Differently abled in karting. Where are we at?

Columns: Special
Let's go back to the subject of karting for the differently abled, but this time we want to focus on the federal and competitive aspects. We contacted Fabio Visentin, FIA in-charge person for the karting sector for the disabled, to learn more.(M.Boscariol)

Fabio, where are we with the situation of the differently abled in karting?
Let's start first of all with a bit of history! Personal parenthesis, I have been racing karts since 2006 and at that time there was a dedicated category called 100 ASK, a category for disabled people with rollbars and manual controls, more or less all in the same condition. I even managed to win the championship in 2009! At that time the disabled could race only and exclusively in this category, with the H license. Since 2010 I, together with Udorovich and Adriano Macchiati, have been allowed to race with the able-bodied, but it was a derogation. That was the first time we were able to run with the able-bodied. A journey that I alone then continued, and in fact I was the only one to continue racing in Italy with able-bodied people from 2010 to 2016. I did the Birel Grand Prix championship where I found myself very much at ease, also because of Birel's state-of-the-art organization.

In 2012 I switched to X30. As I told you, in those years you could only race with an exemption, with technical specifications dictated by FISAPS (Italian Federation of Disabled Drivers), which has an agreement with ACI-SPORT. In practice, ACI SPORT made use of FISAPS for the technical specifications and equipment and set-up for the kart. However, the regulation was quite labile, there was in fact no technical sheet. In practice, the regulation was not very precise. In fact, you had a vehicle that was not homologated and you were racing with an exemption (not given to everyone). It then happens that in 2018 the H license was removed from the regulations. There I practically took over the matter, with a meeting in 2019 with Emanuele Pirro trying to understand what the reasons were that had led to this decision. I actually had already understood them....

In practice, in that meeting with ACI-SPORT and Pirro, along with FISAPS, we had confirmation that the problem was the issue of adaptations that "de-homologated" the kart, in addition to safety issues. To put it simply, a legless paraplegic who needs to anchor himself to the kart with a safety belt (whoever races knows well the lateral G-force of these vehicles) would have difficulty getting out of the kart in case of an accident (or rather this was the objection of the time). To overcome this, in the past, an iron roll bar was used, but it was a further handicap that stiffened the chassis... To solve these problems, I personally went to the FIA in Paris, contacting the "FIA disability and accessibility" commission, of which I am now a member. I wrote to the president Nathalie McGloin and she immediately showed a strong interest in these issues and in my proposals.

At my meeting in May 2019 in Paris, I gave a slide presentation on the problem issues facing karting. They liked the presentation so much that they asked me to join the committee. In fact, since 2020 I have been part of this commission.

Now to Italy. In Italy, I collaborated with the FIA, analyzing how the various nations had dealt with this issue, and France had set the standard in this regard. I then went on to collaborate with ACI-SPORT. What I did for the homologation of adaptations was to take as a reference the FIA certificate of adaptation ("H registration card" downloadable from the ACI-SPORT website). In practice it is a certificate that homologates the various adaptations that de-homologate the vehicle. There is a form that you have to fill out with high-resolution photos and it is really cool because most of the kids who use this type of kart make "handmade" modifications. 

For example, if you go to put a Velcro seat belt obviously this de-homologates the vehicle, but it has a very important function! In the form, making it clear what you have done and why you did it, rigidity is overtaken by common sense! Because not all people with disabilities have the same disabilities. There is then a commission that verifies and approves, with a subsequent verification in the field – or at the track - of the national federations. As far as safety is concerned, we are very proud of the development of a carbon fiber rollbar (very light and aesthetically pleasing) that is directly anchored to the standard seat reinforced at the top with a layer of Kevlar thanks to a collaboration with the company Vita Carbon of Venice. This will be the mandatory seat for those who need to anchor.

Speaking of the Italian rules (written by me, Marcello Somera and Sergio Didato) we were also able to define how the race director must manage the participation of a driver with disabilities. In fact, the director must be notified immediately of his/her presence and must make a briefing with the marshals who are instructed that in case of accident or forced stop they must push the vehicle off the track with the driver on board. This is not a small thing because often these situations were defined as highly dangerous. In reality they are less dangerous than normal drivers if you follow the instructions of the regulation! 

It will then be the mechanic or ambulance that will bring the wheelchair to recover the driver. The other big change in the rules is that the disabled can race with the able-bodied, putting an end to the "ghettoization" of the category. For this year, we preferred to allow this change only for the direct drive categories. In fact, it was necessary to start with a base or foundation and consolidate it, and then maybe get to the shifter category. Obviously, the OK category is excluded from the discussion for obvious reasons of starting with the vehicle... In KZ, an electronic gearbox is used, which I hope to address in a second time...

Is there a sort of world championship for the disabled?
There is a very important race in France (in which I will participate with Kart Republic) that will take place in July at the "Mirecourt" circuit. This race won the FIA Sport Action Award last year, which was also relaunched by Jean Todt. The race was born from the "Handikart" project of the French Karting Federation. As a matter of fact, it is the only international race that assigns an international title to disabled drivers. In a few months there will be some other news on the racing front, but for the moment I can't add anything else...

How is racing a kart for a disabled person?
I had a street motorcycle accident when I was 17 that made me a paraplegic. After a year and a half I bought my first kart and in March 2006 I took to the track in Jesolo. I had a passion for engines even before, both with motorcycles and Formula 1. The great thing in life is that I became a driver after being in a wheelchair! 
Karting is a fantastic sport because it's pure adrenaline and pure driving. It's hard to find a motorsport where the driver accounts for 70% of the performance. What's more, it's "economical" compared to other motorsports.

For example, in the commission in which I am a part of the FIA, we have set the objective of bringing five thousand disabled people into motorsport and I immediately pointed out that only karting (more than auto racing) can bring these large numbers...I have in fact been appointed to follow this project. In the international licenses there are now also licenses for the disabled, another great achievement.

What kind of disabled person approaches karting and why? Let me explain: many people like you had this passion before, but what appeal does the discipline have for those who do not come from these motorsports?
I can tell you that karting, being a very cool thing, often attracts new fans. Even simply those who watch Formula 1 or cars or motorcycles on television when you propose they try a kart on the track they’re enthusiastic. Everyone really likes karts! When we tried it out with FISAPS for the driving courses, everyone showed up! Obviously, of all those who try it, it is only a small percentage who then start racing continuously. I don't know anyone who tried a kart and didn't say "wow, that's amazing!" 

The target of the disabled person who races karts is the "crazy disabled person," but all the disabled people I know are! Since it's an adrenaline-pumping and exciting sport, it certainly won't appeal to the disabled person who wants to play bocce. But again, 80-90% of disabled people would be up for the adventure of trying a kart! Obviously the majority are motor enthusiasts.

But how much does this karting appeal to the disabled person who is not from the racing world?
The subject of initiatives is ample. For the moment there is FISAPS, which organizes driving courses/trial runs, with an important promotional role that has been going on for years. Then there are other more or less structured initiatives (various associations around Italy). However, I am of the opinion that it is preferable to centralize these promotional initiatives in an organization such as FISAPS rather than with private initiatives... If you get together you have more voice, you have more means and you are stronger... France proceeds in this manner.

This is a sport that, if we can make a parallel with the Paralympics, is practiced with a means, such as handbikes. Tell us about the difference between a kart for the disabled and a normal kart.
There are no technical differences! The kart is the same, but you simply go to make adaptations according to the type of disability. Let's start from the simplest one: the case of an amputee of both legs. In that case you go to set up the manual accelerator and brake. For the brake, a very simple lever is used, like that of the old KF. The same applies to the accelerator. If a disabled person can use one leg, obviously the control is left to the leg. If one has an arm that does not work or is without it, the controls are kept at the feet and he will hold the steering wheel with one hand (I think of drivers like Giuseppe Franzese). In the case of a paraplegic the controls will always be on the steering wheel, but in that case he will need to be anchored to the seat with safety belts, both on legs and trunk.

In addition to this, in the case of a quadriplegic, the hand controls are not with levers, but with a kind of stick in which the hand is fixed: if it pulls forward it brakes and if it pulls back it accelerates. Electro-hydraulic power steering is used to manage the steering. I'm thinking of quadriplegic drivers like Joan Lascorz, a former superbike rider who participates every year in the Mirecourt race. In any case, the chassis remains the same as for able-bodied drivers, as does the engine.

Tell us about the FIA disability and accessibility commission.
This commission was created by Jean Todt in 2007 and operates in two areas: motorsport and road mobility. In both cases, the mission is the maximum inclusion of people with disabilities. There are various projects, such as motorsport with appendix L, where regulations for the disabled are managed and collaboration with the various national federations is sought. Road mobility has projects with a global database with information about disabled people on the road. We also deal with inclusive tourism for people with disabilities (think rental cars in various countries without driving aids for people with disabilities). Basically, we're all about a fairer, more inclusive world for everyone!

FFSA and the disabled 

The world benchmark of the category!
We spoke to Alain Nicolle, responsible for karting with disabilities of the FFSA, the French Automobile Federation, the most advanced national federation on these issues!

Where do we stand with the situation of disabled people in karting?
In 2021 we had 47 FFSA (French Automobile Sports Federation) members, a little more than half of them competing at the regional level with able-bodied drivers. We had only 15 participants, due to Covid-19, in the French Handikart Championship and the International Handikart Trophy. Handikart has existed since 2001 in France and we are trying with the International Trophy (organized by the FFSA) to involve the FIA and other ASNs in the creation of the "Handikart" category worldwide. With the work of Fabio Visentin, Italy has just done it and I think Spain will follow soon. It's a long job, time-wise; I'd like it to go faster, but we had some progress in 2021 with CIK and I'm optimistic for the future.

you can read the full interview on pocketmags.com

Created by: cggiuliano - 06/06/22

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