I’ll start this with a well founded karting cliche:

Just get a Tony Kart, that way you always know you are ok with set-up, all you have to do is put the thing on the ground and you are good to go!

It’s something I say all the time, and so far nobody has told me – “that Tony Kart you told me to buy was a nightmare to set up”.

Now, I’ll follow that up with another scenario that I’ve seen repeated over and over:

Someone decides to start a kart team and wins the contract to supply a chassis in the UK that hasn’t been seen for years.  Next step is to get a driver on that chassis who is seriously quick and able to put the new chassis at the front of the grid.  That driver agrees to drive in the team because he has been offered a free drive.  All cool, until testing shows that the new kart isn’t quite on the pace….. the new driver gets frustrated and the new team starts hemorrhaging cash buying bits and burning through tyres and test days, trying to make the new chassis work.

This can be a disaster for the team investing the money, but for the driver this can become a transformative experience, and I’ve seen very good drivers become absolute masters after one of these experiences!

Here’s why:

If you commit yourself to making a chassis work – like really fall in love with the idea of making a kart work – then you can push your abilities to drive to a whole new level.

So, let’s say the driver who gets the free drive really loves the kart’s sticker kit, the suit colours etc and desperately wants to put the kart on the front of the grid.  He is committed to testing everything until the sweet spot is found.  This is opposed to the driver giving up and returning to his trusty OTK chassis (which happens often and is fine by me).

Anyway, when a driver really engages with making a kart development process work, they have to unlock new levels of sensitivity to what a kart is doing, and deliver exceptional feedback to the team.

Here I’m interested in the way a driver changes when he desperately wants a set up change to work, how he drives with a super-heightened sensitivity to any signs that a new part is delivering an improvement.  Suddenly the driver’s attention goes from standard fast driving level, to a superfast fibre-broadband level where every little feeling the kart gives is analysed for a sign that the kart could get faster, they open up their mind’s capabilities to search out every possible clue that they are making progress.

In my opinion this doesn’t just come from practise and seat time, this step up in ability comes from a desperate and heartfelt desire to take their precious kart to the front.

This is where the team and driver can truly become one, working together in harmony, swapping axles, going through different grades of seats and even chopping chassis tubes off and welding in new ones.  The driver who is used to being able to access flow or get in the zone on track, starts to notice that the whole test day is done in the zone.  All the set up work, discussions with the team and mechanics have that same feeling of flow.

In this way a driver grows their capability, they go form being another quick driver – to being an absolute master of the kart.

Now, more often than not, that process does not create a chassis that wins everything.  Usually the team and driver finds some success, but everyone who might buy the chassis realises that it only works for that one super-star driver!  So the project fails usually.

Eventually the team cannot keep the driver in the team for free, and he goes back to his old Tony Kart – but now he is UNBEATABLE!  The process of developing a kart- even though ultimately it failed- has transformed the driver.

His mind is now operating on a whole different level, he’s opened up new abilities and mental bandwidth that no other driver has – he’s moved from good to great.

So if you are looking for an alternative to a Tony Kart in the senior and junior categories, and you want good reason to go for a chassis because you like the stickers, then I say go for it.  If you really commit to that chassis, and put your heart and soul into making it work by testing everything you can, then you will be greatly increasing your skill as a driver!

 

 

Oliver Scullion F100 - Photo credit Alex Evans EVSRR

Oliver Scullion F100 – Photo credit Alex Evans EVSRR

Blimey, it’s been over a year since I’ve written any articles here, or anywhere else! I haven’t felt inspired until now, today, when I saw the above image that encapsulates the raw and pure beauty of what a zero-compromise race tuned kart does.

That picture contains everything you need to know about driving the most perfectly adapted racing machines on the planet – the 100cc racing kart.

These are the only machines in existence that can connect you to the art of driving so directly, without numbing your senses or protecting you from the brutality of the insane revs and vibrations that bruise and deafen you.

It’s all there in a finite moment –  the delicate balance of braking and slide, the sheer grip trying  to pull the front tyre off the rim and the slight over-steer angle betrayed by the middle spoke of the steering wheel.

You know he is moving fast, the pull on the tyres show you that, but you also sense the poise of the driver from his posture.  He is fully in control and put the kart in that position with confidence. You also sense that despite the angle of the kart seeming to point at the steep kerb, that he will have that front left tyre describing a perfect arc around the base of the kerb without upsetting the stability of the machine one iota.

You can see where he is, and you know where he is going without the need for correction or reaction. He’s going to carry that slide all the way to hit a late apex, and the kart will straighten up and pre-load ready for the following right hander…. it’s all in balance and harmony.

Assuming you would like to emulate this artful way of driving a kart, here’s how you can do it.

Master the art of trail braking for maximum style points.

Ollie Scullion is superb on the brakes, especially at putting the kart into a slide when he firsts hits the brakes and holding that slight angle as the kart enters the corner.  He does it in the photo at Fulbeck into a tricky little chicane and into tight hairpins elsewhere with seemingly little effort.

It’s mesmerizing to watch, and despite having worked with some of the best karters in the world I still marvel at the guys who can do this, lap in lap out.  I haven’t worked with Ollie myself, and am just an admirer of what is to me the most entertaining aspect of watching drivers at work.

How to do it

The key to getting this skill is in appreciating  the importance of how to release your braking pressure as you enter a corner.  You need to lock the rear a little when you first hit the brake, which is the easy bit and amply described in previous articles of mine.  But the tricky bit is regulating the brake after that initial lock up.

When you get into trail braking you might find at first an overriding temptation to release the brakes suddenly to bring the kart back into line.  However if you want to hold that slight degree of slide all the way into a late apex so you look like an seasoned pro, you’ll need to learn how to resist that temptation to suddenly get off the brake.

Instead, practice gently regulating the braking pressure just enough to maintain the angle of the kart.

Release the brakes too much and you will straighten up requiring you to steer the kart into the corner. Use too much brake and you’ll need extra opposite lock leading to some ugly angles caused by the extreme geometry built into karts.

You need to find a sweet spot, where you will be able to directly control the angle of the kart with your left foot.  You might be making multiple tiny adjustments of pressure to hold the kart at an angle, or you may be able to hold the pressure almost constant.

When you get the hang of holding a kart at an angle using braking pressure, you will feel like the kart is saying ‘yes!! this is how I want to be driven’.  Karts love to be put in a set like this and they will reward you with a lovely sense of constant grip and stability, and will guide you through a corner without drama…….if you let it.

It is not easy at all, in fact I think it’s what separates a good driver from a master so it will take time and patience – but when it clicks you’ll be buzzing like never before in a kart.

Understand the hidden benefit of trail braking with style.

These days on ‘modern’ karts there is no great requirement to brake so stylishly.  You can brake in a straight line mostly, and carry your braking gently into an apex without having to set the kart into any kind of over-steer.

However, if you learn to trail brake and hang the rear out ever so slightly you can develop a heightened awareness of pre-loading a kart, and ultimately push the development of your senses beyond those of other more regular drivers.

You’ll be able to extract that little bit extra out of your kart because you will have developed a finer sense of grip and an ability for timing that isn’t normal, it’s extraordinary.  Learning how to initiate the turn in of a kart aiming at a late apex not by steering more, but by holding onto the brake while the front tucks in is a special skill well worth learning.

In my opinion this will set you a cut above, even if you don’t exercise this skill every time you drive a kart.

And by the way, if you want to taste karting in its ultimate form head over to the F100 website.  Big grids of karts from the sport’s pinnacle era. True no limit karting is alive and kicking.