Watching The Pennies

When people exhort us to “Say what we mean and mean what we say”, I’m not sure that they actually mean it, if you know what I mean! Anyone who heeds this well worn homily will soon find themselves bereft of friends and could even get into legal difficulties. Social etiquette demands that we “say the right thing” rather than express total honesty. Someone once carried out a survey in which kart competitors were asked whether or not cheating ought to be stamped out. Not surprisingly, the response was 100% in favour. Rather than indicate a determined opposition to all forms of cheating, this merely proved that everyone had given a politically correct answer. One suspects that not even the most blatant of cheats would be daft enough to answer no on this one. Similarly, there’s always been a lot of talk about creating level playing fields in karting, but how many who espouse such views actually mean what they say? Those who spend small fortunes every week testing various items of equipment do so for a reason and it’s got nothing to do with levelling out the playing field. In such an intensely competitive sport, any advantage is hard earned and those who believe they’ve found one will fight like hell to preserve it. Commercial interests, too, will usually come into play. Anything that encourages people to spend more money will usually be supported enthusiatically by members of the kart trade.

In this respect, I’d argue that WTP bucks the trend. JM Racing is actually taking practical steps to create and maintain the level playing field that has proved so elusive in 50 years of karting. This has arisen not so much through purely altruistic motives but rather because it makes commercial sense to do so. People with money to spend in abundance will always opt for the Comer cadet class because it carries the prestige of an officially supported British Championship class.  Ever since its inception, WTP has been aimed at those who haven’t got or don’t wish to spend large budgets. If the class is to survive then it is essential that this policy continues with additional safeguards built in to prevent gradually escalating costs. Stamping the barrel and crankcase is one such safeguard. This prevents anyone from “mixing and matching”, a practice that involves swapping certain parts from different motors so that you finish up with one perfectly balanced (and very expensive) engine. Clearly, such developments could have had a prejudicial effect on the integrity of WTP, but JM’s solution has been both simple and effective.

Even in factories where quality control is extremely high, it’s always possible for a rogue motor to appear. Such an engine will produce better than average performance and can command very high prices. Paradoxically, these motors appear to be at a premium in the “controlled” classes. In my own club, for example, a second hand Rotax is currently being advertised for £5,000 whilst another has just changed hands for £8,000. Such transactions don’t seem to be in accordance with the spirit of this class, but preventing them from taking place isn’t an easy matter. The former editor of this magazine, Alan Burgess, once tried extremely hard to promote a class on the “race and sell” principle where competitors could be forced to part with their equipment immediately after an event took place. It was an ideal way of keeping prices down to sensible levels but, unfortunately, his ideas didn’t find favour with many of those who had been shouting about creating a level playing field. This principle might be resurrected next year in WTP as I understand that the Little Green Man championship organiser are considering making at least part of their competition open to drivers who have hired motors from a pool selected at random.

A simpler and perhaps more effective method of controlling second hand costs was slipped through earlier this year. Purchasers of B1 motors have always owned the log books but all that changed when the B5 became available. Rather astutely JM Racing anticipated that a situation similar to several other classes might arise whereby competitors were paying through the nose for motors that had shown just that little bit extra performance. Therefore there’s a small clause inserted on every B5 log card stating that this document belongs to JM Racing. This means that, if rogue motors are ever identified, the cards can be withdrawn and they would no longer be eligible for racing purposes. In fairness to the owners, cash refunds or brand new replacements would be offered. At a stroke, this simple little measure prevents motors changing hands for extortionate prices. “It’s a device we’d rather not have to use, not least because it involves us shelling out the cost of a motor that would be immediately returned to the factory and rendered useless,” confesses John Mills. “Nevertheless, if such measures are needed to protect the integrity of WTP racing, then we’re prepared to take them.”

Personally, I think the idea is absolutely brilliant! It should win enthusiastic backing from all those purporting to be in favour of creating a level playing field. Then again, not a lot of people actually mean what they say or say what they mean!