You’ll see it hanging on the wall at most of our centers around the world: a large banner with the words “Champions Start Here”. This is K1 Speed’s reminder that practically all of today’s champion racers started their driving career behind the wheel of a go kart.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons that K1 Speed exists. We’re here to conveniently and affordably provide the opportunity for anyone, regardless of income or background, to get behind the wheel of a go kart.
We’ve long waited for the day when someone is introduced to racing at K1 Speed and has worked their way up to top-level single seaters. Now, we’ve certainly had some great racers achieve some incredible results. But we’ve just discovered a racer who’s made it further than anyone else we know of. Introducing 15-year-old McKenzy Cresswell, who’s got just three rungs left to climb on the ladder to Formula 1.
McKenzy Cresswell’s First Drive
Originally born in the UK, McKenzy was four when he moved to the United States in 2010. Three years later, his father, Mark, took him to K1 Speed Austin to see how well he’d do behind the wheel of a kart. Previously, McKenzy had only sat behind the wheel virtually, in Gran Turismo 5.
“He was five when he started (Gran Turismo) and was crashing into things,” says Mark. “But once he got to the point where he could reasonably drive a lap, I thought maybe he’d like to have a go.”
McKenzy adds, “I’d been doing some sim racing stuff like Gran Turismo 5 and things like that so I knew a little bit about it, but I’d never done it in real life. So it was quite new to me, but I was sort of enthusiastic to give it a go because my dad enjoyed (racing at K1 Speed) so much. So I thought if I give it a go, I might enjoy it as well.”
McKenzy was a little overwhelmed at first, even needing a bit of help putting his helmet on (this was, after all, his first time even putting a full-face helmet on). But once he got out to the track, he loved it.
“It was the first thing that I’d been in control of,” says McKenzy. “So that was why I really started getting into it. I enjoyed driving, being able to go as fast as I want, no limits, no restrictions.”
He Knows What He’s Doing
Mark started taking McKenzy to K1 Speed often after that, about once every couple of weeks. McKenzy participated in the K1 Speed Academy, the precursor of our current 1-on-1 instruction offered at our centers. McKenzy also started participating in Junior League events.
An older boy named Tucker and a pair of sisters were McKenzy’s toughest competition when first starting out. McKenzy would crash here and there, but he was improving steadily.
During a regular Arrive & Drive weekend, Mark and McKenzy’s grandparents observed the youngster working his way through a full field of junior racers, having started the session at the back of the line leaving the pits.
“He just overtook kart after kart,” remembers Mark. “Ducking underneath them in the corners, going around the outside, out-braking going into corners. It was the first time it hit me.” At the same time, McKenzy’s grandfather came up to Mark and told him McKenzy looks like he knows what he’s doing. That’s when it hit Mark – his son really knew what he was doing out there.
By the end of his first Junior League season, McKenzy found himself on the podium for the first time in his life.
“He was just thrilled to bits to get this medal,” remembers Mark. “And we used to hang them over his bunk bed. And then he just started collecting them after that. And we just kind of hung them all over. We’ve still got them.”
McKenzy regularly visited the top step of the podium during his second Junior League season, eventually finishing runner-up in the championship standings. Shortly after, they began the next step – outdoor gas-powered kart racing.
Transition to Outdoor Karts
The father and son duo visited a local outdoor track in Austin where McKenzy was able to transfer the skills he learned at K1 Speed over to the faster karts.
“The basics, really. You know, racing line and stuff like that,” says McKenzy when asked what he learned while at K1 Speed. “I pretty much learned all of that from K1. That developed me as a driver. And those skills carried straight into the outdoor karts, just at a slightly faster pace. Just learning the basics – braking and all of that. It translated immediately.”
Over the next several years, McKenzy competed in club racing, then moved into SKUSA around the age of 11, traveling all over the United States. He usually floated around in the Top 10 (“nothing special, to be honest,” recalls McKenzy), but he enjoyed it so much that his father kept bringing him back to the outdoor track, and he continued to improve.
In 2017, McKenzy and his family moved back to England. There, he began racing in British Kart Championships (BKC) where drivers like Anthony Davidson, Paul Di Resta, and Mike Conway scored titles. The competition was fierce, with McKenzy finishing 5th or 6th as a best result.
From Outdoor Karts to British Formula 4
By 2020, 14-year-old McKenzy had literally outgrown karting. He became too tall to be competitive in the junior kart category, which he was forced to race in due to his age. It was at this time that his father realized it wasn’t going to cost much more to race in actual cars.
“(McKenzy) did a test in a Ginetta (sports car), and I could see that although he wanted to race in cars, he really wanted to race the single seater,” says Mark. “Getting in a Ginetta was going to be fun of course, but it wasn’t a single seater.”
However, single seaters were a bit more expensive, and Mark was unsure how they were going to cover the cost.
Undeterred, Mark found two companies willing to put in money towards a ride for McKenzy in British Formula 4 – a FIA-certified rung on the ladder to Formula 1 (Lando Norris was the series’ first champion in 2015). British Formula 4 follows the iconic British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), running 30 races at legendary racing tracks around the country such as Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Donington and Oulton Park.
McKenzy’s progress in karts prepared him well for the single seaters, and his first tests in the F4 car went well. Very well, in fact.
“I just got faster and faster as karts got faster and faster and then I got into a car and it just sort of clicked, and I was there,” says McKenzy.
The tests were with the best teams they could afford. And by the end, McKenzy had an invitation to race with any of the teams he had a run with.
“We picked the team that looked like it had the best mechanic and driver coaching. That was how we did it,” explains Mark.
The team they selected was JHR Developments. JHR had done well in both team and driver championships in British F4, however they had yet to secure either the team or driver title.
Success in British Formula 4 Brings Opportunity in GB3
McKenzy finished second in his first British F4 race weekend at Thruxton. By race 11, he had his first victory at Oulton Park and had finished on the podium an additional four times. At season’s end, he finished the season with more wins (6), fastest laps (6), and podiums (11) than any other driver on his way to a third-place result in the championship, a mere single point behind the runner-up. He also helped JHR achieve their first British F4 Team Championship.
“When the season rolled around, I got even better, even faster. It just clicked,” says McKenzy. “My first few races we were there, but not quite at the front yet. But I think from the final three rounds, we probably had the best pace out there. It was just a few poor rounds in the middle of the season that I didn’t get the title.”
“Although he came third, he had the strongest finish to the season,” adds Mark.
As a result, McKenzy is moving up to British Formula 3 (recently renamed “GB3”) and has already tested with four of the nine teams that compete in the series.
“I’ve been out with some different teams, just trying out the new car,” says McKenzy shortly after testing. “It’s going really well, actually. The car’s so much fun to drive. It’s unreal the amount of downforce it’s got.”
Once again, the testing has gone well, and combined with his F4 performance, McKenzy seems to be in demand.
“We think we know where we’re going,” says Mark. “One or two things may sort of change our mind, but I think we’ll probably get him signed up this year and probably announce in January where we’re going. It’s possible we’ll leak it out before Christmas.”
No matter where McKenzy ends up for next season, he’s going to be one to watch for the title. And when he does impress in GB3, he’ll be aiming for the International FIA Formula 3 series in 2023. Then, hopefully a move to F2 in 2025. And 2026? It’s not impossible to think that McKenzy may be in Formula 1, at least in some capacity as a test or reserve driver if not on the grid.
If for whatever reason McKenzy doesn’t get to F1, racing fans stateside may be in for a treat. The hotshot hasn’t ruled out a move to IndyCar.
“It looks really good, but currently F1 is the main aim,” says McKenzy “But I’d love to do IndyCar, it looks so much fun.”
At K1 Speed, we’ll be following McKenzy’s career closely as he moves up the single-seater ladder. So, this won’t be the last time you’ll hear us talking about him. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting young racer who started at K1 Speed and is working his way to the top.
Inspired? Here’s Some Advice from Father and Son
If you’re someone younger and think you could also reach the ladder to F1, here’s what McKenzy has to offer for some advice:
“Just go for it. I’ve lived my life with no regrets and that’s what I want to keep doing. If you’ve got something that you want to pursue, just go for it. Just don’t let anyone talk you out of it.”
And if you’re a parent who wants to take their child on a similar path, Mark has two pieces of advice:
“I would advise them to do something like a K1 Speed just to make sure they enjoy it, so they get the bug. Cos I see so many parents that are living this vicariously. You know. They WANT their kid to enjoy it, so they push them, push them, push them. There’s just no point. Because they’ll never be any good, they’ll resent you for it, and you’ll end up wasting so much money on it.
“So you gotta make sure they love it. And what better way to do it than being in an environment like K1. Because you’re not buying karts or anything like that. You’re just going when you want, it’s competitive, they can race against other kids, it’s a perfectly safe environment. You just know whether they love it or not. So that would be the first thing. There’s no point pushing them unless they love and you can figure out if they love it at a place like K1 Speed.”
“The second thing I would say is, when you get into karting, do not be penny-wise, pound-foolish on it. There is no point trying to cut corners. You need good equipment, because everyone will have really good equipment.
“And by the same token – and this is a really key thing that I wish I’d known – you can only compete on the level playing field so far in karting and that’s okay. And what I mean by that is, you can do well in club races, and you can spend a decent amount of money but don’t go mad. The moment you want to compete at the highest level in karting, you’re selling your house, you’re working three jobs. It’s the only way to do it.
“There’s literally no point, because there’s this sort of notion that if you reach the upper echelons of karting, it’s like a gateway to having a team – an Indy team or F1 team, or one of these teams put their hands in their pockets and pay for your single seater career. Now, it does happen. But it is vanishingly rare where that happens, compared to the number of kids that throw everything they’ve got at winning Super Nats or the Pro Tour.
“The very best advice that I will give to somebody is to compete at the club level as well as you can, learn how to race, learn what it means to be in the paddock, but – if you want a racing career – get into cars as soon as you can. Because cars are just so much more equalized.
“It’s very difficult to spend your way to victory (it’s motorsport of course you can do it) it’s easier to spend your way to victory in karts. It’s much more difficult to do it in cars. So the best thing is to get into cars as soon as you can. In many respects, compared to these international kart championships, cars are cheaper. If you’re running world championship karting in Europe, you’re spending more than you do in Formula 4.“
How To Choose a Racing Team by McKenzy Cresswell
What follows is straight from the racer himself – McKenzy Cresswell. In this extra feature, McKenzy details what it takes to pick a team as one moves up the ladder to Formula One. We found it incredibly insightful and think you, the K1 racer, will also appreciate his valuable advice as you pursue a racing career. – Staff Writer
Just before Christmas we announced we would be joining a new team for the next stage of my single seater racing journey. I thought you might be interested in what kind of things we go through when making the decision on who to race with.
I had a great rookie season last year with JHR, my F4 team. So, looking for a GB3 team the bar was already set very high. The cost of running a season is very important, some teams are a lot more expensive that others, but I leave that to my dad; he is the one that must find the money from sponsors and investors to pay for it. I’m more interested in how likely it is I can win with the team.
The process starts by selecting a several teams to test with. A test generally involves a day at the team’s factory on the simulator, meeting the mechanics and having a seat fit. Then a day or two at a track doing practice laps, working with the engineers and coaches and getting to know the team’s methods.
In no particular order:
Teammate & Coaching
An important consideration is how quick your teammate is likely to be; basically, the faster the better. At this level we are all still learning how to drive quickly. In GB3 all drivers in a team share the telemetry that comes off the car. So, when you have a quick teammate, it is certain that they will drive certain corners better than you. You can look at their braking points and brake pressures, lines through the corner, throttle traces and many other data points to help you learn and go faster. A good coach can identify the differences between drivers in the team in how they drive a lap and pick out the subtle differences in style through each corner. Having a good teammate, and a collaborative way of selecting the best driving options from all the drivers on the team, lifts everyone. Obviously, having teammates you get on with is helpful, although at the end of the day you are going to have to beat them too, so they are your rivals as well.
The same argument goes for the way the engineers set the car up. Drivers can work with each other to help the engineers build an accurate picture of how the car is behaving. If a team has a structured way of trying things out on a car and blending the feedback from all the drivers to get an accurate picture, the engineers will have a better chance of arriving at a good setup.
For these ideas to work in practice you look for a team where all of the drivers have the same commitment to pre-season testing. Obviously, to share experiences to get the best driver and car development you need all the drivers to be at as many test days as possible.
In 2022, GB3 is getting a new car with a halo, more downforce and a more powerful engine. This will mean a lot of setup work during pre-season testing. So, another consideration when looking at teams is whether they’ve had to learn a new car before and how well the engineers were able to get on top of a new car when the regulations changed before. Also, how well has the team competed in the GB3 Championship previously. Do they have a record of winning races?
Another thing you want to know is how well the car is prepared. You can be the best driver on the grid but if the car breaks down you are nowhere. This is quite a difficult thing to look for directly, so the only way is again to speak to previous drivers and look back at the team’s finishing history. Did they have a lot of DNFs or did the cars always make it home in a competitive state. The relationship a driver has with their mechanic is really important, so ensuring you can quickly bond with the person putting the car together is crucial. You have to trust that the car will remain in one piece when you are pushing it to the limit.
One of the softer issues but one that is quite easy to discern. How focused does the team seem on winning this championship and do they believe the can. The self-belief comes through in conversations you can have with mechanics and engineers.
It’s always a good idea to speak to drivers that raced with the team previously. They have useful insights and experiences that can help make a decision.