CKN Chatter is here this week with Steve Rickman of The Racelab. The Racelab is a karting operation out of Vancouver, British Columbia and just recently added the FormulaK chassis brand to their lineup. Focusing on ROK GP program and the road to the ROK Cup in Italy, The Racelab is a major player in the West and has a full lineup of karters for the 2013 season.
Taking some time out of his busy schedule, Rickman took some time to answer some questions for Canadian Karting News about The Racelab, Formula K, and karting in general.
As you said I have always had strong connections with CRG and have been a supporter since 2000 when I first raced on a CRG. So adding another brand was actually not something that was really on my mind to be honest, until one day I got a phone call from Formula K saying I had been referred to them by a mutual friend and they were looking for an importer they can work with in Canada. I mulled it over a bit and then realized that this market needed an option that could fill what I considered to be voids in the market and with FK I feel I can do that. So far with the response I’m having I’d say I was correct on that. I suppose I could say that they have been on the radar ever since De Brabander shocked the karting world when he almost took the KZ1 world title in only their second year which got me to thinking this company could be a real star in the future considering their progress at this point.
Where will you focus your race team for 2013? Rotax or ROK competition?
This year I will be promoting the ROK GP program in BC as it is the strongest senior class here now. I will also however be a part of the Rotax community by way of having a few drivers in the newly formed Can-Am series as well as the some Gold Cup and most likely the Western Canadian Championships.
How is your relationship with the Formula K factory? Will they be making an appearance in Canada this year to support your Racelab operation?
Well things are still new with us but I would say I am extremely pleased with the way we are working together. There technical director Cash Van Belle has been fantastic to this point getting us pointed in the right direction. As far as them making their way to Canada we haven’t had that chat yet however I wouldn’t rule it out for a major event of sorts.
Well I had a driver who we put a kart together for and I believe it was on the 22nd or 23rd of December. Anyways the weather in Vancouver was decent so he headed out to Chilliwack to put his new Formula K on the track for the first time and when he arrived he was greeted by a fully snow covered track. So he did what any racer would do and bolted on some treaded tires to see if he could make it around. In the end it was a failed attempt since the tires weren’t studded, however the image did get quite a few retweets and facebook likes so I suppose some people got a good laugh out of it.
Who will race for the The Racelab in 2013?
This year the racelab team will have quite a few drivers on it running both Formula K and CRG chassis including:
Chris Eagles FK/ROK
Davey Lam FK/ROK
Christian Waddell FK/ROK
Bob Wakeling CRG/ROK
Ray Lord CRG ROK
Jason Houghton CRG/ROK
Sean Smailes CRG/ROK
Plus we will be working with Kettner Motorsports who are an off shoot FK Team being managed by Tyler Dueck which will include:
Tyler Dueck FK/ROK
Howard Kettner FK ROK
Jordan Kettner FK ROK
Coral Kettner FK/ROK
There are a few more in the works but at the moment that is what we have confirmed.
The team in general will be shooting for some titles at the West Coast Kart Club Championship but also to take the top qualifying spots for the ROK World Finals in Italy where we would like to put some Canadians up front on the International level.
Will we see the RaceLab and Formula K at the ASN Canadian National Championships at Goodwood Kartways in August?
That is a great question, I am not sure what our plans are yet regarding the Nationals however it is something I am strongly looking into and that may be the event if we look to bring FK over from Europe to do so. I was really impressed by the way the nationals were handled last year by ASN so it might be time to make a return, now if only they gave me a ROK GP Class!
What are your thoughts about the 2013 Western Canadian Championships switching to a one-race format this year?
This was long overdue, I predicted last year that the program would not have been a huge success in the west as things are not as strong as they are in the east currently. The big series’ like that I think have actually killed club level racing because quite simply people are spending their entire budget on those race weekends and are left with little money to do local racing once they are done, furthermore they get it in their heads that they are too big for local racing when that shouldn’t be the truth, if your club racing is being supported properly. I come from a time where I raced in a parking lot and my competitors were: Michael Valiante, Darryl O’Young, Jordy Vorrath, David Jurca, Lorenzo Mandarino, Kevin and Chris Glover, Blake Choquer and so many more talented drivers and our club races drew 200 entries with spectators all the way down the fence. This was when karting was at its prime and it was done locally with some racing in Washington and Oregon that required the odd road trip of 6 hours. Instead now teams drag their entire clientele to major events and it exhausts everyones resources including the teams. I think the Westerns made the right move personally just like we did by integrating the ROK CUP with the club so the drivers are enticed to race at home and to race competitively in their backyard which will grow the sport properly that way.
The Beginners intro is exactly that, it is a program that we run for people with interest in the sport who would love the opportunity to try it. It is a way to get people in the seat. We do a driving clinic then roughly a half hour of hot lapping at Greg Moore Raceway using Briggs LO206 powered karts. So far this program has definitely helped the sport get exposure and some growth has resulted as a result. In 2011 we sold around 600 vouchers for these classes showing that there is interest in this sport out there it just needs to be made accessible.
Is it better to bring people into the karting world, or bring the karting world to the people?
Well that is a tough one but I would say personally I have had more success bringing people into the karting world by way of giving them an opportunity to try a kart no matter who they are. We have had everyone from 70 year old businessmen to Olympic athletes come through and every one of them love it and quite a few have converted into full time karters. With putting events in front of people you do draw interest in the sport but really you need a closer to get people in, whether its the shops have a program like we do here at the club, with our RaceNow@GMR program or something to that effect.
What is your current perspective on Canadian Karting, and how do you think we could improve it?
I think Canadian Karting has a long way to go still. I think all necessary improvements will stem from building stronger local markets and growing the numbers. This sport could be strong all the way across the natioan but I think the businesses that are involved for the most part are all too busy putting their efforts into the wrong things that won’t pay back in the end. I would love nothing more than to show up at a Canadian National event that has every category full, spectators everywhere and all of the professionalism of a WSK event or even a motocross race, however we need to grow a pyramid with a strong foundation first and currently we are building one from the top down.
I think in order to improve this, the industry needs to work harder and smarter to find new people and to broadcast the sport to everyone. We live in a world of social media which should allow us to grow much more rapidly than anytime in history however the sport hasn’t shifted one bit over the last 6 years which tells you there is a problem in the way the industry is working. Furthermore driver retention needs to be a focus, it is important to keep people in the sport once they are here, we can do this by operating well organized races that are accessible and offering class options that appeal to a full spectrum of drivers rather than telling them that they must race this or that spec program only or go somewhere else because they will.
When you look at karting from a fan/spectator point of view, what do you see?
I see some of the most talented racers anywhere competing in the most passionate battles you can witness anywhere. Watching a great kart race still excites me as much or more than even Indycar or F1 after 22 years in this sport. As I said before however I see so a sport with so much more potential that can really become something if managed properly by the industry and sanctioning bodies.
Finally, is there anything you would like the CKN Nation to know about the Racelab?
Simply put The Racelab is a culmination of many years of experience as a racer, team manager, tuner, and promoter. We understand this sport very well from all aspects including the technical side as well as the business side. Our plans are to grow this business and sport hand in hand as we are deeply committed to making this sport what it deserves to be, a well supported sport with well run professional events that bring out the best in everyone.
For more information about The Racelab, be sure to visit their website http://theracelab.com