FIA: What's going on with tires in KZ?

Columns: Focus
The FIA Official statement announcing the cancellation of the first round of the European KZ Championship was very concise and referred to general "logistical" and tires availability issues. Let's delve into the context and understand how such a dramatic decision was reached. (fm)

Before delving into the intricate issue of tire supply for the European and World KZ Championships, it is worth recalling some general aspects related to homologation and the involvement of all players in a matter that, as it stands, leaves room for more than one reflection on where our sport is heading.

Tires in karting: the only ones in the world with homologation
Perhaps not everyone knows that karting is the only motorsport in the world that requires tire homologation. In a context where for several years the Federation (and with it private organizers, such as WSK) has decided to regulate competitions under a single tire rule, meaning each category uses the same tires, a choice that also aligns karting with many other motorsport disciplines, Formula 1 first and foremost. The single tire scenario aims at cost reduction - for tire manufacturers - which in the so-called "tire war" era, free competition among different producers, had reached exorbitant costs. It is also quite well known that for a manufacturer awarded the contract to supply tires in the FIA context, there is no real commercial advantage derived from tire sales, but rather a considerable return in terms of advertising and image. Especially after Covid, there has been an increasing effort to find a compromise between image return, production effort, and the desire to allocate as many tires as possible to competitions that are more profitable.

The Federation issues a three-year tender for tires (for the first time)
With these basic elements in mind, we can now recap the events that led to the decisions of recent days. According to the provisions communicated in April 2023 on the Federation's website (https://legal.fia.com/Web/tenders.nsf/openInvitations.xsp), for the first time in history, it was learned of a three-year tender (previously it was one year) meaning the selected manufacturer would be the supplier for the next three years of European and World competitions in various categories. With 24-26 homologations registered, (it is essential to remember that before participating in the tender, when the manufacturer still does not know if it will be an FIA supplier, they must homologate), the Federation decided to award the 'rookie' MAXXIS (a brand owned by the Taiwanese Cheng Shin, a giant in the tire sector) the supply triennium 2024-2026 for the single-brand categories, while for the KZ, the choice was not as quick. According to the FIA statement and what was revealed upon our explicit request to the FIA itself, "none of the participants in the tender had met the expected requirements." Based on what is heard among industry insiders, it is quite evident that the FIA ​​did not reach an agreement with any of the three usual tire manufacturers in international karting in recent years (since Bridgestone's exit): MG, Vega, and LeCont, a situation that 'forced' the Federation to orient its choice towards the only other four manufacturers that had homologated tires for the new triennium (2024-2026): Dunlop (owned by the Japanese Sumitomo and the American Goodyear), the Korean Shinko, the same Maxxis, which evidently had decided for its own reasons to limit its entry to only the two direct drive categories, and the German Heidenau, which homologates Mojo branded tires. The latter has never shown interest in supplying FIA championships over the years. Therefore, finding itself having to decide between the first two, the choice of the well-known Dunlop was probably dictated by the fact that adopting Shinko - a brand almost unknown in Europe - would have been considered a somewhat unpopular choice. Dunlop's choice, essentially forced at this advanced stage of the matter, however, brings with it some possible commercial hurdles that will be interesting to see how they will be overcome: Goodyear, the owner of the Dunlop brand since 2012, has long suspended the use of Dunlop tires in European competitions on four wheels in favor of its own American brand. Will the European KZ Championship be an exception to this strategic choice of Goodyear given that we are not talking ‘literally’ about racing cars but karts?

Has interest in KZ decreased?
One of the many paradoxes that emerges from this still unclear story is that the only true Top Class of karting, where professional drivers - often adults and paid to race rather than paying - compete, has been the sacrificial victim. No one came out looking good, and perhaps canceling the April inaugural round was a decision that was too prudent (between now and April, do you think the tires wouldn't have arrived?) After all, there seemed to be enough time, at least to try, but perhaps a worse embarrassment was avoided with a cancellation just before the Championship event. Sadly, this way, the European Championship, which from this year would have included three rounds - ensuring a high-level spectacle - returns to only two rounds, which have left some doubts in terms of competition quality and the possibility of seeing more drivers fight for the title. The impression is that now the focus of FIA attention is on OK and OKJ, categories capable of attracting huge investments from the families of very young drivers chasing an increasingly elusive dream, Formula 1. A crowd of people who can't wait to leave karting to jump onto an F4 as soon as they turn 15. The problem, which seems only postponed, is the tsunami effect that a possible global economic crisis could bring in a few years on the entire FIA karting sector, which has ended up dangerously relying on the capital of very few millionaires, showing no foresight in promoting the sport of karting itself among all other potential practitioners, and this latest humiliation of the KZ is not a good sign.
 

Created by: fmarangon2 - 20/02/24

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