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Affordable racing doesn’t get much more enjoyable or competitive than the one-make EnduroKa series
Autocar
News
6 mins read
3 October 2020

Richard Parry-Jones, Ford’s former vehicle development boss, wouldn’t have known he was laying the foundations for a one-make race series when he developed the original Ka ahead of its 1996 launch. But a quarter of a century later, here I am, sandwiched between two other Kas, travelling down Oulton Park’s start-finish straight at a modest lick, wondering which of us, if any, will blink before we all pile into the Cheshire track’s fourth-gear first corner with a dab of brake, a flick of steering and an actual four-wheel drift through the apex. There’s no way we’re all getting through there at race speed, that’s for sure.

Suddenly the RaceKa seems like a no-brainer: affordable and abundant, fun to chuck through corners like it might not emerge from the other side, mechanically tough and with huge bumpers for the inevitable thumps here and there. Everything that made the Ka a hit on its launch translates perfectly to the EnduroKa series.

Run by Motorsport Vision Racing, EnduroKa is now in its second season and follows the Citroën C1 championship as a fun, affordable and highly competitive path into motorsport. The rules would have even Adrian Newey boxed into a corner; it’s open only to same-spec first-generation Kas with tightly controlled upgrades. A tongue-in-cheek livery is recommended (bravo team Kastrol), if optional.

We bagged an arrive-and-drive seat with LDR Performance Tuning, but it’s possible to buy and self-prep a car for £4000-£5000, and because these are long races requiring multiple drivers, you’ll be splitting the entry fee (£925 for Oulton Park) with your pals. The EnduroKa’s delayed season started with the 12 Heures du Norfolk at Snetterton, with this Oulton round lasting five hours. Qualifying was first thing Saturday, with racing scheduled from early afternoon.

I’d only ever watched peak-1990s British Touring Car racing at Oulton before, so the 15 minutes I had for qualifying were my first laps of the track. I built up slowly and… fell in love with the place.

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Oulton is a fast, sweeping, cambered track that flows organically with the tumbling Cheshire landscape into which it’s carved, punishes small mistakes (grass and barriers are your run-offs) and just happens to suit the underpowered but light and playful Ka perfectly. Every corner is taken in either third or fourth gear, and while it sounds daft to be talking about adrenaline rushes in a city car with an unmodified 1.3-litre engine and rear drum brakes, you can carry momentum and induce slides that will have your eyes out on stalks. The Kas lock brakes and oversteer easily, and they require a deft touch if you’re to extract the maximum from them; it’s easy to overdrive and get scrappy.

Come the end of qualifying, I’d grown comfortable but knew I’d left whole seconds on the table – bits everywhere, but especially the fast section through Cascades and on into Island bend. I hoped my two team-mates – keen amateur Andy Grear-Hardy and Ben O’Hare – could do better. Just 17, O’Hare has raced Ginetta Juniors and in the Mazda MX-5 series and plans a professional driving/coaching career. He promptly put us sixth out of 36, then took Andy and I through our footage. There’s no question his advice improved my lap times.

The rules mandated three pitstops, leaving four stints for three drivers; we agreed that Ben should do smaller stints at the start and finish to both build a gap and restore one at the end, with myself and Andy attempting not to unravel his work with longer stints in the middle.

After the rolling start, Ben built on his qualifying performance, methodically moving through the field until – bloody hell – we were actually leading. Andy naturally dropped back a bit but held his own, with a stop-go penalty for exceeding track limits being his only misstep.

Then it was my turn, accelerating all 69bhp down the pitlane like I was joining a motorway a bit too slowly. Can you imagine how busy it is on a 2.69-mile circuit with 36 cars circulating? You’re always either in a pack of cars or catching someone or being caught.

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I wanted to go faster than in qualifying but was mindful of binning the car immediately with over-exuberance. The big one for me was carrying speed through the cambered tumble of Cascades and the fourth-gear commitment-fest that is Island; Ben had assured me it was flat, and I built up from a dab on the brakes to a prolonged lift to ‘half a lift’ that I hope didn’t slow me at all but I just needed psychologically. The double-apex fourth-gear right at Druids was also an eye-opener, with the tail-happy Ka squirming all the way through.

I built on my qualifying pace, both by remembering Ben’s tips and latching on to faster drivers. And here’s the thing: while there are of course novices, there are plenty of experienced racers out there like Ben, and in the previous race at Snetterton (where our car retired before I got a go), I shared a garage with former BTCC ace Tim Harvey. Le Mans 24 Hours winner Nick Tandy has given it a bash, too.

There’s no wondering about where you stand, because you’re in near-identical machinery; the bloke ahead is going faster because he’s doing it better. Chances to measure your driving ability like this, and to learn so affordably, really are few and far between.

The racing was fair but intense, particularly because it’s so important to maintain momentum. I found myself in some highly exciting situations, including two bits of mid-bend contact and heading into that fast fourth-gear first corner three abreast – where I was second best at not chickening out. It was non-stop and, to be honest, for 80 minutes on a fairly hot day, pretty exhausting.

When I was called in, we were running in a respectable 11th position, but I’d also missed a one-minute stop-go penalty, forcing Ben to take it; I felt dreadful. He then got his own minute-long penalty for exceeding track limits (the Ka’s playfulness and Oulton’s speed make this such an easy infringement) and so our genuine challenge for a podium began to unravel.

We ended the race 13th, but I cared very little, because it was one of the most enjoyable days of driving I’ve ever experienced. I’ll be back out at Brands Hatch later this month.

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The car and the upgrades

Only first-generation Ford Kas produced from 2002-2008 are eligible for EnduroKa; they must be fitted with a 1.3-litre Duratec engine making either 59bhp or 69bhp and have any optional ABS disconnected. There’s a minimum weight of 950kg, including the driver. We found 97 suitable cars in the classifieds for less than £1000. One 2019 Oulton podium finisher cost £75.

The mandated list of upgrades include 13in wheels with Toyo Proxes tyres, a bolt-in roll cage and uprated springs, dampers, bushings and front brake pads.

All the Ka-specific parts can be bought from recommended suppliers for less than £3000, although you’ll also need a race seat, harnesses, fire extinguisher, cut-off switches and a rear rain light. Go to enduroka.co.uk for full details.

Other bargain one-make series

Citroen C1 Racing: Very similar in concept to EnduroKa, this long-running series features packed grids of near-identical Citroën C1s and tight racing with a focus on fun, affordability and fairness. Almost 100 cars were competing at the last Silverstone 24 Hour race.

BMW Racedays Compact Cup: BMW’s first attempt at a compact hatchback has now spawned a race series full of the things. Based on the 1996-2001 318ti Compact, race cars cost from £5000 to build, with modifications tightly controlled to ensure tight racing.

Mini Challenge: Not affordable like the others, but the racing is thrilling and the standard of driving extremely high. The top JCW class graduated to the support-series slot for the British Touring Car Championship this season. Your future Matt Neals and Jason Platos are coming through.

Ben Barry

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Paul Dalgarno 4 October 2020

Motorsports UK

Here is a great example of Motorsport UK starting to kill something. There's a very successful Citroen C1 series, and they allow a Ford Ka one. This will then dilute the C1 championship, and less people will turn up and enter, and the two classes will both have less racers. Racing is the most fun with big grids.  

UK Karting is an absolute mess due to the same thing. A host of commercial interests leading to class proliferation, grid sizes dropping, and costs rising. Karting could be fixed in a period of 5 years by being ruthless with classes, consolidating them, and cutting costs. 

Lovema75 3 October 2020

Endura?

Given that these are the most rust prone cars ever made in modern times, I'd be surprised if they made it to the first corner before dissolving - I could virtual hear mine rusting as I drove along!