordings of between 13,300 and 14,000. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and anyone genuinely interested in controlling speeds should look favourably upon proposals to limit revs rather than relying exclusively on tiny restrictors.

It’s worth noting that no WTP motor has actually broken a lap record set by Comers, although Brad Fairhurst and Max McGuire both came mightily close to doing so at Shenington in July. If such records are broken frequently and by significant margins, then the MSA might be justified in any demands for WTP speeds to be further reduced. Until such a moment arrives, however, any talk of safety concerns is surely irrelevant. Two years ago, both classes were frequently competing against each other for the same awards. Back then, there was a speed advantage of almost 2 seconds per lap in favour of Comers. WTP owners who complained about having to compete on such unfavourable terms were told very bluntly to “buy a faster motor”. At almost every venue today, the classes are competing for separate prizes. If the pendulum has, indeed, swung in favour of WTP by a very small degree, then why should this really matter except to those who have a financial interest in maintaining Comer superiority?

For the sake of everyone concerned with WTP racing, I hope that this class can now be given the period of stability that’s so desperately needed. Many owners believe that the interventions they’ve endured up to now have been driven more by commercial interests than concern for the sport. Such a view might not be strictly accurate but, as I said at the beginning, perception is often more important than reality