The Complete Beginner's Guide to Kart Racing

By Matthew Collier
Last updated: October 03, 2018


For many former and current Formula 1 drivers, such as Michael Schuhmacher or Sebastian Vettel, karting was the first entry into motorsport. Of course, the racing karts are not comparable to a Formula One car, but driving techniques are governed by the same physical laws. In addition, you can gain valuable experience in dealing with engines through the maintenance and fine-tuning of go-kart engines. The only exceptions are the electric karts.


Go Karts with an electric motor are increasingly being used today in go-kart tracks. Of course, these engines do not sound as good as the older two- or four-stroke engines. However, you should not compare a good electric motor with a car scooter. Electric motors have the ability to accelerate much faster and therefore make more inexperienced pilots more fun, as speeds are more easily achieved. In addition, the electric karts are far more environmentally friendly and more easily meet the ever stricter environmental requirements for noise and exhaust emissions.


Most karters usually think that your kart is worse than your opponent's if overtaken at the exit of a turn or at the end of the straight. In truth, however, all karts are equally fast and also accelerate at the same speed.


The Reasons for Slower Lap Times

The reason why some karts are faster than others is just the weight of the karts and the technique with which they are driven. Most of the time, however, drivers lose their turns, bad brakes, wrong cornering technique or bad endurance and lack of concentration at the end of the race.


Of course, it does not help to read the tips only, an improved karting technique you learn only through training, training and even more training.


Kart Driving Techniques


The cornering technique in karting

Very important for a fast lap time is the right cornering technique. Not only in Formula 1, but there are also a variety of different driving styles. There are also differences in the go-kart. What type of cornering is fast, and which may only feel fast, can be found on this page.


The kart is always fastest when all tires are running straight (no steering lock) and the kart does not slip. In order not to unnecessarily lose speed or momentum, one, therefore, tries to go through a curve in karting or in other motorsport series with as little steering lock as possible. If the kart driver steers more than is necessary, the kart slips over the front axle and is inevitably slowed down by the under-steer.


Slipping and drifting too much costs time. A slipping, for example, over-steer kart corner exit costs valuable speed and the decisive tenths of a second. Therefore, the driver should always try to get a clean corner exit, as the speed at the corner exit or the momentum from the curve is crucial to get around the track quickly and thus to drive as fast lap time.


At corner entry, slight over-steer is allowed and often even required to get around the course quickly.


However, this can be difficult to describe in theory, because in practice it depends on the correct feeling of the kart driver, not to slip too much and to hit the right corner at the turn entrance.


Summary of correct curve technique

Approach curve on the outside, apply brakes and then turn into the curve. (Possibly turn on the kart that is to turn slightly during braking and retract cross into the curve, do not overdo it and be careful not to provoke too much over-steer!)


By slightly counter-steering and pressing the accelerator pedal, the driver neutralizes the balance and steers his kart slightly over-steer towards the vertex. The driver should be careful to hit the apex inside and listen to the engine speed as well as the tires to detect too much slipping early. If the kart slips too much in this phase, the cornering speed is slower and the kart driver loses time.


Curves vertex: At the latest here should be adjusted any slides. The view goes to the corner exit; the driver accelerates with neutral balance, without slipping out of the curve and can be carried out to the outside.

Here’re some quick tips for karting


The Ideal Line

The ideal line is the compromise of the fastest and shortest line to go through a curve. Therefore, the ideal line is also the fastest timeline in terms of time. Basically, you should approach a curve on the outside, pull inwards to the apex, and then let yourself be carried out again at the corner exit. This one drives the curve in a round arc.


This is the prerequisite for optimal acceleration out of the curve. It is therefore important that the driver pays to take as much momentum through the curve as possible to the next straight.


Although the ideal line is basically similar, there are always slight deviations. For example, you drive a 90-degree curve rather sharply, i.e. you steer a bit more directly to the vertex at the curve entrance. A 180-degree turn is rather "bulbous" and round in comparison, because you reach the vertex later and thus a far outrun from the curve is better possible.


Bullying should be done as straight as possible, that is, with as little steering as possible, and choose the shortest and most direct line. The same applies to curves that can be traversed at full throttle.


If there is a change of direction immediately after the turn, the kart driver should not carry himself out completely. Normally, you should hold the output of the first curve approximately in the middle to better position yourself for the next corner.


In practice, of course, depending on track conditions, bumps, etc., some deviations compared to theory. Basically, you should always take care to keep the speed at the corner exit as high as possible, and already during the middle of the curve to aim the curve exit, in order to prevent the momentum loss.


Right Brakes for Solid karting

Finding the optimal braking point can be harder than you might expect. Basically, you should always make sure not to block the wheels, but to break the adhesion brake. Standing wheels extend the braking distance as the wheels build up fewer grips.


In general, the kart driver should rather be a few tenths too early on the brakes, as to slow down. If you drive too fast into the curve and missed the vertex, you directly lose a few important tenths of a second. Of course, too early braking costs time, but it is more important to hit the apex and, if possible, to enter the curve on the inside.


Touching to the right braking point requires a few laps of practice. Hardly a driver drives out of the pit lane and finds the perfect braking point directly. Especially beginners or occasional drivers usually brake too early - they underestimate the possible cornering speed. With a little more risk-taking and training, the driver quickly finds out why the lap time was not fast enough.


Furthermore, you should make sure to keep the braking distance as short as possible, that is, always as strong brakes as possible, and not too long to stay on the brakes. If you brake later, the motto is fast - assuming the driver hits the turning point.

Check some advanced tips for pro karting


Overtaking the Opponent

What would karting be without positional struggles? Certainly pretty boring. Even the correct overtaking should be learned. Anyone who overhauls without overtaking losses and obstructs other kart drivers will quickly see the black flag (flag rules). Also in karting, there are a number of fairways to overtake the person in front.


The Right Seating Position in the Kart

The sitting position in the kart can make the first difference of the lap time. Basically, it is important to sit comfortably. That one should not sit there as in the domestic living room chair is self-evident. An upright posture is ideal. The steering wheel and the pedals should be comfortable to use. If this is not the case, the seating position can be adjusted forwards or backward on almost every kart.


The sitting position and the posture, influence a decisive factor in karting: the balance. One should not forget that the kart driver with its approx. 70-80 kg makes up a substantial factor of the total weight. If you put the seat forward, for example, more weight is put on the front axle - the kart tends to over-steer. If the seat is positioned at the rear, the weight distribution is more tail-heavy - the kart gets more grip at the rear and tends more to a lower balance.


Also leaning outwards is an important way to influence the weight on the wheels. Especially in the rain, many drivers take advantage of this opportunity and lean outwards to shift more weight on the outer wheels to increase grip and cornering speed.




Sitting Position and Chassis Height

The height of the chassis and kart has a decisive influence on the static and dynamic wheel load. In general, the more weight you put on the front axle, the more grip in front and vice versa. The same applies to the rear axle. Therefore, you should take the opportunity to adjust the kart's seat forward or backward and thus achieve a uniform load on the front and rear tires.


The higher the center of gravity, the greater the load changes in the longitudinal and transverse directions. If the chassis height is changed only at the front or only at the rear, then at the same time you influence the caster, i.e. you may change several factors at the same time - and optimization here is usually only possible with sufficient experience and various test runs.


Bumping

Another way to gain time by sitting is bumping. It is often observed that the kart driver jumps in the kart immediately after the turn.


This makes the kart on the rear axle lighter and the speed increases faster. However, this hopping should not be repeated, otherwise, the effect fizzles. How much this method makes is difficult to say and depends essentially on the type of karts (engine power) and a few other factors.


Karting in the Rain

Karting in the rain requires a lot of skill. It is not without reason that many good drivers recognize their driving performance in the rain. The reason is obvious: The complete grip level of the karts is reduced, so the limit is harder to find and driving errors are punished quickly.


If the kart track is wet, the driving line changes on the kart track, because the rubber on the ideal line in the dry forms a kind of lubricating film with the water on the track, so the ideal line is extremely slippery. That's why the kart driver rides the rain line on wet roads. The curves should rather brake in the middle since there is hardly any rubber. The curve itself is driven from the center to the outside to avoid the rubber on the track here.


Mostly, the kart driver quickly senses whether and how much the traction differs depending on the line in a curve.


Tips & Tricks for Karting

The right fit is important for karting. Firstly, fitness will make you lighter and, in addition, you are a fitter and you can control the kart better. Even if it does not look like it at first glance, kart racing requires special fitness, such as constant steering, braking, and accelerating, and all these activities usually take their toll on bad fitness after a few laps, especially during longer races.


Rules & Regulations

On a kart track, different rules apply, among other things you have to be able to react to the flag rules. On a kart track, there are usually at least three different flags, but in total there are even seven different flags that are not used on each kart track. If these are used then you should at least know what they mean and how you should behave.


In addition to the flag rules, however, there are also basic rules of conduct that must be adhered to in order not to endanger another driver. Of course, these rules also jangle around the track and the equipment of the kart track for karter’s protection.


Tips for Fast Driving

Every kart driver has the same goal to drive faster than the competition. Easier said than done, the driver now thinks, because the competition is usually faster than a dear.


No master has fallen from the sky - to get faster, that means first of all training, training and again training. Keep the following tips in mind:


1. Less is more

Although kart beginners tend to slow down too early, there are often the kind of riders who rush into every turn as if there is no tomorrow. It's more important how fast you get the kart out of the bend, rather less how fast it gets into it. One should always have that in mind. Take the momentum out of the curve, an absolute prerequisite to be able to drive a fast lap time.


2. Minimize slipping

Slides take time. Many try to find the decisive tenths by over-steering driving and drifting. That's just what's wrong most of the time. A slight over-steer at the corner entry is ok, but the kart is completely cross, you lose speed.


3. Listen to the tires

Especially on indoor kart tracks, the wear & tear of tires is hard to ignore. As a driver, you should always pay attention to your own tires. On most indoor kart tracks the tires squeak before the kart slips too much and lose grip. Even at the limit of adhesion, you can hear a squeak of tires on most indoor road surfaces.


4. Pay attention to the speed

Listen - not only to the tires: the engine speed also gives the driver feedback. The higher the engine turns, the faster the kart drives. If you overdrive too much, you will also hear this on the engine - the rpm goes down and the speed is lost.


Tire Tuning

In motorsport, the tires are the only contact with the road and thus an important factor for the performance of the karts. Kart tires can only function optimally when the operating temperature of the rubber compound is reached. In addition, make sure that the ratio between front and rear tires is right. That is, both axes should ideally be equally stressed. This guarantees an even balance and is the basis for a good setup.


Stress on the tires, which at the same time also causes wear due to road friction. When tuning the setup, you should orientate yourself on the tire image, as well as the air pressure. This is an attempt to find out which tire may be overstretched or underutilized. A common mistake in tuning is overstressing the front tires.




Tires Condition

The road condition, line temperature, kart chassis, air pressure, and driving style mainly affect the tire pattern. Ideally, the tire should be worn evenly over the entire surface, i.e. the tire should be roughened over the entire tire width. It should be noted that the front and rear tires should be worn as equally strong.


Tire pressure

The cold pressure is set to a base value on the cold, approximate tire on all four wheels, which may differ from front to rear and right to left. The cold air pressure is about 0.2 bars lower than the warm pressure because the air pressure increases with higher tire temperature.


After a few laps, pressure should be measured on all four tires immediately after the race. The higher the tire pressure has increased, the higher the load on the kart. As a rule of thumb, the higher the difference to the cold pressure, the higher the tire temperature and the tire wear. Of course, the warm pressure also depends on the laps covered, since it only reaches its maximum after a few minutes of driving and then remains constant.


If the pressure is too low, the tire will take too long to build up grip or it will not reach its optimum grip level at all (the wrong ratio of tread temperature to contact surface.) If the air pressure is too high, the tire will reach a high grip level rather quickly. Because then the contact surface is very small and thus faster a higher temperature is reached - up to the overheating of the tread and resulting grip loss. Of course, the tire wears increases extremely. This is one of the most common mistakes in tuning the tire air pressure.


Fitness in Karting

Physical fitness is an extremely important aspect not only in Formula One. Especially drivers, who do not regularly sit in the kart, feel this again and again - at least the next morning in the form of sore muscles.


Because when karting muscle groups are charged, which otherwise hardly claimed. Especially the back and neck musculature, but also arm and hand areas are loaded during karting. Therefore, drivers with back problems should think twice if they should really get into the kart. The adrenaline and the excitement of driving you can feel the pain of the muscles on the day after, often with a rude awakening. Those who go karting often can optimize their fitness and muscles for karting.


For the endurance, it is usually enough to go jogging regularly. This strengthens the cardiovascular system and minimizes the signs of exhaustion after karting. By driving yourself, you train the body relatively accurately to the resulting load. The required muscle parts are strengthened under regular load and thus regulate automatically the resilience and endurance when karting.


Nutrition

Drinking is essential in karting. Even before the race or training, the kart driver should have enough fluid. In the course of driving the driver also loses many minerals by sweating. Therefore, it is recommended to take special sports drinks / ISO drinks. If you do not have these at hand, but also the bottle of water or apple juice is enough. If the driver complains of muscle pain and/or muscle cramps, this may be a sign of magnesium deficiency.


Why karting is so exhausting?

Many kart drivers who go into the kart for the first time underestimate the physical strain extremely. From the outside, it looks like you just sit comfortably in a kart and steer around a bit. However, as kart racing involves countless muscle parts that are often never used in everyday life, many kart beginners find driving very strenuous. The real remedy is there usually only the more regular driving in the kart.


Pain in the hands and arms when karting

Especially the hands and arms are the biggest weaknesses of untrained kart drivers. Occasional drivers often complain of clenched hands or pain in their arms. Rib pain and neck tension are also often complained. Karting gloves can relieve the pain in the hands a little bit, but here, too, the only regular training is achieved in the future to be able to go karting without pain.


Kart Buying Advice

Generally, it can be said that one should first pay attention to the visual appearance of the karts. The newer a kart looks, the better it was (probably) maintained. For appearance and look, go kart accessories must be chosen very carefully.


First, the frame should be looked at carefully, even from the bottom. Normal is grinding marks, but it is important that the frame is straight and the pipes were not edged.


The next look at the kart buying goes towards steering knuckle and axles. The steering should not have a play and be smooth. Furthermore, one should pay attention to the steering position. If the steering wheel is straight, then the tires should also stand evenly. The axles should be easy to turn. You should also make sure that you have not been bent or driven wrong.


With the brake, the layman can quickly check if everything is OK. If the brake pedal was depressed, the rear axle should not be able to turn. In addition, the pads should be driven evenly.


Flags and their meanings

Black and white checked flag: The race is over - go into the pits in the next lap


Yellow flag: Danger on the track - forbidden overtaking or drive carefully and slowly!


Green Flag: Track is (again) released, no danger in advance. Overtaking and race pace allowed.


Red-yellow striped flag: Oil, dirt, vehicle parts or onset of rain. The dirty or slippery road ahead


Red flag: The race or the training session will be stopped, drive slowly.


Blue flag: Signals the driver to overtake the driver or overtake.


Black flag: Disqualification. The driver has to go to the pits and finish the race or serve a penalty.




Go Karting - Behavior on the kart track

Because riders who are unfamiliar with the handling of go-karts and are a kart for the first time can be on a go-kart track, some behaviors should be followed on the kart track, so as not to jeopardize the safety of others. Normally, the drivers on the kart track are instructed by the staff. If this is not the case, you should at least memorize the flag rules, which are usually posted on each kart track.


Basically, every driver should take prudent driving and consideration for slower driving drivers. The flag rules, especially the yellow and red flags, must always be observed and followed.


Furthermore, they should never go karting in an alcoholic state. Here your own performance is overestimated very quickly. Not only do you endanger yourself, but all other kart drivers on the track as well. Apart from that, driving the karts is in violation of the rules of the karting tracks, which in some cases can even lead to a criminal complaint.


 

Go Kart Lexicon

Abrasion

The term "wear and tear" refers to tire wear during driving.


Downforce

Generated by the aerodynamics, and pushes the car by air flow to the ground. For example, it is influenced by the position of the front and rear spoilers.


Anti-dive

Settings of the suspension geometry of a race car, they prevent the front axle from sinking when braking.


Pit lane

Compared to the start/finish straight arranged workshops in which a racing team repairs their vehicles and cared for.


Circuit

International term for the racetrack.


Differential

Compensation unit of the rear axle, which is switched between the drive wheels to compensate for the different wheel revolutions when cornering. This is necessary because in a curve each outer wheel has to turn faster than the inner wheel.


Torque

Value for the tractive force of the motor. Based on the combustion pressure in the engine cylinder. The highest torque value is achieved with optimal combustion. The speed is usually below the maximum speed.


Drive-by-wire

The term used for the wireless accelerator on F1 racing cars. The position of the accelerator pedal is accurately measured by means of a sensor and transmitted electronically to the throttle valves of the engine.


Formation lap

Describes the warm-up lap just before the start. There is overtaking prohibition, the lap is used to increase brake and tire temperatures to operating temperature.


Flat-Spotting

The term used for brake plates.


G-Force

The term used to define gravitational acceleration. AG equals 9.81 m / s. In formula one, forces of up to 5 G occur.


GPDA

Grand Prix Driver Association. Created by the Formula 1 drivers, with the aim to increase the safety of racers.


Gurney flap

Designates a narrow and flexible crack edge on front wings.


Hairpin

The term used for a very tight curve, mostly a 180° curve.


Hat trick

A hat-trick is pole position, victory, and the fastest lap on a race weekend. Jim Clark has achieved most with 11 hat tricks so far.


Honeycomb

This is a widely used composite in racing car construction. The principle is the multiple bonding of material layers, which ensure a stiff and flexible component.


Ideal line

Indicates the line of the race track where you can drive the course the fastest. In the rain, the ideal line is usually different to drive.


KERS

KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) name for a system for the recovery of kinetic energy. Used since 2009 in Formula 1 and meets with criticism.


Sources:

1. Piers Prior, 7 mistakes that all novice karters make, Redbull, 11 October 2017

2. Will Tew, DRIVER GUIDE, BSKC

3. Scott, How to Drive the Perfect Racing Line, Driver61


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