Tag Archives: dave bewley

A look at the Wombwell circuit

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They were about to start the most important race of their lives. Cameras flashed in unison and members of the world’s press made hasty notes. 10 seconds later it was all over and Wilma Rudolph from Tennessee had established her place in history as the world’s fastest woman. The venue was Rome 46 years ago. Rudolph had just won her third gold medal of the Olympic Games. Finishing mere fractions behind to claim Silver was a young athlete from Yorkshire who had earlier taken Bronze in the 200m sprint. Back home in Cudworth near Barnsley, she was given a rousing reception from local residents who immediately organised collections so that her remarkable achievements could be properly commemorated. The Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Cudworth was built within 12 months and the organisers were able to find sufficient funds for another one at neighbouring Wombwell. A kart circuit had already been in operation there for two years and this became incorporated into the new stadium. With this sudden injection of cash, South Yorkshire Kart Club was able to make improvements to their existing circuit and it soon became one of Britain’s top karting venues.

“We ceased to be known as the Dorothy Hyman Stadium more than 25 years ago,” points out Brian Lord, a long standing official at the circuit. “Back in the seventies, the athletics track started to look a bit tatty and Dorothy no longer wanted her name associated with it. We keep asking for our entry in the yearbook to be altered but it’s still listed under the old title  It can be a bit confusing for visiting karters as they keep getting directed several miles away to the stadium at Cudworth that still bears Dorothy’s name. In its heyday, the complex was used by 16 different sporting organisations ranging from pigeon fanciers to a soccer club and ourselves. Originally, a charitable trust known as the Wombwell and Darfield Sports Association was established to hold everything together but this actually went into liquidation several years ago. It was in the club’s interests to revive this charity but we’ve had to fight off a takeover bid from people whose sympathies certainly didn’t lean towards karting. Because of the way things were originally set up, there’s been a legal minefield to negotiate and we forked out over £30,000 in court costs before finally winning our case.”

This fight for survival wasn’t a totally new phenomenon at Wombwell. Back in 1982, the circuit was actually closed down under a Local Authority Enforcement Order. South Yorkshire Kart Club decided to fight the local council in court and fortunately won this particular battle.  However, to appease churchgoers, a court order prevented karts from running before 11.30am on Sundays and also imposed a 6pm curfew. Within 6 months of this court order being made, the church was actually closed down but unfortunately the restrictions have remained in place for more than 24 years. This imposition made it extremely difficult for Wombwell to attract major championship events and for quite some time the club’s fortunes suffered a reversal. “Even today, we’re not very well known amongst the karting fraternity,” Brian confesses. “Just a few months ago, I asked a regular at PF about taking part in one of our meetings and he’d never even heard of the place. The worrying thing is that he lives just 20 miles away in Sheffield.”

Brian first became acquainted with the Wombwell circuit 40 years ago when he was competing himself and also running a team of junior drivers from the BluecoatComprehensiveSchool at Oldham. The team raced mainly at 6 different circuits, Chasewater, Ternhill, Flookburgh, Rowrah, Burtonwood and their nearest venue Wombwell. He joined the SYKC committee in 1983, becoming chairman 10 years later. I asked him how a red rose Lancashire man from Oldham could become head of this dyed in the wool Yorkshire outfit. “Well, I admit that it might seem a bit odd,” he acknowledges. “Actually, the whole family got involved eventually. My wife Pat acted as club secretary whilst my daughter Val was the competitions secretary until recently.  Val can also fill in for me as Clerk of the Course although now that Martin Bean is doing the job of Deputy this might not prove to be necessary all that often. Personally, I don’t believe it’s  very healthy when things are run by one family, so we’ve deliberately tried to step back in recent years. The club itself is run by a committee of 30 members and they’re elected in groups of ten each year. Alf Limer is now the chairman and Donna Baines took over as club secretary. About 9 months ago Julie Hambleton replaced Val as competitions secretary. A second body, known as South Yorkshire Kart Club Ltd is the registered owner of Wombwell Stadium. It consists of 6 Directors and I’m currently the chairman.”

Steve Clayton and Brian Lord are the longest serving club members at Wombwell. A photograph in race control, probably dating from 1961, shows two other well known competitors Barry Maskell and Tony Dean. Both John and Roger Mills were also prominent members together with Paul Fletcher and his father George. 25 years ago, Paul loaned the club £10,000 allowing a complete resurfacing job to be undertaken. Steelworks slag formed the basis of a recipe that Paul would borrow for his own circuit at PF a decade later. Paul Fletcher and Roger Mills were obviously big names in karting during the sixties and seventies. Many other top drivers would race regularly here in the susucceding years, including F1 stars David Coulthard and Justin Wilson. Another Wilso who became closely associated with the club was six times world champion Mike. Every year, a special meeting dedicated to the memory of Mike’s father Brian is held at Wombwell. This year, the event attracted over 150 entrants and Mike flew over especially from his Italian home to present the prizes.

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An RAC registration document dating back to 1959 indicates that Wombwell is probably the oldest British circuit still in existence. It’s certainly the only MSA registered kart track to run “opposite way on”. This has nothing to do with the Dorothy Hyman athletics connection or even the fact that it was originally built on an old Speedway track. I’ve always understood that the change in direction came about after a Class 4 competitor was tragically killed more than 40 years ago. Brian disagrees with me on this one. “We were definitely running in the conventional clockwise direction when I first started racing here back in 1966,” he claims. “I don’t think this altered until the straight was extended around 1968 or 69. Unfortunately, the club wasn’t very good at documenting things back then and I carry a lot of information in my head. Some people think that running anti-clockwise with a predominance of left hand bends will adversely affect speed, but that’s not true at all. Since we had the track resurfaced recently, lap times have fallen in most classes by a full second. In Rotax, for example, the average lap time is over 4mph faster than Wigan’s Three Sisters, yet that particular circuit is generally regarded as one of Britain’s quickest.”

Any mention of hazardous conditions at Wombwell draws a fierce response from Brian. “It makes me mad when I hear people making these comments,” he retorts. “I actually believe that we’ve got one of the best safety records in Britain. We’re certainly one of the few circuits to fully comply with current MSA regulations regarding the bolting or banding of all tyres and a lot of cash has been spent on other safety measures. For example, the run offs are now all tarmac. At one time the MSA insisted that these had to be gravel and it caused all sorts of problems. The Schumacher incident at Silverstone forced a rethink about gravel traps and we were allowed to go ahead with our plans 5 years ago. You hear a lot of people talking about the famous Wombwell wall that’s supposed to claim so many casualties but, in over 40 years, I can’t remember this ever causing a serious accident. We once had a driver sustaining a fractured skull but, apart from that one isolated incident, I can’t think of any accident during my time that’s had serious consequences.”

Sometimes our words can return to haunt us. Two hours after Brian made this statement, a Senior Rotax competitor careered off into the wall. Apart from displacing several bricks, her kart was badly damaged and she ended up in hospital. This incident rather put the dampeners on what had otherwise been an excellent day’s racing. However, it was the sort of accident that happens at every circuit no matter what safety precautions are in place. Without studying the statistics, I couldn’t comment on whether or not Wombwell is one of Britain’s safest circuits. It certainly appeared to be one of the friendliest I’ve ever visited. “We like to think of ourselves as a family friendly club,” explains Julie Hambleton. “Every competitor is presented with a little gift when signing on. It’s usually just something small like a key-ring, but we try to theme these gifts according to the time of year. In April, we gave out Easter Eggs and in February it was a red rose to commemorate Valentine’s Day. It’s our way of telling club members and visitors that we appreciate their support.”

There are some visitors to the stadium whose patronage isn’t appreciated. Owners of mini-motor bikes are able to lift their machines over the fence and regularly hold unofficial races much to the annoyance of local residents. Even less welcome are the thieves and vandals who continue to break in even though almost everything of value is now stored elsewhere. Fortunately, these unwelcome guests are greatly outnumbered by paying customers making use of Wombwell’s excellent facilities. “We averaged over 100 entries at each of our meetings last year and the figures have increased this season,” says Julie. “We’d like to attract one or more major championship events next year if possible, but our priority is still to look after the regular clientele. We’ve never been what you’d call a really big club, but I think there can be advantages in remaining small and friendly. The fees we impose are realistic and compare favourably with any other club. Our members pay £35 for their race entry and £25 on a test day. For any non member the entry fee £42 and a day’s testing will cost him £30. Club membership costs £40. Our son Connor races here every month and we’ve always found it good value for money so when the club asked me to take over as competitions secretary last October I couldn’t really refuse.”

The money raised from membership and race entry fees has certainly been well spent. Brian Lord estimates that improvements made over the last 5 years have cost in excess of £130,000. These include £50,000 for drainage and resurfacing, £25,000 towards installing mains electricity, £15,000 on a lap timing system and £20,000 to build new toilet facilities. With more improvements planned for next year, Wombwell is rapidly establishing itself once again as a major karting venue. I went down there for the WTP Little Green Man round in June and I’m ashamed to say that 26 years had elapsed since my previous visit. Back then, Wombwell was a typical coal mining town surrounded by many famous Yorkshire collieries. Several changes had taken place, including a one way traffic system that had me approaching the stadium from the wrong direction. Running opposite way on seems to be par for the course down in these parts. You might expect that a circuit consisting of predominantly left hand bends would require totally different kart settings. In fact, there seems no difference at all in chassis set up here compared to conventional tracks. After winning the British Championships here in 1972, Mickey Allen was asked what he thought about racing anti clockwise. “I hadn’t noticed that we were” Mickey responded.

Left handed or not, Wombwell now appears to be moving in a forward direction and that’s good news for the sport itself. One thing I noticed hadn’t altered here is the relaxed atmosphere that makes racing an enjoyable experience for all concerned. I certainly won’t be waiting another 26 years before coming back and it’s a pity Dorothy Hyman herself couldn’t be encouraged to pay a return visit. Maybe then she’d regret asking for her name to be removed from above the main entrance all those years ago.

What price can be placed on an MSA British crown?

Kiern JewissThe answer, apparently, is “not very much!” At one time entrants in every recognised class could compete for this honour. Today, apart from 250cc Superkarts run on full size motor racing circuits, only winners of the S1 championships in IAME Cadets or KZ1 can legitimately claim to be MSA British Champions. You might think that such a restriction would make the prize even more valuable. The truth is, however, that interest has been waning for several years and many of our top stars prefer to compete in the German or Italian domestic championships instead.

I’d argue that part of the blame can be laid at the CIK’s doorstep. Six years ago this august body replaced 100cc classes with the disastrous KF versions. Wild predictions were made that these would very quickly replace Rotax categories in terms of popularity. The reality proved to be very different. KF1 was supposed to be karting’s premier class. Just over two years after being introduced, it attracted such a feeble entry at S1 level that the 2010 Championships had to be cut short. Three years later, the same fate befell KF2, but at least we still had a double figure entry in the Junior category. Sadly, even this class has fallen by the wayside in 2014. It means that, for the first time in 48 years, there won’t be a British Junior Champion.

They’ve been flogging horses that, if not actually dead, are well past the stage of active life

If the CIK has to bear some responsibility for this state of affairs then the MSA is also culpable. For understandable reasons, demarcation lines have been drawn between commercial categories such as Rotax,TKM, KGP etc and their own MSA classes. However, with the notable exception of IAME Cadet, our friends at Motor Sports House must surely realise they’ve been flogging horses that, if not actually dead, are well past the stage of active life. It was clear several years ago that British titles should have been awarded to Rotax classes. The fact that they weren’t has stripped them of any meaningful value.

This year’s MSA S1 opener at Shenington attracted just 106 entrants. Half of these were actually racing in commercial categories, leaving just 53 British Championship contenders. It’s more than likely that this number will steadily decrease as the season progresses. Shenington is centrally located and has always proved to be one of the most popular venues. At an ordinary club meeting held there a fortnight earlier, 211 drivers turned out. This could pose quite a dilemma in future. If leading clubs such as Shenington and Trent Valley can make more money staging their own meetings, you could find that John Hoyle has to rely increasingly on less popular venues for the S1 Championships. Thus our cherished British titles will be devalued even further. As it is, the MSA is losing quite a bit of revenue. Currently there’s a £90 surcharge imposed upon every entrant for the British Championships (£15 per round), so you’d think that there would be some incentive to attract more customers.

There is, of course, a valid counter argument. The sudden popularity of IAME cadet can be ascribed, almost entirely, to its recognition as the official British Championship class. Comers, on the other hand, have just about faded into oblivion simply through losing this status. Yet, even here the message is a mixed one. With a British title at stake less than 40 cadets have entered S1. Conversely, the Little Green Man Series doesn’t offer any officially recognised title, not even an ABkC one, yet registrations for this competition are in excess of 90 this year. The reason for its popularity is largely down to cost.

Registering for the Little Green Man and entering all eight rounds will set you back £1245. Add two sets of tyres, which are all that anyone is allowed for the entire Series, and you have a total outlay of £1540. That’s around £1,000 cheaper than S1. The savings don’t just end there, however. Abolishing Friday practice is a big plus point for many parents. It means that they are taking less time off work, to say nothing of their kids’ schooling. Less expenditure on things like tyres, engine wear, accommodation costs and, in many cases, mechanics’ fees is also a powerful factor. In addition, Mike Mills has worked extremely hard over the last 12 years to make these championships customer friendly. With no less than 18 trophies handed out at every round last year you didn’t need a top three finishing place to feel that bit special.

Today the main consideration is money and that’s not good for any sport.

If the MSA is serious about enhancing the value of British titles then it could always draw upon past experience. 50 years ago the idea of an eight round competition was abandoned in favour of deciding everything over a single weekend at Shenington. Six classes were contested, with competitors in the more popular categories qualifying via regional championships. Apart from 1966, when the championships were run over three rounds, this format was successfully adopted for the next thirty years. Back then ability and self confidence were the only factors deterring anyone from taking part. Today, the main consideration is money and that’s not good for any sport. I believe that we should look once more at running the championships over a single weekend, even if it’s only on a trial basis. It wouldn’t mean the end of S1 because there’ll always be a demand for professionally run championships based over multiple rounds.

I’d award British titles to the winners of every class but, for simplicity’s sake, the concept of an outright champion could be revived. This would be decided on total points scored from Heats and Finals. Only eight individuals, Tony Sissons, Bobby Alderdyce, George Bloom, Chris Lambert, Chris Merlin, Mickey Allen, Dave Ferris and Stephen South have ever claimed this accolade. There seems to be no justifiable reason why we can’t bring it back once again.

 

Do you agree that British kart titles have been devalued?

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The Cadet Karting Column: September 2013

Written By: Dave Bewley
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MSA British Cadet Championship and the FKS Championship for Mini Max and Junior Max.

Karting at the top level has never been exactly cheap, but for some parents it might be about to get a bit more expensive.

Starting from next month, school heads will no longer be able to use their discretion in allowing children time off school. Fines of £60 will be levied against parents whose kids are absent for one or more days. These fines are per absence and remain the same irrespective of whether one or ten days might be involved. If not paid within 21 days, the fine is doubled. Only in “exceptional circumstances” can any absence for reasons other than sickness be allowed without incurring the penalty.

As I write, government sources have so far failed to define exactly what these exceptional circumstances might be. Head-teachers are expecting further clarification from Michael Gove’s department when the new term starts in September. Until then it remains unclear whether sporting activities, particularly those not normally practised within school, will be classed as exceptional. Further pressure is being applied by Ofsted’s insistence upon maintaining a minimum attendance level of 95%.

The aim is to crack down on parents who remove children from school during term time so that family holidays can be taken at cheaper rates. In many cases it might be worth stumping up the sixty quid to get a cheap deal on your holidays. Other parents might even claim a mysterious illness that lasts around ten days and recurs approximately every 12 months. It would be stretching things a bit for karting families to feign similar afflictions occurring mainly on Fridays.

All this, admittedly, is based on a rather pessimistic outlook. It’s quite possible, perhaps even probable, that Mr Gove will actually recognise sporting activities as falling under the heading of “exceptional circumstances”. Even if that happens though, a spotlight has now been thrown on authorised school absences. I believe some parents will discover that previously co-operative teachers suddenly become very reluctant to sanction a Friday off for karting purposes, especially when such requests are being made on a regular basis.

This could have implications for some kart clubs and championship series such as Super One. I’ve often questioned the real value of holding practice sessions on Fridays, apart from boosting income for kart traders, tyre manufacturers and team owners. “It’s the competitors themselves who demand more practice time,” is a cry that comes from one or two club officials. That may be true, but around 80-90% of these drivers are still under working age and therefore won’t be picking up the tab.

One thing I liked about Formula Kart Stars and its predecessors was that, during term time at least, Carolynn Hoy insisted upon running two rather than three-day meetings. The Little Green Man series has never allowed contenders to participate in Friday practice sessions and most parents I’ve spoken to are quite relieved that this restriction applies. Apart from saving on accommodation costs, practice fees and possibly spare parts, this little stipulation also keeps members of the education profession happy. I’m certainly no fan of Michael Gove, but if his directive results in some common sense being injected into karting then I could become a supporter. On second thoughts, maybe not!

The Cadet Karting Column: August 2013

Written By: Dave Bewley

As an 8 year-old I would often do some “number spotting”. Like just about every youngster in Britain at that time, my friends and I would sit on a wall for several hours writing down car number plates in our little notebooks. The more serious spotters amongst us would also note the car model and categorise each number accordingly. It was a thoroughly useless pastime and I’ve no idea why we bothered in the first place.

In Cadet racing, number spotting has taken on an entirely new meaning. At club meetings and championship events, competitors are coming off the circuit with black spots showing on their front numbers. It’s a sure sign that they’ve been following someone using Cool Power oil. This is an American import, designed for use in 4-stroke engines such as the Honda GX160. Although it’s perfectly legal in Honda Cadets, the same doesn’t apply to either Comer or IAME categories.

One thing about 4-stroke motors is that they pull relatively low revs compared against a 2-stroke. The GX160, for example, produces a maximum of 5,500rpm whereas an IAME Gazelle is happy pulling 13,000. More importantly, 4-stroke engine oils aren’t designed to be burned. When used in a 2-stroke mixture there will inevitably be problems with emissions. There are suggestions that any 2-stroke motor run on Cool Power oil will have a greatly shortened life.

So why are some IAME and Comer competitors now using Cool Power oil knowing that they risk exclusion as well as damage to their engines? The answer is that it can allegedly knock up to 0.3s off your lap time. In a race lasting for 15 laps, this translates into an advantage of more than 150 metres. I can think of some parents who would happily take out a second mortgage to provide their kids with such a head start over their opponents.

Throughout karting’s long history, rumours have abounded about this or that product giving competitors better performance whether legitimately or otherwise. Such advantages are usually heavily exaggerated and quite often don’t exist at all. Every new chassis homologated is claimed to be at least a couple of tenths quicker than its predecessor. If such claims were all true then we’d be seeing sub zero lap times at many circuits today. So far as Cool Power oil is concerned however, I’m afraid that the rumours appear to be fully justified.

Force Motorsport’s John Davies informs me that, a couple of years ago, tests were carried out at Shenington with several Comer drivers participating. An MSA representative was present and he came back quite convinced that motors running on this oil were at least 0.25s per lap quicker than others using a normal mix. There is no reason to suppose that IAME motors would return radically different results. So, why wasn’t any action taken back then? The problem for our governing body was that, at the time, there didn’t appear to be any available method of testing against this oil. That has now changed, although, at 90 minutes per sample, the test is quite lengthy and therefore expensive. Even so, if appropriate penalties for non-compliance were applied, the possibility of such tests being carried out should serve as a deterrent.

During practice for last month’s Little Green Man round at PF, John noticed the tell tale spots appearing on quite a few Cadet karts and these manifested themselves once again in Sunday’s heats. This prompted Mike Mills into making a snap decision. He ordered that the front three qualifiers would run on a mix of Shell M fuel administered under Parc Ferme conditions. It was also announced that the top ten qualifiers at Glan Y Gors would face a similar imposition. It’s hoped that such a policy, together with random sampling, has alleviated the problem, at least so far as Little Green Man rounds are concerned.

Many great champions, Jack Harvey, Jordon Lennox-Lamb, George Russell, Ben Barnicoat and Matthew Graham to name but a few originally forged their reputations in the Little Green Man series. However, even the most blinkered LGM supporter would have to admit that this competition can’t match Super 1 in terms of actual prestige. Ultimately, the series can only attract participants in great numbers by offering a total package that is substantially cheaper than its main rival.

Apart from significantly lower entry fees, LGM competitors have always benefitted from a rule which restricts everyone to one set of slicks and wets for the entire championships. Provided all the tyres are of equal quality it’s a great way of keeping down costs. Things almost came unstuck at Larkhall when significant discrepancies in the slicks were discovered. Thankfully this problem was immediately corrected. Another issue raised its head at Rowrah, this time in relation to wets, several teams reporting that some of their drivers had been issued with better tyres than others. After receiving assurances from Dunlop, Mike Mills took the view that such differences were down to perception rather than reality. However, he recognised that perceived injustices can be just as damaging as the real thing. He therefore proposed a slight relaxation of the rule that would allow competitors to opt for a second set of wets should they wish.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that these discrepancies actually do exist, but a majority of Little Green Man contenders disagreed. At a specially convened meeting LGM participants voted overwhelmingly to leave the rule unchanged. That’s democracy in action and who am I to argue against it?

“I can think of some parents who would happily take out a second mortgage to provide their kids with such a head start over their opponents.”

“An MSA representative was present and he came back quite convinced that motors running on this oil were at least 0.25s per lap quicker than others using a normal mix.”

The Cadet Karting Column: July 2013

Written By: Dave Bewley

Many readers will already be familiar with the story of a railway clerk from Stevenage who bought his six-year-old son a secondhand kart for Christmas. What followed some years later was an association with McLaren that would eventually produce F1’s first ever world champion of mixed race.

By taking on several additional part time jobs, including the delivery of telephone directories, Anthony Hamilton was able to finance his son’s early racing activities at Rye House. Lewis very quickly proved to be an exceptionally talented driver and he soon caught the eye of Martin Hines from Zip Kart. Martin was willing to provide equipment at cost price, while Anthony sought financial support from various sponsors including Playscape, Pi Research and Joe Bloggs.
Rags to riches stories always make for good press and, occasionally, celebrities have exaggerated their humble origins. In Lewis Hamilton’s case however there can be no doubt that he did indeed come from a very modest working class home with parents who struggled to support his karting activities. His meteoric rise through the motor racing ranks has served as an inspiration for many others. Anthony deserves much credit for his determination and dogged pursuit of potential sponsors. However, none of it would have been possible without the raw talent which Lewis demonstrated at a very early stage.

It’s pertinent to ask whether someone such as Lewis could make an equivalent impact 20 years down the line. I’m not at all convinced that this would be possible on today’s karting scene, at least not through conventional MSA channels. Back in 1993, when Lewis made his karting debut, most of his rivals would have been operating from the back of their vans or perhaps sheltered in small awnings. Apart from the Martin Hines run “Young Guns” outfit there were very few teams to be seen even at national level. Move the clock forward to this year’s Super One championships and you find that less than 10% of IAME Cadets are actually competing as privateers. In all honesty, none of them stand a realistic chance of becoming British Champion in 2013.

Teams with half a dozen or more drivers running in the same class are able to compare settings and can therefore react much quicker to changing circumstances than those operating on a smaller scale. In prolonged championship competitions such as Super One, that’s a sizeable advantage by itself. The successful team owner will undoubtedly be able to draw upon years of experience so that any “lad and dad” combination has a significant handicap to overcome. Lewis Hamilton didn’t win his first British kart title with just his dad to help out. By that stage he was being supported by Martin Hines and the Zip Young Guns team. Within another couple of years he’d added McLaren to his list of supporters and, without their backing, may well have faded into obscurity.

I’m sure that most team bosses would be delighted to “find” another Lewis Hamilton, but their primary objective is to make a living for themselves. Big teams mean big money, and most of today’s top Cadets are running on annual budgets in excess of a year’s wages for the average working man. Many years ago, Nigel Mansell sold the family home and moved into a caravan to finance his motor racing career. By that stage he was already an established racing driver with many years of success at karting and Formula Ford behind him. How many working class parents would demonstrate a similar degree of belief in their untested eight-year-old kids and for how long could it be sustained?

Ten years ago every single competitor in the Little Green Man championships raced as a privateer. In 2004 Robert Campbell entered the competition and his uncle Rory bought lots of equipment, including an awning for him to run out of. A few months later Robert decided that karting wasn’t really his thing but by that stage Rory had become immersed in the sport. Rather than sell all the equipment at a significant loss, Rory opted to set up his own team known as Race Craft, focusing exclusively on WTP events. He signed up several top drivers including Jordon Lennox-Lamb who, by that time, was well on his way to winning the LGM title. For 2005 Rory ran Max Goff and Ashley Bibby who duly captured 1st and 2nd places in the championships.

Following Rory’s example, one or two other teams then started to appear in Little Green Man rounds, but they remained relatively small scale outfits. Once the motors changed from WTP to IAME it was inevitable that the bigger teams would become involved. They have undoubtedly brought more credibility and added glamour to these championships, as well as extra revenue through increased entries. It’s equally true that the championships would be badly diminished should privately run individuals decide to stay away.

LGM organiser Mike Mills is acutely aware that it’s important to strike a balance between the interests of teams and privateers. That’s why, at each round, he has introduced prizes for the top three finishers who are operating independently. There will also be separate awards for them at the year end. So far as I’m aware, no other major championship attempts to make such a distinction. It’s hoped that next year there will be sufficient entries to justify running separate finals for team members and privateers, but right now such an arrangement wouldn’t be practicable. What should be easily achievable is to elevate the status of privateer award winners. For example, there was some comment at both the Larkhall and Rowrah events that privateers weren’t allocated places on the winners’ rostrum. Hopefully this omission will have already been remedied at the PF and Glan Y Gors rounds.

Whether we like it or not, teams have become an integral part of today’s karting scene and the Little Green Man championships aren’t immune from such infiltration. Almost a thousand years have elapsed since King Canute famously demonstrated that not even royalty can turn back the tide. You can, however, alter its speed and direction occasionally. I believe that Mike Mills is trying to do exactly that. We ought to commend him for his efforts and hope that he doesn’t get wet feet in the process.

The Cadet Karting Column: June 2013

Written By: Dave Bewley
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“The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” so wrote Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. I was reminded of this quote whilst recently visiting the Three Sisters circuit where a sizeable grid of Comers had been amassed.

A significant number of Comer entrants at this meeting had no doubt turned up to prepare for the S1 round in April. Nevertheless, they produced some great racing all day and anyone believing that the class was as good as dead may have had to revise their opinions. Elsewhere, Comers have reached double figures at Rowrah, Hooton Park, Dunkeswell, Shenington and Rissington. It’s not all good news however. In the first two meetings at PF this year, Comer entries were insufficient to form a grid and only nine turned up for the April meeting.

There has been a respectable Comer grid in S1. However, closer analysis reveals that more than half of the 22 drivers who showed up for round 1 are also entered in both the IAME S1 and Little Green Man competitions racing with the big teams. Rumours abounded beforehand that these teams were considering pulling out, a development that would certainly have decimated entries. As it happened, all the major teams turned out but there is certainly a large question mark hanging over next year’s competition. I couldn’t find a single person at Three Sisters expressing any confidence that the class would be part of S1 in 2014.

It’s certainly possible for a class to survive and even thrive without being run at S1 level. It’s only in the last few years, for example, that Honda Cadets were incorporated into this series but they’ve been gaining strength over a long period of time. WTP motors never achieved S1 recognition of course, yet the class was able to keep going for 11 years, running especially strongly at venues like Wombwell, PF and Fulbeck. It was almost certainly the Little Green Man championships that sustained WTP for so many years and, if I was employed by Zip Kart, I’d be looking at something similar for Comers, possibly in association with the NKF or some other such organisation.

Talking about the Little Green Man, I felt mightily relieved when the opening round at Larkhall was done and dusted. No doubt the sigh of relief from Mike Mills’ awning was even more audible. It sounds rather churlish to suggest that a turnout of 45 competitors was disappointing, but at one time registrations for this competition had exceeded 70 and I, for one, expected that we’d be running ‘C’ finals at some rounds. The reasons behind this exodus were varied. Ironically one or two withdrew their entries precisely because the championships had grown much bigger than they’d expected and the idea of such large grids didn’t appeal to them. Others were scared off by the appearance of big teams believing, possibly with some justification, that they would cause the “fun” element characteristic of previous LGM championships to be lost.

Another, more potent reason was that a number of drivers had overcommitted and suddenly realised the demands imposed by racing in too many championship rounds. Mike Mills had originally required a deposit of just £50 to register for the series. It seemed like a good idea and certainly paid off during the WTP days. This year though it may have had consequences that no-one imagined. Before turning so much as a wheel in S1, competitors must fork out around £1700. The psychology was simple. Faced with a choice of forfeiting such a large sum, or losing less than 3% of that figure, it should come as no surprise that quite a few opted for the latter.

Ever since its inception, one particular LGM rule has remained constant. Competitors are required to complete the entire series on just one set each of slicks and wets. It’s a policy that has saved families many hundreds of pounds throughout the year and is also environmentally friendly. Of course, such a regulation makes it absolutely imperative that everyone is racing on identical rubber. In previous years there have been no real problems associated with Dunlops, but, to avoid any complaints JM Racing insisted that all tyres would have to be from the same batch. During Saturday’s practice session at Larkhall it became apparent that, although the batch numbers corresponded, there were two distinct types of marking. Furthermore, one type was over a full second per lap quicker than the other.

Robert Haynes had been appointed as a Little Green Man ambassador to sort out problems before they grew into major headaches. Those who believed that they’d been allocated the “wrong” set of tyres lost no time in bending his ear. A meeting took place between Robert and championship organiser Mike Mills with the LGM Series Scrutineer Gary Walker also in attendance.

They discovered that, by drawing from spare stocks, there were sufficient numbers of the slower type available for every competitor. “Our second option was to allow a ‘free’ choice of tyre for this meeting only and sort everything out for the remaining seven rounds,” explained Robert. “Clearly that wouldn’t have been an ideal solution, but we certainly couldn’t have people racing under such a huge disadvantage. As it happened we were able to resolve the problem in a way that kept everyone happy.”

Less happy, I suspect, will be the average club competitor who forks out £150 for a set of brand new slicks only to find that they’re considerably slower than the old worn out ones that have just been consigned to the waste bin. Customers shouldn’t need to be experts at deciphering codes before making a purchase. They are paying out large amounts for “racing” tyres and the product ought to be capable of doing exactly that. In fairness to the importer, Anderson-CSK, I’m sure that they acted in good faith believing the tyres were of an equal quality. Now that they are fully aware of the problem, I hope they’ll be having urgent discussions with the manufacturer to ensure it gets sorted out before further damage is done.

“One type was over a full second per lap quicker than the other.”

The Cadet Karting Column: May 2013

Written By: Dave Bewley

Sam Jenkins_2353

More than half a millennium has elapsed since Richard III became the last English king to die in battle, yet he is still causing great controversy. After his skeletal remains were formally verified in February this year, it’s become a bone of contention between the people of Leicester and York as to which city has a rightful claim over them.

Much to my surprise, the majestic York Minster has lost out and Richard’s remains will be given a “simple but dignified” burial in Leicester Cathedral. Bosworth Field, where he drew his last few agonised breaths, is nearby. According to Shakespeare his final words were, “An ‘orse, an ‘orse, me kingdom for an ‘orse!” (Historians claim that he spoke with a distinctive Yorkshire accent, though it beats me how they can be so certain when no tape recordings of the royal voice were ever made).

528 years down the line, horses are still at a premium, although in karting circles we’re usually talking about additional brake horse power rather than our equestrian friends. By all accounts there could be several British Championship contenders prepared to offer a king’s ransom merely for a decent starting cord. The new Parilla Gazelle motor from IAME that’s now being used in Cadets has performed remarkably well so far, with just one small problem emerging. This engine originally appeared in TAG format but the MSA preferred a cheaper recoil starter. This has resulted in some drivers being left sitting stationary on the starting grid with their mechanics helplessly holding a useless piece of string.

It’s important to keep things in perspective. By all accounts the motors are very well made with no obvious inequalities emerging so far. Paradoxically, it’s the absence of any major faults that has resulted in so much attention being focused on this one area where a known weakness exists. Part of the problem can be attributed to a heavy-handed user. There’s no doubt that someone yanking the cord and taking it right to its limit will be more likely to experience difficulties. However, it’s also true that the Parilla has much higher compression than you’ll find with Comer or even WTP motors and so it requires a stronger recoil starter. The original one has been beefed up and, as a result, there’s been a significant reduction in cases of detached cords. The people at JM Racing have also carried out tests using longer ropes with improvements made to the clip. Solving the problem completely might require a revamp of the drum and paws.

One solution currently being touted is to seek MSA approval for the original electric start motor to be fitted. Another idea is to use the independent starting “wands” that were a feature of JICA, Yamaha and clutched TKM engines some years ago. That involves drilling a hole in the sidepod and would almost certainly require MSA approval. Neither solution is ideal. Apart from the added expense involved, fitting an onboard electric starter would almost certainly require an increase in weight limits, bringing other complications with it. The outboard starting wand might be OK if used merely as a back-up measure. It’s more likely though that many people would regard this as a first resort rather than a last one. The difficulty there is that heavy usage might result in a broken crank which would be infinitely more expensive to fix than a disconnected starting cord.

Despite concerns expressed some months ago that IAME motors would further dilute Cadet grids, the opposite has actually occurred. At a time of year when cold weather usually deters drivers from showing up, several clubs have already reported record entries in Cadets. At PFI, for example, 67 Parilla powered Cadet machines turned out for the club meeting in February, much higher than any previous record. The meeting in March actually went one better with a turnout of 68. Clearly people have taken a long hard look at this motor and decided that it’s the one for them.

I’ve never been slow to criticise the MSA for decisions that don’t enhance our sport. It’s only fair to praise them on those occasions when they actually get things right. Maintaining the status quo is always an easy option and when it came to a choice between Comer and IAME motors there were many strident voices urging them to do exactly that. I think it took a certain amount of courage to break with the tradition that had existed for 25 years. Their foresight has been rewarded and it looks as though this year’s British Championships for Cadets will be one of the most competitive ever. The Little Green Man series promises to be equally exciting.

So far as IAME drivers are concerned, the championship season begins at Larkhall on April 21st when more than 60 Little Green Man contenders are expected to turn out. Hopefully all their engines will start in every race without any fuss and King Richard’s ‘orse won’t be required.

Some drivers have been left sitting on the starting grid with their mechanics holding a useless piece of string

Maintaining the status quo is always an easy option and there were many strident voices urging them to do exactly that.