Since first launching karting for Juniors in about 1995, we are often asked if we will allow mixed age groups on the circuits. Fathers are keen to go racing with their sons, maybe to show them the skills that would have meant that Dad would have been an F1 World Champion if he had had the chance to drive karts when he was younger.
With so much karting available today, it is very easy to forget that before the advent of Indoor Karting (about 23 years ago) it was not easy for anyone to drive a kart, other than a very slow, heavy thing in holiday parks and Spanish islands.
Considering the entire F1 grid and thus all six of the F1 World Champions currently racing in F1 started their racing careers in cadet karts, it is seen as the first step on the ladder towards a motor racing career. But until recently, Dad needed to either fork out to buy Junior their own kart or stump up the money to pay someone else for the chance to drive theirs. I met Anthony (father of Lewis) Hamilton recently. He not only got Lewis into karts at a very early age, he acted as his mentor, his trainer and his motivator. Anthony was helping Force India select their future racing stars and his experience was essential in helping them choose drivers to invest in.
Nowadays, drivers as young as five can learn to drive “proper” go karts in Bambino training sessions as circuits throughout the UK with prices starting at just £25 inc VAT. Responsible circuits such as Daytona will insist that Bambino drivers have to undergo specific training modules within a small training circuit before they are permitted to drive on one of the Junior tracks which, considering the big range in maturity between five year olds, is very wise. Once the young driver has proved they can control the kart, especially that they can stop the kart if something goes wrong, then they will be allowed to do advanced test sessions and possibly even compete in time trials – until they are 8 – when they can start racing in cadet karts.
As we see more and more Junior drivers, we are asked THAT question by dads more and more; “Can we drive on the track together?”
Unfortunately for them we have taken a conscious decision not to mix age groups. Considering the different karts, the different speeds and the different masses involved when juniors and seniors drive, we are not prepared to take the risk. A Bambino kart and driver will weight approximately 70 kgs combined. An average 30 year old in a twin engined prokart will weight about 180 kgs. The Bambino kart is designed to provide bambino drivers the correct level of safety in case they are hit by another bambino kart doing maybe 20mph. They are not designed to withstand a pro-kart and adult driver doing 60mph.
Of course, no father would knowingly endanger their own child. But we are not able to guarantee that drivers are of a suitable standard to be safe on the circuit with a youngster alongside them. Similarly, we would never allow other adults on the track at the same time as your offspring.
So I am afraid that dads will have to wait until their offspring reach 16 years old before they can drive together. Some would say that that gives dads a few more years before their kids beat them on the track!