By Sean Moriarty
A factory in Tralee has become the unlikely global epicentre for entry level motorsport.
Tillotson has operated from its Clash Industrial Estate factory in the County town since May 1973.
The Irish arm of a US-based automotive giant has been producing carburettors and fuel pumps for the last 38 years but, since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a marked change in direction at its Tralee plant.
Now, alongside the range of traditional automotive components made in Tralee, staff there have also turned their attention to the manufacture and production of racing karts.
Karting has long been recognised as motorsport’s entry discipline and several of the current crop of Formula One World Championship drivers – current champion Lewis Hamilton included – started their careers in karts.
Most countries including Ireland run a national karting championship and successful karters, from this point, make their way up the ranks into bigger formulae.
“For Tillotson, the market was missing a category for drivers who were not from a motorsport background or did not compete at an early age. It was for this reason Tillotson decided to launch a new category that provides cost-effective entry into the sport of karting – promoting new drivers into higher levels and increasing participation numbers,” explains managing director John Mason.
Tillotson’s T4 kart, is designed built in and distributed from the Tralee factory.
“Karting is a demanding industry and requires a team effort from all staff from design and testing to purchasing, machining, assemble, parts, service, shipping and sales,” adds Stack.
Launched to a global audience to great acclaim at Autosport International last year, after a demonstration event at Motorsport Ireland’s National Karting Championships at the Whiteriver Karting Complex in Louth in May 2019.
“It is great to see new business at the Tralee plant, but the pandemic gave people time to try a new sport and being outdoors helped to increase in numbers. We have also seen a good up-take from other racing categories like rallying and motocross,” he adds.
But how did in Tralee become a global epicentre for karting and entry level motorsport?
“Since the 1950’s, inventive drivers have been taking their two-stroke or four-stroke engines and turning them into racing machines. From the very beginning, Tillotson carburetors have fueled that passion for racing,” adds Mason. “Drivers like Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and Max Verstappen would be very familiar with Tillotson products from their years in karting,”
Tillotson, the carburettor and fuel pump manufacturer, has plenty of form when it comes to international karting.
Tralee-made components have fueled the Senior CIK-FIA World Champions every year between 2016 and 2019. Its European record is even better, and the company’s products have won the European Championships every year between 2014 and last season.
The step-up from component manufacturer and industry supplier to full-on race kart constructor was a no-brainer for Mason and his team at the Clash Industrial Estate.
“In recent times, the world of karting has got very professional and expensive with demands to compete in the CIK-FIA Series with the hope of becoming an F1 driver,” explains Mason, “The Tillotson T4 Series is a step up from your rental tracks but it is about having fun at a competition level.”
The ethos of having fun while still competing in a National Governing Body-sanctioned competition has now expanded worldwide. Now a T4 Series calendar is organised in the UK, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan, China, Australia, North and South America with more to follow.
Each year, the top drivers around the world come together to compete in the Tillotson T4 World Finals.
Last year, between lockdowns Tillotson and Motorsport Ireland were able to run an Irish championship for the first time.
The season culminated with an international event in County Louth where national (T4) champions from several countries raced for the world-cup. A second Irish series is ready to go once restrictions are lifted.
“Tillotson was delighted with the success of 2020 season and to see the up-take of new drivers in to karting. The first Tillotson T4 World Cup was held in Whiteriver Park. The 2021 [Irish] race calendar will have eight race weekends starting from April to September with venues to be confirmed by Motorsport Ireland, events up to August 29 will count as qualifiers for the Tillotson T4 World Cup 2021. All dates are subject to change depending on government restrictions,” adds Mason.
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