The annual festival of Superkarting has switched venues for 2012; the 32nd running of the British Superkart Grand Prix moving from its spiritual home of Cadwell Park to its new home at Snetterton in Norfolk. The MotorSport Vision owned circuit that started life as an RAF airfield in the 1940’s and was extended in time for the 2011 season will host Superkart’s for the second time in its latest form, supported by the Intersteps Championship, Mini Se7en and Dunlop Production Touring Car Championship.
This year the British Superkart Grand Prix is also host to Round 2 of the CIK FIA European Superkart Championship for the Division 1 class, as well as Rounds 5 and 6 of the British Superkart Championship for the class. Thirty-Seven of the finest Superkart racers in Europe will break the Norfolk silence, undoubtedly headed by multiple European and British Superkart Champion Gavin Bennett. Gavin finds himself in a comfortable lead in the British Championship, but its Dutchman Marcel Maasmann who leads the European Standings after a 2nd and a win at Hockenheim in April. In a weekend heavily affected by weather, Grimsby’s Lee Harpham looked to be in charge after winning race one, but a snapped chain curtailed his second race, leaving Dane Henrik Lilja to follow Maasmann across the line. Adam Kout took a brace of third places at Hockenheim and will be looking for more strong performances in England. Bennett’s slightly disappointing but useful 5th and 6th places see him joint fifth with Henrik Vejen, just behind Harpham, but he will be hoping to carry across his form from the British Championship to challenge for honours at Snetterton. Only a fool would rule out reigning European Champion Emmanuel Vinuales of France, and former European Champion Damian Payart proved his pace on his return after a sabbatical in 2011, even if he was unlucky. From British shores, the experience of Charles Craven and Malcolm Crowe will be hard to ignore, but many eyes will be on Chris Needham and Liam Morley. Both have graduated from KZ into Division 1, Chris at the start of last season and Liam the end of last year, and both have looked quick early in their premier class careers. Chris took a milestone victory at Bishopscourt in June, earning himself the UK Cup in the process and the outright circuit record (beating none other than Honda WSBK rider Jonathan Rea’s time), and ran very well at the 2011 meeting on this circuit, beaten only by his own inexperience at the time.
Moving onto the MSA Formula 250 National class and the Formula 450’s, competing together, and a combined grid of 39 250’s and 3 450’s will battle it out for the Superkart GP title. Last years GP winner Jason Dredge tops the entry list, but Paul Platt heads the British Championship, and has only been beaten once since the culmination of last years event. The only man to beat him in over a year is Toby Davis, the elder of the two extremely competitive Davis brothers, who ran away to win Race one at Bishopscourt, setting the lap record in the process. He and his brother Ben have utilised a DRS system to great effect this year, and will be hard to ignore at the high speed Snetterton circuit. The man with the best experience of this Snetterton layout however is Louis Wall. Running second in the championship with a string of consistent results, Louis dominated the 2011 event and holds the lap record, and will look to repeat that success here. Adam Underhill has looked increasingly competitive of late, and only some bad luck has prevented him from joining Toby in breaking Platt’s stranglehold on the series. The Clark’s, Dan and Stephen are challengers on their day, Dan’s consistency sees him fifth in the standings, but Stephen has only finished two races thus far in 2012. Aaron Sifleet is one of only four drivers to finish every championship race in 2012, along with Platt, Wall and Steve Burton, while local interest in the class is held with Ashley Mack of Ely and Graham Johnson of Thetford the closest to the circuit. At the opposite end of the scale, spare a thought for the two furthest travelling mainland competitors, Welshman Iwan Davies and Scotslady Catherine Foster, Foster just edging out Davies by a mere fourty-five minutes both travelling a good seven hours to attend this fantastic meeting. Of the 450 contingent, Chris Purdie and Andrew Gulliford are often seen duelling for honours in the newest class to Superkarting, and will be joined by Dutchman Mark Nachtegeller, and expect to see this trio mixing it with their 2 stroke counterparts.
The final group of Superkarts on track this weekend is the 125, KZ and 210 classes. 22 125 Open karts will be joined by 4 KZ’s and 5 210’s. Don’t be fooled however; it may be the smallest group on track, but expect the action to be red hot. The man of the moment in 125 Open is Matt Isherwood. Since converting from KZ to 125 Open for this year, he has won an impressive four of seven races, including the coveted UK Cup at Bishopscourt, but a problematic home race at Oulton leaves him third in the standings, a fact he will be hoping to alter in Norfolk. Reigning National Champion Ben Willshire heads the standings with two race wins, but Dan Edwards looks to have the edge in terms of challenging Isherwood for outright wins, having looked incredibly quick at Croft and Oulton, only to be sidelined in Croft race two by a mechanical issue. Current GP holder and former champion Danny Butler has had a topsy-turvy season thus far but will look for improvement at the circuit he won his 2010 National title at. Isherwood’s team-mate Gareth Sheridan currently lies fifth in the standings and having switched from Pavesi engines to ex Chris Needham VM power for this event will be looking to push the front runners harder, and Damian Sleep will be looking to re-ignite his push for race wins having skipped a few races with engine troubles. Similarly Louise Colin will be trying to reverse her fortunes so far this year, with mechanical troubles and illness causing her to plummet down the standings. A gaggle of drivers have challenged for top tens this year, Manxman Jason Kitchin, car convert Duncan Marshall and 2011 KZ Champion Kevin Gray amongst them, but Garth Dyer’s easily distinguishable Red Bull liveried outfit will be worth a watch, with ex 210 Champion Lee Plain gathering pace in his debut year of 125’s. The small grid of KZ karts is full of experience, with Mark Brookman and Ian Larder both having challenged for GP titles in the past, joined by debutant Richard Palmer and Dutchman Sven van de Wardt. Palmer is in the form of his life right now, winning the short circuit GP and 0 plate titles and is very much in contention for the National Championship, while Sven van de Wardt makes another appearance at the Superkart Grand Prix having made his debut in 2009. The class is noted for its close races; slipstreaming and bump-drafting common place in the class easily recognisable by the lack of aerodynamic bodywork and the racing will be close amongst these four, while in 210 National Don Thompson and Charles Morris will head the class of Villiers engined “classic” karts, with Anglesey resident Peter Masson, Peterborough’s Rob Perkins and Banbury’s Tony Bury making up the remainder of the grid.
As if a weekend of close, fast racing isn’t enough, Friday will see World Touring Car racer and local driver Rob Huff taking to the track in a Barker Racing Division 1 Superkart, and who knows, with Chevrolet pulling out of the WTCC at the end of the season maybe he’ll join 2011 Intercontinental Rally Champion Kris Meeke in migrating to Superkarts. Tickets are available at the gate, come down and check out the smallest, fastest form of racing to take to the Snetterton Race Circuit. And who said Size Matters?!