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Contact: Mark Bergfelt, Executive Director

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This article appeared in the Winter 2010 American Muscle Kart, Volume 3 Number 4. It discusses how the UAS was created to provide a place for innovation.


Is the Wankel Killing or Saving the UAS?

by Mark Bergfelt, UAS Executive Director

Obviously this edition of American Muscle Kart is the annual Official Unlimited All-Stars Rule Book. There is nothing unusual about that but how this particular rule book came to be is much different than past recent years. There's no doubt that a lot of UAS participants take their sport very seriously and are very passionate about their stance on what the rules should be. As the rules developed over the years, quite often proposed changes received great amounts of debate, even sometimes very ugly arguments. This year was very different. When the annual call for the rule review was made this past summer there was just a very little bit of discussion on the internet forums about it. There were relatively fewer proposals offered and most of those were more or less non-controversial. Unlike previous seasons I got very few phone calls about the subject. After a ballot was assembled and sent out to the administrators for a vote, very few of them even bothered to return the ballot. Consequently there are very few significant changes in the UAS rules for 2011. The only one of note is the elimination of bonus points for starting on the pole or for heat wins. Even though there were not enough votes on any item to represent support by a majority of the voting administrators, there has been enough confusion on that particular issue, mostly because shows are conducted differently from event to event and place to place, there really is no fair way to implement that policy. It has been eliminated. All other alterations to the language have only been made in an attempt to make the policies that have been in place clearer and the rule book more user friendly.

The Summer of 2009 was vastly different. The review process was a nightmare, especially for me. Most would say that "to ban the Wankel or not to ban the Wankel, that was the question". I would say that it was deeper than that. Last year was a crossroad in the UAS. Part of the original idea of the UAS was based upon defining the "run-what-cha-brung" concept, so that it meant the same thing everywhere and to provide some parameters to make it practical and safe. Other than that the prevailing concept is to allow as much freedom for technology to develop as possible. Fortunately the vote went to allow the Wankel to stay. I say fortunately, because that fact coupled with the inclusion of the large displacement single cylinder dirt bike engines has raised the bar and revitalized the creativeness of racers in the UAS. If the Wankel would have been banned some of the element of creativity would have been unnecessarily squashed and the UAS would have started down a path to becoming just another spec class.

The first annual UAS Muscle Kart Grand National was a huge success. Among the accomplishments of that event was a demonstration of just how well the present rule set balances things between the various engine styles. Fast time was set with a BRC 150cc set-up owned by Chris Seay and driven by Brandon Dunn, second fast time was posted by Robert Windle running a Sudam that I personally just rebuilt a few days before writing this. Sure Justin Gilbert won riding a Wankel but not too far behind him in second place was Justin Westerfield with his 450 motocross 4-stroke creation not to mention that perhaps the most impressive performance at the Grand National was the ride from the C-Main that took Matt Hodges all the way up to 4th in the A-Main just to finally break. His kart was powered by an open OHV 4-stroke. Gilbert did not demonstrate the dominance of the Wankel. He did clearly show the world that a smart and mature driver with the best overall set-up won. That is just as it should be. I have no doubt that the outcome would not have been much different had Gilbert chosen to pull out his Sudam.

Without a doubt the Wankel engines are a top notch product that is very user friendly. They do carry a relatively high initial price tag but in the long run are no more and are probably less expensive to run than the vast array of alternatives. Most people with Sudams have more than one and that costs more than a single Wankel. A competitive billet 4-stroke will cost about the same and when it breaks is just a matter of time.

The perceived dominance of the Wankel is more a factor of who has initially chosen to use them. Only the most dedicated racers have been willing to sacrifice the initial asking price. If one examines the records of those drivers, they were all dominating the events that they entered before they had Wankels. Their driving talent, set-up knowledge and dedication to doing whatever it takes are the real factors to their success. Since they race so much, the low maintenance Wankel is simply a logical choice for them. Now, more and more drivers, that perhaps don't have as much experience or dedication, are getting their hands on these engines but that still has not instantly propelled them to the winners circle. That is because in the UAS knowledge and skill still trumps the engine in a class where almost everyone has more than enough horsepower already.

What the dedicated racers who have chosen to use Wankels have really done is woken up their competitors and has raised the bar for them. As a result the rules have been opened up to allow the largest engines that insurance companies will allow. That has put an end to the discussions about allowing incrementally bigger engines as has been done over the years since they are now as big as they can go. It has inspired BRC to develop their new state-of-the art 150 two-stroke, the all new Buller 2-stroke bottom end that will accept 3 carburetors, a plethora of 250 2-2troke and 450 4-stroke moto-cross conversions and it has caused everyone else to take a real hard look at their overall program, especially their tires. In short, the Wankel has revitalized the innovative sprit that is at the heart of what got the UAS started in the first place. It has indeed saved the UAS.