Frenchman Bertrand Pignolet is at the head of one of the world's leading kart manufacturers. The Sodikart company, founded by Gildas Mérian, divides its activity between rental karting and manufacturing competition chassis. Sodi karts have shone at the highest international level in KZ and KZ2 while increasing their presence in all other categories. Sodikart is also involved in the organisation of races through its 3MK Events department. This interview with Bertrand Pignolet was conducted in April 2020 while COVID-19 was paralysing a large part of the planet.
- Can you tell us how Sodikart currently operates?
So far, it is going as well as possible. The company was placed on short-time working as of 17th March in order to preserve the health of its staff. We are fortunate to be located in the west of France, which has not been seriously affected by the virus. I am well aware that the situation is much more severe in other regions and countries. Our thoughts are with all the families who have been hit by COVID-19.
We have been able to provide minimum service since 1st April to ship parts to our customers who have requested them. Since 14th April, we have resumed production with reduced shifts. We are once again assembling competition and rental karts. Sodikart has a strong international presence and some countries have asked us to deliver to them. Some have never been confined, others are beginning to be unconfined. The plant is currently operating at around 40% of its capacity and workforce.
Of course, we have put the emphasis on protecting the health of all our employees, our top priority, through barrier methods, the provision of hydroalcoholic gel and the wearing of masks and gloves. Production was thus restarted, to the satisfaction of the teams.
- How have you adapted to the health crisis?
Very quickly, thanks to the responsiveness of one of our R&D employees, Sodikart has put its 3D printing capacity at the service of hospitals and healthcare workers in the Nantes region by producing protective masks and visor supports. It was a moral duty for us.
Through our events department 3MK Events, in a few weeks, we also set up an E-Sport championship which was a great success in France. We have nothing to gain financially from this operation, but it seemed important to us to contribute to strengthening the karting community which, due to confinement, can no longer go to the tracks. Our goal was mainly to maintain the link between all the players in the field by allowing them to have a bit of fun and to rediscover the sensations of racing, even though online games are nothing like real karting competition.
Finally, we are delighted to see the success of Bas Lammers on social networks and beyond thanks to his very well-attended physical preparation programme. He perfectly fulfils his mission as a Sodikart ambassador within the sporting community. He knows how to show all the qualities that we appreciate in him. His joie de vivre, his dynamism and charisma, as well as his total involvement in sport and his legendary fair play. I am convinced that he has more than ever become a role model in sport while continuing to embody a model athlete. Having said that, we look forward, like him, with barely concealed impatience to see him show his talent on a circuit because that is where he excels the most.
- How do you see the resumption of karting competition?
I have the honour of participating in the CIK-FIA sporting working group, we met a few days ago in a video-conference. For the moment, we have tried to reposition as many competitions as possible in the second part of the season. However, in my opinion, it will be difficult to envisage holding international races in Italy, Spain or France before the end of August. Apparently, some territorial administrations have already indicated that they will not issue permits before September. The problem is not the concentration of people on a circuit, because the races take place in the open air and well-applied barriers limit the risks. It is the mobilisation of health resources such as ambulances, doctors and first-aid workers for non-priority activities that could delay a resumption.
On the other hand, for international competitions, there is the problem of the participants' travel from to their country of origin, according to the administrative decisions of each state, as well as with regard to flight capacity. What would be the value of an international competition, a World Championship, if representatives of several countries could not travel to it? This poses an ethical and sporting problem, over and above a health problem. It remains a big question at the moment. Under these conditions, it is complicated to prepare a four-month calendar. I hope that we will be able to maintain the maximum number of dates for the European Championships in OK and Junior, as well as in KZ, KZ2 and especially the World Championships. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee today that we will be able to do everything.
- How do you currently assess the possible consequences of the pandemic?
There are several parts to try to answer this question. First of all, the health impact will depend on the cures that can be developed to deal with the disease and the speed with which treatments or vaccines can limit the extent of the disease. This remains the main unknown to date.
On the other hand, it is clear that the economic impact will be strong worldwide. We need only look at the sharp increase in unemployment in recent weeks. However, it is almost impossible to predict the magnitude and duration of its effects on the health of economies or markets.
Finally, being naturally optimistic, I believe that the psychological impact of such a crisis will also bring opportunities for those who want to seize them. Many people, currently confined, have time to reflect and perhaps to redefine their priorities in life... Some may withdraw into themselves, but I am convinced that many of us, after this health crisis is over, will simply enjoy life and be aware of how lucky we are to simply be healthy. So I hope that the practice of sports in general, and karting in particular, will again be able to develop and attract young talent from all over the world!