I’m willing to bet that many young Cadet drivers did a double take when last month’s issue of Karting magazine arrived through their letter boxes. The original kart built almost 50 years ago by Art Ingels and Lou Borelli certainly looked different to anything else that’s appeared on the front cover in recent decades. It showed that karting has indeed evolved over the last 50 years, although not quite as much as other branches of motorsport. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Michael Schumacher’s current Ferrari and then compare it with the one used by Juan Manuel Fangio to win his fourth world championship title in 1956. In F1, as in karting, almost every change that’s occurred over 50 years was made after encountering some degree of opposition. Sometimes such opposition has resulted in more carefully thought out proposals. On other occasions, worthwhile changes have been postponed or even destroyed altogether by sheer bloody mindedness. It’s worth pointing out that when Graham Hill won the first officially sanctioned karting event to be held on British soil, he used a chassis called the Progress kart. Even a fully paid up Luddite like me recognises that some degree of progress is essential for the sport’s continued survival. Plastic bodywork is the most noticeable distinction between a modern kart and the early Ingels-Borelli creation. It’s also one that has arguably had the greatest impact, certainly from a safety point of view.
Water-cooled motors represented another important change, bringing greater reliability and rather less noise. In a few years time, I’m sure that we’ll look back on the introduction of Touch and Go motors as another defining moment. They are easier to use and must surely be safer both for the driver and mechanic. They are also more expensive and, in the case of WTP, have added at least 50% to the cost. £700 isn’t cheap for a Cadet engine but this price is sustainable provided that quality control methods are sufficiently vigorous to guarantee reasonable equality in performance. The real price of change isn’t computed in terms of pounds and pennies. It’s the damage caused by a prolonged period of uncertainty that will manifest itself in lower numbers racing throughout 2006. Current WTP owners have complained about a lack of information coming from JM. The only thing that’s worse than no information at all is false information. Unfortunately, it’s been impossible to give people concrete facts because, until now everything’s been in a state of flux. However, at P.F.I. on Saturday January 21st, the fifth series of tests were carried out and appear to have been concluded satisfactorily. Ollie Walker took time off from his preparations for Sunday’s Minimax event to carry out the bulk of testing. To satisfy MSA appointed observers that Ollie wasn’t ‘sandbagging’, Ashley Jones took over some of the testing. An amusing moment occurred after Ashley had been forced into a spin. Noticing that the engine had stalled, a marshal ran over to assist. Just as he bent forward to pull the starting cord, Ashley pressed his little start button and shot off leaving a rather perplexed official behind him. The times posted by both Ollie and Ashley were almost identical to the Comers. More important from my own point of view, they were broadly similar to those recorded by Sam Clarence using a pull start motor at 93 kilos. There still remained a doubt in the mind of one observer however. He was concerned that the new WTP might be quicker than Comers if used on a Zip chassis rather than the Mari.
John Mills’ response that a Mari currently holds the lap record at P.F.I. effectively put paid to this particular argument. Hopefully, by the time this article is printed the arguments will all be over. It’s been a long and exhaustive process, certainly one conducted with far more vigour than when the Comer W60 engine was first adopted just over two years ago. I have no complaints about the MSA’s desire to ensure that Cadet speeds are kept within certain boundaries. The problem arose originally because of a free for all in Italian Cadet racing that has suddenly made speed rather than cost an essential element. I don’t believe it would be sensible to go down this particular road here in Britain and applaud the very comprehensive testing that’s taken place to ensure a correlation in speeds between Comers and WTP. Whether the delays in carrying out such tests were strictly necessary is another matter altogether. Certainly there’s been a heavy price to pay and I just hope that WTP racing can make a quick recovery. Were I a paid spokesman for JM, then I’d be tempted to imply that everything in the garden is still rosy and numbers will be as high this year as ever before. To their credit, not even John or Mike Mills are actually making such a claim. They both know that 2006 is going to be a difficult year for engine sales and for the Little Green Man Championships that, until now, they’ve promoted exceptionally well. To counteract the effects of uncertainty JM has come up with a couple of unique offers. First of all, every Little Green Man entrant will be able to purchase an electric start engine at the heavily discounted price of £399 minus carburettor and exhaust. Secondly, and perhaps crucially, motors will be available for hire at each round. The hire charge will be £85 for an entire weekend of practice and racing and this charge can be offset against future purchases. I believe it represents excellent value for anyone who feels a little nervous about committing themselves to this class. In the four years that these championships have been running, they’ve managed to set outstanding standards as many competitors will no doubt verify. I was looking forward to the 2006 competition with some degree of trepidation. Suddenly, there’s a bit of optimism in the air once again. We still face a difficult twelve months but WTP will survive and ultimately that’s good news for Cadet racing in general. Is it worth the price? I certainly believe so!