Last week, the head honcho's at KA (I hate the new name, doesn't roll off the tongue like AKA at all!) dropped a bomb and released their "whole of sport review". It's the biggest change to hit Australian karting since... well, since long before I was involved, and possibly since before I was born! From the stories I've heard, this is the biggest thing to hit Australian karting since the venerable Yamaha KT100 engines were introduced, which I believe was some 30 years ago.
The new board of directors have been in place for about 11 months. I believe this is a good sign. They've been in place long enough to do a great deal of research into the issues and options that the sport of karting presents, and they're also not sitting on their hands doing nothing. Prior to the board being put in place I had mentioned that I believed we needed someone with "big nuts" to take the sport by the scruff of the neck and shake it up, implementing a long-term vision for stability and growth. My prayers appear to have been answered. Now I just have to hope that the plan they implement is one that I agree with!
As we can see in discussions on Kartbook, not everyone is happy with the changes. I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm okay with the idea that I won't be happy with some of the changes! In his fantastic book Tribes (which roughly describes the template I used to set up Kartbook many years ago) Seth Godin said something to the effect of "If an idea doesn't cause controversy, it's not a good idea. The ideas that get talked about, are the ones worth talking about" (that's not an exact quote, but it was along those lines). I agree with that, wholeheartedly, so I think the controversy and discussion on Kartbook is a good sign. It means the changes have substance.
The "Whole of Sport Review" is a big release. The full review document runs to over 100 pages - the executive summary alone is ten pages! - so it's too much to discuss in a single post. Therefore, I figure the sensible thing is to start at the top and break it into sections. Some of it I like, some of it I'm not so keen on. Of course, my opinion is no more or less valuable than anyone else's, but I happen to have a blog that a few thousand people visit pretty regularly, and I'm allowed to use it, haha! :)
So, first cab off the rank is a big one: ENGINES
My favourite form of racing is Clubman. Light weight karts with air-cooled engines make the best racing, I reckon. Set up changes have a bigger "coming on, going off" effect on light karts (IE, the difference between your best lap and worst lap is usually bigger), and engine temps exacerbate that too (because a kart that's going off cooks the engine, which costs even more speed). For this reason, I'm frightened to change the Clubman formula. I shudder to imagine what Hayesy would say if he found out he couldn't use "The Beast" at the Nationals.
But that's exactly the point. There's an engine out there called "The Beast". And it earned its name. There's another one out there called "Trevor" which I've heard is even better, but then James Sera has a habit of making equipment look good, so who could be sure? The point is that these engines have names and reputations that follow them around from Championship to Championship because they're better than what you can buy. And that's shit. They're 40 year-old technology, with 20 year-old tolerances, and the parity is woeful.
Compare that to the IAME X30 which Cian Fothergill won the Nationals with a couple of years back after taking it brand new out of the box a few days earlier. Picture yourself as a new karter entering the sport, and me as a kart shop owner advising you on what class to buy into... Clubman (and National) is very much a class for people who are already in the sport. As a result, I was desperately hoping to see both iterations of the KT100 replaced, as much as I love it. I think the chosen replacement is perfect.
IAME have proven themselves with the X30 to have the closest performance parity of any manufacturer for which we have a reasonable amount of competitive data in Australia. And the chosen engine is aircooled! Perfect! You'll need to learn to tune, fellas, and that's a good thing! No smashing $500 radiators when you get run over either (saw another one last weekend). I wish it was a bit lighter, and I wish it was a bit cheaper, but frankly, I'll be very surprised if this engine is not an absolute winner. I'm buying one, for sure (you'll see some tech videos with me driving in the not too distant future. There! Public promise made, I have to do it now!).
Vortex I have less knowledge of, other than to say the media from Europe tends to suggest they're a close second fiddle to IAME in the pantheon of great karting engine producers, and I think a bit of spread around the industry is healthy to protect the sport from unforeseen financial catastrophes of some form or another, so I'm okay with a bit of diversity. I might have preferred a "cadet to seniors" solution, perhaps, but the second-hand market for karting is easy to offload motors to newcomers, so I don't reckon the chosen solution is too bad.
Rotax is an interesting one, but I support the decision. See, I hate the motor. I think it's a badly adapted scooter engine with a horrible carburettor and expensive parts, but I'll concede that this is only my opinion, and others love it. One thing that can be said is that IKD (the importers) simply revolutionised Australian karting with the Pro Tour and showed our governing body how it's done, with nowhere near the same budget. They breathed life back into national series racing in Australia, proved it's a viable proposition, and are now making good money out of it with a happy and supportive customer base following them everywhere they go (maybe Blackie read Tribes, too?). KA has empowered them for the future, and fair enough too. The Pro Tour is a testament to the way the top level of karting can be in this sparsely populated country.
CIK... I'm the least convinced about this. Clearly KZ2 has a place, because the elites love it, they don't care what it costs, and we all love to watch. KF... well, is it really that different from an X30? Of all the choices made, of all the "big balls" decisions that they've released in this document, this is the one that feels the closest to me like "we're not changing this because we don't want to admit we made a mistake". KF3 could, I think, be replaced with X30 Junior and nobody would notice the difference, except that they wouldn't have to buy another engine when they turned 16. And KF2? No offence intended to the guys running it, and there's a selection of good steerers in there for sure, but it doesn't exactly read like the "who's who" of Australian sprint karting, does it? And I don't see any evidence to suggest that it will. The way the classes are structured, it's supposed to be the "second best" field in Australian karting, and it just... isn't.
I think a truly big set of balls would have removed KF from the Australian landscape because to me it looks like an experiment that hasn't, and probably won't, work (especially at Senior level. At junior level the best kids are going to race whatever's the fastest, so obviously that's what they do! Putting them into X30's wouldn't change that).
Of course, you can't talk about engines without talking about classes, and whilst I've already started going there, I think that's a topic worthy of another whole post. My fingers are getting sore from typing this one, anyway! Gimme a break!
Catch ya soon :)
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"That's excellent darling. What's a KT100?" - My mum.
"Seriously dude, it's me or the go karts." - My ex-girlfriend.