Industry Insider: 2016 Autosport International Show
Karting highlighted in leading racing exhibition
During my travels around North America and the world, I’ve spent a few thousand hours crammed into narrow airplane seats en route to some of the greatest racing venues on the planet. A regular stop during each trip is the magazine stand in the airport terminal, where I normally grab a couple publications to read on the flight. One of my primary purchases at Pearson International in Toronto is Autosport, the popular bi-monthly full-color racing magazine that is the key publication in Europe and beyond. I love that I can get up-to-date on a multitude of racing series during one flight. Not only does the Autosport staff produce an incredibly informative magazine, but they also turn out one of the best motorsports shows in the world. The Autosport International Show is pretty incredible, complete with display of current Formula 1 cars, a main stage for interviews with professional drivers and industry powerhouses, an indoor kart track and a live action arena. The show is held at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, England and attracts a massive crowd over its two days of industry members and two open public days.
I had my first opportunity to attend the show last week as part of a Mazda Road to Indy promotional effort, and while I talked with countless drivers who were looking for information on this unparalleled junior open wheel ladder program, we connected on another level as well, as many of these young pilots were or still are kart racers. There was significant karting component at the show, even though it was going head-to-head with the International Kart Exhibition in Offenbach, Germany, which is likely the biggest karting show in the world.
There were some karting highlights that I enjoyed as part of the 20+ miles I logged traversing the multitude of ‘halls’ that made up the show. I spent some time speaking with the guys at the British Superkart Association booth, and we spoke of the difficulties that they face in introducing people to long-course Superkart racing. Not unlike what we encounter in North America, it’s not easy getting new people to road races or behind the wheel of a 250cc Superkart. These karts remain the sport’s most incredible ride, and although the average competitor age is on the rise in the UK, the BSA still has a really solid group of competitors and large fields across their different categories. I had a chance to meet MSA British Superkart Champion Gavin Bennett, who offered up a few stories detailing his past trips to the United States Kart Grand Prix at VIR.
As for UK series displaying at the show, both the Super One Series and the Formula Kart Stars had booths at the NEC. The FKS used the show to hand out championship trophies, and I spent time discussing the unique program with Managing Director Sebastian King. The FKS is a complete arrive-and-drive series that provides its racers with all the equipment, consumables, storage and paddock set-ups, ensuring a level playing field for all involved. You really just show up and race. The classes use the current IAME powerplants (X30 and Mini Swift) and the karts are custom-built, FKS branded by UK manufacturer Wright Karts. The series is quite affordable and supported by Formula 1, and will run 16 races at eight events in 2016. The program has an impressive TV package with Sky Sports, and the champion in their Super FKS class wins a full season of single-seater racing. Reigning champ Ross Martin has already signed with Fortec Motorsport to run in this year’s MSA Formula series. King follows the US karting scene intently, as many FKS racers ventured to the Superkarts! USA SuperNationals last year. He’d admitted that he’d love to see North Americans look to the Formula Kart Stars program for international experience, as their arrive-and-drive approach removes the challenges of finding a team and it also eliminates the stigma of US drivers not getting the same equipment as the Euro regulars. Attracting US and Canadian racers to the series is one of their focus projects for 2016.
There were a handful of chassis distributors at the show, including the UK dealers for Intrepid, Zip Kart and Tony Kart, but I really wanted to connect with Sean Girdler from One Motorsport to discuss his plans for 2016. The UK chassis builder is a virtual unknown to those in the US, but he has connected with Apex Kartsports in Massachusetts, and they actually scored a win at F1 Outdoors in Boston last fall in their US debut with UK team driver Michael Eastwell. Girdler is currently planning to run a larger effort with Apex in 2016, and will be running in the growing the F Series. They are looking at campaigning the Superkarts! USA Pro Tour, and other programs, as well. The new kart is a 32mm frame and features aircraft grade tubing and a unique ‘Flex ONE’ system in the waist that is designed to maintain the flex qualities of the chassis for more than a year, which is aimed at providing value to the consumer. The chassis is a four-rail design and the outer rails are slip-fit at the waist joints to provid a smoother overall flex. The chassis also employs just two rear bearings. I’m excited to see what they’re able to do in the US in 2016.
I expect that many North Americans have checked out the front-wheel project kart that has been put together in England by Team BMR, as it was pushed out on social media by a few European karting publications. The Team BMR operation is a front-running British Touring Car Championship squad, and they also have their own one-make karting series that has been designed to train drivers to rise up the ranks into their car program. The front-wheel drive kart is their own design, and I spoke with team reps about the motivation behind the effort. The simple desire to train young pilots to handle the unique dynamics of front-wheel drive is the core principal, and the chassis itself requires a completely new approach to design. The front-mounted 250cc four-stroke fuel-injected 35hp engine changes the overall chassis design, as the kart features upper and lower control arms at both the front and rear, as the solid rear drive axle is not needed. The kart remains in development, as there are some minor issues, but the package itself was incredibly interesting to check out from front to back.
The Autosport International Show is definitely a cornerstone of the motorsports industry and community. It’s exciting to see karting play such a significant role in the show, and I wish we could do the same in the US with the PRI Show. That said, the lack of open public days takes away some potential benefits. While I was unable to take in the Dan Wheldon Memorial Karting event, I was able to check out the new products from Tillet, speak with members of the British Vintage Kart scene, and chat with the UK distributor of FreeM, who had SKUSA Pro Tour S1 champ Rick Dreezen’s SuperNationals suit on display. There was a great deal of interest in the American scene among those I spoke with, and for me, it was simply exciting to get a more international appreciation for the sport as a whole. I’m already looking forward to going back in 2017.