Former F1 star David Coulthard has given his full support to the Motor Sport Association's latest Let's Go Karting initiative. The scheme has been established by the governing body of UK motor sport to provide those aged between eight and 16 with an opportunity to sample the thrills of kart racing for just £5.
No fewer than 20 venues throughout the UK are taking part in this innovative Let's Go Karting programme and Coulthard visited one the participating tracks - Rye House in Hoddesdon, Herts - with a BBC F1 film crew to highlight both the MSA's scheme and the flourishing junior karting scene within the UK. The resultant feature will be aired as part of the BBC's F1 coverage in the build up to one of the forthcoming Grands Prix.
While Coulthard started his karting career at Larkhall in Scotland - one of five Let's Go Karting venues north of the border - Rye House is in the news as it's where the reigning FIA Formula One world champion, Lewis Hamilton, had his first experience in motor sport aged eight.
"This is a great initiative," enthused Coulthard. "A lot of people don't know that karting exists beyond your fun go-karts at Blackpool. I only had the chance to start as my father was interested but, if he hadn't had the contacts, I wouldn't have known where to go to get on track. And, of course, you don't want the capital outlay of buying a kart before you can actually find out whether you enjoy it or not. That's why this scheme, set up by the MSA, requiring you to spend just five pounds to find out whether you're any good at it, and whether you have the enthusiasm, is to be commended."
Far from just watching several swift juniors taking advantage of the half-term break to have some fun at Rye House, Coulthard relived some old memories by taking to the track in a 70mph Rotax Max prepared by Martin Hines' renowned ZipKart business. It was quite a shock for the 13-time Grand Prix winner and highest scoring British driver in F1 history.
"It's about 15 years since I've been in a kart, so it was a bit of an eye-opener," he admitted. "I'd forgotten just how raw a formula it is; no downforce, no suspension... just man and machine. However it reminded me what a great discipline karting is - if you can be quick here you can be quick anywhere. It's no surprise that of the vast majority of recent World Champions started in karting."
Coulthard was also impressed with the youngsters he met at Rye House. "It's amazing just how much attention to detail they now have - there were eight year olds asking me about tyre pressures! That's the world we live in today with PlayStations and data-logging. It wasn't quite as sophisticated when I started. And, even if they don't go into racing, I've no doubt this will make them better road car drivers."
MSA chief executive Colin Hilton was also present to participate in the BBC filming. He said: "It was great to see David coming back to a kart track and role models like him are a great inspiration to others. The Let's Go Karting programme - an integral part of our larger Go Motorsport project - has already helped more than 3,000 newcomers to experience what karting has to offer and thousands more will be going through the scheme in the coming months. Since its launch last summer, we have added four new venues to the list of those MSA sanctioned track offering these professionally run and organised Let's Go Karting sessions. With Jenson Button leading the world championship and a British World Champion in Lewis Hamilton, motor sport is back on the radar of many children. The Let's Go Karting scheme has been established to help these youngsters fulfill their dreams and maybe one of them will emulate what David's achieved in 20 years time."
2009 Let's Go Karting venues:
1. Buckmore Park, Nr Maidstone, Kent (0845 603 7964)
2. Cambuslang Karting, Nr Glasgow, Strathclyde (0141 641 0921)
3. Dunkeswell Kart Racing Club, Honiton, Devon (0844 544 9070)
4. East of Scotland Kart Club, Nr St Andrews, Fife (07973 360398)
5. Ellough Park Raceway, Nr Lowestoft, Suffolk (01502 717718)
6. Forest Edge, Barton Stacey, Hampshire (01258 451097)
7. Grampian Kart Club, Nr Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire (01358 724205)
8. Knockhill Racing Circuit Ltd, Nr Edinburgh, Midlothian (01383 723337)
9. Llandow, Nr Cardiff, Mid Glamorgan (01446 795568)
10. PF International, Nr Newark, Lincolnshire (01623 662218)
11. North of Scotland Kart Club, Nr Inverness, Sutherland (01463 870875)
12. Cumbria Kart Club, Nr Workington, Cumbria (01900 606627)
13. Rye House Kart Raceway, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (01992 460895)
14. Shenington Kart Club, Banbury, Oxfordshire (01926 812177)
15. Ulster Kart Club, Nr Belfast, Northern Ireland (02890 825301)
16. Teesside Autodrome, Middlesbrough (01642 231117)
17. Whilton Mill Kart Club, Daventry, Northants (01869 252221)
18. Cheshire Kart Racing Club, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire (0151 355 7513)*
19. Glan Y Gors, Corwen, North Wales (01490 420770)
20. Q Leisure, Brighton, Sussex (01273 834403)*
* Subject to final approval
03 June 2009