Racing towards equality in motorsport
In 2010, Dave Player, a former Royal Engineer in the Army founded KartForce following rehabilitation from a debilitating spinal injury he suffered nine years earlier
Dave wanted to work with injured troops returning to the UK by bringing his knowledge and guidance having successfully re-shaped and refocussed his life from a wheelchair.
He established KartForce - a charity that enables injured military troops to access karting events, with the aim of supporting their recovery and rehabilitation - and set to work in designing a set of hand controls that could fit any kart, allowing drivers with a wide variety of disabilities to compete.
Dave’s continual development of his innovative design for hand controls has reached the stage where today, its world-leading features have been instrumental in putting Team BRIT at the pinnacle of disability motorsport technology.
Team BRIT was setup in 2015 as a branch of KartForce to give disabled drivers, many of whom are former or serving military troops, the opportunity to take the skills acquired in karts to the demanding and competitive world of endurance car racing. It is not a charity, but a competitive racing team and has already demonstrated that with the right support and development, disabled drivers can compete successfully against teams of able-bodied drivers on a totally level playing field — something that few other sports can do.
It may be called the Fun Cup, but the racing is deadly serious
The team made its first appearance in 2017 in the Fun Cup series of endurance races, where cars with identical sealed engines and gearboxes and strictly controlled regulations make for highly competitive racing.
The Motor Sports Association (MSA) approved fly-by-wire steering wheel mounted hand controls developed by Dave Player and Marko Mlakar, proved its design by allowing drivers with a wide range of physical disabilities to race competitively in this series where driver skills and race tactics differentiate the great from the good.
A taste of the 24 hours of Le Mans
Later that year, as part of its ambition to make racing history by becoming the first ever all-disabled team to compete at the Le Mans 24hr endurance race, it took delivery of an Aston Martin GT4.
The GT4 was entered in the Aston Martin Le Mans Festival 2018 – a 45-minute support race held prior to the annual 24-hour endurance race. Disabled military veterans Warren McKinlay and Jamie Falvey drove as part of the two-man team against 37 other teams on the start grid, with 24 cars in their GT4 class.
The team brought their GT4 home in a creditable 9th place in its class, an extraordinary achievement considering it was only their second GT4 race. It was however a bitter-sweet result for the team as during the race while chasing down P1 at a second a lap, a safety car was deployed and when the pit window opened, a marshal mistakenly indicated to driver Jamie Falvey to enter the pits at the wrong point, causing the team to drop 10 places to finish in p12.
"Whatever disabilities our drivers have to cope with, the radio system and team communications won't be an additional burden they have to carry"
Mike Scudamore, Team Brit’s Commercial Director was keen to emphasise the support the team has received from its sponsors in securing the long term financial future of Team BRIT in its quest to join the starting grid at Le Mans in 2020: “We’re fortunate that many enlightened businesses recognise what Team BRIT represents in changing attitudes and perceptions in today’s society through normalising disability and inspiring the disabled community by demonstrating what can be achieved in direct competition against their able-bodied counterparts.
The state-of-the-art KENWOOD radio system provided by motorsport communications experts MRTC is a good example. It’s the same as the one supplied to the FIA World Endurance Championships and many of the top-flight teams competing at Le Mans which means whatever disabilities our drivers have to cope with, the radio system and team communications won’t be an additional burden they have to carry”.
Equipped to compete
Warren McKinlay, Team BRIT driver and Driver Development Manager was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers until a motorbike accident in 2005 left him with a broken back, pelvis and traumatic brain injury which was diagnosed as Cotard’s Syndrome also known as ‘walking corpse syndrome’. Warren began racing with KartForce, which allowed him to rediscover the competitive drive and determination he thought he had lost forever. He has gone on to compete in the Fun Cup Series and was one of the two Team BRIT drivers competing at the Aston Martin Le Mans Festival.
Warren is also the architect of a new Team BRIT initiative, the establishment of an academy which will take drivers from KartForce through an Association of Racing Drivers Schools (ARDS) course, he comments: “The academy is something I’m really passionate about. It was a quantum leap from karts to the Fun Cup and at present, there are no ARDS cars equipped with advanced hand controls suitable for drivers with a range of physical disabilities to advance through training to their National B Competition Licence. Team BRIT will change all that and in addition will advise on the race series most suited to them, raising sponsorship, developing a team, equipment choices and of course, giving them access to the hand controls that will allow them to compete on equal terms”.
"The great thing about KENWOOD MRTC system is that it does everything a race team needs"
Race Engineer and team manager of Kartforce, Al Locke joined the team with an honours degree in Motorsport and a solid background in racing - from karts, to single seaters and saloons.
Al’s a big fan of the KENWOOD MRTC radio system and without mincing his words, reported: “The great thing about the KENWOOD MRTC system is that it does everything a race team needs when communicating within the pit, with the pit wall and drivers - and does it clearly and reliably. But I guess it should do, after all, it combines the technology and expertise from two of the world leaders in motorsport communications”.
Al is looking forward to playing a key role in realising the team’s 2020 Le Mans ambition having tasted success with their GT4: “We’re hoping to be in a position to compete in the GTE Class in an Aston Martin and while other members of the team are working hard to make that a reality, I’ll be making sure that everything is in place to make the team competitive”.
Dave Player, CEO & Founder concludes:
"What we do is to prove people wrong by demonstrating our British grit and passion to overcome every obstacle, just as the disabled community does every day. We are absolutely determined to race at the 24 hours of Le Mans and we will do this. But that’s not where it ends, it’s just a milestone on the journey to create a sustainable business that provides the opportunity for disabled people to compete at all levels of motorsports"