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NOVEMBER 2014 NEWSLETTER HIGHLIGHTS / PREVIEWS

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One could argue that for the sake of logical progression, this should have been my third article after Intro to Karting and How To Buy a Kart, especially if you are new to go karting.  Since you as a driver make up almost 50% of your go kart’s overall weight, seat position is critical to your kart’s handling as it is the biggest factor in determining your go kart’s weight distribution.  Get the weight distribution wrong with improper seat position and you can throw all the set-up changes you want at your go kart and it will not handle the way you want it to.

Aside from the basic weight distribution factors, there are considerations to make regarding seat position if you are a particularly tall or shorter driver or race on a particularly high or low grip track.  Changing your seat position could be the change you are looking for to help your go kart come alive and respond to the other changes you have been throwing at it.  While I include an article on how to install the seat in the November Newsletter, read this first…

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Categories : Chassis Tuning, How To's
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Before I went to start my career in big cars in the Opel Lotus Euroseries, on the advice of the sports marketing firm that was managing me, I went to three of this country’s best racing schools in three straight weeks to gain as much experience as I could with open wheel cars.  I mention this because the technique I am about to unveil here was not covered by any of the schools at the time.  I learned this tip from a professional racing tutor in England who my PTM Motorsport Team (now Meritus) recommended during the early part of my first season since I was struggling to qualify for the races (largely because I was in over my head).

Having watched a lot of kart races over the years, either a lot of people know this trick and refuse to use it or, like me in my early career, don’t know about it yet.  While it is going to seem simple enough once I explain it to you, unless someone points it out to you, you may never incorporate it because it is somewhat counter intuitive (which I will elaborate on later).  Once I did incorporate the technique, it was a game changer for my career…

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Covering your tire’s  basics ensures optimum performance.

As a non-sprung or non-suspended vehicle, your kart’s tires are an increasingly important factor in the handling equation since there is no suspension to help the tire grip the pavement.  I could go on about how a kart tire is therefore a major factor in determining a karts spring rate etc. but my main point is that given their increased importance to your laptime, getting the most from your tires is critical.  Consequently, there are some tire basics that you should know to ensure you get the maximum performance from your tires…

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Categories : Chassis Tuning, How To's
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It is appropriate that I am picking October to talk about ride heights.  I just finished a street race in Lancaster, CA and will race the SuperNats is a parking lot next month and parking lot tracks are the only place I seem to really mess with ride heights.  The initial premise is fairly simple, raise the chassis (ride height) to gain grip and lower it reduce grip.  How you use it gets a little more interesting…

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Categories : Chassis Tuning
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The Set-up Sheet or Track Sheet.  However you want to refer to it, in my opinion, this is the key to being consistently quick everywhere you go.  There are a number of reasons I say this.  The first would be that you don’t see any professional racing teams that don’t use set-up sheets.  Now your response could be that a race car is a lot more complicated than a kart but trust me, there is plenty of stuff to keep track of on a kart.

The second reason I am a strong advocate for set-up sheets is they help you remember what changes you made which comes in handy both when the kart is fast or slow.  To provide a more pertinent example, I was talking with Rhod Beachner, owner of 2 Wild Karting, whose son Ryan won the S2 ProKart Santa Maria race this August.  He was joking with me saying, “you want to know what we changed on that car…, nothing.”  More to my point he then strongly suggested to Ryan that they better be taking notes somewhere so they can remember that set-up for next year.

Having said that, the Set-Up sheet is only as useful as the notes you put on it and to that point I have written a separate article on how to give consistent, accurate, and understandable feedback., even if it just for you.  (Click here to read the article preview)  In the meantime, I’ll walk you through what I do with my Set-up Sheets to give you a starting guideline.  My goal would be that you adapt some kind of system, even if its this one, use it systematically, and notice an improvement from weekend to weekend or race to race…

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Categories : Editorials, How To's
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Set-up sheets and providing good feedback have as much a place in karting as they do in big cars.

Why would I write an article on feedback?  Why would you read it?  Let’s examine these questions from top down.  Name one top line driver whose engineer and/or chief mechanic says he doesn’t give great feedback.  At that level, everyone can drive, what separates the field is the fastest guys are also the most technical in how they relay what’s going on with the kart to their engineer.

Perhaps looking at the issue from the bottom up will help.  When I started shifter karting, I used to go out with a buddy of mine who was a good driver but was horrible initially on giving feedback.  So, we’d go out for a session, come in, I’d ask him how is kart was and he’d reply, “It’s not good, it’s sliding.”  Well, sliding where?  What part of the turn? Which end of the kart, front or back?  I think you get my point.

To jump to the opposite end of the spectrum, in my second year of racing Opel Lotus in Europe I was lucky enough to be teammates with Derek Higgins for a handful of races.  I learned a lot from Derek especially since Derek’s dad, Vince, ran Jackie Stewart’s Opel Lotus team the year before for drivers Gil DeFerran and David Coulthard.  We were in our hauler for our first team debrief and I was struggling to convey what the car was doing to my team manager when Derek grabs a track map and writes T/I, M/C, and EXT (Turn-In, Mid-Corner, and Exit) on every turn and hands it to me stating, “This is how my dad broke down every session with Gil and David last year.  Go through this map, corner by corner, and write down what the car is doing at each of these points of the turn and we’ll go from there.”  This is one of the more productive events of my racing career and I haven’t looked back since…

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In January of 1990, on 4 days notice, I signed with PTM Motorsport and flew from Phoenix to Zandvoort, Holland for my first test in an Opel Lotus car (150hp, 990lbs, wings and slicks, 0-60 in 4.2).  Up until this point my racing experience included Off-Road, two summers of KT100 kart racing, and three driving schools including some time in a Formula Mazda.

Whenever I moved up to a new car/series, the first thing I always did was warm the tires, get on the biggest straightaway, and floor it to see what I was in for.  Well, this was a big jump and I freaked the bejessus out of myself.  So, I spent the next few laps carefully getting used to the speed, finding my braking and turn-in points, and then came in to take a break and digest it all.

The team owner rushed up to the car and said, “What the hell is wrong?  Is the car OK?  You’re going really slow, you’re in the wrong gears in all the corners….”  My first thought and my reply was, “Everything is fine, I’m just learning the car and the track, I’ll be up to speed in a couple of sessions.”  At that point the team owner said, “No, you need to come up to speed in 3 laps.  Everyone else in this series will, and we race at a lot of places where we you won’t be able to test beforehand.  3 Laps!”

….3 Laps?  Are you kidding me?  Is that even possible?  Not only is it possible it is actually extremely beneficial.  The quicker you come up to speed and learn the track, the quicker you can start working on your set-up and look for the subtle nuances in the track that will gain you time.  The guys that learn the track the fastest will get a head start on setting up their kart which will be a distinct advantage as the weekend goes on since you can’t afford to be off or “miss” a session these days.

So, how do you learn a track in three laps?  Let’s break it down…

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Don’t worry, axle changes are easier than they appear!

It’s no mistake that I am starting my How To series of articles with changing the axle.  First, I still remember as a new karter how daunting the task looked so I want to give all new karters the reassurance that A: you can easily do this and B: once you get your steps down using tips from the newsletter and develop a consistent routine, this is actually only a 15-20 minute job.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, axles are one of the biggest tuning components on your kart.  Why?  Well, with no suspension a kart’s “spring rate” is determined by the chassis design and flex at the front and the axle’s flex at the rear.  Most karts these days have interchangeable front bars to change the spring rate of the front of the chassis.  Nonetheless, the majority of a kart’s front spring rate is dictated through chassis design and tubing thickness.

The rear of the kart, on the other hand, relies on the axle to attach the kart to the tires.  Therefore, that distance of metal axle between the rear tire and the kart is essentially the kart’s rear spring rate.  Just as spring choice is the starting point of all big cars set-ups, axles are the starting point of all kart set-ups.  To boil it down even more simply, when I arrived at the track when I was racing big cars, the first thing I’d ask my engineer is what springs we were starting on.  Today, if I am going to a new track and am trying to get a starting set-up, the first thing I determine is what axle am I putting in the kart to start the weekend with.

So that being said, I have broken the article down into two parts…

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As a follow up to September’s article on Quick Change Caster, hopefully you have put the Quick Change Caster Set Up on your kart and are now wondering when and why you would use it.  If your kart has adjustable caster pills and for some reason you have not have put this set-up on, I highly recommend doing so, it will change the way you tune with caster.  To be more specific, since the base caster for any given chassis is set at the factory and changing it in the traditional sense was always a big time consuming task, I never experimented with caster.  Now I try a caster change almost everywhere I go. So let’s break down what caster does and why you would use it…

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Categories : Chassis Tuning
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Rain ShotFirst of all, hopefully you’ve either read or heard of the book The Art of Racing in the Rain, a story of a driver told through the eyes of his dog, hence my title.  Great read but will not make you quicker in the rain.  The following will however.

I know that the sight of rain clouds on the horizon of a kart track strikes fear in many a competitor.  You can see it in their face and can see it in the poor turnouts on rainy race weekends.  It shouldn’t.  Rain shouldn’t be viewed as a threat, it should be viewed as an opportunity.  Rain is the great equalizer, the leveler of the playing field.  Who builds your motor etc. all goes out the window in the wet.  Being successful in the rain can be broken down into 5 simple components:  1)  a good rain set-up (which I outline in the free trial of FIRESTONEKARTINFO, click here to receive yours), and 2) four basic on the track tasks I outline in this month’s FKI

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