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Some Kart Driving Hints

These are not hard and fast rules. Exceptional cases often occur where it's sensible to jam on the anchors to turn the kart explosively, or to enter a corner wide and exit narrow. But recognise that these ARE exceptions, and the lore below has been serving me and my team-mates well for a few years.

Keep the Revs up!

One of the important rules with a single-gear, centrifugal clutch kart is to keep the revs up. If you lose revs, you spend a lot of time building them back up, and the power band, such as it is, is near the top of the rev range.

Steer straight!

Because the back wheels are on a solid axle, the best acceleration is obtained by keeping the front wheels in the neutral position as much as possible. In particular, from a standing start, it is very difficult to get a kart moving if you have any steering lock on.

Brake straight!

Unless you want to create some special effect, such as twirling on the spot or getting the rear end of the kart round quickly, try not to brake when cornering. The brake only operates on the rear axle, and you will find that it not only kills your revs, but unbalances the exquisite equilibrium you have achieved. In general, brake on the straight before the bend. It makes sense to feather the throttle rather than use the brake on a curve when you are on the limit. However, rather than lifting your accelerator if you are entering a corner after a straightish section, it's best to floor the accelerator until the last moment, brake hard, if necessary, while you are still in a straight line, and then floor the accelerator again through the corner. In fact, it's surprising how seldom you need to brake on most indoor circuits.

These are not hard and fast rules. On fast circuits with moderate bends there will be occasions when you brake into a bend, giving less brake and more throttle as you get deeper.

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Sweeping Bends

On sweeping bends, karts drive beautifully. A little tweak on the wheel will induce a drift, and you just balance the kart between understeer and oversteer through the bend. Remember, you are always aiming for an imaginary apex beyond the geometric apex of the bend.

Fast Corner

Sharper Bends

The same trick is much more difficult to do when there's a hairpin bend to negotiate. You have to induce a little more wheelspin. The basic method is to brake sharply in a straight line before reaching the corner, let the revs build up, while turning in, and once the kart is sliding and wheelspinning, straighten the front wheels for the exit. This is easier said than done, of course, but once you get the feel for it, it improves your performance greatly. In effect, you are trying to line the kart up for the exit of the corner before you get there.

Beginners underestimate the capabilities of karts. You will find you can dare to go into a sharp bend surprisingly fast, in the knowledge that the act of cornering will slow you down quite a lot.

Hairpin

Chicanes and Esses

Chicanes and Esses are multiple bends. While it is impossible here to cover every shape, there are a few guiding principles you can use to deal with them. The first important thing to remember is that the last bend of the complex is the most important, and that you should emerge from it at the maximum possible speed. Many successful overtaking manoeuvres are executed on the exit of a chicane or series of esses.

Everything else is directed towards putting you in the best position for that final bend. A line that is perfect for the second last bend if it were to be followed by a straight may have you going too fast or in the wrong position for the final bend. In particular, many people enter the first bend of a chicane too fast, arrive at the second bend in the wrong position, and are out of shape for the rest of the complex. Because you are planning to moderate your speed within the chicane, you can take the bends tighter than usual. Remember to use as little steering lock as possible on the final bend, to help your acceleration.

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What's the Fastest Line?

The fastest line to take on any bend is a matter of experience, but the basic rule is to set up wide, clip just beyond the apex, and exit fairly wide. It's my experience that you should not go too wide on exit. Sometimes this means you still have to use all the available width, but don't use more than you need, just on principle.

Start the turn on a gentle bend a little earlier than you'd expect in a road car, but go deep into a hairpin before turning in.

That is all very well, of course, if it is sensible to make a wide approach and exit. It's no good finishing up on the right-hand side of the track if the next bend is to the right. You constantly have to make compromises, starting a turn from the centre of the track, or aiming to come out of a curve tight, in order to be ready for the next bend. There is more value to coming out of a corner fast than going into it fast, if you are trying to put in a good lap time.

Having said all that, the fastest line doesn't always win races, and to deal with traffic, you must learn to corner from all sorts of track positions, and you may leave yourself vulnerable or unable to overtake if you insist on sticking to the fastest line.

Defending your Line

Defending your line is not always appropriate. You will put in a slower lap time when you are defending. If you are in the lead, or in a short race, or near the end of a long race, where it's essential that faster karts don't overtake or if you only have to hold off your opponent for a few laps, then it's sensible to defend. However, the best way to prevent people overtaking is to drive faster than them, and leave a gap behind you. While you are defending, you are not catching the people in front of you. In fact, not only will your opponent be held up, you will be losing ground to the whole field, which is particularly damaging in an enduro race.

Assuming, however, that are defending, rather than attacking, the clue for that is to take a tight line round the circuit, never leaving more than a kart's width inside you for someone to slip by. It is so much more difficult to overtake on the outside of a bend than the inside. This means you will only lose places to people who are MUCH faster than you, and who have the speed to take you on the outside, but someone who is only a little faster won't be able to get by. You can afford to use your brake to help you round corners you wouldn't normally expect to approach so tightly, because while you are in the way, it doesn't matter that the kart behind you can theoretically go faster.

Don't keep looking over your shoulder to see what the kart behind you is doing. If you can hear it, or feel it tailgating you, don't look at all. There are three reasons for this, and one reason would be enough.

  • Looking over your shoulder means you aren't concentrating on the track ahead. Your business is to steer the best line for the circumstances;
  • If the driver behind sees you look over your shoulder, he knows you are aware of him. Psychologically, he may then be prepared to take a bigger risk in passing you than he would if he thought you were oblivious of him, and he can also pretend to be going one side when he means to go another;
  • Knowing there's a kart behind you and what side it's at doesn't help you at all. Time enough to worry when it draws alongside, and if you are driving defensively, it'll be on the outside, where he is at a disadvantage.

If the marshals are waving at you to let through a faster kart which is on a different lap, don't be tempted to drive wide, as the whole field can use the space, not just the one who has the right to do it. Maintain a tight line, and just slow down enough to let him by on the outside.

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Attacking an Opponent
(In the Nicest Possible Way, of course)

When attacking, the best method is to get up the inside of your opponent, and brake late into the corner. You will make an untidy mess of going round, because you are not using the ideal line, but at the exit to the corner, you will be in your opponent's way, and he won't be able to use his superior exit line and speed. You can use this method to overtake people who are even a little faster than you, using your fast approach to the corner to block them in the corner itself. This is why the best defensive line is one that leaves no room on the inside.

However, beware of the driver who cuts into the corner when you're close (this is known as "shutting the door"). In order to ensure the door doesn't slam on you, you must be abreast or ahead of him at the crucial moment, or at least convince him you won't (or can't) back off. You see Schumaker do this in GP all the time.

If your opponent is taking the corners tightly, but not driving the perfect defensive line elsewhere, there may be an opportunity to take a different line through the corner, so that you come abreast on the inside after the apex. This works best if the next bend is in the same direction, as you now have the inside line if you can hold it.

Given that your opponent is driving defensively and well, you may have to overtake him on the outside. To do this, you must fall back a little at the right moment. If you are too close, you will be limited to his speed. Then while he drives defensively round a corner, you take the fastest line, and if you are fast enough, you can overtake him on the outside at the exit.

Finally, if you can't overtake cleanly, the best course is to decide which bend you have the best chance of taking him on the inside at. Then make an effort to threaten him on the outside at the approach to that bend. After you have done this for a couple of laps, he may be unable to resist driving a little wider to block you, leaving enough room on the inside for you to slip through.

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overtaking

Traffic

Things become more complicated when you are no 3 in a line of karts, and there's no rule of thumb here. Everything depends on what the no 2 driver in front of you is doing. If he's trying to take his opponent on the outside, there's a good chance you can squeeze past him using a tight line. However, if kart no 1 is much slower than no 2, you may block yourself in, and the best line may be to follow no 2. This in turn may make you vulnerable to an attack from no 4 behind you, who will have more room to work with before he is close to no 1, and may take you, even if he can't take no 2. If nos 1 and 2 are having a fierce battle, which may result in a collision... (you can generally tell when either no 1 is going to block aggressively, or no 2 is going to take a terrible risk) then hang back a little and defend your line. Chances are that they'll self-destruct and you'll get past both of them. On a crowded track, it's best to drive a slightly defensive line, as that also gives you the best chance of squeezing up the inside of an incautious opponent. Always be ready for stationary or slow-moving karts in the racing line. It's no good blaming someone if you've rammed them.

Collisions

Karting is a non-contact sport. The best organisers do their best to keep it that way, by penalising dodgem drivers. You might think that this implies you can gain advantage by bumping. However, on average, collisions are a bad idea, and not just because you're likely to be black-flagged for it. Sure, you might give an opponent a little shove as he gets to the hairpin, pushing him wide, so you can slip through. But he has to be a novice for you to get away with it. Most of us would make damned sure you didn't escape unscathed. When you are making the classic passing manoeuvre, whether it be inside or outside, it depends on the driver being passed altering his course or speed to give you room when it's obvious you've got the advantage. If you've bumped him to place yourself in that position, you can be pretty sure he won't give way, and you'll end up being scraped off on the side barriers, or even T-boned. You are very vulnerable when you've just overtaken someone.

If you bump someone from behind, he gets a little extra speed, and you get a little less. Indeed, if you are being pursued by an aggressive driver, you can take advantage of this by braking slightly when he least expects it. You are expecting the resulting shove, but he isn't. He will soon learn it's not going to work.

If you side-swipe an opponent on a bend, you are the one most likely to suffer for it. Tyre to tyre contact is particularly nasty, as you can be thrown in the air, and you have no control on how you land.

If you squeeze someone into the side barriers, you will almost certainly be involved when he hits the tyres, and the entire field will lap you before you are extricated.

A common kind of contact involves one kart hooking its front bumper into the back bumper of the kart in front. This slows everyone up, and is usually caused by someone trying to defend against an aggressive driver who is tailgating.

Accidents happen, of course, and you should always be looking ahead so that you don't get involved in someone else's collision. One thing that's helped me time and time again is to remember that when the track is partly blocked by a kart that's sideways after a spin or collision, always try to pass it to its rear if you can, as the next thing it will do is to move forward. There is no reverse gear on a kart!

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Driving in the Wet

Some people say that winning a race in the wet is largely a matter of luck. But, as they say in golf, the more you practice, the luckier you get. So, if you want to be lucky enough to win in the wet, you must practice. The next time it's raining on the day you intended to practice, don't stay at home watching Australian soaps. Get out on the track and get wet and dirty and lucky. In the UK it is futile to expect dry weather all year.

In a straight line, you can go as fast in the wet as you can in the dry. You just have to accelerate, brake and corner more gingerly.

You may have to completely change the lines you use on bends. First of all, a tight line exerts more sideways force, and you will lose the kart more easily. Secondly, there may be parts of the track which are more grippy, but which you never need to use in the dry, because the racing line has enough adhesion.

It is more important to emerge from a corner quickly than it is to enter it quickly. Use as little steering lock as you can. Don't brake as hard as you usually do. There is one exception to this. You are running in to a bend, and you have turned the front wheels, but the kart is not responding. It is understeering as only a kart can, due to its lack of a differential rear axle. Abandon your soft-pedal approach to the brake and give it a quick stamp. The extra weight this throws on the front wheels may give them the grip they need to bite and start the turn. You may have to repeat the treatment. Similarly, blipping the throttle can break the adhesion of the rear wheels.

Even after the track dries, there will still be puddles as the outfield drains. Learn where these puddles are on your favourite tracks, and devise new lines to avoid them or to reduce their effect. Remember, the wet on your tyres will last for several yards after you have passed the puddle, and you may spin on an apparently dry track.

Learn where the unprepared drivers will spin and block the racing line. There is no point in driving a brilliant race in the wet if you run into a stationary kart you could have predicted.

Practice, practice, practice until it feels absolutely natural to drive without grip.

Driving gloves may slip on the wheel in the wet. Wear a pair of rubber washing-up gloves over them.

Most kart seats have a drain hole in the bottom to allow water to drain away. Make sure it's clear. There is nothing so uncomfortable as sitting in a shallow bath while driving.

Sew or velcro a pad of chamois leather to your overall sleeve. Then you can clear your visor efficiently with a quick wipe.

Get a fog guard panel for the inside of your visor, and keep it clean.

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Last Update 11:00 Sat 26 Oct 2013
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