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Watching The Pennies – A look at the WTP Cadet scene

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Martin Fox’s collection of WTP B1 engines

With only two rounds remaining, Sam Priest has replaced Cory Stevens as the Little Green Man Championship leader. He seems to be on something of a roll right now and extended his championship lead with a well taken win at Buckmore Park. Sam’s performance has certainly confounded those critics who claimed earlier this year that no-one could possibly get near Cory Stevens and Sean Gee who race together in the John Mills team. In actual fact we’ve seen a very open championship race, with various drivers all capable of producing quick times. Apart from Priest, Stevens and Gee, Alex Stott has found winning form and was just about untouchable at Three Sisters back in May. We’ve seen good performances, too, from Gaby Weyer, Max Stilp, Lewis Brown, Thomas Day and Alex Sedgwick.  The real surprise package, though, has turned out to be 10 year old Shayne Harrison who is producing incredible lap times from his B1 motor. Four years ago, Mike Mills introduced a weight limit of 92 kilograms for B1 users, hoping to “give them a chance” against the faster B5 runners. Now, as he studies Shayne’s times, Mike is feeling somewhat bemused. “Shayne’s speed has taken us all a bit by surprise,” is Mike’s rather understated comment.

The answer might lie in a Middlesex garage not far from Heathrow Airport where ex car mechanic Martin Fox lives with his partner Rachel and three children Casey (5), Kerry (7) and Shayne. It’s there that Martin spends many patient hours testing a batch of B1 motors on his Dynamometer. “We’ve managed to pick up quite a few B1s from different sources and they’re all pretty quick,” says Martin. “Earlier in the year I was able to buy them for £100 each, but they’re now fetching £250 or more on e-bay. I like to think that the sudden increase in price has got something to do with Shayne’s success. When he first expressed an interest in karting, I looked at all the different options and chose WTP because the idea of a thoroughbred race engine, as opposed to industrial motors, appealed to me.  No-one had really tried to compete against the B5s by using a B1 and I found the challenge quite interesting. Shayne is still very light and he can take full advantage of the weight differential, otherwise it wouldn’t work, of course. The B1 is very robust and will happily rev to 15,000 rpm. It means that, at many circuits, we’re running with a 97 tooth sprocket when B5 contenders are relying on 93s.”

Martin is no stranger to karting, having raced successfully in Junior Britain during the early eighties. “I won the Roy Mortara Trophy at Blackbushe but my main claim to fame was having a punch up with Dario Franchitti during a meeting at Clay Pigeon,” he recalls somewhat sheepishly. “My father Peter competed in stock cars for many years and I’ve a brother, Lee, who raced in sidecar events most notably at Cadwell Park. You could say that Shayne has motor-racing in his blood, although we both recognise that he’s at the wrong end of a steep learning curve and has a long way to go right now. All the circuits we’ve visited in the Little Green Man Championships have been completely new to Shayne, apart from Fulbeck where we did a couple of club meetings. He’s also raced once at PF and we will, of course, be returning there for the final round. He was going well at Three Sisters but we later discovered that the throttle wasn’t fully opening. Shayne’s performance in the championships encouraged our youngest daughter Casey to try her hand in a kart but unfortunately she crashed and hasn’t shown a lot of interest since then. Maybe if the Bambinos start picking up we’ll persuade her to have another go.”

Shayne first started racing last year and made sufficient early progress to win the Rye House Club Championships. Whilst attending Kartmania last November Martin visited the BKC stand where his attention was drawn to a BRM kart done out in Brawn GP livery. He promptly bought it as a Christmas present for Shayne. This kart helped him establish a new lap record at Blackbushe in April 2010 and he lowered the quickest time at Tattersall by more than a second. Another lap record came his way during the Little Green Man round at Ellough Park. In a very short period of time he has amassed around 40 trophies and now requires another cabinet to display them all. He attends St Andrews School in Uxbridge and the teachers there are very supportive of his karting activities, encouraging him to talk about the sport in front of his classmates. He doesn’t participate in any other sport apart from karting but enjoys watching F1 races on TV. His favourite driver is Jenson Button and the McLaren factory in Wokingham is just a few miles from his home. Should he ever need to get involved in a tribunal, Motor Sports House is also handily placed, virtually round the corner.

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Shayne Harrison, whose speed has surprised everyone

Ever since an astonishing opening round at Fulbeck, Shayne’s lap times have been the subject of much paddock gossip. “There’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about our B1 engines,” Martin insists. “I have them checked and sealed by John Davies who can verify that they are strictly legal. For someone like myself, with a strong interest in motors, having to get them sealed is rather a nuisance. That’s why I’d like Shayne to move into Junior TKM after cadets as there’s no sealing required. For the time being, though, he’s very happy racing WTPs and we both hope that the class can continue for another year at least.”

Watching The Pennies

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How much to restrict the WTP has been a contentious subject

Ever since Lou Borelli was called in to carry out some modifications on Art Ingels’ West Bend motor in August 1956, engine tuners have laboured long hours to extract that elusive bit of extra power. I hear that Mike Mills has also been burning the candle at both ends in recent months. Perversely though, Mike’s efforts have been spent making the new WTP motors actually go slower! There’s a simple explanation. It’s all to do with an MSA directive that the WTP mustn’t be quicker than a Comer. After fitting various restrictors and even reducing the compression ratio, speeds were reduced until they began to match Comer times. Rigorous back to back tests were carried out and the MSA gave consent for the new motor to begin racing on March 1st. This consent was then rescinded after a practice session at Shenington had apparently shown the WTP to be superior once again. Testing, as any kart competitor will confirm, often produces inaccurate results. The moment of truth always occurs on race day when suddenly everything’s for real. At the time of writing we’ve had just one race meeting, on March 5th, where Comers and WTPs could be accurately compared.

During Saturday’s practice sessions the rumour mill was working overtime. All the WTPs, it was alleged, had been posting times at least a full second per lap quicker than any Comer and the MSA observer expressed concerns about driver safety associated with such high speeds. Sunday’s racing produced a slightly different picture. Only one hundredth of a second separated the two classes in heat 1 followed by 0.09s next time out. Sam Clarence stretched this a bit further in the Final as his quickest lap was 0.17s faster than Max McGuire’s best. Had they been competing together in the same race however, Sam would have actually beaten Max by just 33cm. Instead of settling the argument, this parity of performance has given rise to further debate. There was an allegation that Comer drivers are naturally around half a second per lap quicker than their WTP counterparts and this disguised the real difference in performance. Frankly, this demonstrates a total ignorance of the WTP scene and is an insult to contenders such as Brad Fairhurst, Sam Clarence and Adam Hughes, all of whom were in action at P.F. Last season Max Goff was always on the pace in S1 and Stars events for Comers.

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Lloyd Huggins is hoping to make an impression in the LGM champs

If such a big ability gap really does exist, then Max should have destroyed his WTP opponents. However, he raced in all seven rounds of the Little Green Man championships without once setting fastest time. The reality is that drivers such as Fairhurst, Clarence and Hughes would be at the front of any Cadet class given equal machinery. If their times are virtually identical to Comers, it’s because the motors must be broadly equal. It may well be that, despite all Mike’s efforts, the WTP is very marginally quicker, but why should this really matter when, at most circuits, they’re competing for separate awards anyway? After all, the MSA and ABkC have been perfectly willing to tolerate a much larger power advantage which Comers enjoyed for more than two years. If it’s become so important for Comers to be the quicker class then I have a simple solution. Stick a few more kilos on the minimum weight limit for WTP and let’s have an end to such nonsense. All this uncertainty may well have affected quantity but the Little Green Man series still promises to produce a high quality field. Nine year old Lloyd Huggins is one contender hoping to make a big impression. Based in Hemel Hempstead, he first started showing an interest in karts as a four year old. He had to wait until the age of 7 before his parents Neil and Sarah actually bought him one but he soon showed an aptitude for racing. He took his ARKS test on a WTP in November 2004 and is now the club champion at Rye House in this class.

Not everything went smoothly last year though. Just before Christmas he was involved in a high speed collision on the Hoddesdon circuit that totally destroyed his kart. Fortunately computer supplier Integrated Technology Co Ltd. and GoldArts fine jewellery makers stepped in with sufficient sponsorship to fund the purchase of a brand new Zip chassis. Their faith in Lloyd was rewarded when he took a fine win at Rye House in February this year. Earlier problems in the heats meant he had to fight his way through from the back. It was a performance that showed lots of grit and determination and ought to prepare him well for the championship season ahead. He’s certainly looking forward to taking part in the Little Green Man Championships, especially as the final round takes place at his favourite circuit, Whilton Mill. “I like this track because it’s nice and twisty,” he proclaims. “I get very nervous before a race and always have to put on my clothes in the same order beforehand. I prepare for each race by watching the one before mine. Amongst all my rivals, the one I most respect is a girl called Jasleen Bhogal who is very quick. Apart from karting, I also like ice skating and bowling but motor racing is what I really want to do. I’d like to be driving a T-Car in five years time and then be racing in F3 by the time I’m 20. As we look ahead to the opening Little Green Man round at Warden Law it will be interesting to see what sort of impact young Mr. Huggins can make on this competition.

Dave Bewley

Watching The Pennies

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“Nothing became him in this life so much as the leaving of it!” I can’t remember who first uttered these words, or at whom they were actually aimed, but they could easily apply to the WTP class which, by all accounts, is currently in its death throes. Attending this year’s Little Green Man rounds, you’d never guess that the patient is terminally ill. Despite a slightly reduced entry list, the quality of racing has been very high indeed, reminiscent of those earlier days when over 60 drivers were registered and quite a few others had to be turned away. Six years ago, it looked as though WTP was about to take off big time, but the anticipated lift off never quite happened. It’s unfortunate because a healthy WTP class with reasonably priced motors and low maintenance costs would have brought tremendous benefits to karting in general and cadet racing in particular.  Many former participants have come forward to express their dismay that the engines are no longer being produced. Everyone, it seems, has fond memories of this class and it’s rather like attending a funeral service where no-one wants to speak ill of the dead. It’s nice to be remembered with affection, although personally I’d prefer being intensely disliked but still very much alive.

With three rounds completed four likely candidates for the Little Green Man title have now emerged. Fate dealt a very unkind blow to Alex Stott in Round 2 when his track rod sheared, but he bounced back at Wigan to record an excellent victory. Provided that he doesn’t suffer any further misfortunes Alex should be in with a strong shout at the end. In pole position at this moment is Cory Stevens, but his margin over Sam Priest, the 2nd place contender, can literally be measured in thousandths of a second. At each round, two bonus points are awarded to whoever sets the fastest lap time. At Wigan, Cory’s fastest lap was recorded as 47.862 seconds. Sean Gee, another strongly fancied title contender, set a time of 47.865 seconds. That differential of 0.003 seconds was sufficient for Cory to collect the two extra points and he now leads the championships by just one point. If there’s a closer championship battle anywhere else in karting, I’ve yet to be made aware of it.

Pippa Coleman, Louise Richardson and Hannah Pym are young ladies who have all done very well in previous Little Green Man Championships. Of particular note was Pym’s achievement last year in finishing as the runner up to Matthew Graham. This year another young female has been impressing onlookers with her obvious speed. Less than 12 months after first entering the sport, Gaby Weyer turned quite a few heads at Kimbolton where she finished amongst the top six prize-winners. She comes from a motor racing family and her dad, Mark, used to compete regularly in Radical Sports-car events. However, Liverpool fan Gaby confesses that she used to be more interested in football than motor sport.

“I play soccer for the White Woman Lane U12 team in Norwich,” she says. “I’m also involved in running and particularly like taking part in Cross Country races. My best subject at school is obviously PE. I like watching F1 on television and my favourite driver is Jenson Button. I would never have thought about karting until my younger brother Tom entered the sport. After Tom started, I wanted to have a go myself and we bought an ARC/Comer kart. I swapped it for a Tonykart before my first race. Tom initially ran on a Zip but he’s now on a Tonykart, too. Apart from the Little Green Man, we both run in the Formula Kart Stars Championships. I prefer racing in WTP because it’s less intense and a lot more fun. There’s a lot less contact out on the circuit and I think that people are generally friendlier.”

Up until very recently Gaby ran with RL Racing whereas Tom could be found in Neil Berryman’s Energy Corse team. Last month, however, Mark Weyer decided to set up his own team which, apart from Tom and Gaby, now includes Thomas Day. “Fortunately Jamie Croxford is still acting as my mechanic. He’s very good at setting up my kart and has got lots of karting knowledge,” Gaby points out. “Although we are now racing in the same team I think there’ll still be rivalry between Tom and myself. We raced together in Round 2 of the Formula Kart stars Championships at Whilton Mill where Tom actually beat me. It’s the first time he’s finished ahead of me in a race and I wasn’t very happy about it. I think beating me has improved his confidence but I’ll still be working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again for a long time.”

Whilst racing himself, Jamie Croxford established an enviable reputation both at home and abroad, frequently outshining Europe’s top drivers. “I wouldn’t say that working on karts is quite as good as actually racing them,” he concedes. “Nevertheless, it’s very satisfying to watch Gaby and Tom improving their skills, knowing that I’ve played some part.” Mark also claims that he’s deriving a lot of satisfaction from running his own outfit. Gaby’s mother Andrea confesses that she doesn’t quite share the family passion for motor racing. “If they decided to pack it all in right now, I wouldn’t be at all unhappy, but it doesn’t look as though that’s likely to happen,” she admits. “With a firm shake of the head, Gaby insists “I’m going to be around for quite a while yet!.”.

Watching The Pennies

Anyone who has shivered and struggled through soaking wet race meetings might draw some comfort from the words of Sir Ranulph Fiennes. “There’s no such thing as bad weather,” the intrepid explorer insisted, “only inappropriate clothing.” As a Rowrah regular who has been occasionally caught out wearing a tee shirt in pouring rain, I can see his point. Three months ago, when news of the WTP factory closure first broke, it seemed as if we’d been battered by force 9 gales.

Since first introducing the motor to these shores back in 2001, Mike Mills has weathered quite a few storms and always keeps his oilskins within easy reach. However, he remains optimistic that, on this occasion at least, there’s a rainbow just ahead. He predicts that entries in the 2010 Little Green Man Championships will at least equal last year’s figure and could even exceed it by a comfortable margin.

“It’s true that we aren’t able to get our hands on any new motors, but there’s still a good supply of spares that will see us through 2010 and beyond,” he points out. “Fortunately, it doesn’t look as though many people have been deterred from entering the class and that’s very encouraging. We’ve had a healthy number of enquiries about the forthcoming Little Green Man series and there is actually more interest than at this point last year. I’m certainly very upbeat about the season ahead.” Well, of course, Mike would say that, wouldn’t he? On this occasion, though, there may be good reason to remain optimistic. The Little Green Man has never pretended to be Britain’s most prestigious cadet competition. So long as it awards an official British title each year, Formula Kart Stars will continue to attract our most ambitious young drivers. For the average individual, though, the cost of competing in such a series, even as an also ran, can be prohibitive. Previous Little Green Man winners have also possessed bucketsful of ambition and I have to confess that their talent has usually been accompanied by matching financial resources, allowing them to test or race virtually every weekend.

Time in the seat has always been an important factor and so the playing field is therefore tilted in favour of drivers who can afford to compete in all three major championships. Pretending otherwise would be both foolish and dishonest. However, it’s still possible to achieve good results without spending a small fortune as many WTP contenders have proved already. Equipment costs pale into insignificance compared to the money competitors will spend when running from teams. It would be hard to imagine any Stars or Super One cadet champion emerging without the benefit of team support. Six of the eight Little Green Man champions, though, have won their titles whilst running independently. That’s an important consideration for any prospective contender whose parents have yet to make their first million.

Right now there’s plenty of inexpensive but extremely competitive second hand WTP motors available. I’d like to think that lots of Comer drivers currently running at club level will seize the opportunity and join the Little Green Man ranks. As a further incentive, this column will be awarding £1500 in prizes and my initial plan is to aim them mainly at newcomers. It may not be the most prestigious national championships for cadets but I’d argue that it’s still by far the best one. Last month I wrote about four out of the top six WTP contenders in 2009. Elsewhere in this issue you can read a profile of the current champion, Matthew Graham. Matthew’s mother assures me

Watching The Pennies

When people exhort us to “Say what we mean and mean what we say”, I’m not sure that they actually mean it, if you know what I mean! Anyone who heeds this well worn homily will soon find themselves bereft of friends and could even get into legal difficulties. Social etiquette demands that we “say the right thing” rather than express total honesty. Someone once carried out a survey in which kart competitors were asked whether or not cheating ought to be stamped out. Not surprisingly, the response was 100% in favour. Rather than indicate a determined opposition to all forms of cheating, this merely proved that everyone had given a politically correct answer. One suspects that not even the most blatant of cheats would be daft enough to answer no on this one. Similarly, there’s always been a lot of talk about creating level playing fields in karting, but how many who espouse such views actually mean what they say? Those who spend small fortunes every week testing various items of equipment do so for a reason and it’s got nothing to do with levelling out the playing field. In such an intensely competitive sport, any advantage is hard earned and those who believe they’ve found one will fight like hell to preserve it. Commercial interests, too, will usually come into play. Anything that encourages people to spend more money will usually be supported enthusiatically by members of the kart trade.

In this respect, I’d argue that WTP bucks the trend. JM Racing is actually taking practical steps to create and maintain the level playing field that has proved so elusive in 50 years of karting. This has arisen not so much through purely altruistic motives but rather because it makes commercial sense to do so. People with money to spend in abundance will always opt for the Comer cadet class because it carries the prestige of an officially supported British Championship class.  Ever since its inception, WTP has been aimed at those who haven’t got or don’t wish to spend large budgets. If the class is to survive then it is essential that this policy continues with additional safeguards built in to prevent gradually escalating costs. Stamping the barrel and crankcase is one such safeguard. This prevents anyone from “mixing and matching”, a practice that involves swapping certain parts from different motors so that you finish up with one perfectly balanced (and very expensive) engine. Clearly, such developments could have had a prejudicial effect on the integrity of WTP, but JM’s solution has been both simple and effective.

Even in factories where quality control is extremely high, it’s always possible for a rogue motor to appear. Such an engine will produce better than average performance and can command very high prices. Paradoxically, these motors appear to be at a premium in the “controlled” classes. In my own club, for example, a second hand Rotax is currently being advertised for £5,000 whilst another has just changed hands for £8,000. Such transactions don’t seem to be in accordance with the spirit of this class, but preventing them from taking place isn’t an easy matter. The former editor of this magazine, Alan Burgess, once tried extremely hard to promote a class on the “race and sell” principle where competitors could be forced to part with their equipment immediately after an event took place. It was an ideal way of keeping prices down to sensible levels but, unfortunately, his ideas didn’t find favour with many of those who had been shouting about creating a level playing field. This principle might be resurrected next year in WTP as I understand that the Little Green Man championship organiser are considering making at least part of their competition open to drivers who have hired motors from a pool selected at random.

A simpler and perhaps more effective method of controlling second hand costs was slipped through earlier this year. Purchasers of B1 motors have always owned the log books but all that changed when the B5 became available. Rather astutely JM Racing anticipated that a situation similar to several other classes might arise whereby competitors were paying through the nose for motors that had shown just that little bit extra performance. Therefore there’s a small clause inserted on every B5 log card stating that this document belongs to JM Racing. This means that, if rogue motors are ever identified, the cards can be withdrawn and they would no longer be eligible for racing purposes. In fairness to the owners, cash refunds or brand new replacements would be offered. At a stroke, this simple little measure prevents motors changing hands for extortionate prices. “It’s a device we’d rather not have to use, not least because it involves us shelling out the cost of a motor that would be immediately returned to the factory and rendered useless,” confesses John Mills. “Nevertheless, if such measures are needed to protect the integrity of WTP racing, then we’re prepared to take them.”

Personally, I think the idea is absolutely brilliant! It should win enthusiastic backing from all those purporting to be in favour of creating a level playing field. Then again, not a lot of people actually mean what they say or say what they mean!

 

 

Watching The Pennies

karting-mag-logo-15Perception, as any advertising mogul will confirm, is often more important than reality. It’s no accident that spin doctors have now taken on a higher profile than the politicians themselves and they know how vital first impressions can be in formulating public opinion. I was interested to read some statistics recently showing that petrol prices and the actual costs of motoring have fallen in real terms since the sixties. This won’t alter the perception of Joe Public who remains steadfastly convinced that motorists are being forced off the road by soaring costs. Most of us, in truth, have been guilty at some time of forming instant opinions and then adjusting the facts to fit our original prejudices. After the Little Green Man opener at Wombwell in June, I received several phone calls concerning an incident involving Sam Clarence and Luca Hurst. There has also been quite a bit of discussion on the Internet regarding this affair. According to one group, a video taken at the Wombwell event proved quite conclusively that Sam had deliberately forced Luca off the circuit.

It might not come as any great surprise to learn that some others viewed this video and reached an entirely different conclusion. Wombwell’s Clerk of the Course Brian Lord commented as follows, “My initial opinion was that No 5 (Sam Clarence) had done nothing wrong, but sometimes it depends on the angle you’re viewing the incident from and how fast events happen. Fortunately, Martin Bean and I were given access to a video which confirmed categorically that No 5 hadn’t deviated from his racing line by so much as an inch. I’d say this was one of the easiest decisions we’ve had to make and I don’t think anyone else who has seen it could possibly disagree.” Without actually having watched this video myself, I can’t comment about who is right or wrong here, but it’s interesting that two groups of people can look at the same footage and each see an entirely different picture. Perhaps it’s another example of reality not being allowed to interfere with our own preconceived ideas.

I’m not quite sure how the powers that be regard WTP racing, but I’ve a feeling their perception might be somewhat different to my own. During the GOLD event at PF, Andy King, Sennan Fielding and Ben Barnicoat were involved in a thrilling Grand Final for WTP and all recorded times around three tenths quicker than their leading Comer counterparts. Normally this would have been cause for celebration, but Mike and John had just attended a meeting with the MSA three days earlier. This came after strong rumours that the WTP B5 would be banned from competition once again due to excessive speeds being recorded. They were able to produce various arguments and statistics that succeeded in keeping the class alive. As he studied the time sheets at PF, Mike looked like someone who had narrowly averted a hanging only to discover that he was about to be shot instead.

If all this fuss stemmed from a genuine concern to stop cadet speeds from going through the roof, then that would be an entirely laudable motive. However, it’s worth pointing out that rigorous independent tests were carried out at four different circuits to ensure that Comers retained a speed advantage. John Mills had made a suggestion some months earlier that true comparisons could only be made under race conditions. His words were ignored and, as a result, we waited until June before the B5 motor was allowed to race in anger. Only by insisting upon a very tiny restrictor has the speed been reduced. Competitors are now using increasingly larger sprockets to get themselves out of corners and this is having an effect upon lap times. Consequently, the original calculations have probably underestimated performance at some venues where bottom end speed isn’t quite so crucial. That can’t be blamed on anyone at JM Racing and it’s even less the fault of WTP drivers who are being hit hardest of all.

There’s one aspect of this entire saga that must be of some concern to all WTP competitors. Higher revs usually mean greater fuel consumption and shorter engine life. With this in mind, John Mills went to the MSA meeting suggesting that a maximum sized sprocket should now be stipulated in dry conditions. However, our governing body was only prepared to allow this if John acquired 100% support from competitors. Considering that the restrictor size has been altered three times with no such consultation, I find this proviso rather curious. Achieving total agreement for any measure is always very difficult and, at PF in July, there was a single dissenter to this proposal preventing it from being implemented. Agreement was reached, though, for gearing ratios and maximum revs to be recorded by the eligibility scrutineer Brian Briscoe. Interestingly, sprockets ranged from 85 to 91 teeth with maximum rpm recordings of between 13,300 and 14,000. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and anyone genuinely interested in controlling speeds should look favourably upon proposals to limit revs rather than relying exclusively on tiny restrictors.

It’s worth noting that no WTP motor has actually broken a lap record set by Comers, although Brad Fairhurst and Max McGuire both came mightily close to doing so at Shenington in July. If such records are broken frequently and by significant margins, then the MSA might be justified in any demands for WTP speeds to be further reduced. Until such a moment arrives, however, any talk of safety concerns is surely irrelevant. Two years ago, both classes were frequently competing against each other for the same awards. Back then, there was a speed advantage of almost 2 seconds per lap in favour of Comers. WTP owners who complained about having to compete on such unfavourable terms were told very bluntly to “buy a faster motor”. At almost every venue today, the classes are competing for separate prizes. If the pendulum has, indeed, swung in favour of WTP by a very small degree, then why should this really matter except to those who have a financial interest in maintaining Comer superiority?

For the sake of everyone concerned with WTP racing, I hope that this class can now be given the period of stability that’s so desperately needed. Many owners believe that the interventions they’ve endured up to now have been driven more by commercial interests than concern for the sport. Such a view might not be strictly accurate but, as I said at the beginning, perception is often more important than reality

Watching The Pennies

George Line is 10 years old and wants to be a racing driver. He’s not aiming for F1 or any other lofty goal. Right now, he’d settle for being able to race the 60cc kart that his parents Robin and Joanne bought him as a Christmas present. The 1998 Wright chassis is almost as old as George himself. Initially, it was powered by a Comer S60 motor, possibly of the same vintage. Robin Langford, George’s stepfather, is no stranger to the world of motor racing having set up his own team in the sixties focusing mainly on Mini Coopers. He considered that WTP offered a cost effective formula in which talent would speak louder than money. Robin was also attracted by the idea of an electric start motor, believing this to be much safer than having young drivers jumping out and attempting to pull start their karts halfway through a race. In February he bought George a brand new B5 engine and, almost immediately, the young pilot completed his ARKS test at Fulbeck. George made his racing debut a week later at P.F. on March 5th. The result was encouraging. In the final he knocked almost 2 seconds off his lap times from previous heats and finished 8th among some very experienced drivers.

Father and son could hardly wait for the next race meeting to come along. Unfortunately, wait is exactly what they must now do as the MSA has stepped in and prevented the B5 motor from being used in all further competition at least until June. Robin felt so strongly about this situation that he contacted the MSA for some clarification. Alas, the conversation left him even more baffled than before. “I was told that the WTP B5 engine couldn’t take part in any further competition as it had been quicker than the Comers at P.F.,” he said. “In actual fact the margin had been just one hundredth of a second in the first race, increasing to less than two tenths throughout the day. I’d call that a pretty even state of affairs but John Symes from the MSA insisted that, even if this margin had been just one thousandth, it wouldn’t be tolerated. This was one circuit on one particular day. Are they really saying that the Comer has to be quicker at all times on every track in the country? I can’t understand why this has become such a big deal, especially as we’re competing for separate awards. George is a very sporty young lad who’s keen on soccer and sailing, but karting really has taken over from all his other activities and he’s bitterly disappointed not to be out there racing.

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George just wants to race

Quite a few of our acquaintances know that George has taken up the sport and they’re asking me how he’s coming along. When I tell them what’s happened, they shake their heads in total disbelief. I don’t think this is doing karting any good at all and I just hope that it gets sorted out quickly.” I think everyone associated with WTP will share Robin’s sentiments. Last month he wrote an excellent letter to Karting magazine that deserved some sort of response. Whether by coincidence or not, it seems the MSA may have softened its stance and some progress is now being made. At this delicate stage, the last thing we need is for someone to stick a size 10 clog in proceedings. For this reason I’ve put on my diplomatic hat that’s hardly ever been worn before. I’m also assisted by the editor’s large censor’s pen that will no doubt have run out of red ink before this article is complete. There’s so much I’d like to write about this current situation but not a lot of it would be very constructive. All I’ll say is that a rather more lenient approach was adopted three years ago when the Comer W60 replaced its S60 forerunner. Apart from being 1cc above the maximum capacity for Cadets, this motor was considerably outside the 0.2s performance differential previously insisted upon and came with a totally different exhaust to the one that had been originally tested. Now our governing body is getting all worked up about mere hundredths of a second.

Finding a happy medium between these two extreme positions would be nice. From my own point of view, I heartily wish that the B5 motor had never been introduced. The B1 provided a wonderful class that offered young drivers a chance to compete on equal terms with relatively low budgets. Unfortunately time moves on and the factory decided many months ago to stop producing this motor. The B5 has now unleashed forces that threaten to wreck WTP racing and I just wish that half as much effort had gone into promoting karting in this our 50th year. I have my own ideas as to where the responsibility lies but allocating blame isn’t what we need right now. The most important thing is to get drivers like George Line back into competitive karting as quickly as possible. They are the innocent parties and so far they’ve been very badly served. On one issue it seems that the opinions of JM Racing have been listened to. When WTP racing was in its infancy, John Mills approached the ABkC with a request to increase Cadet age limits by 12 months so that lighter drivers could remain in the class for another season. He pointed out that, in some cases, drivers were entering Minimax carrying 35kg of lead and this created safety concerns. Initially, this argument was dismissed out of hand. John’s proposal would mean having a five year age gap between drivers at the top and bottom ends of Cadet that would be more dangerous according to our top officials. I never accepted this particular viewpoint, preferring instead the maxim that ‘if you’re small enough, you’re young enough.’ Now, a recommendation has been made to increase Cadet age limits by 12 months, using exactly the same arguments expounded by John four years earlier. I applaud the ABkC on this score at least.