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A start in karts can be key to a career

You might think that careering round a concrete track in a slimmed-down version of a racing car is a strictly extra-curricular activity.

But before they can go karting, pupils at the 240 schools which take the Rover Career Challenge have to spend hours in the workshop adapting their machines.

The karts are provided by the car manufacturer Rover and schools work in tandem with local dealerships to design and then realise certain modifications in five areas of the car's performance - generation of electricity, lighting and wiring, instrumentation and measurement, safety and security and catalytic converters. Their work can be incorporated into both GCSE and GNVQ projects.

Tim Howlett of Rover says: "Students are required to identify problems or needs, design solutions and then turn those solutions into mechanical reality on the kart, in the same way as real cars are designed and built."

The number of 15 and 16-year-olds who take part in the scheme has grown from 58 when it was launched five years ago to more than 28,000 this year. Around 150 teams competed in 10 regional finals and the winners went forward to a national final at Gaydon Motor Heritage Museum in Warwickshire, which last month saw the first ever all-girl team in the history of the event, from Whitley Abbey school in Coventry. But it was Ratton School from Eastbourne which took the chequered flag for a third time, and its kart now has a place in the museum.

Much of the scheme's popularity must be down to the chance to get behind the wheel of a car. Finalists are given off-road driving lessons in a Rover Metro and enjoyed a day of quad biking, cross-country riding in a Range Rover and a visit to the Motor Show at the National Exhibition Centre.

Tim Howlett says: "One of the reasons for the project was to encourage more able students to consider technology as a career. People normally look on technology as something that you do on a Wednesday afternoon when it's raining. But when we turn up with the go-karts, it's the in thing!" Next year's intake of would-be Mansells and junior Schumachers begins in January. Organisers are aiming to recruit as many as 300 schools for the challenge.

Applications in writing to: Rover Dealer Career Challenge, Yelverton Hall, Yelverton, Norwich, NR14 7PD.

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