“I took my role as a mechanic at the Academy Trophy very seriously”.
The FIA Karting Academy Trophy is a worldwide programme for the detection of young talent. Each year, it gives drivers the opportunity to compete on equal terms. They are provided with identical equipment, and it is up to them to make the difference on the track with the help of their mechanic, who is responsible for fine-tuning the few adjustments they can make. We met one of them, Slovakian Simon Sikhart, who was assisting his compatriot Matej Konik in 2021. He told us his feelings…
How did you end up assisting Matej?
Before I started racing in Rally and Mazda MX-5 Cup in my country, Slovakia, I raced in Karting in a brand challenge in Junior and Senior. I met Matej at the circuits, he was much smaller than today, as he started in the “Micro” and “Mini” categories. We live very close to each other, near the capital Bratislava. I now have three years’ experience as a mechanic, but I haven’t been to as many races as many of my colleagues who have the same role as me in the FIA Karting Academy Trophy. I have been training in Slovakia, with only a few trips outside my home country. As there are not many racing circuits in Slovakia, we sometimes go to Austria, for example. The Academy Trophy has allowed me to visit some of the most beautiful European circuits.
What is your working method with Matej?
I base my work on my own experience as a driver and mechanic. For us, each new meeting is a discovery. We have to learn to get used to the circuit and we use each practice session and each heat to find the best compromise in order to progress in the rankings. We don’t have a lot of freedom to intervene on the engine side and we trust the Vortex team who do a very good job in limiting the performance differences between each engine. The Italian technicians frequently swap engines between the drivers, so as to avoid suspicion and to ensure the greatest possible sporting fairness. In some meetings, we have raced with three different engines, without noticing significant differences each time. The FIA Karting Academy Trophy is an excellent formula to progress and highlight oneself.
What settings do you work on the most?
It’s important to find the best combination of chassis and tyres. I have to make sure that the driver feels as comfortable as possible with his chassis. As data acquisition systems are forbidden in this category, I rely on Matej to tell me his precise feelings and to describe the reactions of the chassis, in order to define the best set-up. I act on the settings of the front and rear wheels. I also have to find the best places to place the ballast on the chassis, as Matej was carrying a little more than 10 kg this season. This choice depends of course on the configuration of the track and its grip. Finally, determining the best tyre pressure is not easy, you have to understand how the tyres work, especially in time trials. In each race we have managed to improve on this point. He was only 35th in the Trophy opener in Germany and 32nd in Italy, before setting the 20th fastest time in the Qualifying session in Sweden.
What did you think of his progress?
Even though he is competing in the Trophy for the second time, he is still a young driver who needs to gain experience and maturity. Again this year, many of his rivals were entered in parallel OK-Junior Championships, which was not the case for him. In Slovakia, he is entered in a Challenge, with a different make of chassis and has to readapt to the Academy’s equipment at each race. Fortunately, we were able to get advice from the OTK team when we were a bit lost. In addition, the circuits proved to be difficult to get to grips with. Wackersdorf has a lot of very different corners, which follow each other quickly, without any dead time. In Adria it was very hot, the grip of the surface was significant, whereas it was the opposite in Kristianstad. In the end, Matej progressed as a driver and I also progressed as a mechanic.
What is your assessment of the experience?
It was very enriching, especially as we were in contact with the world’s karting elite at each meeting. With Matej, I took my role as mechanic very seriously. Of course, we would have hoped for better results, but the standard was high in 2021.
Info FIA Karting / Photo © KSP