Sunday, February 24, 2013

How to Get Started in Karting: Emma's Experience

A while back, we compared track, autocross and karting and concluded that based on cost per seat time and thrill, karting cannot be beat! The sport is a great entry point for future pro drivers and the most effective type of racing in terms of skill development. To give you a better perspective for what goes into karting, we asked Emma, a young karter from the UK, to share her experience with us. She currently races karts in club championships, with the aim of moving on to cars and pro racing. She also invites you to check out her trackday experience website, which helps pay for her racing expenses.

Emma in the #19 kart
by Emma Hoards

Karting. It’s the one form of Motorsport where nearly every professional racing driver learned his (or her!) trade. As well as being one of the most cost effective ways of getting into the sport, you’ll learn everything you need to go further and compete in whichever series you choose. I've put together some best practices and tips on how to develop karting skills.

Getting Started
Getting into the sport is as simple as visiting your local track and asking some questions. If you’re getting into it without any previous contacts, head to your local owner-driver track and start asking questions! You'll quickly find out what classes are raced at your local track, as well as the best place nearby where you’ll be able to buy equipment.

Once you've decided on a class and kart (if you're just starting out, you’ll want to race locally, so make sure the class has a decent number of drivers competing), you’ll need to start training. You may be required to sit a test to obtain your racing license but if you are, don’t panic – it’s just to check you’re not dangerous. At your local track and in the small club events you will find that competition is strong, but once you've completed a few test days and races, you’ll be find someone to race against. Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t worry too much about your speed!

Emma's local track Ellough Park has an impressive layout!

Finding Speed
Once you've got all the basics in place, you'll want to start improving your speed. The best way to do this is to simply get out on track, and start putting in the laps. Practice days can be a great way to push your limits and learn new techniques. It doesn't matter if you run off track! If you've got the funding available, it’s a really good idea to spend a day with a driving coach. They will guide you and teach you new techniques to improve your speed; some will even work on helmet camera and GoPro footage.

Festive atmosphere on race day

Tips That Work for Me
Here's my take on the basic way to get around a track as fast as possible. Try and be very smooth. Unless you’re driving in the wet, try and keep still in the seat, as you don’t want to unsettle the kart. Weight distribution is important when it comes to cornering. By transferring the weight onto the opposite side of the corner, you’ll find you don’t need to turn the steering wheel as much. The other main area is braking (trail braking is the technical term) but that will warrant an article on its own …

The same rules apply when slowing down into corners and hitting the gas on the exits: be smooth! The more aggressive you are, the more you’re taking out of your lap time. Once you really master karting, you’ll realize that the super-quick drivers make small movements with the steering wheel, letting the weight transfer do the work.

As colorful as M&M's

The Art of the Pass
Overtaking is another super-important skill, and one which can be a lot easier than you think. It’s often something new drivers struggle with and you've got to be brave! If you’re going to set up a pass, try not to spend too long behind them – you want to overtake as soon as you get on the rear bumper. The longer you sit behind them, the more you slow into the pace they’re driving. Be bold, and go for the pass. Track walks can be a good time to pick out passing places, along with checking out the Youtube footage before the event.

Kart Setup Is Key
In my opinion, the biggest skill to learn for karting that far too many people ignore is kart setup. Even if you have a mechanic, you need to understand the fundamentals from tire pressure to engine settings, power valves to weight distribution and carburation through ride height. Even if you’re the quickest driver in the world in a poorly set up kart, you will struggle. With times so close, 0.2 seconds per lap can be the difference between 1st and 10th.

What’s Next?
If you've progressed to higher levels, you’ll need to start opening your checkbook. It's one of the most competitive forms of Motorsport anywhere in the world, and as such it gets super expensive. Several teams offer packages where you can start with the kart team and progress into the teams' cars at a later date. It's a good idea to start out and know what your aims are, so you can plan your progression through the series.

Good luck, the sport rocks!