Published on November 6, 2012 | by alnsportsed

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And it’s go for karting in London

For some go-karting is seen as a leisure activity, somewhere you go and spend the afternoon with your mates for some fun, or the venue of a teenage birthday party.

Many do not see the professional side of the sport and how it is often the starting point for future stars of motorsport.

When I arrived at TeamSport Racing in Bermondsey, South London I was met by an enthralling buzz of noise from the Go-karts. From the outside, it was a typical industrial warehouse. Inside, it was a concoction of racing activity, where multiple races were been contested and staff tended to karts on the side.

The tense atmosphere on track is further enhanced with what has become racing’s trademark theme song, The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, playing as drivers revved up on the start grid.

One notable feature I set my eyes upon not long after arriving was their lap timetable. To my surprise, it included the likes of Simon Cowell, Peter Andre and Tom Daley, plus Lewis Hamilton’s father and brother.

Celeb Go Karting

After having a good look around the track, I spoke to TeamSport’s assistant manager Matt Bannister who led us through the basic rules of Go-karting: “At our track you have be at least 13 years old, have an inside leg measurement of 29 inches to work the pedals properly and drive safely, which includes no bumping into the sides or into others, which is something we’re very strict on.”

The rules and safety of karting are ignored by many, but Bannister and Team-Sport try to make their customers fully understand their importance: “We give everyone a full safety briefing before they are allowed out on track. This includes people understanding the light system properly and understanding that go-karting is a non-contact sport.”

TeamSport cater for all kinds of customers and makes sure everyone feels comfortable at the track and behind the wheel. The average age of the typical Go-karter at TeamSport differs although younger drivers are the the target customer.

As Bannister says: “The average age of our drivers are late 20s to early 30s. It’s a lot more of a leisure-based environment. We get a lot of friends, family and work groups. With where we are based, there are a lot of businesses around, so we get a lot of businessmen in as well as part of work groups.”

The level of customer driving skills also varies from driver to driver as Bannister explained: “Quality of drivers is indifferent. Some are good, while some have never driven before. So although there’s a bit of banter on the track and friendly competitveness, it does not really matter how good you are. It’s more about having a good time.”

 Electric karts

Despite most go-karting centres across the country using petrol engine powered go-karts, TeamSport have bucked the trend using electric karts. The engines these types of karts use are Biz electric eco karts. The electric engines also pack a punch with the top speed of about 40mph.

Just in case some feel electric karts could lack the power that petrol ones, have Bannister explains that “we tend to find electric karts have much more torque, so they get to top speed quicker plus they are more responsive and better handling” which puts any myth about electric engines poorer performance to rest. Not only are the electric karts faster, but also they are of course more eco-friendly. As I witnessed first hand the turn- around time of charging was also fairly impressive.

After having seen the special lap table earlier and wanting to know more, I asked what Bannister thought of the special guests when they were at the venue and who had the better driving skills Bannister said: “Simon Cowell was pretty good, he has the fastest celebrity time after the Hamilton family. Tom Daley was ok. None of them were bad.” He also added: “They were all actually pretty nice people when they came down and had a good chat with the staff and everything.”

One distinctive feature that sets the Tower Bridge centre out from the rest is that it contains two courses, one lower and one upper, which means they can provide two races at any one time. The two tracks can also come together to form one larger track.

When asked what he feels makes his centre stand out from the competition Bannister replied: “Our location is great just one stop from London Bridge. We also try to make it a bit humorous and our staff are friendly and get involved whenever needed.”

Without getting too caught up in the atmosphere of indoor karting, it was now time to find out more about the professional side of the sport. To do this, I spoke to Luke John, a member of staff at TeamSport, who is also a professional go-karting driver and an aspiring formula GP driver.

As a professional sport, go-karting is normally most popular among under-25s, although there are older race groups. One part of go-karting that is often overlooked is how the sport is often the breeding ground for young aspiring motorsport drivers. Some competitors from junior go-karting have found themselves in stock car racing, world rally and F1 (Formula 1). The most notable alumni to have started in go-karting include Lewis Hamilton and Michael Shumacher.

 Inspiration

John hopes to one day get to this level in the sport. “I’m hoping to get sponsorship to move on to Formula GP3 after next season. I’m really pushing and I’m at that age where I can do that. I just need to get into it and prove to myself I’m capable of doing it.”

With so many professional drivers coming from go-karting, John has found much inspiration from the likes of Britain’s own Formula 1 drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton and their stories of getting into professional sport. “Jenson Button is an inspiration because he managed to get to F1 in two years. Hamilton got into F1 with nothing. His dad was working two jobs so he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had to work for it so it’s possible for ordinary people to get into it,” John Explained.

The difference between leisure and professional is vast. For one, leisure go-karting is exclusively indoors, while professional is nearly always outdoors. The performance of engines in use also varies, with leisure karts normally reaching top speeds of about 40mph and professional karts topping 80mph. John explains further: “You’re racing two inches from the ground and every bump you go over you’re travelling nearly 50mph, that’s an experience in itself, that’s the four stroke if you’re going two stroke you’re going 100mph. People need to wake up and appreciate that karting’s a serious sport as well as any other sport. Racing indoors and outdoors is totally different. Indoors all you’ve got is temperature. Outdoors you’ve got all the elements. And you have to learn how to drive the track.”

Expensive

For any of those interested in getting more into go-karting, it must be noted that while the sport is great fun expect your wallet to be hit pretty hard. If you’re really serious about it, there’s a whole list of equipment required before you can race. These include helmets, racing suits, neck braces, rib supports, boots and, most importantly the go-kart. None of this comes cheap and they also need to be legalised and safety-checked first by the Motor Sports Association, which is a further expense. Depending on the level of racing you compete in pro go-karting can cost any where from £1,500 to £4,000.

There are a number of different levels of competition within go-karting. Varying types of engines are used to determine the four levels, which include Easikart, road tax, two-stroke and four-stroke. The fastest level being four stroke and lowest being Easikart. The level of talent across the different levels is fairly similar, except it becomes more expensive to compete the further up the levels you progress. The reason for racing a faster level is, of course, the enhanced speed. Also go-karts are a higher specification and the tracks are slightly different.

John explained more about the different levels of competition: “All amateur and semi-professional go-karters step down to whichever is the cheaper and easier version of karting for them. But it is still very, very competitive, whatever level you’re at. I’ve only started racing this year, but I’ve been go-karting for nearly three years now. Next season I’m aiming to go into Easikart championship, which is a level down from the road tax, but just as competitive and still very good.”

Go-karting is similar to professional motorsport in that it is equally popular around the world. It is not just F1 where talented go-karters have ended up. Other motorsports which include former go-karters are Nascar, Indy racing, Champ racing and some have even found themselves in the Moto GP and World Super Bike Championship. I asked John where worldwide go-karting is centred. “Europe is the place to be to go from karting to F1 because it’s a European- based sport. Go-karting is pretty popular around the world, but the main competitive leagues and championships are all based within Europe. Most of the money and go-karting organisations are also based in Europe. I don’t why Europe is the leading place for go-karting but that’s just how it is.”

 Competitive environment

The level of competition in the sport is very high and dedication and talent are essential to become successful in the sport. As John says:”Competition is very high. If you’re sharp as an amateur don’t expect to win, that’s all I’m saying. At Sandown Park where I race, there are two brothers who always win because of the amount of practice they put into it. They live at the track more or less and I can never pass them on the track. I’ve never had a podium with them so there’s that sort of level. I’ve raced against drivers who are now in Formula Ford racing.”

As John said, he has high aspirations for his future in motorsport and just from speaking to him I sense his drive and desire to succeed. But he still has a few issues he needs to overcome first on his journey. “I just need the practice and skill. In order to get into Formula GP3, you need a manager, definitely need sponsors because you can’t afford it from a daily job”. I’m sure there’s every chance we’ll see more of John one day.

 TeamSport run a membership scheme. It costs £19.95  for one year and includes 10% off whenever you race. For more information visit the TeamSport website at www.team-sport.co.uk.

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