Big kart manufacturers with good reputations are what truly make the karting industry, and one such company, Birel ART, benefits from a long history in the sport. In this article, I’ll be outlining the history of Birel and looking at the top karts in their current range.
Birel Art Karts History
During the 1950s, Europe was taken by the karting storm that swept over from the US since the first kart was built there. Italy, more than any other European country, was especially involved in the growth of go-karting, and it shouldn’t be surprising when you look at their rich motorsport history.
One such petrol-head living in Italy back then was Umberto Sala, a manager for a car and motorcycle store in Lissone, near Milan. He’d previously competed in automobile and motorcycle races, and when he learned of go-karting, he knew he had to get involved.
An Outlet For His Passion
Sala opened a light metallurgy workshop and started to make his own karts, simply for the fun of it. Being able to take these karts on outings was a good way to explore his passion for things with engines since he’d stopped racing, and he quickly wanted to expand this hobby into something bigger.
Among his circle of friends, Sala’s karts started to be known as “Birel” as homage to his family’s nickname. In his hometown of Lissone, Sala family members had come to be known as “Birel” with emphasis on the letter ‘e.’ So, taking this nickname and running with it, Sala officially started to produce Birel chassis beyond hobbyist levels in 1958, with his eyes set on kart competitions.
Birel’s First Karts
To enter competitions, you first need drivers. Of course, Umberto himself was a skilled driver, but he started to focus solely on the designing and production of his Birel karts.
So, he turned to his brother, Guido Sala, to become Birel’s first driver who represented the chassis on circuits and during races. This was how the karts started to gain small levels of notoriety, since Guido was able to say that his brother designed and made every part of the machine he was racing.
A Child Prodigy
The true turning point of popularity and early-day fame for Birel came from a somewhat unlikely place, in the shape of Umberto’s son, Oscar Sala. He proved to be a real prodigy in the kart, and would go on to hold the most wins in Birel company history.
On the back of this early success and many go-kart enthusiasts asking after Birel karts, the manufacturer started to forge a pathway to success going into the early 1970s.
Until this time in the company’s history, Sala had simply been making chassis that developed on what he learned through his brother and son driving them. They were as of yet unnamed Birel karts, but that was all about to change! In the 1970s, he designed and produced the Targa, a chassis that would go on to carve a notable legacy for his humble company.
The Beginning Of Something Great
After the production of this chassis, IAME, the Italian engine manufacturer took notice. In the year 1974, Birel and IAME formed an official kart racing team with which they signed Riccardo Patrese and Eddy Cheever, future Formula 1 drivers. Although the 1970s were successful for Birel, especially in gaining yet more fame and building a reputation, it was the 1980s that truly kick-started things.
The Birel manufacturing and racing teams developed tenfold, so that kart and driver were securing titles all over Europe. future F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen was signed to the Birel race team in the mid-80s, bringing home podium finishes race after race.
They also conquered four consecutive years of the Junior World Championship between 1982 and 1986, which truly made them a force to be reckoned with. After building an upward trajectory of reputation and overall expertise, they were suddenly rivalling the old, renowned kart manufacturer, Tony Kart.
The 1990s saw Birel winning six Formula C World Championship titles, making them the racing force that had produced the most winning teams in the 125 categories ever at that time.
Birel Karts In The Modern Era
By the time of the year 2000 rolling around, Birel had truly proved itself worthy to be operating in the same stomping grounds as Tony Kart and built a reputation all their own. But for a manufacturer that was always looking to push the envelope, Birel was far from done!
Although endurance racing was slowly evolving in the US, Birel truly defined this aspect of kart racing by producing the first-ever specialized kart that was mass-produced for it – the NO35. Made to be more efficient and reliable, this chassis officially kick-started and created the European endurance racing scene.
And in the year 2000, Birel outdid itself by producing a chassis called the EasyKart. Until this point, go-karting was far less expensive than motor racing, but it was still pretty inaccessible for most people.
That all changed with the conception of the EasyKart, the first chassis produced that was affordable and easily attained for amateur go-kart enthusiasts all over Europe. This, in essence, birthed go-karting as we know it today, as a (relatively) affordable motorsport that is available for anybody who invests time into the sport.
Other Popular Birel Karts
By the year 2005, Birel had met its previously-made quota for fulfilling rental kart production in order to bring yet more go-karting passion to Europe as a whole. Their C-28 chassis also saw a huge rise in popularity in youth go-karting courtesy of its eye-catching design and adult-level competitive features. By this point in the 2000s, Birel were a fan favorite for kid karts.
Then, in 2008, all of the big kart manufacturers the world over chose to enter into the WSK karting series. It’s one of the most widely-known karting series due to its worldwide participation, excellent organization and high media coverage. In short, it was a kart manufacturer’s dream to have their karts selected to participate.
Many drivers picked Birel kart chassis during the WSK, and it was podiums all round in the top levels of competition. This truly set Birel apart from the competition and made them visible as a highly competitive manufacturer.
How Birel Became Birel ART
Further adding to Birel’s star-studded history, the Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica, who had previously raced under the racing reds of Birel, partnered with them to create a brand-new Junior Karting race team in 2009. They were entirely dedicated to educating young kart drivers.
Fast-forward to 2011, and Nicholas Todt (son of former FIA President and Ferrari F1 leader Jean Todt) decided to launch a new racing project under the name of ART Grand Prix. The goal of this company was to provide assistance to kart drivers in how to better their driving, and how best to progress in the motor racing world.
For three years, ART Grand Prix assisted and guided drivers who were Birel kart owners (think Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc), and the rest is well and truly history. Aware of this amazing project and seeing the results, Birel approached ART with offers of a partnership, and this was how Birel ART was born.
Even More Success
2014 was the start of something amazing for the kart manufacturer. Birel’s long kart-building and history in the motorsport combined with ART Grand Prix brought a force to be reckoned with into the karting market, as seen when they secured a victory in that same year at the SKUSA SUPERNATIONALS XVIII in Las Vegas with Paolo De Conto as the driver.
To wrap up a very eventful year, Birel ART announced a collaboration with Daniel Ricciardo, a newly emerging yet very competitive Formula 1 driver in the 2014 season. Ricciardo karts were born, and a racing team came soon after.
Ever since, the manufacturer has continued to support kart drivers through all stages of their career and even progressing onto the car racing ladder, all while building highly competitive go-karts. I’ve had the chance to get behind the wheel of some of Birel’s karts, and I take a look at some of their best rigs below.
KEY POINTS• Birel’s roots go back to the late 1950s
• They’ve seen plenty of success and were pioneers in the affordable karting market
• They have since partnered with ART Grand Prix, along with various F1 drivers
Birel ART’s Current Range: 3 Karts Reviewed
1. C-28 S11 Cadet Kart
Over the years, many iterations of the C-28 have brought Birel huge success in youth-level racing, and the S11, the newest model, is no exception. There was a reason that they were often chosen by up and coming kart racers all over Europe, including future Formula 1 drivers. It all comes down to their focus on driver development and making karts for young drivers that encouraged that growth.
Compared to the S10, Birel have listened to driver feedback to implement a host of improved features and new aspects to create the most well-rounded kart they can produce for this age category.
- 28 mm moly tubing
- Redesigned graphics for an aggressive and elegant look
- 4.5L petrol tank
- Hydraulic CX braking system
- 950 mm wheelbase
- Optional front and rear stabilizers
- Versatile steering column
2. RY30-S11 TaG Kart
TaG race classes are some of the simplest to get involved in for kart racers, thanks to the simple start-up and lack of gears. Birel’s latest iteration of this senior-level (age 15+) kart has been improved upon over many years of production, and has seen some redesign elements for its S11 form.
These innovations, coupled with a winning formula that earned them the most 125cc victories back in the 1990s, make for a highly competitive kart that looks just as good as it handles out on the track!
- Overhauled chassis geometry
- 30 mm moly tubing
- 1045 mm wheelbase
- Hydraulic 1FL brake system
- 10L fuel tank
- Magnesium wheel hubs
- New strengthened floor panel
3. AM29-S11 Kart
Birel designed the AM29 models to fill the fast-growing 4-stroke engine race class. The latest iteration of this award-winning kart is highly versatile and easy to tweak for whoever is driving it. This makes it a very worthwhile investment that’ll last a long time, whether it’s for a junior-level racer who grows up, or an adult who’s after a sturdy rig!
- 28 mm and 30 mm moly tubing
- Adjustable wheelbase: 1020 mm, 1030 mm or 1040 mm
- Floating disc brake system
- Adjustable spindle positions
- A choice of 4 rear axles can be fitted
- Adjustable ride height
- Black magnesium wheels
It goes without saying that Birel ART has a colorful, exciting history. I can’t help but admire a company that focuses on bringing karting to more people to enjoy this amazing sport, and Birel’s focus on rental kart production coupled with certain chassis that won’t break the bank really sets them apart from other manufacturers.
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