Franco Drudi talks about TM Kart singlespeed engines

Columns: Interview
With Franco Drudi, we discussed the other side of TM Kart, namely their involvement in single speed engine classes, where the Pesaro-based company has achieved many significant successes (p.m. fotocar13)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Tm's first national title in karting: it was 1984 when Rino Capitelli clinched the Italian championship in the fiercely contested 125 Junior category. Over these 40 years, TM has achieved tremendous success in gearbox classes, effectively monopolizing them. In 2001, TM expanded its production by debuting the 100cc engine, capturing the FA World Cup the following year with the K12 rotary valve engine. 
In 2003, with the new 100cc project, Tm also claimed the European title in Junior and in 2004 in the 100 ICA category. The achievements of the Pesaro-based company have continued to grow, culminating in winning the KF World Championship in 2013 and the OKJ World Championship in 2017, along with 10 World Cups and 14 Continental titles, totaling 96 FIA Karting titles to date. Franco Drudi, one of the individuals who contributed significantly to these successes by working 7 days a week, 365 days a year, was happy to discuss this with us, particularly analyzing categories without gearbox.

What’s the secret to Tm's sporting and commercial success?
Our political-commercial choices are driven by our great passion for this sport and our infinite gratitude to all our customers, drivers, and mechanics, who have allowed us to achieve all these successes and numerous titles, which I must confess, we struggle to remember all of them. Our policy is well known: TM Kart aims to keep prices low for both engines and spare parts, without compromising on construction quality and the use of top-quality materials. Drivers and mechanics who choose TM always start on equal footing. Last Sunday, in Valencia, we had 81 drivers in the OK and OKJ classes: each of them had the same equipment, and in terms of engines, they were all on the same level. It's a point of pride for us since each had their own engines as TM Kart does not offer engine rental service.

Do you feel weaker in OK compared to OKJ?
Absolutely not, the engine is also there in OK. The problem is that modern karts are extremely challenging, and even a small imperfection in the engine/chassis/driver/tires package can prevent victory.

What are your thoughts on OK, both in national and international races?
OK is a success. It's cost-effective, highly performant, and there's no exaggerated evolution that could disadvantage drivers from a motor perspective. And that's a great thing. Not surprisingly, with the arrival of OK, single-make racing immediately diminished drastically. It was what was needed to revitalize single-make classes.

A significant step forward, then, compared to the failure of KF…
You see, a big mistake was made with KF: starting with 3 categories without the necessary development period. For us at TM, it should have started at least for the first year only with the Super KF to understand where the problems were and solve them before putting the engines on the market. Problems with clutches, wiring, and everything else caused this category to die out. But not all was lost: the OK engines are simply simplified KF engines and benefit from the development of the latter. Today, the development costs of OK are reduced to the bone because of the sacrifice of KF: in practice, OK engines have the same development cost as the 100cc engines of the last seasons, where updates were minimal…

The 100cc: when you started, no one seemed to believe that a manufacturer of 125 engines could also win in the 100, yet you overturned every prediction where no one had succeeded before.
Yes, that's true. We had the fortune and merit of launching a new engine, just as when you build a house starting from the foundations. Others renovated old houses, and as you know, the difference between a new house and an old renovated one is significant.

How important was Tm's experience in building 125 engines for the birth of the 100? For example, your cylinder was much more modern conceptually, including the amount of circulating liquid, compared to the competition, which had huge cylinders of outdated design.
The cylinder was indeed crucial, but we started from scratch because we used nothing from the 125, having the cast iron barrel in the single-make category. I can say that everything in that engine was innovative. The crankcase, for example, was designed to circulate a lot of cooling air; there was little aluminum even around the bearings, but it was enough to ensure a perfect balance between stiffness and heat exchange. The first Tm 100 engines were a milestone. It was the engine that changed the 100 class in its final phase.

Returning to basics, therefore, to a direct drive kart, was the salvation of the single-speed class. Would you be in favor of introducing centrifugal clutch and external starter for OKJ, given the difficulty of restarting for younger drivers?
I wouldn't touch this regulation, which works and has reasonable costs as much as it can be in today's world. The clutch is always an additional element, a cost, and an element where one can play tricks, which we absolutely disagree with. With today's sporting regulations, if you spin out in a heat, nothing happens, and you can still win. We tried to reduce the weight for safety reasons, but it's not achievable. And then, this is evident, today's drivers are taller and heavier than those of the past.

What do you think about technical inspections? Are you satisfied?
I would say yes, although it must be said that too much emphasis is always placed on the engine, while there are other things that should be checked. If I were to act improperly, speaking hypothetically, I would do it on the tires: tires make a monstrous difference. Shaving off 3/10 of a second with an engine is very difficult, with 4 correct tires, you take off much more spending less. Today, there are products that don't smell like they used to, and discovering cheaters is difficult but not impossible. I believe that this is something that needs to be kept under control: the CIK FIA must ensure the fairness of competitions and punish heavily those who circumvent regulations.

Has TM Kart ever considered organizing its own single-make series?
No, it has never crossed our minds. TM Kart is a company born from Claudio Flenghi's passion for engines and karting. Claudio left us suddenly, and even today, we have only learned to live with this grief. But let's not forget his teachings and his desire for competition, for confrontation. There is no competition in single-make series for us, so it would only come down to an economic matter. We prefer to sell our engines in categories where there is technical competition and where drivers and teams can decide with which equipment to race, also evaluating the quality/price ratio, which is always very important to us.

Created by: cggiuliano - 27/03/24

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