By Karting1 ~ March 12th, 2012. Filed under: Kart Racing News, Karting Philosophy.
The CIK are pretty clear about this – they want to simplify the KF concept, make it cheaper and attract more private entries. But what does this actually mean for KF and its design philosophy? It is over a decade now since the CIK announced it wanted to get rid of 100cc and move to a 4-stroke formula. But the unhappy teams and manufacturers decided they didn’t want to go the 4-stroke direction and the CIK agreed. From the embers of dropping the 4-stroke formula arose ‘KF’ – a 125cc TaG engine concept.
In 2007 the CIK released a document titled ‘The 10 Key Points to KF’. It stated “In the last decade, kart engines had become so high-performance that they were costly and difficult to run. They found themselves isolated in a restricted niche of pure racing products and could no longer satisfy the larger hobby market. Each direct-drive category also had its own specific types of engines.”
“The definition the CIK has given to the new engines is based on this wise principle: homologation of a basic “standard” engine, attractive for all kartmen, and from which three sporting variants will be available”
The 10 aims were
- It will offer a new approach
- It will be easier to use
- It will be less costly to run
- It will be more reliable
- It will be safer
- It will be more user-friendly
- It will be more environment-friendly
- It will be more attractive
- It will provide smoother upgrading from one class to another
- It will offer more opportunities
Each of the above aims were admirable and something worthy of pursuing, however since its introduction KF hasn’t been able to quite live up to the billing. Its main competition – Rotax – has maintained and cemented its dominant market position. A position which the CIK & manufacturers were aiming KF (or KF4 more specifically) right at. KF has witnessed declining national/international grids and an expansion of costs and complication – the opposite of what was intended. KF4, the bedrock of the KF concept, has been an unadulterated failure not seeing one meaningful independent grid in the world.
KF hasn’t been able to live up to the CIK and manufacturers expectations
It appears the design philosophy of the KF, which is a near carbon copy of the MAX, doesn’t work quite so well outside of the spec-racing formula where technology and development can be strictly controlled. The CIK have quite understandably recognised this, and have now stated their intent on simplifying the whole KF concept with Kees van de Grint heading a new group looking into it.
So what options are on the table? Though a return to the glorious days of 21,000rpm madness is unlikely (though one can be forgiven for dreaming of it), the most popular idea currently is to remove the power valve, remove the internal water pump, increase the capacity to 135/150cc, and simplify the electronics with a realistic rev limit.
If the CIK fancied getting a bit adventurous the TaG elements (starter motor & battery) could be removed and a clutch system like we see on KZ could replace it. It would reduce costs certainly, but it’s questionable whether the market would digest it.
A glimpse into what the future of CIK racing might look like comes in the form of the BRC150RR . It’s an engine built in Canada and a rather wonderful piece of engineering it is.
Designer Riley Will described the driving experience as the closest thing he’s has been in since he raced Formula Super A.
If the CIK wanted to take a strong stance on environment issues a direct fuel injection system brings a 2-stroke right in-line with the emissions of a 4-stroke though the added complexity/cost of such a system would probably prove an unattractive prospect for the CIK and manufacturers. Direct fuel injection would probably only be a realistic option for spec-series at the moment.
The main challenge is making the product fast enough yet still economically viable & desirable. There is a vast and growing array of 125cc TaG engines that will give a KF a run for its money on performance, prove to be far more reliable, and provide a more stable racing platform. For example, the KF3 doesn’t have a power valve and it’s rare to see one blow. It’s probably the most successful version of KF and yet despite its relative simplicity and good reliability compared to a KF2, it still doesn’t enjoy bumper grids the world over when you compare it to the market penetration Junior Max/Minimax enjoys. The technical challenge is massive for the CIK, it really can’t be underestimated.
The CIK still has inherent prestige attached to it. It’s a major selling point and is probably why KF2/KF3 can maintain half-decent grids at the very elite championships. The biggest names in karting are remembered primarily for their FIA/CIK glory – Ardigo, Foré, Thonon, Wilson, Fullerton etc… But the CIK has taken a bit of a pounding in recent years. The formation of the WSK championships as well as the growing strength of single-make championships like the MAX Challenge, X30 Europa Cup and the ROK Cup means the next generation of CIK engines have to be right on the money so it can maintain and grow on its prestige based market position.
The CIK has to bring all the major manufacturers with them as well, and no doubt they will be met with some resistance. Companies like TM and Vortex have invested vast amounts of money into KF. To see the the concept fail in just 5 or 6 years doesn’t look too good on the balance sheets, but neither does a decline or stagnation in competitor numbers. Not many see real future growth in KF.
The CIK will have an eye on the success they’ve had with the U18 championship using Parolin engines. They know they don’t necessarily need Vortex/IAME/TM etc… all 100% on-board to make something a success. It may be a case of ‘like it or lump it’ for the manufactures, similar to the effect the new CRT bikes are having in MotoGP.
Going back to the drawing board is never a cheap process for manufacturers. The costs of a development program will have to be recouped via the customer in the end. The cost of racing karts is a infinitely complex subject. Racing 100cc can be as cheap as chips at club level and cost you an arm and a leg if you’re racing at World Championship level. Sometimes it’s the ‘level’ and not the actual kart which dictates cost. Having less things to spend money on though, as the CIK hope, should at least relieve some of the financial burden for racers.
Recent tweaks in the KF regulations for 2013 don’t do much to change the situation. The CIK are fully aware if they are to penetrate the market like the MAX or X30 has they need to make drastic changes and meaningful changes.