Brotherly shove

18th August 2000 at 01:00
Jordan and Oliver Oakes, at 11 and 12 respectively, are experienced and successful karters, racing in the highly competitive world beyond school competition - with their parents' full support. Their conversation is peppered with talk about gear ratios, testing, lap times and circuits in this country and abroad. They are good, too. Oliver is a veteran, twice a British champion in the most junior class, Cadet. Jordan, with less experience, has had his own share of success, and the dining room in their home is filled with trophies.

Ask them the conventional questions about motor racing, and you get the conventional answers. How do you feel, Oliver, at the start of the race as the lights change to green?

He pauses and looks at you, because he knows that you have no frame of reference to understand the experience. As a result, his reply is obvious and mundane. "I concentrate on trying to get to the inside on the first corner," he says.

Jordan is rather more direct: "I just want to get to the front and win."

Both are still on the sport's foothills, but ahead lies the peak of their ambition - Formula One.

In other respects, though, the pressures and tensions are those faced by any parent whose child is showing sporting promise. How do you keep him or her focused on school? How do you cope with homework when there's a full weekend's racing? How do you know how much to pus and how much to hold back?

Their parents try to find the middle ground. Clearly able to support both boys, they still believe there are limits. "Some people go without things," says Pam Oakes. "They run up debts, remortgage the house. We wouldn't do that." Even so, the commitment of time and money adds up to a big slice of their lives. The Oakes are reticent about how much money they spend on the sport, but it must be, by most families' standards, a lot. ("All I know," says William Oakes, "is that if I'd never got into this, I'd have a lot more money now.") The time commitment, too, is great. Any karting track is at least two hours away, and might be as much as six hours.

The truth is that it has always been difficult and expensive to break into motor racing. However simple the most basic vehicle, money will always buy track testing time, spare engines, new tyres for every race or a knowledgeable mechanic.

Pam and william Oakes clearly regret that more children do not have the opportunities that they can give their boys. "There's a lot of good performers out there," says William Oakes. "But without money they won't get anywhere."

It works the other way, too, as Grahame Butterworth of the British Kart Industry Association, points out: "I can think of children who have had everything thrown at them in terms of resources, but they didn't have the raw talent."

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