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Try Karting

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Welcome to the world of karting! Karting is the first step on the ladder to other forms of motor sport but it’s also a great sport in its own right. There are thousands of licence holders and many more that just practice karting as a hobby.

We have manufacturer involvement including tire companies, engine and chassis makers and the vast majority come from Italy. 170 of the 192 titles over forty years have gone to Italian companies.

From its humble beginnings in the USA, kart racing has grown to form national championships and a world championship for the top categories. The top levels of karting are run under the FIA banner known as the Commission Internationale de Karting or CIK.

Most race car drivers today started by racing karts. It is the most economical way of learning to hone your skills including racing lines, race set-ups, passing (and being passed), running safely at high speeds in a large group and accident avoidance. You learn kart control such as understeer & oversteer, steering with the throttle, braking from high speeds and skid control.

The top racecar drivers will also tell you that some of the fiercest competition they’ve faced was in their years of karting. Proof of this? Schumacher, Alonso and Raikkonen are just some of today’s Formula 1 stars that have tried and failed to become karting’s world champion. The late Ayrton Senna would tell you that one of his biggest disappointments was not winning the karting world championship and he was not only one of the best F1 drivers of all time but also one of the best kart drivers of his time.

Karting and race wins have become so important to manufacturers that some professional karters never leave the sport for cars and are paid very well to compete in top level events around the world.

Not convinced that karting is all I’ve made it out to be? Well, let’s look at the machines next.

A race kart is not what you pay ‘X’ amount to do a few laps around the track at your local amusement park. These machines look simple but they are products of years of research and development. Manufacturers test and race karts for thousands of kilometers before they decide on the right configurations of chassis tubing and accessories that will be manufactured on a large scale for sale around the world.

As you can see in the photos, these machines are not rental “go-karts.” A race kart has many adjustments – tire pressures, types of axles, wheel hubs in varying lengths, height adjustments, seat placement and front end geometry (including caster and camber).

What can these karts do?

A race kart sits about an inch off the ground and has no suspension other than the flex of the chassis itself and the tires. Depending on the class you race the horsepower will go to almost fifty! 0-60 is done faster than you’ll ever go in your street car while braking forces will make your eyeballs hit the inside of the helmet visor.

After running a few laps you’ll find that your ribs, arms and neck are sore from the forces generated by the karts ability to stick to the track surface. Nothing compares. Well, maybe an F1 car.

Buying a Kart

The first step is to find a kart dealer you are comfortable with. Whether you are buying used or new it is important to find a shop with well-stocked shelves.

Second, it is very helpful that your dealer attends the events of the club you will be joining to race. Most of your problems are solved by purchasing from the kart shop that is located at the track. If something breaks you can walk in to the shop to buy the new part without losing too much track time or having to keep a stock of parts yourself. A good kart shop will give you helpful hints before you start as well as during your first year of competition. Some of your competitors will be very helpful too while others will purposely send you in the wrong direction. Hey, it is racing and everyone wants to win. Some at all costs.

Third, remember that you will eventually need to buy some tools of the trade, spare gears, oil, spark plugs and miscellaneous items to have on hand to make your practice or race day a little more enjoyable. Tires wear out too. Count on at least 2-3 sets minimum. Most club members will run a new set every second race.

Now the kart. At first glance a used kart should be very clean. Clean usually means well maintained. This will also allow you to check the joints of the frame for cracks. The plastic bodywork will usually show the signs of excessive contact with other karts during races. Well maintained kart bodywork will be cleaned regularly and replaced as needed when damaged. The buyer needs to be aware that he/she is purchasing is used and may require some dollars to repair. However, if money is an issue then used is the way to go, even with updating costs.

Buying new is no less of a challenge. There are so many choices out there. The biggest kart manufacturers and their distributors usually charge the most for their products but the quality is evident right away. Birel, CRG and Tony Kart make great racing karts, spend huge money on their racing efforts and research & development. They will add chassis and accessories to their line up every year. Other companies make products that are just as capable of race wins. They just don’t spend as much on racing and R&D as the “Big 3” do. Some examples are Arrow, Energy, First, Gold and Tecno. Then there are those that are just a hair off Birel, CRG and Tony in that they spend almost as much but don’t have the same racing history. Swiss Hutless, PDB Gillard, Intrepid, Maranello, Top Kart and PCR.

Any of the above manufacturers are race winners. As I’ve said before, it will come down to the kart shop you’re happy with and the money you want to spend.

Joining a Club

Joining a club can be as simple as picking the one closest to your home. On the other hand it is recommended to choose one that not only runs the class you intend on racing but has pretty good numbers for your class. It will make the racing more enjoyable to have a healthy starting grid.

You should also make sure that the kart shop you are working with goes to most of that club’s races.

Your best scenario would be to deal with the kart shop that is on the premises of the club you intend on racing with. It will give you the added luxury of a parts shop at your disposal.

There are many excellent clubs and kart shops in Ontario. Before you finalize your first kart purchase take the time to visit a few clubs and their on-premises shops. See how you are treated and whom you feel most comfortable with and base your decision on your findings.

Provincial Races

Today, Ontario has two good provincial series: The Brian Stewart Racing Kart Championship and the Sunoco Ron Fellows Kart Championship.

You can’t go wrong with either series but again you should be looking at which series your kart shop supports (it may be both) and which one is tailored to your needs. For instance, 4 cycle and TAG racing classes are best in the BSRKC while Canadian Rotax qualifications and F1K are run in the SRFKC. The shifter kart class is basically split so both series are options.

Lastly, you should take a look at what each series offers as prizes. This may help you make your decision.

Regardless, provincial racing is the next step up. You have a chance to test what you have learned in karting thus far against much stiffer competition. It will certainly show you where you need to improve and give you an indication of when you should take the next step to National and International Races.

National and Beyond

This level of racing is not for everyone. Travel costs and the extra attention to detail for equipment can be way over the budget of most. However, you may want to experience one or two of these races during your karting career. As an example, one great place to race in a highly competitive event and get make it a great vacation as well is to attend the Florida Winter Series in February and March of every year.

Really, this sport is no different to other participation sports such as hockey or soccer. When you reach the higher levels expenses increase.
If you have some great sponsors your next step would be Europe. The best way to race at this level is through the support of your kart shop. They usually have the contacts to get you a ride with a good team over there. In reality, Europe is a different ballgame. The level of competition is just that much better and the equipment, especially the tires, takes some getting used to.

Motors

Most drivers start their karting careers in a Honda class. It’s the least expensive to run and the racing is so close that winners are almost always determined on the last lap. Classes are set by weight and age.

An alternative to Honda and a step up in performance are the TAG classes or Touch and Go. These motors have a starter on board. With a press of a button you’re off and running.

In Ontario, TAG runs in the form of two series. The Rotax Max engine is a 125cc water-cooled engine with clutch. The power is good, maintenance is low and with a little practice you will have it running to the maximum in all conditions.

You can run a Rotax Max motor in clubs, provincial championships, Canadian Finals and if you are one of the top placing drivers you will get an expenses paid trip to an exotic location for the World Final.

Rotax comes in four forms: Mini-Max, Rotax Junior, Rotax Senior and DD2
In my experience with the Rotax series, it offers the best deal in karting today: Reliable motor, equality of motors and an opportunity to test your skills in a World Championship atmosphere.

The F1K series is new to Ontario for 2006. It too is 125cc with a clutch but it is an air-cooled motor. It is made by Maxter from Italy. The F1K is a less technical motor than the Rotax and a little more powerful.

The F1K comes in three forms: 60cc Cadet, Junior and Senior.

F1K is offered in a few Ontario clubs as a class and at the provincial level. In the Sunoco Ron Fellows Kart Championship F1K winners are offered excellent prizes as over-all champions.

If you think you’ve done it all in other forms of karting, the only thing left to race is the top level ICC class. ICC stands for Intercontinental C (“C” is the letter representing the grearbox class). The ICC motor is 125cc, water-cooled with a hand operated clutch and 6 speed gearbox. You can’t go any faster in a kart than this. Drivers in this category have a few years of race experience under their belt. Although you can race club races in ICC, most drivers use clubs just to stay sharp and focus their attention on provincial, national and international competition. Once you’ve watched an ICC race including standing start you will be hooked on karting!

ICA is a personal favourite of mine. It is a 100cc water-cooled motor with no clutch. This is a direct drive category. Although not as fast as the ICC, the direct drive single gear class is considered the top level of karting. The USA has a few series that run ICA but sadly Canada has none. It is worth mentioning this class because drivers looking to race in the USA or Europe should investigate running ICA.

The JICA class is similar to ICA but has a clutch and is air cooled. The J stands for junior. It too is available as a class in the USA and Europe but not Canada.

Karting as a Hobby

If you love speed but don’t want to join clubs and enter races, karting still has something for you. My first experiences in a kart was just lapping with my friends at a local kart track. You can have a great time just running laps and improving your technique each time you go out. Whether you decide on a Honda 4-cycle package or a RotaxMax you will no doubt enjoy your time at the track.

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