Episode 2 of the Stelvio Chronicles takes an in depth look at the very first steps of the F1 ladder, Go-Karting. Stelvio Automotive were invited to Rye House to experience the hard and fast action of the IKR series where potential future F1 Champions may be in the making.
Sean Smith and Sam Green
Almost all racing drivers start off their careers in a Go-Kart. This small, lightweight “toy” with its tubular frame and tiny seat may look unconvincing when you stand above it; but when you see them skidding into corners with a driver desperately trying to keep control at 60 mph with 20 others all jostling for position, you soon realise that these are serious works of art.
Stelvio Automotive was invited down to Rye House to see Round 4 the IKR series. The in-house championship which pits independent teams and drivers against one another across an array of classes at one of the UK's oldest and most prestigious karting race tracks.
The racers start with the Bambino classes, with kids barely half way through primary school, through the Honda Cadets all the way to the Senior Rotax division where the ultimate racing go karts do battle at colossal speeds.
The podcast below features my fellow Uni Graduate and very good friend, Sam Green, where we go into depth on the subject of the karts, the classes, the Rye House Young Driver Programme and much more.
Below that is the race report from the day at the track where some intense non-stop action occurred.
Parental Guidance Warning - Bad Language used between 1.00 and 1.20
Disclaimer - All views and opinions voiced in the Stelvio Chronicles along with all Stelvio Automotive media are the views and opinions of only those who air them at that particular time. They are not the views of any 3rd parties associated to any individuals taking part.
A Day in the Life of Rye - RHKC / IKR Championship Report
I arrived at the track at about 11 am. The practice sessions had just concluded and everyone was back at their tents preparing the karts ready for the day's racing. I met Sam just outside Race Control where the driver briefing was about to begin. Bambino and Cadet drivers were lined up front and centre with their parents and a mix of the Senior Rotax runners behind the wall.
Sam’s big point was one of safety. He and the team at Rye House had noticed drivers “playing chicken” on the front straight, a common tactic of squeezing your opponent to the edge of the track in order to scare them out of a pass. The drivers were ordered to keep to their racing line or face the risk of being black flagged and disqualified for dangerous driving if any disobeyed the warning.
Even at this level, these semi-open wheeled vehicles racing at the very least at 40 mph can be dangerous. Any wheel to wheel contact could cause a kart to vault into the air and cause serious injury to the driver or potentially marshals and bystanders. After the serious tone of Sam’s warning was heard and young drivers had asked all their questions on the "chicken" rule, the drivers dispersed back to their tents and the staff went to their posts for qualifying.
In many racing formulae the qualifying session is often a quiet time where a driver can just focus on the road ahead and set a fast lap. Not so in the IKR series. The Bambino Comers were up first and straight away there was a scary crash at ‘Hairpin 1' where a kart ramped up the front of another which had spun in front of it. It proved that motor sport is dangerous at any level and any age group. Fortunately everyone was okay and carried on, at the end of the running it was Kit Belofsky who took pole.
The Bambino Iame class, next up on the ladder, this class uses the same kart as the Comers but with a more "race-bred" engine and slick tyres which equate to them being a couple of seconds faster a lap. This class had Henry Domain on pole with the whole six kart grid separated by only 1.5 seconds.
The Honda Cadets provided an incredibly close session. The top 16 racers were within 1 second of pole position and with 28 karts spaced out on the 43 second long track, finding space was an issue for all. The drivers all jockeyed for position and in the end Reece Lomax took pole by a meagre 0.062 seconds.
Rotax 177 and Senior Rotax sessions had two things in common, the fact they are nearly identical specs (177 referring to the heavier minimum weight limit) and that the pole positions both went to someone called Alfie. Alfie Cockerall in 177s and Alfie Haralambous in Senior Rotax, the slightly faster class of the two. These karts showed with style a kart which is ‘tyre limited’ as they squirmed and skidded through the corners. Even in qualifying watching then on track together was fun so I was psyched for the real races to come.
The heat races are essentially a mini championship of their own merit. The ‘Champion’ is the one who can amass the most points in the two heat races, the prize being Pole Position for the finals later on. These races also gave drivers and crews time to test and adjust their karts to give themselves a chance of fighting for the final win at the end of the day.
Bambino Comers were first. This class was dominated by 3 drivers, pole-sitter, Kit, Riley Boxall and Jamaal Adam. In Heat 1, despite making a terrible start off the line, Kit's pace and race-craft were exemplary. He fought his way from 3rd to 1st in a matter of a few laps. He and Riley jostled for position but in the end Kit won by 0.053 seconds. Jamaal was a clear 3rd, a second a lap faster than 4th place and in Heat 2 he lead early on. The three leaders all raced together initially but Jamaal then crashed at Pylon 2 when his foot got stuck under the brake pedal. In the closing stages Kit used a back marker to overtake Riley and win by 0.191 seconds, Jamaal recovered, unhurt, to finish again in 3rd.
Next, the Iame Bambinos put on a clear display of the importance of momentum in these tiny go karts. Much like the old 125cc MotoGP bikes, these Bambinos only provide decent power when the revs are up to bursting point. This dependency makes it very hard to try an overtake without risk of losing out overall. In heat 1 the field split into 2 groups of 3 and as the top two fought one would overtake another then be overtaken back as the kart struggled for acceleration, Henry Domain won by 0.189s from George Davidson and Jacob Ashcroft. In heat 2 Henry won again and looked like a sure favourite going into the finals.
In Honda Cadets there was nothing but insanely close racing. There were crashes in the pack as drivers were pushed out wide onto the still wet grass after 'Elbow'. After the carnage, Reece Lomax lead early on but was being hunted down by the CER team’s drivers, Josh Patch, Spencer Baldwin and Daryl Taylor. In the closing laps Daryl made his moves; mugging both his team-mates and Reece to take an amazing victory in the closing laps. Josh and Spencer followed through to a CER 1-2-3 with Lomax down in 5th; showing how tightly the field was packed together. Daryl then won again in Heat 2 giving him pole for the final.
In 177s and Senior Rotax classes both provided amazing races as was expected after qualifying. They both had rolling starts and barrelled into ‘Stadium’, side by side at 70 mph+. From track-side you could understand why it’s such a feared corner, the slightest error would see you in the tyres. The karts were clouting the curbs and getting airborne into ‘Pylon’, not an inch was given. In 177s the top 3 pulled away and Alfie Cockrell converted his pole position as the top 3 were separated by 0.260 seconds across the line. In heat 2 Alfie won again, solidifying his pole but it was a close pack. In Seniors, Alfie Haralambous also won after his pole but that race saw Tom Darcy lead for much of the event. When he was overtaken he was squeezed by Hayden Cater and lost another position to Tom Sullivan, ending up 4th. Haralambous won by 1.5 seconds, the largest margin of the entire day. He also won heat 2.
The finals were where all the chips were laid down. The grids had been decided from the heats and this was the last chance to save your day's racing and walk away with some silverware. The big Championship points would be given out here and here alone, one mistake and your whole day’s efforts would be wasted.
The Bambino Comers were first. Kit from Pole lost the lead to Riley as they approached 'Stadium'. Jamaal followed his teammate, much closer than he had been in Heat 1 and qualifying. Riley, racing from the lead position this time defended vigorously taking away the inside line as soon as he came onto the main straight. At one stage Kit was thrown up into the air as he and Riley made contact but fortunately, again, everyone got away without being injured. After that incident Riley pulled away, Kit just held onto 2nd from Jamaal as the 3 were all a considerable distance away from the rest of the pack. Jamaal, despite not quite beating his rivals was still the rookie winner. Overall, these 3 were the ones I felt were the ones to watch most closely as they progress through the ranks as between them they all showed massively different styles and tactics in their race craft and were a joy to watch.
The Bambino Iames Final, by comparison, were pretty static. The six kart grid showed class in that no drivers made any major errors, but in the end this factor and the nature of the way the Bambinos take the track, barely using their brakes, meant there was little to no overtaking. George Davidson was the surprise winner, however. He beat the day’s favourite Henry Domain by 0.256 seconds after beating him off the line and held off his rival for the entire race.
The Honda Cadets was the final of the day to watch. The 28 karts all went on the green lights and there was a crash on the start line as one driver was spun and hit the wall. Then, coming down into ‘Hairpin 1’, there was a massive 12 kart pileup which caused a red flag and reset the grid. On the second attempt, Daryl Taylor lead from Reece Lomax, 4 karts battled behind for 3rd. Up front, Lomax caught Taylor in the closing laps, both drivers were aggressively pushing each other all over the track. One final manoeuvre caused Lomax to go onto the grass which caused disagreement after the race. After discussing it between the team and the drivers, the Rye House race officials deemed it a firm but fair racing incident and Daryl Taylor kept the win. Lomax was 2nd and Josh Patch was 3rd.
The 177s Final was much akin to an F1 event. These incredibly fast karts taking the course so quickly and the drivers doing so well that opportunities were at a premium. The key moment of the race came when Lee Sullivan, a front runner through the day and current championship leader, clipped the grass and crashed into stadium. He dropped to 17th but was otherwise okay. Alfie Cockrell and Andrea DeLuca were the two left fighting for the lead at the line. DeLuca put in two attempts on the final lap but came up short, losing to Cockrell who won the race by 0.070 seconds. The winner stared behind at his rival as they crossed the line to be sure of the result.
Last but not least were the Senior Rotaxs. There was a 5 car pileup into hairpin 2 which resulted in 3 of the 21 karts in the race being taken out on the spot. The race boiled down to 3 drivers: Alfie Haralambous, Hayden Cater and Tom Darcy. Much like the 177 races the order stayed static with looks and attempts being threatened but no lead changes occurred. Haralambous won the race, wrapping up a perfect day for himself, from Cater and Darcy who would later be excluded after being deemed as gaining an advantage by contact. Behind them it was a bit of a race of attrition and at the chequered flag only 15 karts came home to finish the race of the 21 starters.
After all was said and done I had a fantastic time at Rye House watching the action from the Race Control tower with a birds eye view of the whole track. My personal highlight, however, was actually off the track. Between the sessions I went down to the CER team paddock based at Rye House. There I spoke with Kit, Jamaal, their teammates and some of the parents and what most impressed me about the young racers was that they were already so well versed in the race driver mindset and so confident in their answers when talking to me as part of the media.
Every question I asked them resulted in a well thought out, tactically in-depth and confident response. I spoke to Kit and Jamaal individually after qualifying about how they planned to race each other and Riley (an Independent). Kit was incredibly confident and trusting in his own speed to get him to the front and win a race through pure race craft. This trait is one much akin to many top line F1 drivers. Jamaal's was a thoroughly different response. His was cunning and forward thinking, he knew Kit was weaker off the start and told me he was going to use that to jump both of his rivals as Kit defended this pole into Stadium. In the race he then followed it up, this kind of foresight is a trait which will give him a tactical edge against other drivers as he progresses on into the junior categories when he is old enough to drive the cars. Even more impressive as this is his rookie year in the series.
When I spoke to them about why they wanted to be racing drivers they both mentioned their parents and Lewis Hamilton, a 'local' driver to Hoddesdon where Rye House is located and who raced at Rye House when he was young. Both Kit and Jamaal said how they wanted to be successful and be Mercedes drivers in Formula 1 some day. From what I saw on track from them both the other weekend I would say there is a chance that dream may one day be achievable. If they are able to progress to such a level and able to find the right financial backing and opportunities which are so necessary these days, it's entirely possible. They have well over a decade to go until any F1 dream can become a reality but for now, at least, they have the Rye House IKR championship to learn the ropes and take those early steps.
My thanks again to all the Rye House staff. Special thanks to Sam Green and Ryan Musk for allowing my day at the IKR event and the podcasts to go ahead. Many thanks as well to Stuart Stretton for the photographs - http://www.stustretton.com/
For more information on Rye House please go to their webste http://www.rye-house.co.uk/ - Rye House Kart Raceway, Rye Road, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, EN11 0EH