Inside Revolution: Opening the Doors to Karting
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Many people get their first taste of motorsport through karting, but until now there has not been a clear and official pathway to the upper levels of the discipline. The new ‘Club Kart’ permit is about to change that, providing the vital missing link to a ladder that helps engage youngsters in the sport and allows the UK’s future stars to develop their skills.
Almost all of the top professional circuit racers will have got their taste for motorsport through karting, and the discipline is also responsible for drawing in many of those who are now competing in grassroots and club events, or even standing beside racetracks as members of the Orange Family.
There are hundreds of indoor and outdoor ‘arrive-and-drive’ venues in the UK, and the British Indoor Karting Championship is thriving with filled grids and frantic action. However, many of the events which sit between those two levels are currently run as Independent Kart Racing (IKR) competitions and are not licensed through Motorsport UK.
The new permit, being trialled this year, allows participants to compete under an RS Clubman licence endorsed as ‘valid for Club Kart Racing’, and aims to bring this level of karting back into the Motorsport UK fold. It offers drivers a clearer and more secure path up the karting ladder and provides clubs with the insurance and organisational safety that is present in other motorsport events, when run under a Motorsport UK license.
The license is restricted for use at the training Club only – anyone wishing to compete at another Club must holder a Kart Interclub licence – and all first-time drivers are assessed for competency and safety on track during practice, with a requirement for them to set a minimum lap time better than 10 per cent of a mid-grid time to get into the race.
To make it simple for drivers to progress up the ranks, these events count towards their Kart Interclub licence application, and once they have completed five Club Kart events, they can apply for an upgrade without further qualification. Previously, they would have had to attend an Association of Racing Kart Schools (ARKS) course and pass a test.
Warden Law Kart circuit has just signed up to trial the new permit after running IKR events for years. General Manager Paul Bainbridge explains why he hopes the new permit will be taken up by many Clubs: “Unlicenced racing grew because people, championships or circuits wanted to do what they wanted, so there were discrepancies on classes and regulations.
“In IKR, you can more or less choose to do what you want, so you could make your own rules for what age people can race at, what engines they can use, and so on. There are no specific regulations to manage that and although a lot of IKRs these days do run to similar guidelines to Motorsport UK, there always slight differences.
“The issue with this system is that a driver can race in an IKR – for example, they could do the Warden Law Championship and become a Senior Rotax Champion – but if they want to go on and do the British Championships, under Motorsport UK, they will have to complete their ARKS license and that puts people off wanting to progress.
“We have a lot of seasoned IKR races who do not want to be treated as rookies. They have probably been racing for a few years in unlicensed racing, they are very competent, and they do not want to go back to being a novice and having to start at the back of grids at events. This new license and permit will really help with that.”
Motorsport UK undertook a review of karting in 2021, carrying out surveys with clubs, participants and organisers. The aim was to find out more about these IKR events and to determine ways in which the system could be streamlined to encourage Clubs to run more events at this level with Motorsport UK’s support.
Karting Manager Dan Parker explains: “We wanted to know why people were running and racing in IKR events. The majority were doing a bit of both, but some were not doing any Motorsport UK events at all. We were keen to understand it, and we acknowledged that we needed to make some changes to help encourage more people to run under our permits.
“Once we started to dive into it, the top three things that came out were people wanted more flexibility of equipment; more freedom and responsibility to run events using our rules and regulations but with a little bit of flexibility in certain areas; and a change to the per capita fee that clubs pay for the insurance cover.
“We covered off the equipment flexibility with a new Kart class restructure, which has enabled us to become more flexible in terms of the amount of different types of equipment that can be used be used in our permitted events, and we came up with the new more flexible grassroots-style permit grade to slightly reduce the per capita fee.”
For the drivers, it was found that the cost of a license and the need to pass a starter test and build up a set of signatures before being able to race at higher levels were unappealing. Parker adds: “There were lots of barriers to entry, so with the new Kart Club permit we have tried to make karting for Club members more accessible for more people.
“It is aimed at real ‘start Karting’ Club racing and while it covers the big-name tracks it can also cover smaller local club tracks. There are certain things we cannot be as flexible on, such as paramedic and medical cover, and limiting competitors to a maximum of 100, but it is revolutionary because people can race in these events on a digital RS Clubman’s license.”
The Permit is currently being trialled with plans for it to be rolled out nationwide in 2024 and alongside the recently introduced changes to the Karting pathway, Motorsport UK hopes the new approach can offer greater access to the sport, a more linear progression for drivers and an opportunity for manufacturers to develop new equipment and technologies.
The Permit covers a broad spectrum of classes, following the format of the British Championships, including Bambino for younger drivers starting from the age of six up through the different Cadets categories, such as Honda and Rotax Micro, and finally up into the Junior and Senior Max categories.
For Bainbridge, the simplicity of the license is key, and he adds: “The beauty is drivers can now get the license online and either do an online test, which covers the flags and basics, or if they are under 16, they can go through the test with our ARKS examiner and it just takes 20 minutes to get it done and that’s it, they are racing.
“Under the new Permit, they are in with everybody as they would be normally, so they can enjoy the racing without being penalised for never having a license. They can now continue to race at Warden Law, but [also] get their signatures while racing, so after five events they will have their full Interclub license and be able to go and race at bigger championships.”
Benefits to Clubs
Running events under the new permit offers some key benefits for Clubs. These include:
- Stable and understandable regulations
- Access to Motorsport UK registered professionals
– including the safeguarding aspects this covers; and the ability to provide drivers with a pathway towards achieving their license at their local track.
Often, Bainbridge says, the differing rules at IKR events cause “a lot of debate” among the drivers during an event and he explains: “What we have found as a circuit is that the weight limit might be a certain amount at one venue, but a different amount at another, even in the same class. So, someone could be practicing all month at a certain weight limit, then it would change before the race because there was no governance of regulations.
“The beauty with the new Permit is that everyone knows where they stand. You have the book of regulations and everybody is on the same page, everyone works to the same regulations. When drivers go testing, they know nothing is going to change, and once they get to an event, they know they will have a Clerk of the Course, timekeeper and scrutineers who are all licensed officials and know exactly what they are doing.”
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