by S.Murtas (realized and published on December 2014)
Merging Birel’s glorious history and production capability, and ART Grand Prix’ outstandingly successful racing DNA, Birel ART is set to become the new heavyweight of international Karting, a real racewinning machine. ART Grand Prix founder and Birel ART major stakeholder Nicolas Todt tells us all about it.
Only a few months ago, the Karting world was taken by storm by an extremely bold venture, quite unprecedented in the sport. Legendary brand Birel, strong of 50 years of success at international level and one of the top karting manufacturers in the world, and super dynamic cross-over racing team ART Grand Prix merged to form a Birel ART. The project, intended to become Karting new powerhouse by joining Birel’s manufacturing might and ART Grand Prix successful racing DNA, has been a recurrent subject on and off the paddock.
After months of rumours and speculations – at a delicate time following Nicolas Todt’s protégé Jules Bianchi’s dreadful accident in Suzuka which has shaken everyone in motorsport – Birel ART major stakeholder sets the record straight.
“ART Grand Prix joined the karting industry three years ago, and after working incessantly and learning more about this industry, which is not an easy one, we decided that we needed to become a manufacturer. Although ART Grand Prix has managed to be quite successful in our brief history in karting, we thought that the best way was to merge with a manufacturer. And after discussing with some key people in the karting industry, we thought that a merger with Birel represented the best opportunity.”
Which were the key factors that convinced you to join with Birel?
“There are several factors that convinced me that this was the way forward. First of all, Birel boasts an impressive set of very modern production tools and machines. When I went to the factory I was very impressed by the production capacity, and I believe that they have not been exploiting such capacity to its full potential. Secondly, although the last few seasons have been quite difficult for Birel, it remains a very important brand in the Karting industry. It’s the kind of brand that is known even by people who don’t know anything about Karting. Birel is one of the very few brands that can boast such a long, successful history. Also, Birel is made of very competent, brilliant people and when I visited the factory I was very impressed by the sense of solidarity among all employees.
When we met to negotiate this project we were on the same line on most things, it was immediately clear that we share the same vision, which is very important for the future of the company.”
The merger between Birel and ART Grand Prix is quite an unprecedented operation in the sport. By joining in with a company of such tradition and history as Birel, don’t you think ART might be placed in the shadow?
“ART Grand Prix has a racing DNA. We started in open wheel categories, and the decision to diversify our activity by joining the Karting industry was a strategic one. We are present in every step of the motorsport ladder, from Karting to F.Renault, GP3 and GP2. On the other hand, Birel has a much wider range of products and services; they are present in the rental kart business, they organize the Easykart series, they have the Freeline range of accessories, which makes Birel a wider reality in karting. The weaknesses that we had are Birel’s strengths, and the strengths we have are somehow the weaknesses of Birel. So by putting together all our strengths we can be a better company. Of course we want ART Grand Prix to get as strong as possible, this venture with Birel goes in this direction and shows that ART is taking Karting very seriously.”
This is an on-going process, you merged the two companies only a few months ago, so how far are you in the transition?
“When you talk about such a marriage there are plenty of things to think about, you can’t change everything overnight. With regards to the material, everything will be produced in house in our facility in Lissone, in northern Italy. We have homologated all our new chassis according to regulations in July this year, we believe we are producing very good chassis, but only time will tell. Also, we’ve just won our first major international race with Birel ART in Las Vegas, Paolo De Conto was fantastic, and it was a good way to start this partnership.
As far as Easykart is concerned, we’re trying to organize the championship also in other countries because we believe it’s a fantastic programme, very accessible with a huge potential. It will take time, it’s no secret that we lost some time when we moved from the ART facility to Birel’s, also we had some setbacks when some people who we thought would have stayed with us for various reasons didn’t, but we’ve caught up in the last few weeks and we are back on track with our timetable.”
Another quite pressing issue for you as well as for the market is the key person that will run the racing team. Have you finalised an agreement with anyone?
And have you already defined the line-up for the 2015 season?
“We are deciding on the final details for our racing team. It’s a very important decision, we have been talking to many people, we are close to finalize the deal, but I don’t want to rush such an important decision because this key figure is one of the three or four most important in the company. As for our racing team lineup, it’s not complete, we are discussing with Paolo De Conto, he did a fantastic job in Las Vegas; we also signed four drivers but I don’t want to announce it until the entire line-up is defined. The official announcement should happen in December.”
In terms of categories, are there going to be any changes in your strategy, and will you continue to develop material for the KF classes?
“Of course, KFJ and KZ classes are the main focus for obvious reason, as well as Rotax and X30. Also, we will continue to pursue Birel’s very good partnership with Rotax for the Grand Finals.”
ART Grand Prix continues to be one of the key players in single-seater categories. Will you be personally involved also in the Birel ART project?
“ART Grand Prix is a global racing brand. This year we finished 2nd in the Drivers Championship in GP2, we finished 2nd in the Team Championship in GP3; ART is synonym of success and professionalism, which we want to transfer also to Karting. Despite being very busy with other activities, I am personally committed and will continue to be involved in following this project very seriously because I want to make sure it is successful. For us at ART Grand Prix, the merger with Birel was a very important decision, we evaluated the pros and cons of this partnership for a long time, and I’m very confident and excited about its success. By joining forces with Birel, and by putting together all our know-how, I’m very optimistic that results will come. It will take some time, people have to be a bit patient as we would like to be judged in two or three years. I think we have everything to be very competitive and successful.”
Besides homologating the Birel ART chassis, you will produce the new Ricciardo Kart chassis line. Tell us something about it.
“It’s very important to have signed an agreement with Daniel Ricciardo, possibly the most exciting young talent in Formula 1 today. He will be fully involved in this project, also with an official team in Europe, he will be doing some activities in the future as it’s a great way to make the link between Formula 1 and Karting, and it’s a fantastic addition to our project. Daniel already had a good relationship with Ronni Sala, I believe that our merger has been one of the key factors that helped convincing him to work with us, but I can say that it’s more down to Ronni if this great opportunity has become reality.”