|June 24, 2011
|Aussie News: Why Has Karting Hit The Skids As A Sport? PART 1
|Article by: kartozmagazine.com
There’s been a lot of talk around the tracks lately about the state of karting in general. Some will argue that karting is as healthy as ever, but the reality is that it is not. The higher powers in the AKA want you to believe that karting is growing and that it’s never been healthier, but when we stack numbers up against population growth in Australia, karting is not growing at the same rate at all; if anything, it has slipped back in the past fifteen to twenty years and is in a decline. Some readers will no doubt remember that karting was a massive sport in the 90s with membership around the 10,000 mark, but now, twenty years later, it is a sport that is 65% of what it once was and slipping fast behind other mainstream sports.
So, why has karting hit the skids as a sport?
There is the common consensus that there are way too many classes and not enough laps. In today’s fast paced world consumers wants more bang for their buck. Karters are consumers and if karting as a business cannot provide the service consumers demand they will look elsewhere to spend their bucks on more entertaining pursuits.
High turnover rate.
As a sport ‘karting’ has one of the worst turnover rates of any other sport. Each year Australian Karting loses approx one third (33%) of its members to other sports or interests. Luckily most of those losses are matched with a nearly even rate of new member attraction. But this is a very delicate balancing act that could tip either way very quickly. But just image if the loss rate went down 10% and new membership rates went up 10%. Karting would be on an upward trend of 10% per annum.
But how do we fix this problem?
Simply, karting needs to rethink the way we conduct a race meeting. We need ways to make it more entertaining – both to race and spectate – and to fit more laps in over a quicker paced day.
First up, most race meetings should not be spread over two days where possible. People have got busy lifestyles, and don’t have the time or money to spend a whole weekend at a racetrack. You’ve got people taking time off work travelling on the Friday and Monday afterwards so they don’t wipe themselves out rushing to and from the track, squeezing whatever practice you can in, and it’s costing them money for work lost. It might be worth it if they were really getting their value at the track, but they are not. Simply put, they have better things to do.
But how do we cut down the wasted time?
Race meeting rationalization by the grouping together of classes! Not combining them; but grouping them together on the track and running groups of classes in the one race, This could be a truly new karting mindset. For example, placing Cadets and Rookies on the track at the same time. Some parents might jump up and down and claim that they don’t want their young Johnny bashed around on track by the bigger boys, but putting the Rookies out front and leaving a gap of 30-50m will ensure that the classes will hardly ever clash with each other. The Rookies will obviously build a gap on the Cadets because they’re quicker, but the front-runners in the Cadets may get the chance to leapfrog some back markers in Rookies. The same thing could happen with Junior National Light and Heavy grouped together, all the Senior National weight and age divisions grouped together, Clubman Light, Heavy, Over 40’s and Super Heavy all on the track at the same time and so on, and so forth. We don’t need a combined weight ‘Pro’ class – we need to throw them in the mix together; we could quite easily place these classes on the track at the same time.
Rookies + Cadets
Junior Max + Junior Clubman + Junior National Light + Junior National Heavy
Senior National Light + Senior National Heavy + Senior National Super Heavy
Clubman Light + Clubman Heavy + Clubman Over 40 + Clubman Super Heavy
Tag Restricted Light + Tag Restricted Heavy + Tag Restricted Super Heavy
Gearbox + DD2 + Leopard Light + Leopard Heavy + Rotax Light + Rotax Heavy + Rotax O’40
Doing this would leave us with 6-7 groupings of classes. What this means is that when it comes to running a race meeting, because there’s less individual classes because of the groupings, you can have heats where you have 15 - 20 laps of racing. That’s a far cry from meets where you’ll get maybe eight laps because they need to squeeze in 15 to 16 classes somehow. This gives the competitor the will to go and travel to a track and want to race, because they’re getting the laps in. When grouping reach maximum track capacity they can be split up as required.
It’s an economic question as well. You want to make your dollar go further, and so you don’t want to get your kart out of the garage to run just a small amount of laps. It’s like a taxi ride – you have a flagfall and costs per kilometre. It costs a fixed amount to get your kart out of the garage in terms of costs incurred and then you go race. Each time you hop in your kart you want to get as much time in it as possible.
Often the happiest and most positive feedback from race meetings comes from the ‘premier’ series, such as the Rotax Pro Tour and CIK. Why? Because they’re only running 6 classes – they all get a huge amount of laps through heats and finals, and most drivers, when the weekend is done, can say that they’ve had a full tank of karting. They’re totally satisfied.
What was the magical recipe in the 90s that made karting more popular? Less classes, more laps. It’s as simple as that.
Of course, there’s a minority of people that may run two classes. This is not a proposed fix for all classes, of course, and it’s only for use at club and open meetings. Obviously for State Titles and Nationals, you’d run the individual classes as per the rule book but culling of classes is still urgently required in the future to enhance the spectacle.
You’ll also have the odd person who wants to run more than one class on a weekend – but if you run more classes and fewer laps, what’s the point? Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of racers struggle racing in just one class, let alone racing two or three classes. Also have you ever wondered why some drivers enter into more than 1 class? Because there trying to get in more laps and to make the time between heats go faster.
With the current trend towards combining weights and or engines together under the false illusion of parity you create a disenfranchisement of drivers who have to constantly re adjust their kart or driving style to cope with the different weights of tyre setups needed. Take for example the newly created Sportsman 125 class which combines Tag engines under one class. This arrangement actually have a negative effect on participation rates, take for instance a Rotax Light driver who competes in the Rotax Pro Tour, State Titles and Rotax Nationals etc, his kart is setup for Mojo tyres, he wants to get in some practice at a local event and is told he can only run Sportsman 125, this entails buying a set of MG tyres and re-adjusting his kart to suit, this could require minor of major setup changes, but after some reflection he thinks whats the points for all the hassle I’ll just miss that event and there goes one more entry. But if he could have run in a grouping with his standard tyres and setup making even with some slightly used tyres he doesn’t mind driving in a grouping with other Tag drivers.
After the AKA has spent in excess of $1.2 Million on developing the new CM:S timing system, it’s about time that Australian karting made full use of this huge investment. Timing systems have advanced to the point now that we are able to run classes grouped together without too much confusion. Individual classes can be scored individually and awarded individual trophies.
As for class recognition in grouping it’s simply a case of instigating something like a coloured plate system that was suggested by one of our readers in a letter to the editor a few months ago to avoid visual confusion. For those that missed it, the reader proposed that colours of plates be changed to reflect classes – Cadets could be light blue, Rookies could be orange, JNL could be red, Leopard could be pink, Rotax black Clubman yellow, and so on. It’s something that makes an outstanding amount of common sense that it’s hard to think that it hasn’t been put into place already. How many times have you been asked by someone what class is out on the track?
Another solution that should be happening is the idea of a sister clubs – that is, clubs that pair with each other and run their meetings on the same weekend, but split the classes so that half of them are racing at one track and the other half at the other track. Say, for example, Club A takes X classes, and Club B takes Y classes – next month Club A will have Y classes, and Club B will have X classes. Alternating between this means that each club is able to run more laps and a better weekend overall, because the focus is smaller and you don’t have to concentrate on appeasing every single class. Value for money comes back into the equation here again. This is where karting is losing out to other sports – we currently do not have a good record as far as value for money goes.
You just need to look at something like motorcross – people understand the classes because there’s not that many of them. We have far too many classes, especially for the spectators in the stands to understand. Nobody new to the sport can fathom why we sometimes have up to twelve different senior classes and up to six different junior classes, and so they lose interest very quickly and don’t join into the sport. Nobody wants to go to a race weekend where there are 15 or 16 classes, boring the hell out of everyone there.
If you’re doing one class, you sit there twiddling your thumbs waiting for your few minutes on the track, then you finish and watch the other 15 classes roll by before you get another few minutes out there. If we ran classes grouped together, the only issue you would have is how to get your kart ready for the next heat in the limited time you have available, accident damage or a change of axle would be a real rush to complete, possibly even an adrenalin pumping exhilarating rush against the clock to make it onto the grid in time!
The other good thing about grouping together classes with small numbers is the race experience. A small field of five karts will quickly spread out, and soon becomes dull and boring, circling around monotonously. The only people that care about the result is the five people on the track and maybe their support crew, but certainly nobody else is watching or cares. So they do their 8 laps and everyone yawns. It’s not good for the drivers going around either, because you’re just sitting 10 kart lengths behind watching the number plate of the kart in front. Nothing’s gained except you’ve ‘circulated’ for your precious few minutes of track time.
But imagine this! You’re new to karting and driving at the back of the Clubman Light field, all of a sudden you have a Clubman Heavy driver right up your tailpipe, now you have to learn by practical experience how to drive defensively, or if Clubman Heavy driver gets a pass on you, you now have to learn how to get your place back with the use of race craft. It’s fun. You’re not just going around monotonously, there’s the competition. You’re dicing with someone, and they’re possibly a much better driver than you and they’re carrying more weight – it’s a whole new dynamic for the learning curve.
At some of the larger two day metropolitan Open events the fields are large and the classes are many, due to track capacities normally at a max number of 40 karts on track at any one time this is the ideal time to split classes over the two days. The ideal mix of 7 classes on each day can be obtained by having a possible mix of Heavy classes and other classes racing on the Saturday and the Light classes racing on the Sunday. Some clubs might be surprised as to how many more drivers would race in different classes on the different days with the amount of laps on offer.
There comes a time when the correct business decisions have to be made and things have to be done. For how much longer will the AKA sit in its ivory tower or power with their heads in the clouds? They always talk about looking into the problems, talking aimlessly about possible solutions and then when all else fails talk then turns to need for a special conference to further investigate the problems, just like the dog chasing its own tail nothing ever comes from it.
The AKA and its accompanying National Karting Council has become an outdated and unprofessional structure full of unimaginative bit players too afraid to make any decisive decisions for fear of rocking the preverbal boat, a room full of mirrors where these so called governing powers just keep looking into the problems. At present the AKA is only good at making decisions about frivolous things such as the width, size or angle of race numbers on a kart, or what colour the tyre barriers should be painted or of more higher importance which resort hotel their next AKA meeting should be held at, but this still doesn’t get us anywhere. These fundamental problems are something that have been talked about over and over again for quite a few years now - we know there’s a problem, and it’s time to do something about it. We need less talk and more action.
The AKA spends an extraordinary amount of their time and resources plus vast sum of members money worrying about the promotion and success of the CIK series which only caters to a small number of elite drivers, when what they are really doing is rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic – unfortunately all the damage is being done below the waterline. There’s no point having a stellar premier class when the grassroots talent is continually being turned off from the sport. Jump forward five years – the CIK can look great and can be run great and can feature heavily in media but there’s not much point to it if much needed club karters that compete has left for greener pastures. We have to cater to the majority first, which is not something the AKA and its top-down thinking has a history of.
It’s up to you, the driver, to demand your laps, to demand less classes. So get down to your club and get involved and force the paradigm shift. We can’t just go on maintaining the status quo.
Most clubs committees mistakenly think that they will receive extra revenue from extra classes – but how can that be true when they’re actually driving people away with boredom? What’s better – 15 classes with an average of 7 drivers per class or 7 groupings with 20 - 25 drivers each?
Hopefully we can revamp it. We can’t do it through engine rationalisation at the moment because the engine importers hold too much of a psychological grip over the AKA, frightening them into believing that if the sports administration starts culling classes the sky will fall in and the karters will revolt. But what we can do is group the classes together and make it more interesting with what we have got.
Big fields equal big excitement. You see a whole bunch of people going around and it’s exciting. There’s more movement, there’s more action, and it’s good for the sport because it looks impressive.
So get down there, and get involved today.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this special report in the July Issue of KartOz Magazine On Sale 1st July