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Anyone else race karts? A beginner's story

 
Old Dec 7, 2012, 01:00 PM
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Anyone else race karts? A beginner's story

I got into karting this year and figured I would share my experience for anyone who might be interested. I'm still very new to it but have been out enough times to get my feet wet and learn a few things. So here goes. I apologize in advance for the length but I know I would have appreciated reading something like this before I got into the sport.

A little background on my racing experience (or lack thereof). Evo is currently sitting at around 425 whp with a BBK Full, stock block, pretty much stock suspension and everything else. I've done a few autocrosses and been to the drag strip but that's about it. Will definitely attend some trackdays in the future. From reading this forum, though, it seems like a lot of guys who road race their Evos often wish they had just gotten a Spec Miata or something else that was ready to race to begin with. I've taken such posts into consideration when deciding how to get into racing.

When I ordered by BBK Full I spoke with Chad at CBRD on the phone about his racing career. For those who don't know, he used to race LMP1 cars in ALMS. No big deal right? Anyway he said one year he took his shifter kart to Sebring before an ALMS event. Did some laps. Then when he got into his big, monster Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S racecar the next day, he said it felt rather unexciting and sterile compared to the kart. That conversation really piqued my interest.

First taste of karting was at a typical indoor place with friends. Loved it. I remember getting into the Evo after and thinking how dead the steering felt. And we all know how much praise the CT9A steering receives. In early 2012 I did an arrive-and-drive race at an outdoor track near South Bend, Indiana called Michiana Raceway Park (MRP).

These karts have 4-stroke motors with maybe 6-8 horsepower. Not much faster than the indoor karts in a straight line but the surface, actual asphalt, is way grippier than the sealed concrete at most indoor places. Makes them much more consistent in corners. Being out on track alone is fun but moving through a field of people this big got me hooked. A lot of people doing the rentals take it very slow so it was a blast trying to pass as quickly as possible, having to change lines and plan ahead to get by them. I'm wearing the white helmet in the 4th kart here.



At MRP I also had a chance to see Rotax Max karts racing. The Rotax Max is a 125cc Austrian 2-stroke motor that makes around 28.5 horsepower. Revs to 14,000 rpm or so. Combined kart/driver weight is 365 pounds minimum. Depending on gearing these karts can hit up to 100 mph with enough room. At MRP, which has a relatively short straight, they hit around 65-70 mph. Doesn't sound like much but let me tell you, it feels plenty fast when your *** is 2 inches off the ground


By an amazing coincidence I met someone there who lives practically on the same block as me. Next time I went to MRP it was to try his Rotax for a few laps. The first time out, all I could think was "holy **** this is fast!" Wasn't worried about proper line or my laptimes at all. The acceleration is just so violent, the tires so grippy compared to the rental kart's, the bumps and curbs so much more pronounced at double the speed (there is no suspension). I stupidly didn't wear a rib protector the first time out (the seat has no padding) and felt it for the next few days. I decided then to get my own Rotax kart and start racing.

Here is how it arrived at my door all the way from Florida. 2011 Birel RY30-S3 with Rotax Max Senior motor. Got it from a shop that sells lots of karts on eBay. Said it had all of 3-4 hours of driving time on it. Paid $5,000 shipped for kart + motor + Mychron digital tach/lap time display. Combined value new would be something like $9,000 or more. No complaints there . Even better deals can be had if you look around on craigslist and eBay. Gotta love what the seller wrote on the plastic wrap .



And here it is at MRP, on the scales and ready to go. If you can't tell from the livery, Birel is an Italian make. Way back in the day their test driver was none other than Robert Kubica, who is Polish but lived in Italy from a young age.



Then I needed a trailer. Got this 6x12 beauty for $900 on craigslist. My dad helped put in a skylight, solar panel, big marine battery and some hooks in the ground for tie-downs. Other than some faulty wiring it has served me like a champ since I got it.



And here it is at the track with my kart and friend's and all gear. In a pinch it could transport the two karts if they were secured properly.



MRP lets you leave a trailer there all year for $150 or so. Beats paying $100 a month for a garage space, that's for sure. Since I only have the Evo to drive there regularly, that was the plan. Due to unforeseen needs for the trailer back home I ended up hauling it back and forth a few times with my mom's Kia. 2.4 liter NA 4 cylinder with ~180 horsepower but it had no trouble pulling the trailer up to 80 mph and averaging 15 mpg doing it. I was impressed. I figure combined weight of trailer/kart/gear isn't much more than 1500 pounds. Here is a shot of the tow rig with your author.



And here is the Evo playing support car in the pits. See all the coolers? We went out once during the summer drought when it was 102 degrees. All day in that weather. When you're in the kart you have undershirt, rib protector, suit over that, gloves, headsock, helmet. Needless to say the coolers were all empty when we went back home.



You also need a kart stand so you can work on the kart between runs. Most guys use a standard stand that requires 2 people to lift the kart onto it. The problem with this is that sometimes you want to go to the track alone and have to ask a stranger to help. The other problem is that driving these karts is exhausting and having to lift/lower the kart can result in lower back pain pretty quick. I weigh 155 pounds so my kart with fuel/ballast weighs at least 210. So I invested in this. Winchlift by Kartlift. $500 with battery is the best money I have spent on this hobby. Manufactured by a guy in Wisconsin whose son races karts. Can't recommend it highly enough




You need safety gear, obviously. If you already have a helmet, like I did, you'll need a suit, gloves, rib protector, and neck protector of some sort. The suit doesn't need to be fireproof since you can bail out pretty quickly in the event of a fire. That or the kart does the work and ejects you itself since there are no seatbelts . Suit was $280, gloves $70, rib protector $200 (carbon fiber plates FTW), and most expensive was the Leatt neck protector at $400 (also carbon fiber in places). For shoes I wear my everyday Pilotis. You can get baller Alpinestars karting shoes if you are so inclined.

A lot of guys run much cheaper foam neck protectors that do nothing but protect your collarbone from your helmet. The Leatt actually prevents your neck from bending beyond a certain point in any direction. The only thing about racing a kart that scares me is the chance of flipping over and landing directly on my neck so it's a small price to pay for piece of mind. A lot of money and research went into the Leatt. And it looks the business. Here I am in all of my gear. See, don't I look like a professional? Green duct tape will do that.



So what is racing one of these like? Fun. Very fun. Like I said before the sensation of speed is so much greater than in any roadcar. Once driving back from MRP I ran the Evo up through 4th on an empty road surrounded by farmland. Honestly 425 whp felt very meh after being in the kart all day. The learning curve is steep and just trying to run consistent, if not very fast, times is a good challenge. In a kart you learn quickly that smooth is fast. And even if you're not overtaking anyone in the beginning, being overtaken by someone who knows what they're doing and trying to keep up is also a blast. So lest the following paragraphs scare anyone off, let me just reiterate that it is very very fun and I can't wait to go back out next spring. Only got to go out a handful of times this year for work reasons.

This is what the field looks like at the start of a race. We do rolling starts after a warm-up lap or two. See me in the back there? That's because qualifying is like 3 laps long and I didn't even have a chance to get my kart out before it was over. Too slow working on it after final practice. No worries though, I'm sure I would have qualified last anyway. After that I raced my own race and tried not to get in anyone's way when being overlapped. C'est la Vie.



Now more about that learning curve. What quickly became apparent is that you have to invest a lot of time learning about these if you want to have any chance at success. In the beginning it almost seems like all work, no play. That or have very deep pockets and pay someone to set up the kart/fix it for you, which I don't. Thankfully the Rotax Max is relatively worry-free as far as kart motors with this much power go. You only need to rebuild it every 40 hours or so, which should be a full season in anger (full rebuild is around $1,000) and between rebuilds it's supposed to be pretty much bulletproof. But it has a carb with jets that need to be switched out based on temperature/barometric pressure. Go too rich and you lose power. Go too lean and you risk blowing the motor. And even with the right jet there is a lot of fine tuning of the needle if you want to maximimize your powerband.

Then there is the exhaust valve. The Rotax Max is like VTEC on steroids. See the graph below. The exhaust valve opens at around 7000 rpm and power doubles by 12000 before falling off sharply again by 14000. So obviously the goal is to be between 7000 and 12000 rpm as much as possible, only revving higher on the main straight . You can tune when the valve opens by turning a simple dial on the exhaust, but it's hard to tell when it opens from the driver's seat when you're just starting off. Things happen very fast in the kart. If you don't carry enough speed into a corner and let the revs fall, there is noticeable hesitation when you get back on the power. You can't just floor it with this motor. You have to be milking the throttle throughout the corner or the guys with better pedal control will leave you in the dust when you're powering out.



Perhaps even more daunting is the chassis learning curve. Because it has a live axle, a kart needs to lift the inside rear wheel to corner properly. If all 4 wheels stay on the ground, it will push and not rotate properly. So the goal is to have it stiff enough to tripod but not too stiff that it will be twitchy and bind (still not really sure what that means). The kart has no suspension but all of the usual alignment tuning suspects play a part here. Caster, camber, toe in/out, front width, rear width. And then there's stiffness of the axle itself, chassis bracing, weight distribution, etc. If anyone is curious about the details, this is the best source I've come across so far on chassis tuning.

http://www.crg-america.com/pdfs/CRG_...ing_Manual.pdf

Until the last time I went out this year I figured I just sucked at driving the kart. My times were always a few seconds off my friend's, who has raced for 4 years now and regularly wins. Then on the last outing of the year we switched karts. He led in my kart and I followed in his. He couldn't shake me. Not saying I could have successfully beaten him in a race but the difference was night and day. I felt so much more confident after a few laps in his than I ever felt in mine. So I'm motivated now to tune my chassis and start racing properly.

The problem with my chassis is oversteer in the middle of the corner. Entry seems fine. Power oversteer I can predict as I'm controlling it. It just seems to break away at the limit of adhesion in the rear. Makes for a lot of fun but slow times and a few scary moments. Case in point.







The last downer, as in all forms of motorsport, is how expensive it is to be competitive. I tried to paint a good picture of the costs involved in karting so far but those were all things I expected. What I didn't expect is that the tires, Mojo D2s that cost around $250 a set, have the most grip on around lap 2 or 3 of their lifetimes and go downhill from there. They are still perfectly usable after that. In fact, I only used the tires that came with my kart in 4 or 5 solid days of running this year. But if you're fast enough and your chassis is tuned well enough to run near the front, you will need new tires every weekend or you will lose. Top guys get a new set for every qualifying session. 10 events a year. You do the math. I've heard that one of the teams that runs at MRP has a budget of $100k a year to run 2 karts with factory support. I wouldn't spend that much to race a kart but hey, to each his own.

So that's about it. I'll finish with some helmet cam videos from a few of my outings. If anyone else races karts, I would love to hear any pointers. Otherwise I'm happy to answer questions if anyone is curious about getting into it.

Here I get passed during a race and try to keep up. This was one of my last outings this year. If you look carefully at the display on steering wheel the 3 laps are 43.33, 43.10, and 43.02. I still suck, but at least I suck consistently .


Here I actually pass someone. This video really shows me struggling with the snap oversteer. It looks fun and it is, but it's slow.


And here I go off track trying to pass someone slow in a rental Rotax kart. Lucky I didn't run right into him.


Last edited by Blitz; Dec 7, 2012 at 11:26 PM.
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 01:06 PM
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2013 update on page 2

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Old Dec 7, 2012, 01:16 PM
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excellent write up, very informative.
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 02:23 PM
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Awesome.
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 02:25 PM
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Great Stuff!!! Often wish I started with carts when I was younger.....lots of great drivers began with carts
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 02:31 PM
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I did one of these rentals once with friends, I never felt such arm and neck pain in my life lol. Hell of a sport/workout and nice writeup. $250 a set isn't bad...just ONE of my tires costs over 300. And to be competative like some others it's a fresh set every weekend....or like some at Nationals a fresh set EVERY session. I'd do it for fun, but I still prefer my coolsuit, power steering, and rollcage
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Balrok View Post
$250 a set isn't bad...just ONE of my tires costs over 300. And to be competative like some others it's a fresh set every weekend....or like some at Nationals a fresh set EVERY session.
Christ. What tires?

Another thing I forgot to mention was cost of actually running on the track. A practice day at MRP is something like $35. Raceday around $50. You also need a transponder to relay your laptimes to the tower. I think it's $200 outright to buy or $25 to rent per day. Trackdays are more expensive by quite a bit right?
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 05:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Blitz View Post
Christ. What tires?

Another thing I forgot to mention was cost of actually running on the track. A practice day at MRP is something like $35. Raceday around $50. You also need a transponder to relay your laptimes to the tower. I think it's $200 outright to buy or $25 to rent per day. Trackdays are more expensive by quite a bit right?
Hoosier's are $1300 a set for a road race tires; Hankook's aren't too far behind.

Transponders are going for over $400

Track weekends are over $350 for 2-3 hours of seat time

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Old Dec 7, 2012, 09:10 PM
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Awesome write up, don't worry the cost to play with karts seems downright cheap compared to tracking the Evo. Blowing through a set of $1000+ tires in a weekend sucks, to say nothing of fuel, event fees, and god forbid you break anything on the car... I do really wish I had gotten into karts when I was younger, the car control you learn is second to none.
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Old Dec 7, 2012, 11:16 PM
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Originally Posted by goforwand View Post
Hoosier's are $1300 a set for a road race tires; Hankook's aren't too far behind.

Transponders are going for over $400

Track weekends are over $350 for 2-3 hours of seat time

Wow point taken. One of the best things about racing at a dedicated kart track is that a practice day means just that. Apart from an hour or two for rental races you're free to practice as much as you want from sunup to sundown for under $50. This is not to say that you actually get that much seat time, though. At least I haven't yet. The kart is reliable but...delicate is the best word. Having the chain fall off the sprocket or even strip the sprocket can end your race pronto, as can a lot of other stuff. All fixable but you have to have the spares and know-how to get it back up and running quick.

Originally Posted by blackenedwings View Post
Awesome write up, don't worry the cost to play with karts seems downright cheap compared to tracking the Evo. Blowing through a set of $1000+ tires in a weekend sucks, to say nothing of fuel, event fees, and god forbid you break anything on the car... I do really wish I had gotten into karts when I was younger, the car control you learn is second to none.
Yeah I hear you. Props on following your dream with making your Evo a proper Time Attack car though. Takes a lot of guts and dedication to jump into something like that, way more than buying a turnkey kart. I'm hoping to race on real tracks someday too.

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Old Dec 7, 2012, 11:34 PM
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I have a pretty interesting story about shifter karts.

Back in 2006 I had the opportunity to attend Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. It was a group of Navy SEALs attending the course (me being one of them). The school is awesome and we always saw a bunch of "punks" cruising around the kart course and it looked like a bunch of fun. So, after the fourth day of training we talked the instructors in to letting us go though a "shifter kart class". We were driving Chevy Corvette ZO6's, Cadillac CTS's, and Ford Mustang GT's. I asked Bob Bondurant what was the fastest vehicle he had at the school. He pointed to the shifter karts and said they can beat the ZO6's in the quarter mile.

Fast forward to the three hours we talked them into letting us on the shifter karts. We started with some basic shifting and handling of the karts. If you have ever known a Navy SEAL you will know that that are typically not scared of much. By the time we were doing laps around the track, we were getting lapped by these punks in the shifter karts. I have never been around SEALs where they seemed somewhat scared....these karts were the real deal. Man...what a freaking blast they were! There is so little time to react that you have to be sure on you line and know your limits!!
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Old Dec 8, 2012, 02:12 AM
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There is a series called Grass Pass that is cheaper kart racing on home made "back yard" tracks. Rural home owners build dirt tracks and organize local kart races. Slick tires on dirt keep speeds down and the fun way up.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j...vhBRkBx_HwJCkg
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Old Dec 8, 2012, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by RallyBud View Post
I have a pretty interesting story about shifter karts.

Back in 2006 I had the opportunity to attend Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. It was a group of Navy SEALs attending the course (me being one of them). The school is awesome and we always saw a bunch of "punks" cruising around the kart course and it looked like a bunch of fun. So, after the fourth day of training we talked the instructors in to letting us go though a "shifter kart class". We were driving Chevy Corvette ZO6's, Cadillac CTS's, and Ford Mustang GT's. I asked Bob Bondurant what was the fastest vehicle he had at the school. He pointed to the shifter karts and said they can beat the ZO6's in the quarter mile.

Fast forward to the three hours we talked them into letting us on the shifter karts. We started with some basic shifting and handling of the karts. If you have ever known a Navy SEAL you will know that that are typically not scared of much. By the time we were doing laps around the track, we were getting lapped by these punks in the shifter karts. I have never been around SEALs where they seemed somewhat scared....these karts were the real deal. Man...what a freaking blast they were! There is so little time to react that you have to be sure on you line and know your limits!!
Shifter karts are on a different level altogether. I wanna say they make around 40 horsepower and are always accelerating at peak power because of the gearbox. Crazy. Problem is the community is all but nonexistent in the Midwest and they cost a lot to maintain compared to single speed karts.

This is a cool video about shifters from Supernats in Las Vegas. Event takes place every year. Past participants include Michael Schumacher, Dan Wheldon, etc. Big prizes too. $10,000 for winner of this race.


And then if you're suicidal you can race Superkarts. 250cc, 95 hp, aero bodywork. These guys hit 150 mph+ and race on real road courses. David Coulthard, former Red Bull F1 driver, once famously said one of these is the scariest thing he's ever driven.

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Old Dec 8, 2012, 01:00 PM
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Damn.....I wanna do superkarts! Looks easier to drive (ignoring the speed) as far as turning, stopping, shifting then the other karts.
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Old Dec 8, 2012, 05:28 PM
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I drive in our rental kart racing league here which is a step up to having your own kart. By far one of the best learning experiences ever...particularly in the wet with slicks.
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