In case you’re new to Carbs and Coffee or you haven’t followed our story very closely, we basically live for karting. It’s the purest and most exciting form of motorsport for drivers and gives spectators a chance to follow the action around almost the entire circuit.
A huge percentage of professional drivers started their careers in karting. Formula 1 drivers use karting to stay sharp over the off-season. Once you’ve tasted it, there’s no going back.
We caught up with Ed Murray, the South African distributor of Rotax engines and parts through Ed Murray Racing, to learn more about his history in the sport.
Let’s just say that Ed’s engineering roots were clearly visible from a young age…
C&C: “Ed, you’ve been involved in karting since 1969, which is the same year of manufacture as the Carbs and Coffee Alfa Romeo GT Junior! Clearly a good year. What was your early involvement?”
EM: “My older sister’s boyfriend took a few neighbourhood petrolhead friends and I to see a kart race at the Flying Saucer track in Pretoria around 1967. We were all hooked and started building our first karts around the age of 11. With the help of the older guys in the area, we managed to get four of them up and running.
All of us had plans to start racing when we turned 14 (the minimum age in those days). Limited budget however meant only racing a few times over the next few years with a locally built Duplex McCulloch Mc 10. I became friends with some of the regular competitors and helped mechanic at events, which allowed me to travel to Nationals around the country. Naturally, I enjoyed the occasional test drive and in 1971 I bought a 1965 Techno for R35 and a newer McCulloch for R100.
I had my first competitive outfit and ran near the front in several events including the Nationals.
Matric, National service and studies kept me out of racing for the next few years.”
C&C: “You raced locally and internationally yourself, before hanging up the racing gloves in 1993 to focus on your kids. What was your career highlight and what classes did you race?”
EM: “Locally, I started in 100 Stock, but when I returned to racing seriously around 1977, I raced 100 International which was the premier class. I competed in the FIA 100 International Karting World Championships (this was the only World Championship and a once off event annually) in 1977, 1978 and 1979.
At 1.82m, I was physically too big and overweight, so success internationally was limited, but nonetheless I learned so much and enjoyed competing with the world’s best. In 1980, I mounted my Moto-X Can Am 125 engine onto a kart and focused on 125 Shifters thereafter. I really loved shifters and built my own lightweight chassis enjoying great success with that in the early 1980’s.
Starting a family and growing a fabrication business saw me take another break until 1988. By this time, Formula C (no holds barred 125 6-speed shifters) had become a FIA World Championship so I set my sights on having a go at that in 1989, 1990 and 1991. I had to accept that after 35 you are not as sharp or brave as a 15-year old, so while I could still race at the front in SA, I knew I was never going to win a world title.
I crashed quite heavily in Laval France in 1991.
We made many friends, met with chassis and engine manufactures and organizers and travelled to interesting countries. The real honour was competing in the same events as Ayrton Senna, Stefan Bellof and the likes in the 1970’s and then later Jarno Trulli etc. in the 1990’s. Watching several of these karting stars progress in F1, Nascar, Indycar and sportscar racing was a real thrill.
I took part in a 250 Superkart event around 1992 (International at Kyalami) and while I thoroughly enjoyed this and finished well-up, I still preferred short circuit racing. Two of my children had started karting, so it was time for me to support them and I found it easy to step back and focus on them.”
C&C: “Do you have records of your fastest laps around each South African circuit and what you were driving?”
EM: “Karts from the distant past were surprisingly quick – very lightweight in the early years (no body work or bumpers), so a 100 International all-up weight was a 120kg for an adult! That’s the same as a Mini Max for 10 year olds in 2020.
With a 20+ bhp motor (18,000rpm), these karts were quick. Formula C minimum weight was 150 kg and with 45 bhp (unlimited modifications) it had a considerably higher power-to-weight ratio than KZ 2 karts today.
The 250 Rotax Superkarts matched the Westbank Modifieds around all the main circuits in the country. Today’s karts are heavier, but much safer and very reliable thanks to “restricted spec” racing. In real terms, they are also cheaper to run.
It would be interesting to see how karts from the past would stack up against today’s karts, but unfortunately all the circuits that I raced at have been altered in one way or the other so no direct lap time comparisons can be made.”
C&C: “Tell us a crazy karting story from the Ed Murray hey day?”
EM: “In 1971 (Standard 9 at school) I was enjoying my first competitive races in 100 Stock and I heard that champ Bob Boumeesters used trick fuel – Union Spirits (Ethanol based from sugar cane, sold at filling stations in Natal). I decided that I needed some of this for the next regional race. My friend, Stuart Johnston, and I hitchhiked to Durban with a 20l can in a rucksack, filled it, turned around and hitched back.
By nightfall we were stuck under a bridge outside Pietermaritzburg where we spent the night – freezing our butts off. At the event the story got out and Bobby had a good laugh telling me that he bought Union Spirits from a garage on John Page drive in Joburg!”
C&C: “1994 was one of the most important years in South African history. You started EMR at the dawn of democracy in this country. What were your concerns and hopes at the time and what achievement in the past 26 years are you most proud of?”
EM: “EMR was intended to be a break from running a medium-size business and for me to spend more time with my young family.
Based on my experiences internationally I was determined to promote one make, one tyre, one fuel type racing – anything else becomes too technical – you need connections to get the trick stuff and it was so expensive at a high level internationally.
We took a talented team to Puerto Rico in 2000 and Gavin Cronje became the first ever Rotax Max Grand Final Champion! Vindication for my belief that SA drivers are talented but need a level playing field technically to be competitive. South African drivers have done us proud ever since and we are proud of being part of that success.”
C&C: “When and how did you first hear about Rotax?”
EM: “BRP Rotax turns 100 years old this year. I became interested in their engines when I raced a Can-Am 125 Moto-X engine on my shifter kart in 1980. Rotax were best known for SeaDoo and SkiDoo but they really revolutionized aspects of racing two-strokes – Moto GP, 125 and 250cc kart engines as well as 100cc kart engines.
They had a couple of brilliant engineers and things like a large elliptical exhaust port with a boost port on either side, nikasil plating, pneumatic power valves and digital ignition saw them ahead of the curve for years.
Then tandem twin 256 became the only engine to own in Superkarts and 100cc was dominated by Rotax as well. I raced Rotax engines very successfully in 125 shifters.
In 1998, having read about the revolutionary low maintenance, electric start, 125 Rotax Max and the concept of a one-make World Series we enthusiastically bought into this concept and secured the distributorship of Rotax Karting products in Southern Africa.
The Max took off in SA almost immediately and since then additional classes have been added over the years so that we now cater for all ages of karters. Stand-alone Rotax series run in many countries today along with the Euro Trophy, International Trophy and RMCGF.”
C&C: “What advantages do you believe Rotax offers karters?”
EM: “Rotax is not just an engine but a world-wide sporting series today. With one set of global rules you can take your kart to many countries in the world and participate in their series. The aim is parity and fairness. Even tyres were specially developed to give reasonably high performance but with consistency and durability being key.
Stability is important and as the Max Series does not compete directly against other manufacturer’s engines or tyres, a long-life engine with a high level of performance is possible. The only changes over the years are to improve parity or reduce running costs. Any open form of motor sport lives and dies by “win on Sunday and sell on Monday” so an ongoing development sees new motors or upgrades as an essential part of the game and used engines often become worthless.
Rotax Max engines can also be used in several different classes with a unique upgrade/downgrade system.
Economies of scale are also present, with over 100,000 Max engines sold, reasonably priced parts and a warranty on new engines and spares that is still unique to Rotax.”
C&C: “Can you tell us more about the creation of the Zwartkops karting circuit?
EM: “In 2000, Zwartkops main circuit was re-developed, leaving us without a kart circuit! This was a crossroad for EMR Rotax because we did not see a future for serious karting in SA without a circuit near Jo’burg and Pretoria, so the only option was to get more involved.
We looked at various options, but a standalone facility would be too large an investment. After committing to hosting the 2003 Rotax Max Grand Final in South Africa and getting Bridgestone on board as the naming right sponsor of a new circuit, we concluded a joint venture with Peter du Toit, owner of Zwartkops Raceway, and started construction in June 2002.
We were ready just in time to host the RMCGF in January 2003!”
C&C: “Which karting circuit in South Africa is your favourite and why?”
EM: “Although I have never raced there, IDube looks like such an exciting circuit. The elevation changes make it like a roller coaster ride and drivers really seem to enjoy this.”
C&C: “What do you believe the key benefits of karting are for children?”
EM: “Karting teaches kids so much from improving concentration span, dealing with winning and losing, interacting with peers and officials, planning and facing real consequences. My kids helped prepare and run their own karts and knew that disappointing school results would have meant no more racing.”
C&C: “Does karting offer a strong alternative to main circuit racing for adult drivers?”
EM: “I have owned some quick cars and occasionally do track days at Kyalami and Zwartkops with a friend in his Ferrari F430 Corse (track car) but honestly, I enjoyed driving a kart far more. Acceleration, braking and cornering are so instantaneous in a kart and it costs a lot less to run than exotic sports cars.
You can also actually enjoy really close and thrilling races without the risk of writing off your supercar.”
C&C: “What’s been keeping you busy during lockdown?”
EM: “We are planning to resurface and upgrade Zwartkops Kart raceway, so I have been busy with the engineer and potential contractors finalizing the details.
We have also been relaxing a little and doing an engineering project that I normally could not find time to do.”
C&C: “What does the future hold for karting in South Africa and globally?”
EM: “None of us have experienced anything like Covid 19 before and the economic impact in SA will be very dramatic. The lockdown has just been extended and this lockdown will not likely be the only one, so a major contraction of the economy is inevitable and many karters’ businesses will not escape this.
Costs of imported goods (everything on your kart is imported) will increase – the rand has lost about 25% against the Euro since January. Trying to make the sport more cost effective will be key and there are some ideas that we are working on.
Mojo Tyres can easily do two regional events and we should enforce this.
Nationally, we should follow the UK and allow only one new set of tyres per event and you use the tyres from the first National to practice at the second event and so on.
For the balance of 2020 we could perhaps piggy-back Nationals on regional event racedays.”
The other thing we love at Carbs and Coffee is iconic cars. Ed has dabbled in that too, with an Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV in his box of memories that he used to tow his karts to the track. There’s also been a Cobra replica…
It’s been great getting to know one of the stalwarts of South African motorsport and a man who has kept the karting flame burning in South Africa through good times and bad.
Interested in the sport? Head down to your local karting circuit after lockdown and get involved!