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 Karting

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Introduction

The main objectives of this site are to introduce newcomers to the joys of karting, to broadcast information about the good kart rental tracks and organisers, and to match individuals and teams to events.

If you wish to contribute, mail me. I'll accept news, circuit reviews, additional driving hints, adverts for open meetings, money, abuse, all that sort of thing.

Mail me at Email: Click for Form, and I'll include your contribution as soon as I can, or tell you why not!

The kind of karting we'll be discussing here is the accessible end of the karting scene. We're talking about rental karts at indoor and outdoor circuits, where you can cut your teeth in someone else's hardware while you find out if you'll ever measure up to the drivers who eventually graduate to Grand Prix. It is the cheapest way to learn how to race, and although the karts are generally not tuned to within an inch of the engine's life, the engine capacities are generous and the handling characteristics of all karts have a common theme with all single-seat racing cars - ie if you overcook it or brake at the wrong moment, you spin.

There is an understandable tendency to classify this kind of karting as a fairground ride rather than serious racing, and, certainly, there are some truly terrible circuits and organisers. Conversely, there are many organisations who seriously intend to field races and race practice, rather than dodgems.

It costs thousands of pounds per year to compete in RAC events with a kart of your own. If you are very good, that's where you will probably end up, but in the meantime, with rental karts, you can have a practice once a week and an race event, say, every six weeks, and it needn't cost more than eight hundred pounds a year.

In this section, I refer to kart drivers as "he" and "him", but it's worth noting that many of the fastest karters are girls. There's no quarter expected or given, either.

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What's a Good Track?

We are talking here not about the circuit itself, but about the organiser and the facilities he provides at the track.

At a good track, the karts will be in a good state of repair, and will be well-matched so that, as far as possible, no-one suffers an unfair disadvantage from a slow or badly set up kart.

Some organisers have the illusion that they can cobble up a kart chassis from box girders that will be just as good as a 'real' one. Most of these are truly awful. Part of the kart's handling involves the chassis flexing in a helpful fashion, changing the geometry of the chassis to actually assist cornering. In particular, the inside front wheel of a kart tends to lift in a tight bend. Professional kart manufacturers have brought this design to a fine art. An amateur design can give a totally misleading impression of how a kart should drive, and most of them are exhausting to control, as they are fighting the driver all the way round the track.

Many organisers now have two fleets of karts - one for competition and one for practice - and the practice karts are bent and much-repaired. Having said that, many practice karts look terrible, but handle well, as they are, after all, last year's competition karts. A mechanic with some kart maintenance skill can bend a twisted chassis back into shape, the wheel alignment is critical, but fairly simple to set up, and the engines - usually 4-stroke Honda or Yamaha industrial grade motors - are robust, and are not exactly on a knife-edge tuning regime, so don't go off-tune very readily. An old kart with squashed, skid-marked side-pods and battered nerf bars which has been well-maintained mechanically will go faster than a spanking-new model that hasn't been properly set up.

In a way, it's nice that the practice machinery is NOT 100% identical, as a novice occasionally gets the chance to thrash a good driver who has drawn a bad kart, and the "expert" gets a bit of practice in defensive driving!

It's important, if you practice and compete regularly, to get your lap times during practice. Some organisers seem to feel that it's not important to them, so it's not important to you. But it is important as an incentive to go faster and drive better, so always press the organisers to give you computerised timing for your practice. They can nearly all do it, it's just a question of willingness. Our team has stopped going to Sandown because they won't do our practice times.

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Types of Kart

There are two basic types of kart for rental use, if we eliminate the children's variety and the occasional organiser, like Playscape, who also supply a high performance kart under controlled circumstances.

The first, and most common, type is a single-engined 160cc 4-stroke kart with a maximum speed of around 40mph. This may not seem much, but on a short, tight circuit 40mph is flying.

The second type, a twin-engined 2*160cc 4-stroke kart, often known as Pro-Kart, is usually only seen outdoors, and has a top speed of around 70mph (this is a rental kart - competitive Pro-Karts may be faster).

Other than in the power department, the two kart types are fairly similar. The weight of the extra engine is more than cancelled by the additional power, and heavyweights like myself are more competitive in a Pro-Kart.

These karts both have a centrifugal clutch, so you don't have to worry about starting. They only have one gear, so even your mother could drive one. It's right foot Go, left foot Stop, and steering wheel.

The steering only has half a turn from lock to lock. This makes it hard work to turn, more so at slower speeds. A little turn has a lot of effect on a kart.

A kart is a few inches wider at the back wheels than it is at the front. Novices have a tendency to bump into the scenery with their back tyres, even if they cleared it by an inch or two with the front.

Driving Characteristics

Whether there are one or two engines, the back axle is driven by chain from the engine(s). It is a solid axle. There is no differential, and here lies the root of a kart's handling characteristics. The tendency of the kart is to run in a straight line, because both back wheels are rotating at the same speed. This means that it understeers at first, and this effect is particularly noticeable in Pro-Karts, because most of the weight is at the back. However, once the adhesion of the back wheels is broken, and it starts to turn the way you are steering, it flips into oversteer. These characteristics are also those of Grand Prix cars, and those drivers who, like Senna and Schumaker, come up through karting seem to find the transition natural. I recently drove a NASCAR Legends car, and it feels much the same, as do Spedeworth Superstox which I raced for a couple of years.

I'll discuss some of the finer points of driving on the Driving Hints page.

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