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View from the visor: an introduction to kart racing

JOHANNESBURG — By day Rob Peché is a corporate finance adviser, working his eight to five (most days beyond) and sitting in traffic on the way home like many South Africans do. On the weekend however that all changes as the red mist of competitive motorsport descends upon him once the visor of his Stig-white helmet flips into position. That’s because he’s lined up on the grid of Killarney’s karting circuit alongside ten thrumming two stroke powered machines, all waiting for the lights to go out. He’s no longer the polished, suited professional his clients and colleagues know so well, that’s for sure. In this series of insightful pieces, Rob will take us through what it means to compete in the Clubmans kart series, riding the roller coaster through a season of thrills and spills from behind the wheel. – Miles Downard

By Robert Peché*

Forest fire? Annual vaping convention? No. This is the pit lane line-up for another 2-stroke kart race in the WPMC Clubmans championship at Killarney, with similar championships run at other circuits around the country. The kart smoke during idle is intoxicating in more ways than one.

My steed is a 125cc Zanardi, which is allegedly a 2011 model, although quite frankly nobody knows for sure. A far cry from the shiny new CRG and Kosmic machinery that adorns Senior Max and DD2 grids at every race meeting, my kart is the true spirit of Clubmans. Held together partially by bolts and mostly by cable ties, my reaching speeds of 107km/h in this kart is probably not the responsible life my mother had envisaged for me.

Power is courtesy of a Rotax engine, similar to those run in Senior Max, although ours have inevitably seen far too many hours since their last rebuild. However, with the right jetting in the Dellorto single carburettor and some sweet nothings whispered in the exhaust at 8am on race day when we are allowed to start the karts, she works. In fact, she works beautifully.

I have experienced some serious machinery costing more than the average house, but nothing has come close to the thrill ride that is a 2-stroke kart race. The fact that your vitals are a few inches off the tarmac definitely contributes to the overall experience.

Is this miniature Formula 1? Yes. Tyre pressures, carburettor jetting, ride heights, axle widths, castor, camber and toe settings are all critical. You need to be a minimum weight after each race, so a combination of carefully choosing fuel levels pre-race and avoiding too many beers the week before will get you right on the weight limit, which is basically as tricky as working out a tyre strategy for Monaco in intermediate conditions. Ok, it at least FEELS that tricky, but the experience and enjoyment is everything after all.

Can the average person get involved? Absolutely. The first time I drove anything more than a rental kart was at the age of 29, approximately eight months ago. Although I’m sure it helps to be born into the right circumstances and to be able to race from the age of 5, don’t let this deter you. With enough heart and a desire to win, you can quickly catch up.

The camaraderie of Clubmans is probably the biggest drawcard. Unlike the national classes where the ultimate winner competes at the Rotax world finals, the Clubmans racers are more interested in having as many karts on track as possible. The regulations are far more relaxed in a bid to keep costs down and everybody will be willing to lend a hand, a spanner or both. For a beginner, this makes the sport so much more accessible.

How much? Well, there is absolutely no more affordable way to do serious racing (make no mistake, this is serious racing) than a Clubmans 2-stroke series. A fifth-hand kart is in the region of R25k – R30k and running costs for the year with all your licences etc. will set you back a further R40k – R50k. Yes, it’s not cheap, but then neither is golf. That sport only requires one ball.

  • Rob also runs a classic car and racing blog called Carbs and Coffee South Africa that you can find on Facebook and Instagram (@carbsandcoffeesouthafrica). If you want to find out more about Clubmans karting at Killarney, check out https://clubmanskarting.capetown/ and get in touch with the guys to get involved.
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