Ten tips to drive a kart faster!

It doesn’t matter how quick you are in a kart… there is always someone faster. Imagine being the second fastest karter in the UK about 12 years ago when Lewis Hamilton was winning everything.

Over the last 21 years, I have watched over a million people drive karts. Some have been quick and some haven’t. Well this blog aims to help you go quicker… maybe not as quickly as Lewis but quicker than you were before you read these ten tips. I hope you find them useful.

1 -Relax in the kart.

In order to handle well, the kart chassis needs to flex. If you are rigid in the seat, then the kart cannot flex as well. If you can relax yourself, the expensive, soft chassis can flex better and grip better.

2 – Don’t lean forward.

As you probably know, car manufacturers spend millions trying to give a car perfect balance. As with cars, the kart’s centre of gravity is important when it comes to handling. If you lean forward, then you move the centre of gravity forward and risk upsetting the handling. Just settle back in to the seat.

3 – Don’t lean in on the bends.

It seems counter-intuitive – especially if you have ever watched Valentino Rossi sliding his knees across the kerbs during a Moto GP race – but leaning in actually slows you down! Karts have  a solid rear axle; in other words the back wheels are locked together. If you think about the back wheels going round a corner, the outside wheel has to go a lot further than the inside wheel. In order to achieve this, the kart’s steering geometry is set up to effectively lift one front wheel so the kart can lean onto the other front wheel and allow the inside back wheel to lift off the tarmac and thus overcome the lack of rear differential. If you lean in, you actually counter the designed lift and thus make it more difficult to corner.

4 – The exit is more important that the entry.

In a single bend, the speed you enter the corner will usually dictate the speed you exit. Go in too fast and you come out too slow. Go in too slow and  you still come out too slow. Sort your entry speed before committing to the corner and you have the best chance of exiting quickly and enjoying that speed along the next straight.

5 – The last exit of a complex corner is more important that any other.

If you are approaching a series of complex bends that flow together, work backwards from the final exit. As above, the exit speed is more important that the entry speed. Where the exit of one bend becomes the entry to the next, it is critical that you leave the first bend in exactly the right place (and at the right speed) to enter the next one correctly to optimise the final exit speed. If you have driven Daytona Sandown Park, think about the complex three bends around the Pits. If you enter the Race Control Bend too fast, you run wide on the exit past the Pits. Your entry to the left-hander is thus flawed and you run wide on the exit, just when you should be keeping far left to get the best entry into the last bend onto the straight to ensure that you pass others along the straight – instead of being passed yourself.

6 – In the wet, steer with the throttle

For the same reason as in Point 3 above, a kart finds it very difficult to corner in the wet. Especially on slick tyres. Instead of lifting the inside back wheel, you will actually slide both back wheels around the corner. The best way to do this is to brake in a straight line on the approach to the corner, use the steering wheel to put on plenty of lock – and don’t panic when the kart just keeps going straight on. As you enter the corner, gently ease the accelerator down and the rear wheels will start to lose adhesion and will allow the under-steering front wheels to turn the kart. Too heavy on the accelerator and you spin. Too light and you don’t make it around the bend. Great drivers instinctively know how much throttle is required. For the rest of you, be ready to adjust your throttle as required mid-bend.

7 – Be lighter than the next guy – especially in the dry

With a complete kart weighing anything between 75 and 125 kgs, the driver’s weight is the single largest component. It goes without saying that an 80kg driver has a better power to weight ratio than a 110kg driver. Obviously the difference is reduced if you are racing in a more powerful karts, like the 22bhp Vodafone Dmax fleet – but it still makes a huge difference on a dry track. In wet conditions, the difference is reduced but not completely negated.

8 – Be smooth with the kart

We have all seen a driver going very quickly, jerking the steering, locking up the back wheels under braking, sliding the kart out of bends under full throttle. In some very rare circumstances, that can be quick. But 99% of the time, that same driver would be faster if he was smooth on all of the controls. Jensen Button won the Canadian Grand Prix two days ago thanks mainly to his very smooth driving style. Even though Lewis Hamilton’s driving looks very aggressive, he is actually very smooth with the controls. In a Formula One car, the braking and acceleration have to be smooth or you lock wheels on braking and spin them on acceleration. It is exactly the same in a kart.

9 – Be richer than the next guy

If you can afford the best chassis, engines, tyres, mechanics etc then you will be equipped to go quicker than more cost-conscious drivers. Obviously if you have all the gear but no idea, you won’t win races – but if you combine the best kit with all of the tips above then you will have a better chance of celebrating on the podium.

10 – Ignore all of the above if you really need to get past the guy in front

The previous nine tips will enable you to lap quickly and catch the drivers in front. BUT when it comes down to it, you actually need to overtake them. Driving smoothly, relaxing in the seat, leaning backwards and out, controlling corner entry speed etc is great until you realise that the guy in front is almost as good as you and thus you can’t drag past them down the main straight. So what do you do? You work out where your best chance lies and then you choose your moment perfectly, then you dive past him under braking, hoping that you can control the kart to make it round the bend AND keep him behind you on the exit whilst you settle back into your super smooth style to allow the gap to build up behind you.

Or you can ring Daytona and book some one-to-one tuition, with datalogging, onboard camera and some expert guidance. Not from me, of course. I just talk a good lap – but our instructors can deliver them – time after time.

Jim Graham
Team Daytona

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