• To become a karter, one needs to join a KMSF affiliated club, get a competition license from KMSF, procure racing safety gear and preferably get a kart of their own-Ongalo.
• Karting in Kenya and across the globe is not just for children. The regulations also permit adults to join.
In asphalt racing, cruising inches away from a competitor requires unique ability.
This is for the simple reason that wheel-to-wheel adroitness and precision require a certain amount of grit and levelheadedness.
In Kenya, the kids driving go-karts are equally enthusiastic and continue to transform their asphalt driving skills at a phenomenal rate.
So, to say karting has made drivers of global repute is an understatement! This admirable form of circuit racing has actually produced world-beaters who continue to captivate the scene at breakneck speeds.
Multiple Safari and Kenya Champion Baldev Singh Chager, Jeremiah Wahome (former Formula 3 racer in the British Championship, now rallying in the FIA African series) and Tejas Hirani who savoured a glorious stint in the prestigious World RX Lites Championship—all realised their potentials in motorsport as a karters below the ages of 10 years.
Formula One Karting Stars-
In fact, the present-day generation of Formula One drivers started karting between the age of three and 16 years.
The four most successful F1 drivers including Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Fernando Alonso (Alpine), and Max Verstappen (Red Bull), started racing Go-Karts before six.
Rightly so, the Karting Commission of the Kenya Motor Sport Federation (KMSF) has kindled expectations that they must now strive to live up to, as they envisage value addition to its structures, hence the long search for Kenya’s first Formula One driver.
Norris Ongalo of the Karting Commission reckons that the journey to the summit of the asphalt racing space is, to say the least promising.
Ongalo continues to extol initiatives of the ‘FIA Global Pathway from Karting to F1’ which is a program developed by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and tailor-made to assist racing drivers progress from karting to F1.
The program was first developed in 2014 with the creation of the Formula 4 category, and follows a tiered structure, with drivers racing in increasingly-powerful cars.
The Global Pathway represents the consolidation of the feeder series to create a more linear approach to progressing into Formula One.
Ongalo singles out karting as a good breeding ground for future motorsports stars. He revealed that children from the tender age of five years can start competitive racing on asphalt tracks.
Ongalo also notes that the various classes are designed based on age and as such, participants in each class learn to compete amongst their age sets.
“Karting teaches the children good car control. Due to the low centre of gravity of the karts, the kids are able to negotiate the tight corners at a high speed.”
“Karting is also a non-contact sport. Given that the children race in groups, this teaches them to plan their manoeuvers hence growing their driving lines.”
“As they grow through the classes, the children as young as 12 years are able to dictate their preferred kart setup (gearing, camber/caster, tyre pressures, etc). They are able to manage engine temperatures and carburetors settings while racing,” Ongalo narrated.
So how does one become a karter in Kenya?
Ongalo went on: “To become a karter, one needs to join a KMSF affiliated club, get a competition license from KMSF, procure racing safety gear and preferably get a kart of their own. Since karting is regulated by National Competition Regulations, it is important for one to familiarise themselves with the regulations before investing in the gear and karts. Driving or mechanical experience are not prerequisite.”
He goes on to explain that the karting crew includes one to two individuals who don’t need to have prior mechanical knowledge; as “most parents do mechanical maintenance for their children’s karts and the extra crew help with the basics of kart setup.”
Something for all and sundry
Karting in Kenya and across the globe is not just for children. The regulations also permit adults to join. “In Kenya, we have senior rotax and open classes that are available for over 18 years of racers. In the future, we are looking at standardising engine models so that one doesn’t have to invest in new engines when they move up the classes. We are looking at various ways to manage costs and make it easier to manage the integrity of the sport. We also would like to have local engine agents. This will cut down cost and turnaround time for engines that have to be sent abroad for repairs.”
Ongalo would like to see more club races come to the fore. He believes this will increase the racing craft of the children and improve the competitiveness of the sport. “It will also spur the growth of new tracks and improve the quality of the existing ones,” he quipped.
When asked about the progress made in Kenyan karting and what has changed over the past few years, Ongalo expounded: “The number of entries competing in each class has more than doubled from 2-3 in 2018 to over 6 to date. For over 3 years, we never had any entries for the Bambino class but this year, we saw up to 5 competitors.”
“What’s more, we have seen a good engine transition for the cadet class from the Comer to IAME. The quality of racing tracks is one of the best in Africa. We have Whistling Morans with the best track design and features; TGRV with the best surface and RVMSC Solai as the most challenging one because of its twisty layout. All these tracks have very good runoffs which make them safer heavens for racing.”
“We have a commission whose majority members are independent. Only one out of six of the members is a parent. This has improved objectivity in the running of the sport. In the past, the majority of the commission members were parents hence cases of possible conflict of interest and susceptible to partisan politics,” he revealed.
Ongalo, who has officiated as WRC Safari Chief Safety Officer since the return of world status in Kenya, is happy that karting in the country has recovered from the effects of Covid with all rounds running from 2021 to date. “We have seen the number of new officials grow with RVMSC contributing the majority of the new officials.
He nevertheless regrets the fact that clubs that run the races continue to struggle to meet their financial obligations as most of the racing tracks are private properties and attract a high hiring cost.
“Given their track’s commercial facet and the fact that the races occur over the weekends when the commercial side of the business is at its peak, the track owners hire the facilities at a very high cost; and this is clearly understood as they need to recover their capital investment.”
“To assist the clubs in meeting their financial obligations, all stakeholders have been instrumental in the growth of the number of competitors. We are working round the clock to get corporate sponsors on board.”