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Burnt Rubber and Lost Shoes

He was late braking into the corner.  Very late.  Within seconds he made contact with the vehicle in front, the impact sending him airborne.  The driver in front instinctively ducked as the go kart sliced through the space where his head would have been.  The flying kart hit the ground with such force that the driver was momentarily thrown out of his seat (there are no seatbelts).  Although both karts crashed out, the drivers were miraculously unscathed. 

I was at the World Go Karting championship near Lake Garda, Italy, to cheer on my nephew (the current Asian and Thai champion).  Fortunately, he avoided the melee and had a successful weekend of racing.

Go Karting is racing stripped to its bare essentials. The karts are light, low to the ground, and capable of accelerating rapidly to speeds in excess of 100mph. They have no suspension and handle like, well, go karts. The drivers are as young as eight! The racing starts for the older boys involve the drivers jumping into their karts, which are push started by a mechanic. The mechanics then run for their lives to avoid being run over. It is absolute bedlam – I am amazed that no one is killed!

The mechanics get the karts going before sprinting to avoid being run over

My sister resides in Thailand. She and her husband have spent the last few years flying with my nephew to Go Karting tracks across Asia, with a racing engine in their checked luggage. I thought that she was crazy until I met the rest of the entourage. A parent from Cape Town moved her family to the Lake Garda area (apparently a karting Mecca) so her 11 year old could race with the best. Their story was not unique. Someone else was moving to the UK so her child could perfect his wet weather racing technique (a consolation of sorts for living with rubbish weather year round). I kept passing parents huddled with their children doing schoolwork in the coffee shop – many of the young drivers are home schooled. 

The atmosphere around the track is relaxed, family friendly and supportive. Parents hang out with each other, taking turns buying endless bottles of Prosecco and sharing racing gossip. The air is thick with the smell of burning rubber. Your ears buzz with the noise of what sounds like a thousand angry lawn mowers.  The track surface, layered with burnt rubber, is so sticky that you risk losing your shoes if you walk on it. 

My nephew racing in Martini Mandate livery!

Lake Garda and its environs

While karting may not be your thing, there are plenty of reasons to visit this part of Italy. Verona airport is a mere two hour flight from London.  From Verona, Venice is just over an hour to the east by car or train.  Should you wish to collect your new Ferrari, Lamborghini or Pagani from its factory, Maranello is just an hour an a half to the south. Drive west for a couple of hours and you get to Lake Como.  

The area around Lake Garda is beautiful, with some lovely lakeside hotels and good restaurants round every corner.  We stayed at the Splendido Bay hotel run by the Favalli brothers. Ivan Favalli was on hand every day, personally checking on each guest, a smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye and a selection of glamorous women on his arm.  Danilo the bartender makes excellent martinis and introduced me to passito wine – a sweet wine made with semi dried grapes (an almost forgotten Greek wine making technique).  It pairs well with the selection of Italian cheeses that seems to accompany every meal here. 

Scaligero Castle – the La Speranzina restaurant is just outside the castle walls (top right hand side of the image). Image by Arne Müseler /, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

UNESCO historical sites and 13th century forts dot the waterfront. La Speranzina a tiny family run restaurant just outside Scaligero Castle (in Sermione) has a wonderful Michelin starred restaurant overlooking the water.  Further along the lake is Locanda San Vigilio a slightly careworn hotel and restaurant once favoured by Winston Churchill, John Singer Sargent and Prince Charles.  The Sri Lankan waiter at the restaurant kept bringing me the cricket scores with every dish. 

Most kids grown up wanting to be astronauts, pilots, football stars or race car drivers. Few of us stay true to our childhood dreams. I am not sure whether it is because we outgrow them, or whether we realise that there are easier ways to make a living.  Good luck to my nephew! As an Asian parent of course I will recommend a plan B for him that entails becoming a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer – or at least an accountant!

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