Scandal: winning is all that matters

From ingenious tweaks to car swaps and deliberate accidents, racing has an inglorious history of rule-bending. Welcome to Motor Sport’s Hall of Shame

Carbon fibre? At the Revival? That was the whisper about the debris found on the track at Goodwood after a shunt involving a type of car that had had its greatest days long before those super-strong black threads were ever produced. Unusual perhaps, but what is certainly true is that the competitive instinct on which motor sport thrives can be hard to subdue when pressed up against tight regulations. As soon as someone writes some rules, somebody else will try to force a screwdriver between them.

In January, the Motor Racing Legends historic racing organisation announced an engine certification programme to confirm the capacity of all motors racing within its purlieu. Licensed inspectors will visit the workshop where an engine is being built, confirm the capacity, and seal it for the season. If the seal is broken, the car could disappear from the results. So far it’s voluntary and no one will be excluded, but MRL chairman Duncan Wiltshire indicates that it will become mandatory in future, adding with supreme tact that “All of our competitors of course want to win fairly.” And MRL’s scrutineer John Hopwood adds that the FIA is interested in the scheme.

This, don’t forget, is historic racing where the only prizes are silverware – and glory. In the wider world of motor sport there is more at stake, and there is a rich history of pushing rules to the limit. From the grass roots to Formula 1 there is never a shortage of engineers with a smart idea that may circumvent a rule or two and give their car an advantage. 

And it was ever thus: according to Alistair Caldwell in his early days at McLaren, it was not uncommon for drivers to save weight in the car by emptying the fire extinguisher before the start. A few years later, Brabham bypassed minimum ride height rules with a hydraulic system that lowered its car on the track yet enabled it to remain fully compliant when measured at rest. 

Such tricks of the trade have passed into racing folklore, and exploiting the grey areas around the rules is alive and well today. Mark Hughes, our F1 correspondent, was first to reveal the trick employed by F1 teams last season to get around mandatory tyre pressures: teams would artificially heat the axle and brakes, so that when the Pirelli tyre was fitted it would heat up, increasing pressure to meet the rules, but then rapidly start to lose that pressure once the car was on track.

However, some tactics in motor sport have gone well past what could be seen as a bending of the rules and into an altogether darker area. When discovered, these scandals can end careers, make headline news and cast a long shadow over a team. Last month Toyota marked a spectacular return to rallying with a win for its Yaris in Sweden. However, the Japanese manufacturer will always be remembered for an ingenious cheat that can be said to have ended its participation in the sport almost two decades ago. 

Likewise, Pat Symonds is rightly regarded as one of the greatest engineers of his generation, but as he tells us overleaf, he will forever regret his involvement in arguably one of the worst scandal to affect the sport when he allowed a young driver to crash at the Singapore GP in order to ensure his team-mate won the race.

It’s a world away from over-tweaking cars for historic racing – and the consequences are far more serious – but it demonstrates the extraordinary lengths competitors will go to in order to gain an advantage. It is an instinct that occasionally crosses the line between doing whatever it takes to win, and bending the rules so far that they snap.

Crashing through the rules

One of the biggest scandals in modern motor sport still haunts those involved – and resentments still lingers

It’s not often a motor sport incident crosses over into mainstream consciousness. But Crashgate, as it inevitably became known, is one of them. The idea of a team deliberately engineering an accident in order to win a race caught the imagination of newspaper columnists who were quick to dub it ‘the sport’s darkest day’. 

Almost a decade on, the incident still casts a long shadow and it is a testament to its lasting damage that one of the main players in the scandal should feel moved to speak publicly about it in terms of searing honesty. 

Pat Symonds says that the incident will forever be associated with him and left him “shattered”. It is the single biggest regret of his career. The engineer also explains the intense pressure that he and colleagues were under in the lead-up to the incident, as well as new details about exactly what happened. Perhaps more importantly his account shows what happens when competitive people who would do anything to win are driven to go one step too far. 

But despite the newspaper headlines – written by journalists with little knowledge of F1 – many in the sport at the time regarded the incident as rule-bending, rather than scandalous. Some even suspected that the outrage was deliberately stirred up by senior figures within the sport with a hidden agenda. In fact, the full story may be one that is yet to be told.

For now, though, this is what is known: at the Singapore GP in September 2008, Nelson Piquet Jr crashed into the wall on the 14th lap, meaning that the safety car had to be deployed. Due to the vagaries of pit stop strategies and fuel loads the deployment of the safety car meant that Piquet’s team-mate Fernando Alonso, down the field following an early stop prior to the crash, found himself at the front when the race resumed and went on to win. 

A year later, midway through the 2009 season, Piquet was dropped by Renault. The young driver was furious and claimed that he had crashed in Singapore on team orders, in the belief that helping his team-mate to win would secure his future.

The accusation was dynamite, with many simply refusing to believe that it could be true – but a few weeks later Renault was charged with conspiracy by the FIA.

At the hearing Renault was disqualified from F1, suspended for two years. Managing director Flavio Briatore was suspended from all Formula 1 events and FIA-sanctioned events indefinitely and executive director of engineering Symonds received a five-year ban. Both bans were overturned by a French court in January 2010. 

Symonds then returned to Formula 1, first with Virgin/Manor and latterly with Williams as chief technical officer – a position he left at the end of last year. Few believe he will stay away from the sport for long but, despite his many achievements and the multiple world championships he helped engineer, it is clear that in his mind at least they are forever tainted by events at Singapore in 2008. 

Today, Symonds says the pressures at Renault had been building for some time: “2007 had been a lean year, and 2008 even more so. The recession had arrived and so there was corporate pressure on Flavio from Renault, and immense pressure on the team, financially and for results. Flavio wanted to get rid of people. With the frozen-spec V8s he’d decided we could get rid of half of Viry. At Enstone we had to cut back to the point where offers we’d made to aerodynamicists had to be rescinded. I had to do that, yet these guys had quit their jobs. It was probably the worst thing I’ve ever been involved with.”

By the time Singapore came around the requirement to win at any cost was becoming apparent: “While I will never, ever try to justify Singapore, some of the pressures were indescribable. Flavio had told me we had to win a race by the end of the year or Renault was pulling out.  

“I honestly think that the punters out there who think badly of me, if they knew some of the other things that went on in the paddock, they would be amazed. I regret it bitterly because it changed everything and led to me leaving Renault. I had to resign. There was nothing else to do otherwise the team was history. 

“The mechanics of how to do it, the planning of it once Flavio had decided we were doing it, I probably had more to do with that. We knew it wasn’t the right thing to do and we didn’t make it generally known in the team. Alan Permane didn’t know, for example, Steve Nielsen didn’t. The funny thing was our strategy software wasn’t working. It would automatically start itself up but it had been left set on UK time. So we started the race and there was no data coming in at all so we had no idea where any of the cars were, what the gaps were etc. So I was having to do it the old-fashioned way with stopwatch and pen and paper while trying to put the plan into action.”

Bad feeling is still smouldering over who came up with the idea to crash in the first place. Piquet has always claimed the initial plan came from Symonds – something Symonds disputes: “Irrespective of anything you read, the first idea, the first knowledge I had of it came from Nelson Piquet Jr. He was the one who first proposed it as far as I was aware. What I did wrong was instead of saying, ‘Don’t be so stupid,’ I said, ‘I’ll talk to Flavio about it.’ Flavio said yes. Whether the original idea came from Nelson Jr I don’t know – but that was where I first heard of it. 

“But if you remember that year Nelson had finished second at Hockenheim because Timo Glock had brought out the safety car by crashing just as Nelson was pitting, giving Nelson a completely undeserved podium. That hadn’t gone unnoticed. I don’t know who actually came up with the idea. But I know a lot of people didn’t tell the truth about the aftermath of that episode. The one thing I am proud of is I never told a lie in that whole episode. Other people lied through their teeth. 

“After my resignation I was shattered to start with. A career I could be proud of had come to nothing because of one incident. That was pretty hard to reconcile.”

Other F1 scandals

1994 Launch control

1994 was a turbulent season for Benetton. Following the San Marino Grand Prix, the FIA investigated the computer software used by the podium-finishing cars of Ferrari, McLaren and Benetton. Benetton initially refused to comply on commercial grounds, but an eventual investigation found a concealed ‘Launch Control’ programme in the software, legal in ’93 but outlawed for ’94. Design chief Ross Brawn denied the system had been used, arguing the ’93 system was extremely hard to remove and was concealed to prevent accidental use. The FIA couldn’t prove Benetton had used the software and the team escaped penalty, but suspicions hung over its championship success.

2006 Schuey’s stunts

Michael Schumacher had posted the fastest qualifying time at Monaco in 2006 when he ran wide and stopped on the track, preventing rival Alonso from setting a faster time. The stewards sent him to the back of the grid for the race. The incident revived memories of Jerez ’97 when, leading Villeneuve by a single point, he turned in as the Canadian dived for the lead. The move failed, Villeneuve was champion and Schumacher, found to have crashed deliberately, was excluded from the standings. 

2007 ‘Spygate’

The allegations were serious. Ferrari accused its former employee Nigel Stepney, a senior engineer, of passing 800 pages of confidential data on Ferrari’s 2007 car and strategy to McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan. What McLaren had done with the data was at the centre of a major FIA investigation. McLaren was found guilty and fined $100 million – the largest penalty in F1 history – and excluded from the 2007 constructors’ championship.

2009 ‘Liegate’

McLaren’s second scandal in two years came at the 2009 Australian GP, with the team accused of having instructed Lewis Hamilton to allow Jarno Trulli past under the safety car, following an illegal pass by the Englishman. McLaren denied the charge and instructed Hamilton to make similar claims, insisting Trulli had been at fault. Trulli was initially penalised, but contrary evidence came to light: the FIA found McLaren and Hamilton guilty of lying and stripped them of all points from Australia. Ron Dennis stepped down as team principal soon afterwards.

Toyota’s Monster Cheat

The ingenious turbo tweak that worked so well it blew its own cover


 Nicky Grist was used to the punch in the kidneys that came a nanosecond after that word passed his lips. But this was something else; George Foreman had replaced the bantamweight. 

Toyota’s explanation to Juha Kankkunen’s co-driver was a simple one: “We’ve had an evolution of the engine.”

In fairness, the explanation wasn’t wide of the mark. What Toyota Team Europe engineer Dieter Bulling failed to mention was this particular evolution effectively enlarged the Celica GT-Four’s turbo air restrictor beyond the regulation 34mm, adding valuable power.

“It was like a rocket off the line,” recalls Grist. “It was incredible. But we just thought: ‘Fair play to them…’”

Unfortunately, fair play it wasn’t.

It was actually one of the most creative pieces of engineered cheating in the history of motor sport. The FIA still holds an example of it in its offices in Paris, and it has become a byword for the lengths teams will go to in order to gain an advantage through engineering sleight of hand.

In 1995 Toyota was riding the crest of a wave. Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol had won four of the previous five championships in Celicas while the Japanese giant started the year chasing its own hat-trick.    

It couldn’t be better. But by the end of the season, it couldn’t be worse.

The GT-Four was Toyota Team Europe’s (TTE) third incarnation of the Group A Celica, but it was nothing like as successful as the previous two. The new car was too big, too heavy and was hamstrung by front suspension that none of the drivers liked. 

Previous successes brought expectation and, when it became clear the car wasn’t working, TTE turned to the dark side.

“Engine development at the time was absolutely top secret,” says Grist. “We would have a pass to get into the factory, but you’d need another pass to get anywhere near the engine shop. But there was nothing unusual in that, it had always been that way.”

What was unusual was how the car went off the line at Rally Australia’s Langley Park superspecial stage. Immediately after the start a 15-metre straight led the cars into the first braking area at the side-by-side crowd-pleaser alongside Perth’s Swan River. In that distance the three works Celicas of Juha Kankkunen (co-driven by Grist), Didier Auriol and Armin Schwarz had already pulled out two car lengths on their rivals. 

With restricted engines and gravel tyres on tarmac, that just shouldn’t happen. The other teams began to take notice. 

“We’d been told to flick this switch five seconds before the start of the stage,” says Grist. “It was to do with the engine development. We just did it and got on with it.”

Unbeknown to TTE, the FIA was taking more and more interest in the Celica and that interest reached fever pitch next time out in Spain.

Kankkunen was never a driver at his absolute best on asphalt. Yes, he’d finished on the podium on his previous three Catalan outings, but in 1995 something unusual was happening. Of the first 15 stages, he was quickest on eight and only out of the top three once. He and Grist were flying.

“We’d done quite a lot of work with Juha on Tarmac before the event,” says Grist, “and we just thought the combination of him driving the car neater and straighter with this engine development was working well. I remember Carlos [Sainz] coming to me and asking what was going on. He was following us on the road and he told us about the black lines we were leaving from these huge powerslides. “‘I can’t get near you’,” he told us.”

The FIA was now starting to gather evidence. 

“We changed the turbo as a matter of course at the end of every day,” says Grist, “and I remember the FIA scrutineer coming over. He handed one of the guys a receipt, picked up the turbo and said: “I’ll take that.”

Kankkunen crashed out of the rally on the penultimate stage of the second day. Twenty-four hours later, everything became clear.

The team was invited to meet with the stewards after the event, where evidence of a restrictor that opened to allow more air through was put before them. With freer airflow, horsepower would surge, negating the intended levelling effect of the standard restrictor. It worked like this: before an event, with the use of a special tool, the entire restrictor could be slid forward 5mm against strong springs and locked, allowing extra air round the sides. Dismantling for scrutineering automatically released the catches, letting the restrictor spring back into its legal position and concealing its own ingenious hardware.

“That was when the shit really hit the fan,” says Grist, “and we started putting two and two together…”

Auriol’s sole surviving Celica was excluded (like Kankkunen, Schwarz crashed). 

Just over a week later, at a specially convened meeting of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council, president Max Mosley described the cheat as: “The most ingenious device I have seen in 30 years of motor sport.”

He then excluded TTE and its drivers from the 1995 results and banned Toyota for 12 months.

A rival engineer admits there was grudging admiration for TTE’s work. He says: “It was clever, beautifully engineered. And they could have used it and got away with it easily through the following year. Where they fell down was running it in Langley Park. It was so public and so obvious, we knew something was going on and we wouldn’t leave the FIA alone until they found it.”

The scandal precipitated Toyota leaving the WRC in 1999, not to return until this year – after an 18-year break.

Other rallying scandals

1985 The car swap 

Before Toyota, perhaps the biggest rallying question mark was over Michèle Mouton’s Audi Quattro Sport on the 1985 Ivory Coast Rally. 

Mouton’s car suffered engine trouble in the event and disappeared soon after the restart following an overnight loop near the Ghanaian border. What made this more interesting was that the sister car of Franz Braun – an Audi engineer entered in an identical Quattro to run as chase car to Mouton – also disappeared.

Running well at the restart, Braun’s Audi now ran very sick. And guess what happened next? Mouton’s engine was miraculously fixed, out of sight, while Braun’s car retired.

Questions were naturally asked and the scrutineers had a nose around the Quattro, but found nothing incriminating. Subsequently, some observers noticed a jacking point missing from the front of Mouton’s car, while a towing eye arrived at the rear. In addition there were livery discrepancies between the two cars: missing spotlights and windscreen clips.

No conclusive evidence of a car swap was ever found, perhaps because neither car actually finished – Mouton withdrew before the end of the event.

Funny fuel 

Prior to the arrival of a control fuel for the WRC, the teams regularly mixed heady concoctions, but the biggest boost of all came from nitrous oxide injection. It was completely illegal, but used regularly through the late Eighties and early Nineties. It wasn’t unusual for Lancia to be seen with four plumbed-in fire extinguishers in its Deltas. And the Italian team was scrupulous in its attention to safety, with said extinguishers changed at almost every service – even when they obviously hadn’t been used.

Another favourite involved continually refilling windscreen washer bottles… that seemed unusually large. But this wasn’t destined for the screen – it was a water-methanol mix to chill the intercooler. 

They think it’s all rover

The saloon car racing season that lasted 18 months and only concluded after an enquiry in front of a legal expert

After a period of regulatory conflict, with countries embracing different sets of rules that militated against mainstream international saloon car racing, the FIA created Group A with the intention of breeding greater global uniformity. Manufacturers had to build 5000 examples of a model annually to qualify for homologation, and substantial modifications were permitted beneath fairly standard-looking bodyshells. The European Touring Car Championship embraced the new regulations in 1982 and Britain followed suit one year later. The ingredients looked promising, with a trio of Tom Walkinshaw Racing-run factory-backed Rover Vitesse SD1s at the head of the three-class entry plus evolving opposition from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Opel and – from mid-season – BMW.

Factory Rover drivers Steve Soper, Jeff Allam and Peter Lovett scored one outright victory apiece in the first three races: so far, so equitable. The Rovers continued to dominate into the summer, but the first hint of real trouble arose at Donington Park in June, the seventh of 11 rounds. Recently arrived with a BMW 635 CSi for Frank Sytner, rival Grace International Racing submitted a protest on the grounds that the Rovers’ rear wheel arch inserts were too wide. Walkinshaw countered that these were legitimate, because Rover ran larger rear wheels and tyres in certain Third World countries to help its cars cope with difficult road conditions.

Soper headed a Rover 1-2-3 in the British GP support event at Silverstone, after which the Rover and GIR teams submitted protests against each other and Sytner – initially fourth on the road – was on this occasion excluded when his steering system was found not to comply.

Protests and counter-protests continued to sour the mood when the series returned the following month to Donington Park. In the paddock, Rover had a road-going Vitesse mounted on a promotional plinth… and overnight somebody stayed late and sprayed a graffito on the backdrop: “TWR = Third World Racing.” Many in the BSCC community found this quite amusing, though it probably didn’t help: the message was hurriedly cleaned up on Sunday morning. It also came to light that Walkinshaw had earlier in the week issued a writ against UK governing body the RAC MSA, over its handling of previous protests. Among the trailers and caravans that formed the hub of the BSCC community, rumour was that the Scot had been seeking an injunction that would force the race’s cancellation…  

Amidst all the acrimony, Soper’s latest victory – he and closest challenger Hans Stuck (BMW) both had to cope with fading brakes during a fine duel – passed almost unnoticed.

The final two meetings went ahead without further protest, but after Soper was crowned champion there were still outstanding tribunals and court cases to be heard. These dragged on and on, to such an extent that the 1984 BSCC began long before any verdict was reached.

Finally – the following July! – an enquiry headed by Lord Shawcross ruled that the TWR Rovers contravened the regulations on two counts: their valve rockers and the rear bodywork had illegally been modified. All three drivers were excluded from the championship and Andy Rouse – who was supposed to have driven a privately run Rover, but ended up racing an Alfa Romeo GTV6 and dominating Class B from the fourth race onwards – was declared champion.

Not long before the verdict was announced, the Austin-Rover Group withdrew from the BSCC, citing its unhappiness with the way the series was scrutineered. That left the road clear for Rouse – by now at the wheel of a self-run Rover – to become the only driver to win the BSCC twice within the space of three months. He clinched the 1984 title at Donington Park in September and was presented with both awards during the course of the same weekend. The following year he would win it yet again – his fourth and final such success – at the helm
of a Ford Sierra.

Other consequences? Opel Monza driver Tony Lanfranchi technically became Class A champion for 1983, even though he’d scored 36 fewer points than the closest TWR Rover. And Soper, one of the finest saloon racers of any generation, would never win a premier tin-top title on home soil.

He did quite well elsewhere, mind.

Other saloon car scandals

1994 Alfa’s Silverstone Special

It was an extraordinary endeavour by Alfa Romeo to bring the 155 Silverstone model to the 1994 British Touring Car Championship at the height of the Super Touring era. Alfa Romeo chose to develop a light and minimalist road car model specifically to field in that year’s championship, producing 2500 cars at huge cost to comply with the regulations. The car featured an adjustable front and rear spoiler as a standard part, which had a negligible impact on the road but provided a large advantage on the track. The 155 Silverstone was legal but very controversial, taking Gabriele Tarquini to the ’94 title.

2011 What Engine Parity? 

A gradual transition was proposed for the British Touring Car Championship’s move from S2000 to low-cost NGTC regulations, with engine performance parity promised for the runners of both engine types for the 2011 season. However, 2011 proved to be a fractious season with reigning champion Jason Plato in the S2000 Chevrolet Cruze and the series’ BMW drivers protesting their lack of performance parity, as they were unable to compete against the power of the turbocharged NGTC cars on the straights.


A sport rooted in law-breaking has invented some clever dodges

1949 Moonshine Mods

Bootlegging made NASCAR. Good ol’ boys ran seemingly stock business saloons, fitted with big engines to outrun the police, as gallons of moonshine whisky were hauled across US States. Devising dirt ovals to race these machines, a new sport was born. But when Glenn Dunaway won the first race of the new ‘Strictly Stock Series’ in 1949, his Ford was found to have heavy-duty rear springs fitted to support the load in the trunk and to aid traction and handling. Naturally he failed post-race checks, his car far from stock.

1967 Not to Scale

Renowned for his ability to exploit a grey area, suspicions were raised when Smokey Yunick’s unsponsored Chevrolet Chevelle took pole at the 1967 Daytona 500, beating the factory Fords and Chryslers. An urban legend has long circulated that Yunick, pictured left, modified the Chevelle to be 7/8th scale, lowering the roof and raising the floor to save weight without compromising the car’s profile. Whether true or not, it is widely accepted that Yunick did modify the floor, roof and windows to make the Chevelle slick and fast through the air.

1976 Nitrous Boost

NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, began with controversy in 1976 after the top qualifiers had their times disallowed for using nitrous oxide to boost horsepower. “If you don’t cheat, you look like an idiot. If you do it and you don’t get caught, you look like a hero. If you do it and get caught, you look like a dope,” claimed one.

1983 A Petty Big Engine

Richard Petty’s victory at Charlotte Speedway in 1983 was clinched amid controversy. The seven-time champion was found to be running an engine measuring almost 382 cubic inches, much larger than the allowed 358 cubic inches, and with left-side tyres being run on the right side of the car. Despite protests from rivals, Petty kept his 198th NASCAR victory.

2007 Special Fuel

Toyota had an infamous arrival in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2007. After qualifying for the Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip, twice winner of the great race, was found to be running performance-enhancing fuel additives in his Toyota. Waltrip was stripped of 100 points, his car was seized and his crew chief indefinitely suspended. Four other drivers were also penalised at Daytona for illegal modifications. Waltrip stressed the breach was his fault, not Toyota’s.

Pimp my kart

How a keen karting dad went a step too far to win success for his son – and paid for it

Forget Formula 1 or WRC: the most competitive paddocks in motor sport can be found every weekend at the country’s karting tracks. Hungry young drivers dreaming of a career in motor sport combined with ambitious dads – often in charge of preparing the machine their progeny races – can result in temptations that are too hard to resist. 

“Karting is obviously hugely competitive among drivers and especially the parents,” says Chris McCarthy, editor of Karting Magazine. “If you are a parent who is building the engine for your son to race, you try to go as far as the rules allow – and it does result in people overstepping the mark.” 

The most infamous case of kart cheating occurred back in 2005, when Adam Christodoulou and his father Peter were caught using modified engines that had extra power. The cheat gave the kart an advantage over fellow racers and the resulting investigation and sanctions have gone down in karting folklore as a warning to others about the consequences of illegal modifications. 

In the case, heard by the Motor Sport Association National Court, Michael Garton, one of the MSA’s most experienced technical commissioners, said the modifications made to the engines had been “very deliberate, very sophisticated and very expensive”. He added that the case was “the most serious case of cheating” he had witnessed during his many years of investigating ineligibility in karting.

The cheat was discovered after Christodoulou – then 16 – was approached by scrutineers after a race at Rowrah, who took his engine away for examination. It was found to have been cleverly modified, using specially made pins, then expertly resealed to disguise the tampering. The modification increased the engine’s power output by an estimated 4bhp – enough to offer significant advantage in a field where other competitors were running at about 30bhp.

In the subsequent case, the MSA Court found Peter Christodoulou guilty of illegally modifying the engines being used by his son Adam and three other youngsters, Lewis Reeves, Jack Harvey and Jordan Chamberlain. He was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £13,000 costs. The court also suspended Adam’s competition licence for nine months. It took no action against three other drivers, who it said were unaware that they were using modified engines and had been fooled into using them.

According to McCarthy the case still reverberates today in karting circles – partly because of the size of the fine – but that accusations of cheating on a smaller scale are still rife. “At almost every meeting there are people being accused of cheating, whether with engine modifications or for using tyre softener to get the tyres up to temperature more quickly in winter. 

“It’s hard to say whether that is jealousy on the part of other drivers or not. But at club level, there is a general feeling that you don’t really know who is genuinely quick until you get to national level where the scrutineering is far more stringent.”

Even here, however, rule-breaking is not unheard of. Paul Klaassen, the MSA’s technical commissioner, describes his job as being “a constant battle” against unscrupulous teams. “The most recent case we discovered was an Italian engine builder in the PFI European Championship. They were found to be running engines with modified cylinder heads that reduced the capacity from the minimum 14cc to about 12cc. This in effect increased the compression ratio for the engine and therefore increased power output. It was a particularly sophisticated cheat that was very hard to detect.” 

Adam Christodoulou served his ban but, when he returned to karting, found himself ostracised by fellow competitors. He left karting entirely at the end of 2006 to pursue a successful career in Formula Renault (he won the championship in 2008) and more recently in sport cars. 

“The real tragedy of the whole episode is that Adam was genuinely quick,” says McCarthy. “He didn’t need to cheat to win.”