Superkarts in the spotlight
The exciting Superkart discipline has recently featured in Motorsport UK’s Revolution Magazine. The article delves into how accessible the sport is and just how fun it is!
Want to go really fast for not a lot of money? Hold on tight as Motorsport UK guides you through the sensational sport of Superkarting. “Try it, and look at the smile on your face!”
In a nutshell, Superkarts are one of the most extreme forms of racing available on a Motorsport UK licence. This low-cost, high-adrenaline discipline is often overlooked in the ‘traditional’ pathway into circuit racing, with many drivers jumping directly from short-circuit karting to Formula Ford, Ginettas or similar, leapfrogging a sport that offers more performance-per-pound than pretty much anything else on four wheels.
The name ‘Superkarting’ was introduced to the UK kart scene in 2012, previously it was known simply as ‘long-circuit karting’, which is officially classed as gearbox karts raced on circuits longer than 1,500 metres. They are powered by adapted motorbike engines or bespoke kart motors with gearboxes featuring up to six ratios, depending on class. Thanks to the aerodynamic bodywork, they look rather like mini Le Mans prototypes, with performance to back up the looks.
Ian Rushforth from British Superkart Racing Club outlines the sport’s origins. He has been involved in this scene since the very beginning, racing short-circuit initially in the 1960s until a more exciting opportunity presented itself to race on bigger tracks. “Long-circuit was pioneered by a guy called Sid Taylor from Lincolnshire, who began running events for gearbox karts as part of the Cadwell Car and Kart Club way back,” explains Ian. “Sid handed over the reins to John Shaw and the Cadwell Kart Club carried on for many years before stopping when John retired. Those meetings Sid ran were a must for me in my racing days.”
Ian continues, “I raced for quite some time and then took on secretary of the meeting duties and developed from there. I’m 74 now and I started when I was 18.”
Speed remains a major attraction. “The 250 Twin is the Formula One of the sport,” he says, “and they will do as much as 145mph.”
If that sounds an exciting prospect with your backside skimming the track surface, the lap times are arguably even more impressive. For a sense of context, the Superkart lap record at Donington Park is 1:25.888, driven by Peter Elkmann in 2017. Compare that with the pole time of 1:26.548 for a McLaren 720S GT3 in British GT at the same track and you get a sense of how fast they really are.
Gary James raced a 125 Superkart for a quarter of a century before hanging up his overalls in 2015. He has spent the last six years commentating on the sport and writing up race reports. He is also very keen to see Superkarts get more recognition. “It’s the unknown sport but once you find out about it – wow!” he enthuses. However, having raced at the sharp end himself he does accept the perceived risk may put some people off, likening it more to motorcycle racing in that sense.
“Car racers look at us and say ‘You’re mad! You’ve got no roll bars or seatbelts. I’m not going to drive one of those things at 120-130mph when I can sit in my saloon car or single-seater and feel perfectly safe,’” admits Gary. “It’s horses for courses though. You limit the dangers where you can and the technical regs address all of that.”
There are now three Superkart clubs in the UK – Ian Rushforth’s British Superkart Racing Club, Irish Superkarts, and Superkarting-UK, which is run by Terry Bateman. He has been racing karts himself since the 1970s and co-organises the British Championship.
In 2012 he rebranded his Long Circuit Racing Kart Club as Superkarting-UK, at the same time opening a race school based at Darley Moor that gives people the opportunity to get familiar with the discipline. It is the only school in the UK where you can take your ARKS test (the karting race licence) in a Superkart.
“The school now provides most of the newcomers into the world of Superkarting,” says Bateman. “Firstly by racing at Darley with our club races, gaining race experience, then going to the bigger circuits in the country like Oulton Park, Cadwell Park, Donington, Snetterton, and, of course, Silverstone. It’s also a feeder for the British Championship.”
And people come from all over the world for a taste of the action. “We have had several drivers come from European countries for the Superkart training days,” says Terry, “The King of Bahrain’s cousin has visited us twice, too, given he liked it so much on his first visit.”
For all the excitement and relative accessibility, the discipline has struggled somewhat of late, although recent developments hope to overturn that and reinvigorate it. “Superkarting has been somewhat depleted in numbers over the last few years with grids now having to be mixed to make the meetings viable,” admits Bateman. “Motorsport UK has now taken charge of the British Superkart Championship, which will give it some much-needed backing and resources. While it won’t happen overnight, the initial three-year plan, and the governing body’s wealth of advice and input, should see Superkarting go forward with increasing numbers for the future.”
Former British 125 champion Mark Bramhall is 46 and still races a Superkart in the 125 Open class, which is the entry-level category but still incredibly competitive. He has been racing karts since he was 18, graduating from the TKM class to short-circuit gearbox racing before taking the step up to long-circuit. “We did a meeting at Darley Moor and I’ve loved it ever since, really,” explains Bramhall. “I raced 125s up until 2007 when I won the British Championship and then retired for a bit, came back driving the twins and then got back into the 125 class again.”
But what is the big appeal of Superkarting? “Try it, and look at the smile on your face,” says Mark. “The sensation of the driving, the closeness of the racing. It’s very competitive and it’s quite cost-effective, especially the 125 Open class.”
And with the governing body on board for the 2021 season, it is looking better than ever from a competitor’s point of view. “What Motorsport UK are doing this year is great,” says Mark. “They’ve got a grip of the championship, which is obviously leading to more promotion.”
Mark is keen that people do not overlook Superkarting on their way up the racing ladder, either. “It’s always been portrayed that you should go with a good short-circuit kart, European karting and then on to single-seaters and so on. Obviously, that’s not the route that everybody can take because of the finances involved,” he says. “If you move your way up to the 250 Twin class, you’re lapping in comparable times to Formula 3 and so on. You’re getting that same level of performance for a lot less of a budget.”
If you fancy seeing for yourself what all the excitement is about, the opening round of the Motorsport UK British Superkart Championship is scheduled for 22nd May at Mallory Park, with a two-day round at Anglesey in July and another two-day event at Cadwell in August (postponed from its original April date) before the British Superkart Grand Prix at Donington on 25th September.
Registrations and Entries are now open at – britishsuperkart.org