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Whatever happened to the World Cup

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STOP PRESS! The World Cup spotted at the International Kart Show. Details on its future next month

I’m not talking about Sven’s tinkerings with the England formation and let’s not even mention Scotland against Belarus (we wuz robbed!) but probably the best ever series of events to grace short circuit karting. The event started off in 1968 at Heysham Head circuit near Morecambe. This was what was known as a ‘challenging’ circuit, unkindly described as a couple of straights with a hairpin at each end. In fact, the top part of the track was a sweeping double apex right hander and the downhill section had a kink in the middle of it that certainly sorted the men from the boys. As a scrutineer, you could always tell someone who raced at Heysham on a regular basis, as they had an additional mechanical caliper on their braking system just in case the hydraulic one failed. At Heysham, if the brakes failed, you didn’t end up in the ambulance but under it! The man behind the vision was Bert Hesketh, long time supporter of gearbox karting and the chap who ran the Heysham venue.

He even managed to secure John Players tobacco sponsorship for the event that lasted until around the early 1980s when such things became unspeakable. It was one of the longest lasting sponsorship deals in the history of the company and certainly did them and the event no harm at all. Players paid for the cup, named the World Cup, and the drivers raced for the first ever ‘O’ Plate, a red zero on a white background, distinguishable from the black numbers on yellow background the rest of the class raced. Indeed, for a number of years, the trophy was presented by the Mayor of Morecambe on the Monday evening after the event but that was before my time! One of the earlier meetings even saw a runaway kart narrowly avoid going over the cliff after taking off without the driver, a Mr. Hoyle from Todmorden. Going over the cliff wasn’t a very good idea, what with the 100ft drop just behind lap scoring. Although the first few years were won by single cylinder karts, the advent of the 250 twins saw the event rise in prominence to become the pinnacle of short circuit gearbox karting. The sound of a grid full of fully sorted Yamahas never failed to stir the soul and the non-PC part of me hankers back to the time when karts were allowed to make that sort of noise.

My first direct memory of the event was in 1980 when Lennart Bohlin won the last of his four titles on one of Kelvin Hesketh’s Star chassis and uniquely doing it with a reverse barrel Yamaha. I believe the engine is currently being restored and should be in a chassis sometime in 2006. I was spectating at the meeting, as many people did and was cheered by the sight of spectators going in their droves to the Shell bar and coming back with several rounds balanced precariously on trays. Such was the queue at the bar that this was the only way of quenching your thirst in the May sunshine and most were camping at the track anyway, so driving wasn’t a problem. I seem to recall a fairly spectacular shunt in the 210 race involving a driver clobbering one of the flagpoles halfway up it after tangling with another driver. The poor driver was dumped on one side of the track with the kart landing on the opposite side, in the face of oncoming traffic. The race was stopped, oddly enough. That was the last win for the Yamaha, watercooling was allowed the year after and saw Reg Gange the winner and the first World Cup won by the Rotax twin engine. The year after saw a record crowd of 29,640, absolutely unprecedented for short circuit karting and I was there as a scrutineer, just training at that time. Allan Krownow from Denmark won that year but the fastest ever time recorded by a driver on that track went to Britain’s Derek Price in 21.47s, that just shows how quick it was.

It also marked for me Bert, the man. My tent was damaged in the night by some revellers worse for wear and I went to Bert in the morning to tell him I’d have to go home, as I’d nowhere to sleep that night. Nonsense, he said, and set Kelvin to work on repairing the tent poles, diverting him from the task of preparing his kart for the Finals day. That he also refused payment for the repair spoke volumes to me. 1983 was the last event run at Heysham before a couple of goes on Long Circuit at Donington, where Martin Hines, the ‘King’ of gearbox karting won his only World Cup in 1985 Bert passed on the reins of the event organisation to Audrey Ashe (very rapid 250 pilot John Ashe’s mother) and Else Price (Derek’s mum) and they ran it until 1990, by which time it had become the Hesketh Trophy in memory of Bert. The two ladies passed on the organisation to a committee organising events for 250 twins on short circuit on the condition that it would be run on short circuits for gearbox karts. The event ran as part of a series and was renamed the Hesketh Challenge. This ran throughout the ‘90s within the series, reverting to a one venue for the last three years until 2002, when the last event was run. The question now is, whatever happened to the World Cup? We know that Paul Kennings won the last event in 2002 but the trophy hasn’t been seen since and Paul hasn’t got it. So who has?

Iain Blair

World Cup Winners
1968                   Graham Liddle, GB
1969                   Graham Liddle, GB
1970                   Kelvin Hesketh, GB
1971                   Graham Liddle, GB
1972                   Graham Liddle, GB
1973                   Reg Gange Jr., GB
1974                   Dave Cullimore, GB
1975                   Lennart Bohlin, S
1976                   Dave Buttigieg, GB
1977                   Lennart Bohlin, S
1978                   Lennart Bohlin, S
1979                   Dave Buttigieg, GB
1980                   Lennart Bohlin, S
1981                   Reg Gange Jr., GB
1982                   Allan Krownow, DK
1983                   Richard Dean, GB
1984                   Brian Heerey, GB
1985                   Martin Hines, GB
1986                   Tim Parrott, GB
1987                   Not contested
1988                   Not contested
1989                   Ian Shaw, GB
1990                   Ian Woodcock, GB
1991                    Bob Kennings, GB
1992                   Andrew Bundy, GB
1993                   Andrew Bundy, GB
1994                   Andrew Bundy, GB
1995                   Paul Sydenham, GB
1996                   Carl Kinsey, GB
1997                   Paul Kennings, GB
1998                   Carl Kinsey, GB
1999                   Paul Kennings, GB
2000                  Christian Turner, GB
2001                   Richard Leitner, GB
2002                   Paul Kennings, GB