A former top-level kart driver, Joakim Ward has diversified his activities since the creation of his company in 1991. In particular, he manages the import and distribution of several brands in Sweden and neighbouring countries and has developed his own range of rental karts. At the same time, the Ward Racing team occupies a first-class position on the international scene. It is one of the big private teams capable of competing with the factory teams, winning on numerous occasions in international classes. On the occasion of an interview conducted during the penultimate week of May 2020, Joakim Ward discusses the unique situation in Sweden in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of this exceptional situation on karting and its economy.
Joakim, how are you coping with the spread of the virus in Sweden?
As far as my family and friends are concerned, everything is fine. We are taking all the necessary precautions and following the government's recommendations regarding physical distancing. In our country, we believe that people need to think for themselves to be able to behave in the right way. For example, it is recommended not to travel more than two hours from home. But there is no real ban. In Sweden, masks and gloves are not widely worn, except in large cities. Distancing is more commonly practised. I would say that about 95% of the population complies with this rule.
Nevertheless, activity in the country has slowed down considerably since March. Most shops remained open, but many businesses are facing bankruptcy. The government is trying to help by ensuring that labour costs are reduced, but there is no direct financial assistance. With virtually no cash flow in some sectors and still having to pay expenses, life is very difficult.
Have you noticed any improvement recently?
Yes, I certainly have. The situation is improving day by day all over the country. In my case, I'm fortunate enough to have other activities besides racing and that makes me more able to withstand difficult times. The fact that we are able to maintain even a small amount of business activity enables us to hold our own. It is very satisfying to be able to work with our Swedish customers on a daily basis, who are very understanding. We can, therefore, cope with our main concern, which is to try to keep our heads above water and ensure a minimum turnover in order to be able to pay the rent and bills for the shop and the premises.
How do you view the resumption of competition in your country?
Sweden was probably one of the first countries affected by the epidemic to try to organise karting races again. Two took place in May, in Kristianstad and near Stockholm. Thanks to very strict procedures, it went very well: 25 drivers were in the paddock simultaneously, in five-hour increments. They went home after their races so that the maximum number of people present on the site at any one time never exceeded 50. It's a very good system that enables the drivers to have a lot of practice in a very short time, maybe even more than in a normal competition. Everyone seemed happy to spend less time away from home. It was a very good format. There are going to be other races in this format, but not every weekend, more like once a month.
What do you think about future international races?
I'm more worried because there are a lot more constraints to take into account. I don't think we can envisage organising races before the end of the summer. At the moment, we cannot gather a thousand or more people on a circuit. That's completely outside the government's recommendations.
It's going to be extremely difficult in simple situations that were previously taken for granted that are now becoming very complex. The resumption of racing itself is not very complicated as it involves a driver, a mechanic and some equipment. It's all about the presence of the participants on a track that has to be thought out in advance between all of us. Nevertheless, I remain positive in the sense that we are in the process of learning a lot that we will be able to use to our advantage. This is the most important point to ensure an intelligent restart after this break.
Are you thinking about developments for the future of karting?
There are a lot of ideas going around at the moment on how to make karting better. For my part, I am extremely satisfied with the current technical rules, as far as engines, chassis and tyres are concerned. Over the last few years, everyone has been satisfied with the way international competition has gone, the drivers primarily, which is very important.
The CIK-FIA did very well to postpone the next homologation of the chassis for one year. I think it would be good to do the same for the next homologation concerning the engines scheduled for the end of 2021. It would be a pity to discourage drivers and teams during the recovery phase, with the risk of a transfer of competitors to the single-brand cups which do not have this kind of constraint.
On the other hand, the point that should be improved in international competition is certainly the time spent on the circuits. With the rule that forbids driving on a track ten days before an FIA Karting event, we are penalised by the equipment being stopped for too long. This is very expensive for the drivers and teams who have to stay at the track and wait without being able to drive. By looking for a solution to this problem, we could easily recover a month of activity per year, which would be very beneficial for everyone in a recovery period.