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YOUNG ‘UNS – A Look At Today’s Bambino Scene

Rowrah’s squadron of Bambino racers

A few years ago, Mini-bikes for kids were all the rage. If my own area is anything to go by, I’d guess that sales throughout Britain must have been well into six figures. It isn’t difficult to see the reason behind their sudden popularity. Most were made in China using cheap labour that allowed them to be retailed over here at around £250 or £300. Also, they were a nice compact size, allowing for easy storage and transport. On just about every housing estate you’d find them tearing along the roads or pavements attracting looks that varied from tolerant amusement to outright hostility in some cases. It couldn’t last, of course, and soon the police began cracking down on what after all were illegal street machines. This caused problems for many owners who suddenly found themselves with practically worthless lumps of metal that couldn’t be used anywhere. Apart from the full blown racing versions taking part in organised events, mini-bikes have now virtually disappeared without trace.

Bambino karting may well face a similar problem. According to Martin Hines, sales of new machines are buoyant right now, suggesting that the class should have a bright future. However, the venues where these karts can actually be used are still quite restricted. Given the choice, most parents would prefer their kids to run at properly organised MSA meetings where safety considerations and medical facilities are obviously superior. They have the added advantage of running to a clear set of rules, or at least that ought to be the case. Unfortunately, the MSA has insisted upon a maximum circuit length of 500 metres for Bambinos which very few venues are actually able to comply with. I understand from Malcolm Fell that Rowrah’s short circuit, measuring 600 metres, has recently received official approval, but it still leaves only two or three venues that are actually running MSA Bambino events.

One thing about vacuums is that they’re usually filled quite easily. The Racing for Buttons scheme run by Gary Walker and his team at PFI run Bambino sessions on Monday evenings and normally attract ten or more owner drivers. Six year old Jenson Parker was one of their first customers and Gary encouraged his dad, Scott, to compile a register of interested people. This register has formed the basis for what is now a thriving group organising Bambino events throughout the Midlands and North of England. Some of these take place on the Saturday preceding an MSA race meeting. Many more, though, are run on private rental circuits and, in one case, even a car park. “We try to put on an event of some description every weekend,” claims Scott, “and it’s very rare for the number of entries not to reach double figures. On some occasions we’ve had more than 30 drivers taking part, which shows that there is plenty of potential.”

Andy Unsworth and his six year old son Spencer are keen members of Scott’s group. Andy was employed by the Benetton (latterly Renault) Formula One team over a period of 16 years, working with such renowned stars as Schumacher, Button and Alonso. He recently returned from Oxfordshire back to Lytham.  Andy is himself a former karter, just like his dad Terry who had been involved in the Ribble Kart Club when it occupied Flookburgh more than 40 years ago. Apart from racing on his home circuit, Terry could be seen competing regularly at Rowrah, Burtonwood, Tern Hill and Morecambe.  Andy and Spencer recently took a look at what ACR  is offering under the Easykart formula. They clearly liked what they’d seen and promptly bought a complete outfit.

For those who are prepared to travel and like the idea of participating in a well organised series then Easykart seems like a good option. It’s also one of the cheapest currently available at just under £1169 (£999+VAT). There’s a slight snag insofar as the kart isn’t as yet registered with the MSA, but Andy Cox intends to apply for recognition in October. ““Delivery of the kart was very prompt and we’ve received a very friendly service so far” says Andy Unsworth “We certainly intend to participate in Easykart rounds next year. The exact format hasn’t been finalised as yet but it will follow MSA guidelines as a time trial event. It’s been suggested that participants will be allocated two hours practice on Saturday with Sunday’s time trials lasting a further hour. There’ll be awards for all participants with a special one allocated to driver of the day. One driver will be selected to attend the World Finals in Italy with kart and flight costs paid for. Also there’s a chance to win an Easykart Cadet outfit at the year end.”

Elsewhere, Bambino costs are generally considerably higher unfortunately. Many brand new outfits can set you back as much as £1700 so, by the time a helmet and racing suit has been included you’re talking about an outlay of £2,300 or more. For those who don’t want to pay quite so much, second hand machines are now becoming readily available at various prices. A four stroke option did exist at one time and this offered greater reliability for less expense. However, parents who went down this particular route soon began to complain that their kids weren’t competitive against other drivers using two stroke Comer powered karts. Some traders have deliberately shied away from supplying Bambino karts. “I can do without the hassle,” one of them explained to me. “You’ve got kids too young to write their own names with parents who are expecting them to become the next Michael Schumacher. When they discover other kids are going quicker, it’s  the equipment supplier who gets the blame.”

I do have some sympathy with this point of view. Children tend to be very competitive by nature and their parents are usually even more so. You’ll never eliminate this entirely but the present emphasis on time trials with gold, silver and bronze awards actively encourages it. There’s a valid argument for doing so, of course. If the Bambino class is intended as a training ground for cadet and older categories then, it’s argued, you may as well introduce participants to serious competition at the earliest possible age. This contention begs a rather obvious question. Why concentrate on lap times when you might as well go the whole hog and stage actual races? That way racing techniques could be properly honed at an early age. Teaching a driver of whatever age how to go fast is relatively easy. Learning to overtake cleanly and safely is rather more difficult.

Having said that, I’m not an advocate of formal races for Bambinos because, at such young ages the emphasis ought to be on having fun rather than indulging in serious competition. I’m influenced in this view by the teachings of New Zealander Arthur Lydiard, an athletics coach who could count Olympic champions Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee and Lasse Viren amongst his numerous successes. Lydiard always argued that young kids were capable of running long distances. The secret, he claimed, was to put away the stop-watch and let them run naturally without any stress. That way you produce potential champions rather than burned out competitors. I’d much prefer it if the Bambino class had been organised along similar lines with identical awards for everyone, presented in alphabetical order.

Alfanos and transponders should become non essential items, although I’m sure the vast majority of parents would want to time their own drivers, whether by stop-watch or other means. It’s also true that, however informal the sessions may be, kids will know precisely who is going quickest or slowest without it being rammed down their throats. Such a system wouldn’t prevent the overbearing father with loads of money from trying to buy a super quick motor, but it might help to place such individuals in a tiny minority. More importantly, young drivers might be allowed to develop at their own pace free from intervention by parents who believe they are raising a Schumacher, Hamilton and Button all rolled into one. It took many years, lots of world records and multiple gold medals before athletic bodies began to heed the views of Arthur Lydiard. I hope that the MSA won’t be quite so dilatory.

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Bambino racing achieves MSA status

It’s hoped the MSA Bambino classes will feed Cadets

Promoters of the newly launched MSA Bambino Kart Championship are keen for the series to be the safest and most reliable form of competition for youngsters ahead of a move up the ladder to MSA Cadet racing. Bambino is open to drivers aged between six and eight years old and will run to a time trial format rather than competitive racing. The championship, which will begin next year, will be promoted by the Zip Kart outfit which was set up in 1964 by karting legend Martin Hines. “Following the launch of the tender process for tyres and engines in 2012, and subsequent signing of them for this year, the Motor Sports Association has been very proactive,” said Zip Kart commercial director Dan Parker. “The class has also become closer and more popular. The aim of this championship is to be the genuine first step on the MSA ladder for drivers who can then move up into MSA Cadets at eight years old. But it has to be a step which is both safe and reliable. “In September, the MSA came round to the fact that many kids can race in Bambino karting but they’re going about it via non-MSA routes. This decision provides safety for Bambino drivers as well as parents and guardians.

It’s also the next level for the MSA.” Parker praised Bambino Kart Club founder Darren Beavers and Garry Walker, who set up the Bambino-focused Racing for Buttons initiative which teached youngsters the basics of karting. “Both have done an awful lot for the history of Bambino racing,” Parker added. “Darren will part of the new championship. Drivers of all ages want to race at circuits around the country and this series will be as much about developing social skills for the kids, as it will be about the competition. We have not entered into negotiations with any circuits, as we must wait for next year’s Super One and Little Green Man dates to be announced first.” Racing on consistently big grids with competitive drivers has been the key to Dean MacDonald’s success over the last few years, according to his dad Jonny.

The 13-year-old, who took the MSA British Cadet title in 2012, claimed the MiniMax title at the final Super One round of the season at PF International ahead of Alex Quinn. MacDonald Sr said the large grids have enabled the new champion to demonstrate his advanced skills. “It’s all about the racecraft,” he said. “Everybody can go fast, even in a bad kart if you slipstream, but racing is a different story. Dean has shown that this year. He’s had a hard upbringing with big grids from a young age. For a kid of only 13, he’s had to work hard but that effort is paying off.” MacDonald Sr said he plans for his son to continue in karting until at least 16 years old: “We’re over the moon but next year Dean will be back to Europe to take the EuroMax title. The plan is for him to go into cars but I believe in drivers serving their apprenticeship. He’ll move when he’s past 16 years old.”

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Colin Wright – A year progress or setbacks?

A year progress or setbacks? Well, with the AGM of the ABkC coming upon us it’s a time to reflect upon 2014 and look into what will happen in 2015.

Colin Wright

Has 2014 been successful? In some ways Yes, in some No. License holders will again show a decline, Easykart has chosen to go away from MSA regulations, we have 2 World Champions, IKR is growing, some clubs are booming some are struggling…I had hoped that more progress would have been achieved, we have made some but frankly not enough and not quickly enough!

So depending upon whether the glass is half full/empty will depend on your interpretation of how well the sport is doing. Personally, and this is not the ABkC speaking I feel we have not done enough to support smaller clubs, they are the bedrock of our sport.

So what can we see in 2015?

We will see Bambinos enter MSA regulations for the first time so an upturn in license holders from that format, we will obviously see the Lewis Hamilton effect with newcomers dreaming of replicating the ex karters global success, we have LGM, Super One and also FKS is back. I’d love a crystal ball to see how all this will play out in 2015 but for now will have to settle to looking closer to home and hope that we present a better “shop window”, a joint effort to get things actioned quickly, to remove some of the unequal factors that dog our discipline and not the remainder of Motorsport. But most of all I’d love to see people relax a little and enjoy the sport for what it is and that is a fantastic discipline in its own right and not always a short term stepping stone to cars, we have every right to be judged shoulder to shoulder with car disciplines and not looked down upon!

The clubman strategy is gathering pace but the sheer inequality of karting regs versus some other disciplines needs to be torn down to see license holders grow, let’s hope 2015 can bring the removal of the medical, I would not need a medical to go Rallying, I don’t need one to drive at 70mph against ongoing traffic yet this archaic rule still exists, I plead with the MSA to finally remove this barrier and lets look to see resurgent senior grids in 2015!

So what of the clubs running IKR and MSA? Let’s support them, lets ensure their success, their survival, their growth, we cannot afford to only see the top six clubs do well, we need every club to succeed, remember that very first time you came off track in a “true” kart, that feeling, the adrenalin, the buzz? Well, go and tell more people, we all have a part to play in the success or failure of this sport.

I speak with many potential newcomers throughout the week from all walks of life and locations, and we need to be cognisant that most really have no idea how to get started, let’s be positive with these potential new customers and show them the positive side of karting and not dwell on what’s wrong, we know what’s wrong but we are still in a much better position than many countries, as a nation we sometimes only consider the negative points.

We all have an interest yet we should all be accountable for the success of our sport and how its presented, our shop window is not appealing besides the phenomenally unique, powerful and creative PR that FKS delivers, I rarely see this level of positive press within my industry let alone our little backwater!

The face of karting in the UK is poised to change dramatically over the next few years, your input is invaluable to those decisions, make sure your club attends the ABkC AGM on 9th December.

As always feel free to contact me at or +44 (0) 7841 034192


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MSA Kartmasters British Kart Grand Prix

As I write this column, my television screen is showing shocking images of looting in some of Britain’s major cities.

It took politicians completely by surprise, with just about every government minister relaxing on holiday. At one stage the most senior person at Westminster available to handle this situation was Lynne Featherstone, a Lib Dem MP who would be unrecognisable to most people.

Although television crews naturally focused on the worst scenes, rioting wasn’t confined to inner city areas. I’m informed by Wilf Carter that large scale looting took place close to Karting magazine’s offices in Orpington and Mark Burgess sent staff home early for their own protection.

Britain’s kart circuits are a long way removed from the streets of Tottenham and competitors may feel aggrieved at any attempt to draw parallels here. Karting families, after all, aren’t generally noted for indulging in riotous behaviour or even joining an occasional protest march. Nor do young karters generally suffer from impoverished backgrounds or lack of parental control, factors that were allegedly behind last month’s widespread looting. However, aggressive behaviour is increasingly seen at kart meetings and invariably parents, rather than drivers, are the cause.

Kids learn by example and the lessons adults teach them aren’t always helpful ones. There was an interesting article in last month’s issue from Diane Porter who provided a mum’s perspective of the sport. One paragraph in particular caught my eye. “Some dads use the most awful language directed at their children,” she wrote, “and that’s a really saddening aspect of karting.”

I’d entirely agree with Diane on that score but we shouldn’t believe that bad language is an exclusively male preserve. I’ve been shocked at how many mothers will merrily spout a string of four letter invectives in front of young children. Verbal abuse is one thing, but there have been examples of parents physically assaulting their own children. I remember one young lad who, after disappointing race results, would run off and hide to avoid a thrashing from his dad.

Bad parental behaviour can often be attributed to pressure. Many parents are investing huge and sometimes unaffordable sums of money in their kids’ karting activities. When results fail to match their investment, tempers are lost and the consequences can be very unpleasant.

Swearing at teenagers is one thing, but you frequently hear profanities at Bambino events where even the most experienced drivers are only seven years old. Out on the circuit these youngsters can display skills comparable to any adult. Despite their tender years, they’re often able to discuss tactics with incredible sophistication. Underneath the helmets and racing suits, though, they are still impressionable children and we adults should always remember to treat them as such.

I’ve always supported the Bambino concept, although I’d prefer it if six and seven year olds were going out on a kart and simply having fun rather than indulging in cutthroat competition. I choose these words because recently quite a few Bambino parents have been at each others’ throats. Accusations of wholesale cheating have been flying around the internet and I’m afraid it all makes unedifying reading.

One parent rightly points out that you can’t be cheating when there are no written rules to follow. The overwhelming majority of Bambino events take place during club practice sessions or at non-MSA venues where there is no official rule book in operation. This has created an atmosphere of suspicion. When young Tommy suddenly knocks two full seconds off his previous best lap time it may be due to some naughty modifications in the engine department. Alternatively, he may just have discovered some better racing lines.

Some parents simply buy a kart and take it to circuits without any modifications whatsoever, whereas others will want to do some tinkering. A few might enlist the support of professional teams to ensure that their drivers are quicker than everyone else. You also find one or two seeking less legitimate solutions by making modifications that are well outside the current MSA fiche.

I suspect that all of this matters less to the drivers than their parents. However, there is a safety aspect to consider. Some of the modified motors are reputed to reach top speeds of 50mph. When everyone else is circulating at just 33mph, then such an obvious speed differential has to raise safety concerns.

Cumbria KRC has seized the initiative by starting its own Bambino Club with a set of rules agreed by all members. Any motors used at official practice session must fall within the MSA fiche. At each practice day, three motors are selected at random and stripped for inspection. The owners of any motor outside legal limits must make a £100 donation to the Air Ambulance. I’m happy to report that so far the scheme is working very well.

It would be remiss of me to end this article without congratulating Gaby Weyer for her performance in the WTP event at Kartmasters. She is certainly the first female Cadet driver to sport a GP plate and so far as I can remember no woman has won any of the other classes in this prestigious event, either. Congratulations, also, to nine year old Thomas Turner who became the youngest winner of a WTP Little Green Man round when he took 1st place at Buckmore Park.

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“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

There’s a lot of discussion taking place amongst parents of Bambino drivers right now. It’s focused mainly on motors that are allegedly “illegal”. There’s even talk in some circles about tyre softener being used to enhance performance, although it’s debatable whether achieving more grip on these karts would actually improve lap times. There’s nothing new here as charges of unfair practice are commonplace in just about every branch of motorsport. In the case of Bambinos, though, they’ve become more potent because there are no clear regulations for parents and organisers to follow.

There’s a school of thought that the Bambino class should be non competitive, serving as an enjoyable training ground for future cadet participants. In that case any regulation should be as light as possible. Understandably, though, there’s a desire amongst many drivers and their parents to introduce some level of competition. With only one or two exceptions, Bambino events take place at meetings outside MSA control. That situation is entirely of the MSA’s own making. It’s surely time for them to consult with all interested parties and determine a future direction with or without the need for strict regulation.

“The class has also produced a number of talented females”.

Ten years after its introduction into Britain, he tide hasn’t ebbed just yet for WTP racing. When production of the motors ceased in 2009 I believed that this class would wither away shortly afterwards. I’m delighted to have been proved wrong on that particular score. Many notable champions have emerged from WTP and one or two might even make it into the exalted world of F1. The class has also produced a number of talented female drivers, of which Hannah Pym, Gaby Weyer, Louise Richardson and Pippa Coleman are obvious examples.

In her first full season of competitive karting Bryony King has already shown signs that she can join this select group. “Bryony’s 15 year old brother Macaulay has been involved in schoolboy Motocross since the age of eight, but she always wanted to take up karting,” says her dad, Alan. “We had a few holidays where she attempted to get in a kart but was always too small. Then early last year we went to a circuit at Chippenham where she took everyone by surprise with her speed and control. On our return home I knew that I’d have to buy her a kart and found a BRM/WTP on e-bay. We took it to PF where I discovered that the motor was an old B1 type and wouldn’t really be competitive. I bought a B5 motor for her and she used this to pass her ARKS test.

“The target is a top ten place which might be over- ambitious but you may as well aim high.”

Five wins as a novice was proof of Bryony’s potential and Mike Mills suggested that she should enter the Little Green Man Championships for 2011. “We were still pretty green at that stage,” Alan confesses, “but Bryony was quite keen on the idea and so we decided to give it a try. The target this year is a top ten place which might be over ambitious but you may as well aim high. Her speed is very good and she’s often been able to match the race winners’ lap times. Whereas the top drivers have been karting for quite a number of years, Bryony just has 12 months experience behind her and at this level the lack of race-craft is quite telling.”

Bryony lives in Ely where Hereward the Wake led a stubborn resistance to William the Conqueror’s army. She’s already proved to be something of a fighter herself and has attained a purple belt in Karate. An avid fan of Lewis Hamilton she aspires to be a full time racing driver eventually. Apart from the obvious support of dad, she also receives lots of encouragement from her mum, Mandy, while Macaulay is often on hand to offer racing tips. Kato Adams from JM Racing has also been providing advice on chassis set-up and she reports that her RK kart is handling very well indeed.

Bryony King’s tide appears to be coming in and you can bet that she’ll take it at the flood.