The KartSport kids who get their kicks at high speed

  • 18/12/2017
KartSport churns out MotorSport champions. Will Ethan Pepper be one of them?
KartSport churns out MotorSport champions. Will Ethan Pepper be one of them? Photo credit: Newshub.

Ethan Pepper flashes a gappy grin as he zips up his racing suit and climbs into his kart. Hovering just four centimetres above the asphalt, the seven-year-old is totally exposed - no seat belt or roll cage - and ready to go full throttle.

His Dad Byron squats beside him, giving him a final pep talk. Focus. Don't worry about the others. Be safe. As his son accelerates into the distance, Byron admits to Newshub that he's nervous. "He gets a bit excited."

KartSport is where Ethan's heroes learnt their craft. Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and New Zealand's Brendon Hartley all started out in karts, tearing around tracks around the country such as the coiling 400m course in Auckland's Mt Wellington.

There are drivers from six to 60. The sport is humming, and they're on the hunt for new talent to try their hand behind the wheel. Check them out here.

KartSport New Zealand  is on the hunt for new talent to try their hand behind the wheel.
KartSport New Zealand is on the hunt for new talent to try their hand behind the wheel. Photo credit: Newshub.

KartSport is a family affair, and the chief mechanic is usually dad. Mt Wellington President Brent Robb laughs that the sport "offers dads the ultimate way to live their dreams through their kids." In between races they sweat over the karts, fine-tuning engines and frantically fixing broken parts.

Robb says it gives the kids a sense of empowerment. "The kids out there today travelling at 80km/h, and less than half a metre behind a car in front - I reckon that's got to be a pretty cool buzz."

Motorsport was once a male domain, but now the girls are more than holding their own. Twelve-year-old Stella Carter is softly spoken and gutsy. She loves the fact that both genders race together, and was undeterred when her kart flipped, landing on top of her.  "I want to go to Bathurst," she says.

Stella Carter and Emily Robb are just two of KartSport's gusty girls hoping to be champions.
Stella Carter and Emily Robb are just two of KartSport's gusty girls hoping to be champions. Photo credit: Newshub.

Breanna Morris leaves the boys in her dust. The 14-year-old took out the national title in her class last year, and got to compete in Italy. She's hit speeds of 110km/h.

"So fun. Sooooo fun" she says. She wants to see more girls involved. "Guys don't like being beaten by a girl - they'll do anything to fight you off. They're expected to beat a girl - and it shouldn't be like that."  

She wants a career on the track - but that's not cheap. A new kart comes with a $10,000 price tag, and she spends $1000 for each event she travels to.

The family behind Carter's Tyres has been involved in the sport for 30 years, and helps out through discounts and rebates.

"It's something we can give back to motorsport," Matt Carter says, as he hastily installs a new engine into his daughter's kart before her next race.

The dads often act as chief mechanic.
The dads often act as chief mechanic. Photo credit: Newshub.

The speeds the younger drivers reach may seem eye-watering, given most won't be able to drive a car for many years - but safety comes first. They're dressed head-to toe in non-flammable material, with a helmet, rib protector and neck brace. "We have more injuries in the pits than we do out on the track," Brent Robb says - mostly burns from parents getting too close to the exhausts.

The Peppers have more reason than most to be risk-averse. Their eldest son Cormac, aged nine, also races. He spent years in a hospital bubble being treated for leukaemia. He pedalled the halls in a toy car.

Ethan and Cormack Pepper at the Mt Wellington track in Auckland.
Ethan and Cormack Pepper at the Mt Wellington track in Auckland. Photo credit: Newshub.

"You just want to wrap him up in cotton wool," his mother Anna says as she watches him race today. "But - to get sentimental about it - this is him really living. He's been through hell and he's gritty and gutsy as a result."

This article was created for Carter's Tyres, a big supporter of KartSport New Zealand.