Karting in Finland

2010

Something about… karting in Finland!

I hope you don’t get bored to death, but Pete Muller asked for it… this is how I see it.

I must start with some background, as I don’t expect that the people in this mailing list in general know very much about Finland.

The country is situated up north such that the southernmost point of Finland is about level with the southernmost point of Greenland. Because of the Gulf stream, the climate is not quite as cold as it would seem. Still, the warm period of the year is rather short, but karters use it to the max – the season’s first and last races sometimes suffer from snowfall. It is seldom that we have any problems with too much heat! I really feel envious when some of the southern US racers describe their problems with the heat, as I would really much more like to cope with the heat than with the cold.

Finland is about half the size of Texas, and not too densely populated with some 5 million citizens. Compared to the number of people, there is a good number of karting tracks – a total of 38 AKK (Autourheilun Kansallinen Kilpailutoimikunta, the National Commitee for Car Racing) sanctioned tracks. The national rules are loosely based on international CIK rules, with some of the CIK classes adopted as such, along with some national/Nordic classes. Kart racing is entirely what I think is called sprint in the US. The tracks are short (the shortest one 400 m, the longest ones 1080 m) road racing courses resembling miniature F1 tracks in their layout. It’s the kind of racing you will mostly see all over Europe.

To race, you must take an AKK licence through a sanctioned club. AKK has a training system that tries to promote racing careers of the most promising drivers, selected on the basis of racing results.

The number of active drivers with a national or international licence is something like nine hundred, and some eighteen hundred with a licence for regional racing only. I don’t know how this compares with other countries, but I think that kart racing is relatively popular here. People travel quite a lot to the different tracks. You can basically come to know all the racers in the country in your class.

Karting has produced a number of ace Finnish drivers to the larger car racing classes. Former F1 world champion Keke Rosberg once took his kart racing quite seriously, as have done a number of other people, like F1 drivers J.J. Lehto, Mika Hakkinen and Mika Salo – all former Finnish kart racing champions. Finland is also known for its rallye drivers (out of memory, five world champions). I know that of them Ari Vatanen and Markku Alen drove karts in their days.

Karting will help to produce Finnish champion drivers in the future, too. Many of the people I see at the races are really committed. A strong will takes a man through the grey rock they say, and you will see some of the most stubborn Finns fighting their way at the races. The racing is very fierce and close in general. Sometimes maybe even too fierce, as it tends to take away part of the fun – but brings with it another dimension of excitement.

Well, I must not forget that the people who have under 10-year old drivers do know how to have fun. They are not allowed to run in the official races, so they find other things to do instead, like camps with a lot of other activities besides karting. But leisure and fun karting was not much heard of until recent years – almost all the people in the sport just wanted to do well at the races. Still, it is not much of a spectator sport like it is in the southern and continental Europe. The clubs arrange the races but they generally do not advertise them or try to attract any spectators. This I think is not much good, as it makes it even harder to obtain any sponsorship.

The classes we run in are either based on CIK (under FIA) classes or national classes. The CIK based classes are the Formula A, and Junior A, as well as C-125 and Formula 250cc gearbox karts. The 250s have motocross engines. These classes are widely known in whole Europe. The Formula A I think is the most respected of the different classes. Why, Ayrton Senna and many of the present as well as up and coming F1 racers used to run this kind of karts. I believe that the people in the US also know these classes. The largest classes by the number of participants however are the national, or Nordic Yamaha and Raket/Mini classes. They all have a direct drive without clutch. The Yamahas use a standard KT100S engine with no modifications allowed, and a standardised pipe. They produce some 16 hp at 15.000 rpm. The Raket/Mini is a speciality to the northern countries. It is for the younger drivers, the Mini for ages 10 to 12 and Raket for 12 to 16. The engine for this class, Raket 85, is a Swedish product made by Radne Karting in Stockholm. It seems to be based on a chain-saw engine design. The capacity is 85 cc, and its fan cooled. It is also a homologated engine like the Yamaha with no modifications allowed. A good Raket makes a little less than 10 hp and revs to 12.500 rpm, while a Mini – which is a Raket engine with a 12 mm carb restrictor – makes some 8.5 hp and goes up to some 11.000 rpm. The national classes also have homologated frames and specified tire types. Tires used now are Maxxis Runner 3.6/10-5 front, 6.0/11-5 rear slicks, Maxxis WT4 4.4/10-5 front and 6.0/11-5 rear rain tires for Mini and Raket classes. For Yamaha, Maxxis Runner SLC C-190 N 4.5/10-5 front, 7.1/11-5 rear slicks are used, and the same Maxxis rain tires as for the smaller classes. Unfortunately, there are subtle but important differences in the rules between the Nordic countries, that I think should be removed. The important differences are in the tires allowed. For example, I would be interested in traveling over to Ume for races in case we had similar rules. It is only a 4 hour boat journey over to Sweden from where I live.

The most popular kart makes are Dino, CRG and Tonykart. You will also see some Birel, Swiss Hutless and Haase, and occasionally some other makes, too. In the national classes there are also some Finnish-built karts; Sonic and Finnkart being the most common. Almost everybody has a tach but you won’t see much other instrumentation or dataloggers.

The racing scene is dominated by the large number of young drivers. The gearbox classes have some older drivers, while the direct-drive classes are mainly where the people with ambitions for a racing career try to make a name for themselves. Also there is a class called the Senior 100 with karts in their technical specification close to the Formula A 100 cc class. Senior 100 drivers are required to be at least 25 years old (ladies at least 20 – wonder if this is because some ladies do not like to tell their age if it’s much more?) and not previously in possession of a national class licence.

I mentioned many times F1 racing. For almost all racing enthusiasts in Europe it unquestionably represents the ultimate form of motor racing. During the last race that was arranged in Vaasa, the commentator interviewed some drivers from all the classes. He asked all of them about their goals. Most of them spoke something about what they wanted to make in the next heats. The pole-sitter of the Mini class (10 to 12 years, remember) was interviewed, too. When asked about his goals the firm answer came immediately: “To become a Formula One driver!”

Thank you for listening.

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