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ARKS: A Licence in Skill

Arriving at Forest Edge… temperature about 0°C

My fascinating journey on the road to racing karts reached a critical junction last month: the ARKS test.  Without this I would not be allowed to race at club level, so it was imperative I secured this preliminary qualification. My nearest club is Forest Edge at Barton Stacey, near Winchester, where, in late summer last year, I got well and truly bitten by the karting bug. The camaraderie of the enthusiasts made this a sport perfect for beginners and – as you may recall from previous articles — I took the financial plunge with a complete karting package from scratch: kart, trailer, tools, trolley, suit and helmet. Now that I’d gone this far, it would be madness not to go the whole hog and get properly set up for racing.

I bought the MSA Karting pack available from the publishers of Karting Magazine and on one cold, but dry Saturday, found myself in an office at Forest Edge … feeling rather nervous. Two ARKS examiners were leading five recruits through a  test comprising a written multiple choice section and a practical on track.

Now I’m sure you’ve watched the DVD 20 times before coming here…” began one of the examiners in a serious tone, at which point very loud alarm bells banged around inside my head. I left it rather late to get the pack and my only chance to watch the DVD was at midnight — sandwiched between two 13-hour shifts. I felt I was looking at a potentially significant area of vulnerability. The DVD was to be  played again ahead of the test and my brain tightly focused on the wealth of information, particularly the flags. I felt confident about the flags part but you can’t be too confident. Onto the test itself and – as expected – a section dedicated to a detailed understanding of the flag system, plus one related to general racing and karting know-how. Fifteen minutes later the test was complete, with 100% required for the flags section and 80% for the remainder to pass the theory. Fingers crossed.

From the office I headed over to what I’ve now dubbed The Wright Technology Centre, a fantastic set-up belonging to Colin Wright at the edge of the pit area. Colin and his 12-year-old son David, keen racers in the 177 and Mini Max classes, were helping the new kid on the block with set-up and advice. In fact David was assigned to be my Race Engineer. His understanding of the sport and the technicalities of the karts was excellent. His aim of a career in F1 will no doubt mean his name in 15 years will be as familiar as those of Rob Smedley and Andrew Shovlin today. With a fair amount of time to the 177 session, I popped into the office to see my examiner, Peter Bryceson. Some good news: I’d passed the theory.

After managing to miss the first 177 practice, I headed out to the second session of the day. Sitting on the standby grid, I pondered my strategy as clouds of 2-stroke filled the helmet. We slowly moved off, but I had barely left the grid area when just a dab of throttle almost sent me pirouetting into the mud right by the spectators stand. How bad would that have looked, especially as I was being watched by Peter. Clearly the tyres were as cold as ice and the track no better with air temperatures hovering around 3C. What was odd was that other drivers were managing to tear off into the distance…surely their tyres were cold too? At the first corner complex, a chicane, bucket loads of oversteer meant utmost caution was needed at least until the tyres were up to temperature.

Charging forward on one of my better runs… but much more time needs to be saved to be competitive

I took it as easy as I could to stay on the track, but conscious of the need to get within 110% of an allocated time for racing to pass the practical. I’d never raced at Forest Edge before, or anywhere else for that matter, so this session was one of familiarisation. A couple of spins followed, then an off-track excursion into the muddy part of the circuit where I managed to beach myself. With mud spewing upwards from the wheels like a ridiculous fountain, I clawed my way out of this field-ploughing trial and got back onto tarmac. Traction sent me on my way but I could see the looming figure of Peter at the next corner and the thought of Fraser in Dad’s Army shouting “I’m Doomed!” sprang to mind. I avoided eye contact and concentrated on the next corner. Only two laps followed before the session came to an end and I pulled into the exit area.

Yeah … I know that was utter rubbish,” was my immediate opening gambit before Peter calmly took me through the areas where I needed to improve. I was falling into the newbie’s’ trap of being too uptight inside the kart and constantly fighting it. I didn’t use the entire track either to help the kart flow from one corner to another. Above all, a lack of consistency was the problem. That was true, but at least I was consistently inconsistent, I thought to myself. A glance at the Mychron4 revealed a best lap time of 55”. Not good.

Check out the lap times for Colin and my ‘best’ of the day. His experience and capabilities shine through in the data

Back to the WTC, and a run-down with Colin and David on how I felt the kart was behaving. Too much oversteer, I complained, but too little in the tight chicane area at the top of the track. The former was worse than the latter. David moved the rear wheels in by 5mm each side, so that greater force was pushing down on the wheels to help negate the oversteer. Colin took the CRG Road Rebel out to find out what he thought of it in the next session. It was great to see the machine being properly put through its paces. His out lap was 48” and within a couple of laps went three and a half seconds quicker.

Driver and Race Engineer discuss tactics

Seat-time was imperative, and the next session for me showed improvement in lap times. I did overcook it on one corner and spun around several times, only for another driver to hit my kart in the side. No serious damage done but unfortunately his session came to a premature end. Even though the lap times were falling and I had probably reached the 110%, that crucial racing ingredient, consistency, remained elusive. Getting to 110% pushed me to the ragged edge, it felt, from which it was all too easy to tip over the other side. I needed more seat-time and a greater demonstration of consistency to pass the practical. What was frustrating was that the advice I was being given wasn’t unknown to me … it all made perfect sense but bloody doing it was the problem.

Peter Bryceson formalising my ARKS pass

I needed to nail it on the next session to pass and get my certificate. Five minutes before the start, drops of rain began to fall. A couple of miles away I could see it was bucketing down. Terrific. On the grid – as the smell of 2-stroke signalled another session – I thought about my plan as the Gods kept the rain away from the circuit. For two laps I kept it easy, then wound it up a bit for the third lap. One little off saw me rejoin as other racers found themselves in tangled situations. Had I done enough … I had no idea as I pulled in at session end. Peter said I could do with more consistency but I was much more comfortable with the kart and it had come together – and I had passed! Before my first race, I’ll be at practice as the layout is revised, but until then I can enjoy a great sense of personal achievement.

Now the real learning begins. But first, a few hours cleaning the tractor … sorry kart.
My thanks to Colin & David Wright, and the ARKS examiners, Peter Bryceson and Pete Thomas.

Next time in Karting Magazine: the first race…will I deliver?

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Interview with brothers Toby and Ben Davis

Ben CC 2010 3 castle combe full resThere used to be a perception that Long Circuit Gearbox Kart Racing was primarily for the, shall we say, more mature driver with little or no appeal to younger racers. That fallacy has been well and truly demolished in the last 10 years with the likes of Gavin Bennett, Jason Dredge and James OReilly winning the domestic sports top prize, the MSA British Superkart Championship whilst in their early 20s.

The even younger James Tucker had a couple of highly successful seasons highlighted by victory in the British Superkart GP before trying his hand at car racing. Cheshires Lee Morgan twice became the highest placed driver in a CIK European Superkart Championship round whilst still in his teens, and Gavin Bennett won that title and established himself at the very top of world superkart racing when still in his 20s.

But now, we are seeing an even more exciting and youthful phenomenon. Two teenage brothers from Ledbury in Herefordshire, the Davis boys, have both taken the sport by storm in their Rookie seasons.

Toby, the elder, was Rookie of the Year in 2009 and brother Ben has now followed him in taking the 2010 honours winning the 250 Superkart Clubman Challenge the competition just one notch beneath the MSA British title class.

The boys have always had an interest in Motorsport, with Toby especially being an avid F1 fan from a very early age. They started racing each other from the ages of 2 and 4 around the kitchen on toddlers ride-on cars, progressing to pedal cars with their friendly competitive (!) racing rivalry apparent from this early age.

Their first experience of karting was on holiday in Spain at age 12. This experience, coupled with Tobys already established passion for F1, led the family to Castle Combe Junior Karting Centre where Toby completed 2 years racing (3rd in the championship) and passed his ARKS test at age 15.
A Junior TKM kart was purchased for Toby to start short circuit racing at Little Rissington in 2007, whilst Ben, not to be left out as always, followed in his brothers tyre tracks at Castle Combe.

Toby completed 2 years in Junior TKM achieving fourth place in the championships, whilst Ben finished 2nd in the Castle Combe series and gained his own ARKS test.

Toby, then 16, decided that 250 gearbox was the obvious next step from Junior TKM and was already setting his sights on long circuit racing. The familys first introduction to the friendly 250 long circuit community was in seeking advice, willingly offered from Ian Harrison, Dave Harvey, Don Kennedy and several others culminating in the purchase of Steve Burtons Jade, complete with short and long circuit body kit.

2008 saw Toby in the Jade complete a year in 250N gearbox racing, primarily at Little Rissington, but also a handful of other short circuits to gain his National A licence, whilst Ben took over the TKM kart to complete his first year in short circuit at Rissy.

The purchase of Don Kennedys Anderson 250N kart at the end of the 2008 season allowed Toby to realise his dream of long circuit racing in 2009. His first outing in the kart and first long circuit experience was at Oulton Park, where he finished the meeting with three trophies; 2nd place for the Gearbox Masters round, 2nd place for the non-championship race and also Best Rookie. At the end of his first long circuit season he finished runner-up in the Superkart 250N Clubman Challenge series and 12th in the MSA 250N Superkart championship.

Ben, having completed just one season (2008) in Junior TKM, and approaching his 16th birthday in March, was eager to follow Toby and felt ready for the 250 gearbox class. He spent 2008 in the Jade at Rissy and a range of other short circuit tracks mastering the extra power and gaining his National A, determined to compete in long circuit as soon as he reached the minimum age of 17. At the end of the season, the Jade was sold and a second Anderson purchased from Don Kennedy, setting the boys up to compete side by side for the first time.

The lads, like most kart racing teenagers, owe much to their dad, Richard. He not only has to dip into his wallet to fund their racing, but can always be found in the awning doing his utmost to see that both his sons are turned out with the best possible chances of doing well.

But its a labour of love for the amiable Mr. Davis senior.
I feel we are fortunate to have found a shared passion that the entire family can enjoy. Personally, I enjoy engineering and have a science and engineering background. The 250N class is relatively open and we have been able to experiment with both the engine and bodywork. Toby, for example, has a homemade ram air system (which presented some interesting jetting challenges) and we designed and built a front wing mounted on top of the nosecone which definitely increased downforce but sadly added several seconds to our lap times at Cadwell!

Running two karts with one mechanic can pose quite a challenge and more than a little stress! For example, at Castle Combe, those challenges included a burst rear tyre at 100mph which destroyed the sidepod, a shattered nosecone (Ben missed a braking point) and two seized engines which had to be rebuilt between races. The CR250 engine can be both competitive and reliable, and at the end of our second season, we have learnt a lot lessons. This time both seizures were due to a blocked fuel filter (grateful thanks to Ian Harrison and Rob Walkinshaw who both gave a lot of their time as we worked to identify the cause.)

I think the special attribute of long circuit superkart racing is the camaraderie in the paddock. As newcomers, we have been welcomed and supported at every stage, with unlimited help from drivers and engine tuners. We have never been stuck for a part, or a specialised tool, as there is always someone in the paddock prepared to lend you whatever you need and offer an extra pair of hands. Don Kennedy was especially supportive in our first year offering us space in his awning as well as the benefit of his years of experience.

Another appealing characteristic of the community is the age range of the drivers. With the greatest of respect to some of those racing, the boys at 17 and 19 are competing against others old enough to be their father, and even close to being their grandfather! I should add however that these guys are definitely still capable of putting young upstarts in their place on the racetrack! There are few sports that can bridge generations in this way.
A major feature that struck us about the long circuit superkart community is the huge respect I have observed between the drivers. This extends firstly to doing everything possible to avoid contact on the racetrack, essential of course given the speeds involved, but its also apparent following the inevitable but relatively infrequent racing incidents; there is always an apology offered which is graciously accepted.
We are, of course, incredibly proud of both the boys, especially their attitude to the sport and support for each other. There is rivalry, but it is definitely friendly and one will always congratulate the other on their success.

Well, clearly the Engineer in Dad is well provided for, but what about Mum? Emma has no previous experience of motor sport. How does she view this unfolding chapter in the familys recreational life?
Watching them race at such high speed is a little nerve-wracking I must admit. I feel particularly nervous just as a race is about to start, but once it is underway, its exhilarating to see the boys drive so well and with such passion. I always position myself near a speaker so that I can listen to Kens commentary, keeping me updated with their progress around the rest of the circuit when theyre out of sight. Between races, back in the awning, however, I tend to make myself scarce, only interacting with the drivers and their overworked mechanic to give them food and drink (and keep the peace!). A really good bonus is that we have made firm friendships with other drivers and their families.

So, we have the family perspective on Superkart racing, but is it fair comment to say, as I did at the outset, that the lads are taking the sport by storm?
With Ben having gained his National A licence after 2 years experience on the short circuits, the 2010 season saw the boys appear together for the first time on a long circuit in identical Anderson chassis, at the opening meeting at Silverstones Stowe circuit. Toby finished with no points due to an ignition failure, whilst Ben, in his first outing came away with first place trophy in the Clubman Challenge and a special award for Best Rookie, just as Toby had collected an armful of awards on his long circuit debut.

Later in the season, Toby had his best ever finish at Northern Irelands Bishopscourt Circuit finishing 2nd in both races behind the eventual MSA British Superkart champion Jason Dredge. In the British Superkart GP at Cadwell Park, they were evenly matched with Toby gaining 5th and Ben 6th in the GP Final. Bens best result in his rookie season was a 4th place at Croft.
At the end of the season, the final round of the Clubman Challenge at Darley saw Toby start the meeting leading the championship 8 points clear of Ben in 2nd place and favourite to take the title. Toby suffered an engine failure in race 1, and despite Toby winning race 2 by a clear margin and taking the fastest lap of the day, the championship title went to Ben in his rookie year. Toby was the first to congratulate Ben on his success. In the MSA British Superkart Championship, Ben finished a most creditable 7th in his rookie year with Toby in 12th place after missing the final round at Croft as it clashed with his start date for University.

Weve heard plenty from Mum and Dad. What are lads own views on their proudest achievements so far, and also, their favourite tracks?
My favourite circuits so far are firstly Snetterton, fast corners, long straights and very enjoyable in Superkarts. I won both races there in a non-championship round. Secondly, I enjoyed Croft with an excellent mix of corners, a real drivers track, and I was very pleased to have my best MSA result with a 4th place.
Obviously finishing second in the two races at Bishopscourt was my best achievement so far, not just in terms of actual results but because I was very close to being bang on the pace. Favourite tracks? Well everyone will say Donington, I should think, but in terms of a driver challenge, easily Cadwell Park. Theres nothing better than getting the line right through the mountain and nailing a decent woodland section for a fast lap, and fifth in the GP was a good result for me

As well as being successful racers, both Toby and Ben are a kart racing journalists dream. They are always articulate when answering the journos questions but they most belie their tender years when in front of the TV cameras. Both of them come across as very professional and could teach their older counterparts much about interview technique and personal presentation, yet they are complete novices in this field as well.

Unfortunately, the first big cloud on the Davis superkart racing horizon came with the shock news when dad Richard was made redundant from his job in the Defence sector at the start of the 2009 season. He is now building a new career in Healthcare management but until that is established, it is proving extremely difficult to commit fully to the 2011 season without the support of a sponsor for the youngsters. (If anyone reading this feels they or their company would like to help ensure the boys can continue to pursue their passion, in a sport that produces lap times quicker than touring cars and Formula Ford, please contact Richard on 07766 134680.)
Tobys university course continues into 2011 and although he says it will have to be his main goal, he will not be absent from the superkart scene. We have to focus on competing in 2011, considering we have now done most of the learning that we need to do over the last couple of years. It was always a 3-year plan first year was just a learning process, and the second was introducing my brother and new concepts. The third year we have to attack (subject, of course, to funding).
Being at Uni does have implications on how much I can work on the kart in terms of preparation between rounds, but I will try to get involved as much as I can to help out.
Tobys perspective on Ben:
Ben adapted exceptionally well to 250s when he did short circuit in 2009, so it was obvious to me that he would be able to perform just as well in long circuits, and that has been the case. Certainly he’s generally been right up there with me this year, and has outright beaten me once or twice, particularly at Pembrey and Silverstone. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2011 with us as we are both aiming to be attacking the whole championship

Bens perspective on Toby:
I think Toby has a Lewis Hamilton-like aggressive style, pushing to the limit. He is very skilled in kart control. As a person he is very humble and modest and I never see any spite or malice arising from on track events after the races. He is also very understanding and patient when things dont go his way.

We will leave the final word to Ben, because apart from the anxiety to find a sponsor and to be able to continue in the sport, its interesting to hear a young persons perspective on superkart racing. It is very much underestimated by other karting people. Its very different to the short circuits, and to succeed on the long circuits you need a lot of skill. The lap times are comparable with F3 and fast driving skills are just as demanding as any of the challenges on the short circuits. But Toby and myself are both still keen to progress further up the superkart racing ladder.

Ken Walker

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Driver’s Diary – Chris plays away at Clay Pigeon

The cleanest of karts fi tting perfectly into the back of a Golf Estate

Yes, as you might have noticed from the new title, I am technically no longer a beginner. After completing six race meetings, including an ARKS test, I’ve left my “novice” label behind and moved to green plates. Yet my promotion is tinged with sadness as this month Forest Edge Kart Club in Hampshire lost one of its members.

John Fleming was just 22 when he died suddenly during a trip to Germany. A tribute to John is elsewhere in this edition but I cannot help but remember his smiling face and glasses as I reflect on my first season in karting. We started as novices with our examination in February and this month he too was due to come off his black plates. It will inevitably be a sombre experience when the club gathers next time at the track.

When it comes to tracks, 95% of my karting experience has been focused on Forest Edge. The club’s been good to me, ever helpful in the Wright Technology Centre, and its location just north of Winchester makes it close to home too. But this month I have been somewhat unfaithful — with a trip down to Dorset.

Victory to David brought some cheer to Team Wright

Team Wright headed to Clay Pigeon for a much-needed practice session for me. My last race left a lot to be desired with a DNF in the final and poor performances in the previous heats. I failed to concentrate properly on practice the previous day and this had a direct effect on the Sunday. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s the knowledge that it is vital to use practice to maximum effect. Tracks vary from hour to hour, so set up has to compensate for that and not making the most of that time leaves you highly exposed to rival drivers. Thankfully, David Wright secured a win in his class to give some cheer to the team.

I wanted to learn as much as I could from Clay to improve my kart’s handling. As my car pulled up on the Friday, the first thing that hit me was how cold and windy it was. Hardly surprising perhaps on top of a hill, but this was still meant to be the height of the British summer.

It wasn’t long before I got chatting to a couple of guys at the track with what I can only describe as the most immaculate karts I’d ever seen. They looked like they’d just emerged from a Kensington showroom. There were no marks on the bodywork; there wasn’t even dust on the axle or the side of the frames. A quick glance at my battle-scarred CRG sitting on its trailer took me back eight months to when it too looked brand spanking new.

Time was marching on and soon the WTC was in position. But before practice could start, I needed a few repairs. The August round of racing saw my battery holder fall apart and a stub axle wasn’t looking too healthy either.

Tricked up with sensors – a full report in the next issue

David and his Dad Colin set to work on the CRG and before long I was pounding the shorter circuit that is Clay. It feels a great track, with some tight sequences challenging a driver’s precision. My favourite is the long straight punctuated by the slight kink left which tests any karter’s mettle heading into Billies.

It was here that my problems surfaced with an extremely twitchy rear end under braking. The brakes had always been fierce – either full on or full off – but by now

something needed to be done. Colin took the kart out as this was the best way to fully understand what was wrong. Within a few laps he was already a second quicker than me. In the pits, he tweaked the brakes and adjusted the front and rear track.

After a few more laps and a few more tweaks the kart was feeling 1000% better, balanced into Billies and more predictable under braking. A heavy shower halted proceedings a bit before the final session of the day. Suddenly, there were big power issues. The Rotax 125FR wouldn’t rev beyond 11,500rpm. On another lap, the spluttered to a complete halt!

Were these the first signs of the engine needing a rebuild? I certainly hoped not as the kart needed to make the rest of the season within the life of this current build. The only thing for it was to remove the engine and give it a good looking over.

A couple of weeks later I got a call from Chief Engineer David. A fuel pump was totally blocked, starving the unit and the power valve had stuck because it was coated with carbon. The carb was also filthy inside. These problems had now been solved, to my great relief.

It’ll be back in action in the first week of September, when I’ll also be fully testing some very interesting data-gathering sensors from Aim Technologies. Cannot wait to properly analyse my speed, GPS position and lateral and linear G-forces heading into Winger’s Dip!

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Greg Harper

Darkness was already descending as the judges made their final decision. By a very small margin, Shanade Gress was declared the 2001 Racing for Buttons winner. It meant that for six months she would be given exclusive use of a brand new Honda Cadet kart. Swallowing his disappointment, the runner up walked over and gave her a congratulatory handshake. None among us that night however believed that we’d seen the last of him. Greg Harper and, equally importantly, his dad Ken, had been bitten by the karting bug. Two weeks later Greg received a surprise for his 11th birthday. Sitting waiting for him in the garage was a brand new Topkart/Comer. Over the next few months it got some heavy use as Greg practiced for hours on end at Rowrah. By September he was ready to take the ARKS test and competed in his first race meeting less than 24 hours later.

“I actually thought Greg was a bit young to start racing,” Ken recalls. “I got quite a shock to find lots of eight year olds looking as though they’d been in the sport for years. Before he started racing, Greg had been a keen soccer player but we suddenly stopped talking about football in our household and the conversation was all about karting instead. His sister Stephanie decided she wanted to get in on the act as well and I bought her a Junior TKM outfit so they were both able to go through the ARKS test together.” Greg had only just got rid of his novice plates when he travelled down to Fulbeck for the Stars of Tomorrow Qualifier in March 2002. Much of the country was covered in snow that weekend but the heats were run in dry conditions.

A regular podium visitor in 2005, Greg is aiming for the top step this year

He won a very well contested ‘B’ Final to qualify convincingly. The Cadet class was very competitive that year, with James Bradshaw emerging as champion in both Stars and S1. Greg proved that he could compete well from a front grid position, although he was still learning the art of successful overtaking. The following year he moved up into Minimax and became part of John Hoyle’s renowned JKH team. Working in a team environment certainly brought out the best in him and he achieved some very good results indeed. Also racing under the JKH banner was his sister Stephanie, this time on a Junior MAX outfit. “There’s never been any great rivalry between us even when we’ve raced in the same class,” says Greg. “We both get pleasure from each other’s successes and so it’s quite a family thing.” After twelve months in the JKH team, Greg started 2004 as an independent. “I’d enjoyed working with John Hoyle and he’s still a friend of the family,” he confesses. “However, we tested out a Tonykart at Rowrah early on in the year and I preferred it to the JKH chassis. By that stage we’d become seriously involved in the sport and I was looking for success at national level. We contacted Strawberry Racing through Justin Edgar and I became a quasi-member of their set up. Today, of course, I’m totally involved with the team which I think Paul Spencer runs very professionally.

He’s exceptionally good at setting up a kart and can instantly put his finger on the problem when things aren’t going quite right. Warwick does a good job of overseeing the kart preparation and Mark Salmon acts as my personal mechanic at race meetings. I still own my own kart and motors which are prepared by John Davies. He provided me with some quick motors in 2005 and I hope he’ll do the same this year”. Greg’s high regard for the Strawberry Racing team is reciprocated. “I think his prospects this year are very good indeed,” claims Paul Spencer. “Realistically there are three or possibly four drivers who could win the Junior Rotax title in S1 or Stars and Greg certainly has to be one of them. He proved several times last year that he’s definitely got the pace and is also exceptionally fit. We’ll all be working very hard to ensure that he’s got the best equipment out there, just as we do for all our drivers. Luck obviously plays a part and sometimes things don’t go according to the form book. Had they done so at Lydd then we wouldn’t be having this conversation because he’d already be the S1 champion. He’d been so much quicker than everyone else on this same circuit just a week beforehand and to lose it all in the final round must have been a bitter blow. He’s put all that behind him and, with twelve months additional experience now, I think that things are looking very promising.” Last year’s campaign had begun in earnest on March 20th when Greg competed in the S1 round at Clay Pigeon. He took 5th place in a race won by Thomas Arme ahead of Chris Palmer and Adam Christodoulou.

A week later Greg was back on home soil when Rowrah hosted the opening round of Stars. Once again, Arme came out on top after a breathtaking final dash to the flag, finishing just inches ahead of Greg and Stefan Wilson. Valuable S1 points were lost at Shenington after a collision with Nigel Moore left him sidelined. Chris Palmer won this one ahead of Sam Smithson, with Arme emerging as a championship favourite by taking 3rd spot. Greg returned to Shenington in May for round 2 of the Stars competition. As Christodoulou romped away in 1st place, Greg enjoyed a tremendous battle with Arme for 2nd spot, eventually snatching this position when they came to lap the backmarkers. Just one week later came the ‘O’ Plate up at Larkhall. Starting off from 15th in the ‘A’ Final he had a fantastic race to eventually finish 3rd behind Christodoulou and Wilson. A fortnight later Greg was back in action once again when Three Sisters hosted the Stars competition. After a tremendous battle with Arme and Wilson, he eventually took 3rd spot. The elusive S1 victory came seven days later at Rowrah. This followed Christodoulou’s exclusion, later resulting in the heaviest fine ever to be imposed in karting. Another week expired before Greg went to Larkhall for the Stars meeting. A freak rainstorm kept him out of the top six but by now everyone was starting to take notice of the young lad from Cumbria.

Gerg Harper 4733
Greg has raced a Tonykart since 2004

There was a four week break before the S1 round at P.F. Here, Greg claimed 3rd spot behind Sam Bennett and Christodoulou to keep his championship hopes on track. At Silverstone during round 5 of Stars he dominated throughout but exceptionally heavy rain resulted in this race being abandoned. Next up came the Kartmasters and not even Greg could match Christodoulou for pace in this one. In the end he had to settle for 4th behind David Sutton and Arme. Third position at Llandow was good enough to earn him a top three place in the Stars championship despite a bad round at Buckmore Park. His S1 prospects still looked rosy especially after finishing 2nd behind Christodoulou at Three Sisters. As they went down to Lydd for the final round, we all believed that Greg had one hand firmly on the championship trophy. However this round proved disastrous as he came off on the last lap of his final heat. Another collision on the opening lap of the Final wrecked his championship chances and he had to settle for 3rd, 11 points behind Sam Bennett, the new S1 champion. “It was a shame about not winning the S1 title but I still had a very good season,” says Greg philosophically. “I knew that Sam would be one of my toughest rivals but he got off to a slow start and didn’t figure in the points reckoning until late on. My teammate Stefan Wilson was always going to be a very strong threat. He made a good start in S1 then had a poor middle but managed to finish strongly. Thomas Arme went especially well in the Stars championship and he deserved to win this particular title. I was disappointed that he pipped me for 2nd spot in S1 but that’s the way it goes. Obviously S1 is the best title to win and that’s going to be the focus of my ambitions for 2006. However, I have to admit that the prizes in Stars are a lot better.

I think that the added prestige which the BRDC brings to Stars is also very important. Apart from Rowrah my two favourite circuits are Shenington and P.F. However, I don’t think any of the championship circuits favour a particular motor against another. My best engine tends to be quickest no matter where we go. I’d considered moving into ICA this year and if I’d won the S1 title last season then that’s where I would have headed. However I’ve decided to remain in Junior Rotax and will be trying to leave this class as the champion.” Greg reckons that he took part in over 30 events last year and spent most other weekends testing, usually away from home. “Living just a few miles from Rowrah, people might find it odd that I don’t spend more time testing there, but this circuit tends to be fully booked most weekends and week days are out of the question apart from during school holidays,” he says. “I enjoy keeping fit and have my own treadmill which tends to get a lot of use. My karting activities certainly don’t leave much time for any other sport although whenever possible I enjoy watching football on TV. Like Ross Braun of Ferrari, I’ve always been a Manchester United supporter. I’m afraid that the colour red doesn’t appeal to me in motor racing though, and my favourite F1 team is BAR-Honda. I’m aiming to start a degree course in motorsport engineering and after that I’d love to take up racing full time. I’ve spent some time on work experience at M-Sport which is about eight miles from my home. They have a very professional set up as you might expect from the official Ford Rally team.” For someone so young, Greg has strong views about how the sport should progress. “It costs a lot of money to compete at any level of karting today and people have a right to demand high standards from officials,” he says. “Overall, I think that standards in the top competitions are pretty good. They’re probably a bit stricter in S1 than Stars, certainly so far as scrutineering is concerned, but I think that’s largely down to Paul Klaassen.

I also believe that it’s important to promote the sport. Rowrah’s Racing for Buttons scheme set a standard for other clubs to follow in that respect. I heard about it through our local youth club and curiosity got the better of me and I went to a session at Rowrah with two friends. I never intended to get involved but as I started getting quicker my interest grew. By the time I’d got to the final of this competition, I was right into it. Once I got my own kart, we were up at the circuit two nights a week practicing. You’d find around 25 others regularly attending these evening sessions and we all brought each other on. That probably explains why more than 20 Buttons drivers have raced at national level over the last few years. My initial targets at these sessions were Shanade Gress and Jamie Little. Jamie is now the British champion in Minimax and Shanade has always been a very strong contender, especially at Rowrah.” In other respects, Greg is full of praise for the sport. “I love it,” he claims. “It’s done wonders for my confidence and I find myself able to deal with people a lot more easily. I owe almost everything to my parents who have put lots of effort into seeing that I had the right equipment. Dad especially has devoted a lot of time to my cause. My mechanic Mark Salmon played a big part as also have John Davies and the entire Strawberry team. My uncle Paul also spent many weekends acting as my mechanic, especially during the years in Cadets. I hope to repay them all this year with a good ending to the championships.” If I was a betting man, my money would be on Greg to produce the goods in 2006.