KARTING 2019-1-cvt


G​reat car control skills are not enough

Decades of autocrossing have given me a good working knowledge of quick racing lines; when and how much to accelerate, brake and coast; and so forth. However, more than that is needed to be successful in wheel-to-wheel racing.

A​utocrossing can teach great car control skills

Wheel-to-wheel racing is a contact sport.

Recently I met with fellow car club members at K1 Speed, in Carlsbad, California (www.k1speed.com) for a friendly afternoon of go-kart racing.

T​he entrance to K1 Speed has a NASCAR racing theme

A J​immie Johnson NASCAR stock car sponsored by Lowe’s

Our kart racing would include a 12-lap practice session, a 14-lap qualifying session and a 16-lap, wheel-to-wheel race. I learned more about how to race wheel-to-wheel in this one painful, ego-deflating, $60 afternoon than in my many years of autocrossing.

In autocrossing, individually we are pretty much solely responsible for our results, whereas in wheel-to-wheel racing, competitors can literally have a big impact on our results too.

In my K1 Speed practice session, I familiarized myself with their electric go-karts and the twisty track layout.

H​elmets are mandatory and are provided

At the pre-race drivers’ meeting, the meanings of the various flags and other rules are explained

The karts were more or less equal in performance, so to get my quickest lap times I used my autocrossing skills. I reduced speed as late as possible before each turn, approached wide and then clipped the apex to straighten the turns. I ended up having the second quickest single lap time of my practice session group.

In the qualifying sessions, our quickest lap would determine whether we would race with the quickest group or the other group, as well as our starting grid position in that race.

Slow traffic in front of us would spoil our qualifying lap times. Our driving became more aggressive.

On one lap, just past the exit of a turn, my kart suddenly and inexplicably lost all power and rolled to a stop. The driver of the following kart did not see me in time, and he hit me. An instant later, another kart slammed hard into him. The impacts were so forceful that they shoved me into the outside barrier and sent the contents of my shirt pocket flying.

I was dazed and instantly had a headache. Our qualifying session was stopped. A track worker rushed over to assess the situation and offer help.

He asked me if I wanted to continue or leave the track. My headache had begun to subside so I decided to continue. I was glad that I did. I scored the quickest qualification time in my group.

E​ach driver receives a personalized and comparative performance printout after every lap

I began the quicker group’s race in the third position on the starting grid. Since our karts were comparable in power, keeping up to these quick drivers would be critical, so that I would be in position to pass them if and when the opportunity presented itself.

I carried out that plan well for a lap or two, all the while looking for an opportunity to overtake. However, I was still driving my qualifying lines, which would prove to be my downfall.

Approaching turns, I stayed wide to set up for quicker, straighter lines through the tight turns. Unfortunately, my doing so created openings for those behind me to brake late, cut inside of me and thus take away my line. In retrospect, I understand that I was not defending my position.

As I stayed wide to prepare to take my preferred, quick line through one of these tight turns, the driver of the kart behind me braked late, lunging forward and shoving his kart between mine and the apex of the turn. He was probably moving too quickly to make the turn if he had been alone, but since I was on his outside, he was able to use my kart as a barrier. He spun me out, taking over my third place in the process. My kart lost all power and stopped for what seemed like an eternity.

A track worker rushed over to restart my kart, but the damage had been done. The field was not bunched back up for the restart, and I was in last place. In the short time remaining I was only able to claw my way back up to eighth. Afterwards, the driver who had spun me out came over to apologize.

L​ooking for a little art was a good distraction and way to unwind

Despite my disappointment, my karting experience had taught me essential differences between negotiating a racecourse quickly on a clear track and using the racecraft necessary to successfully race wheel-to-wheel.

A​ K1 Speed race results sheet from Alexander Rossi, Formula One driver & Indy 500 winner

For more explanation, see drivingfast.net/racecraft-overtaking-on-a-corner/.

M​embers of the Mustang Club of San Diego in Victory Lane after we raced


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Jan Wagner

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