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At full throttle: advice for the HLG Kart Race

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Ahead of the seventh edition of the HLG Kart Race, Ray Robertson provides the lowdown on the annually anticipated event and some advice for the thrill-seeking young competitors

Conceived by Jean- Francois Harvey of Harvey Law Group, the HLG Kart Race has quickly grown from a small community event into one of the most anticipated races in Discovery Bay’s packed sporting calendar. The first race in October 2015 attracted over 20 competitors. The most recent race in March 2019, saw 95 children, aged seven to 12, vying for trophies. Last year, 278 trials and qualifying races were held over the course of the day (334 one-on-one races in total) and Jean-Francois (or Harvey as he is known locally) is hoping for a strong turnout this month despite families’ concerns about COVID-19.

Louis Basquin, 13, has competed in every HLG Kart Race to date, and though he’s too old to take part this year, he’ll be cheering from the sidelines. “The karts go lightning fast when they come off the ramp,” he says. “It’s so much fun! It’s an exciting day out with your friends. We really enjoy competing against each other in the age races.”

So how did the first race in October 2015 come about? “We really didn’t expect so much business when we opened our DB meeting facilities eight years ago and we were looking for a way to give back to the community at large,” Harvey explains. “I finally hit upon the idea of a kart race because there is something about kart racing that’s so familiar, so simple. So many of us have good memories of it. Also, it’s not typical, so people are interested.”

There’s no doubt that Montreal-born Harvey’s passion has struck a chord in DB, and after a strong start in 2015, interest called for two events in 2016. That same year, an improved brake system, devised by the event’s main sponsor Milwaukee, allowed Harvey to lower the participant age to seven years old from the previous edition’s eight.

For Harvey, himself a dad, kids’ enjoyment is the driving factor. “I wanted to find something where every single child would have the same chance of winning,” he says. “In this event, kids are equal whether they are athletic or not. It’s open to everyone but it’s still a real competition.”

Rules of engagement

In order to level the playing field, the race is divided into six age-group categories – age seven through to 12 – so the kids race against their peers. A 6-foot high ramp, almost 16-foot long and 8-foot wide, is set up along the Discovery Bay Road cycle lane, and the track covers approximately 150 metres. Competitors are required to wear properly fitted bike helmets, closed-toe shoes (trainers) and race shirts; they are advised to wear long trousers and gloves… masks too this year.

For each age group, each racer competes in two timed qualifying races. The eight racers in each age group with the best time qualify for the quarter finals. If the age group has fewer than eight racers, the kids participate in a quarter final, and the four with the best time qualify for the semi-final.

While standard karts are provided, kids also have the opportunity to compete in their own ‘freestyle’ custom-made karts. “Some will go for style, some for speed, so there are performance and design prizes,” Harvey says.

The spec for freestyle karts is brief but precise. They must be capable of being steered, they need to have a braking system and they are limited to gravity power (no propelling mechanisms). The maximum width of each freestyle kart is 91 centimetres, and the minimum distance between the front and rear axle is 72 centimetres.

Fastest Freestyler in 2017 and 2018, Louis got some help in building his kart – the Red Rocket, which placed second in the Best Design category in 2016 – from his dad and uncle. “We looked online for a few different go-kart/ soap-box designs and then we chose the shape because we felt it was something we could build ourselves from scratch,” Louis says.

“First, we drew a template on a large piece of paper, then we cut a cardboard template, then we constructed the kart out of recycled materials,” Louis adds. “We used old pieces of wood from a renovation for the body and my broken scooter for the steering wheel system. We welded the pieces together and then my Aunty Cath painted it. The only items we bought to build the kart were the screws, wheels and bearings.”

The altruistic aspect

While the logistics are fairly simple, participant safety is paramount and Harvey is quick to acknowledge the support of the HLG Kart Race officials, and of Hong Kong Resorts and City Management.

Parents make up the bulk of the race committee, and Harvey himself is also determinedly hands on. The global managing partner of Harvey Law Group doesn’t look like a speed freak or a mechanic but appearances can, as they say, be deceiving. “I like to build things,” he says. “Come race day I’m in the pit stop. I’m the repairman. That’s what I do all day long. I sit there with my tools. I put on my hat and hide under the trees… with cuts all over my hands.”

Harvey is well-known in the community for giving back, and proceeds raised through the kart race – the entrance fee is HK$250 per child – have gone to various Hong Kong charities over the years. This year’s nominated charity is Heep Hong Society, for which HK$20,000 was raised last year.

“Heep Hong Society provides professional care, education and training services to children from birth to secondary-school age who have developmental and learning problems,” Harvey says. “We like the concept that the kids who pay to compete in the HLG Kart Race are in fact giving to other kids and helping them reach their full potential.”

So here’s hoping for a strong turnout this month… the kids deserve a little fun having been cooped up for so long. As Harvey concludes, “The most satisfying part is to hear from parents after the event. We had a parent write to us about how his daughter’s friends came over for two or three days to see her trophy. When you hear things like that, you know you did something right.”

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