Paralinks: Worlds Wheelchair Culture

ParaKart was the 'brain child' of David Player, founder and Managing
Director of Wheeling Around The Algarve (www.player.pt), a company that
specialises in accessible holiday facilities in the Algarve, southern
Portugal.  David has always been very keen to explore new and exciting
projects like this and told us, "I approached the owner of the local karting
track to ask if he'd agree to fit hand controls on a couple of his karts.
It took some persuading but finally he agreed, and shortly after that I
entered a team of 3 disabled and 3 able-bodied drivers in the Aerton Senna
Trophy.  Our team came in an impressive 7th out of 12, with the leaders
being top national karting and other motorsports drivers."

David goes on to say, "This was the 'eye opener' my ParaKart Project needed,
as it was clear to everyone that disabled drivers drove equally
competitively as the able-bodied drivers - it was the change-overs that lost
them valuable seconds.  The Press took a huge interest and the future of my
latest project was now well and truly 'kick started'."

As soon as the ParaKart web site was launched - www.parakart.net - emails
came flooding in from all over the world.  There was no doubting the level
of world-wide interest in this project, which made for a very interesting
race and future for ParaKart.

The first day of the event was Fri 11th October 2002.  Drivers had to
complete all the necessary paperwork and received their driver suits and
other supporting information, prior to a Race Briefing to explain the rules
to the drivers.  They were then introduced to the karts and the afternoon
was dedicated to practice laps to allow everyone to get fully familiarised
with the karts and the track.

There were several ex-motorsports drivers who were injured in their sport,
which made for a very interesting race.  Joćo Luz was in one of Portugal's
top rally teams when he broke his back in a Paris-Dakar race;  Phil Armes
from the UK raced motorbikes that are now known as SuperBikes;  Carlo Rutten
from Holland competed in moto-cross;  Dave Hawkins is one of the only
paraplegics in the UK to hold an RAC Rally licence.

There were also some other very interesting characters involved in other
extreme sports, which added to the excitement of the race.  John Davis from
the USA, the pioneer of off-road wheelchair racing.  Darren Swift and
Alistair Hodgson, ex-British-servicemen that lost both their legs in active
service and now form a freefall parachuting team; a trio from Israel that
enter all sorts of events such as the Baja desert race.  There were many
more colourful characters that helped make the weekend a really enjoyable
one for everyone.

The karts were top competition karts with twin 200cc engines (total 400cc)
with hand controls made by a Dutch paraplegic, Hans van Schaijck,
undoubtedly one of the world's leading specialist in equipping karts with
hand controls, leg supports and other extras for disabled drivers.  The
seats were given extra upper-body supports so drivers were well secured in
their seats and didn't get thrown around, which is essential for an event
like ParaKart.

The lap times were pretty average on the first few practice laps but as the
first afternoon's practice came to an end, it was clear that times were
getting faster and faster.  The following day, Sat 12th Oct, involved more
practice laps and then qualifying laps, ready for the bif final races on
Sunday afternoon.  Lap times were now becoming very fast and the local lap
record was broken.  The finals were going to be very exciting!

On a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon with temperatures around 24oC, the
final races took place.  There was a Super Motard and Quad bike show put on
in between races, as well as a display of Rally cars.  The scene was set for
the final 2 races, which were a wonderfully hard fought battle between the
top drivers - a great race for spectators too, as many got to know the
drivers over the weekend.

First place was won by Holland's Carlo Rutten, after a very impressive race
against local favourite Joćo Luz, who had taken Pole Position and defended
it very professionally, until Carlo sprung an amazing overtaking manoeuvre
on him.  Israeli Maori Alon was now right on Joćo's tail and a spectacular
fight for second place was now taking unfolding.  The crowd and other
drivers were glewed to the action as these two drivers fought for second
place.   When the Checkered Flag was finally waved it wasn't totally clear
who had won the battle for second place as the karts were side-by-side as
they crossed the finish line.  The full results can be found at
www.parakart.net

David Player and the other members of the team of organisors were visably
tired after the race but it was very clear that they were all very pleased
with the outcome of their first ParaKart event.  David said, "ParaKart 2002
is the start of something new in disabled sports.  There are only a handful
of disabled drivers active in top level motorsports around the world, but
this will change as ParaKart 2002 develops yearly into ParaKart 2003, 2004
and so on.  Disabled people now have the opportunity to enter the very
competitive world of karting and pit their driving skills against many other
similarly disabled people from around the world, all of whom have been
waiting for an opportunity like this.  ParaKart will be many things to many
people - some merely a chance to compete in a driving event, while for
others it'll be a stepping stone to further competitive driving."

Luigi Cedolini from Italy was one of the drivers who showed great potential
and impressed many of the experts.  A quite lad that plays wheelchair
basketball in Italy who had only driven a kart a few times on an indoor
track broke the lap record on the second day and set faster and faster lap
times.  This very smooth and focused driver won the prize for the Fastest
Lap - 42.263 seconds - and was expected to be in the top 3 but his kart
suffered from mechanical problems and Luigi wasn't able to finish the race.
Luigi will now be looking into what options are available of making karting
a career.

ParaKart 2003 is now being organised and the dates will be between the last
week in September and the first week of October.  For more detailed
information please check out the ParaKart web site - www.parakart.net.
David says, "The ParaKart Project has opened many new and interesting doors.
For example, we've been contacted by an oil empresario from Dubai wanting us
to bring ParaKart there;  a team involved in the organising of the Malaysian
Formula 1 Grand Prix in March 2003 want to set up a demo karting event prior
to the race;  I've actively encouraged Hans van Schaijck to start working on
an Inter-Country event;  ParaKart 2003 may also see the launch of 'OffRoad
ParaKart', as well as other motorsports related facilities - 4X4 vehicles,
rally cars, quad bikes, etc."  David went on to joke, "There's so much to do
and it's a real shame that it's me that has to test everything out first!"

As a direct result of ParaKart 2002 a ground breaking new project is being
set up to provide the opportunity for people with disabilities to try for
themselves driving a whole range of machinery, including Rally cars, off
road vehicles, quad bikes etc, including training
up to competition level if desired.  For more information of these and any
other projects you can contact David Player on dave@player.pt or at the
address and contact numbers below.

Tel:       00 351 289 393636
Fax:       00 351 289 397448
Mobile:    00 351 91 7007007
Web:       www.player.pt
Email:     dave@player.pt


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