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DECEMBER 2014 NEWSLETTER HIGHLIGHTS / PREVIEWS

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Don’t skimp on your Bead Breaker Tool – a good one will make the job much easier.

Ahhhhhhh, the black art of changing go kart tires by hand (as opposed to using the nice, expensive kart tire changing machines).  Some guys get it and others, even people who are very mechanically inclined, don’t.  I will try my best to show you all the tricks in December’s newsletter but keep in mind that it is a bit of an acquired technique, so stick with it if at first you don’t succeed.  Let me warn you, if have shoulder or wrist issues, proceed with caution, as changing go kart tires is a bit of a workout, especially with certain rims like Birel and certain tires like Dunlop and Vega.

You will need a bead breaker (and don’t skimp here, a good one is a must as it will save you time and aggravation beyond the price difference).  Borrow someone elses’ or ask around to be sure you get a good one.  Also, find a piece of old carpet about two feet wide by three feet long to work on, this will save your rims and more importantly, your knees.  My last piece of advice would be to complete each step for all the tires before moving on to the next step.  This will make the whole process much quicker and minimize mistakes…

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A couple of years ago, my karting wish came true, kind of.  It rained at the SuperNats in 2010.  Unfortunately, the G1 class was I was racing in at the time was scheduled for the morning sessions and it rained on one afternoon.  Too bad, it would have been a great test of my rain set-up, just look at the guys in front of me on the grid.  Fabrizio Nannini and Antonio Dettori were the factory Energy drivers sent over from Italy.  Emilio Padron and Eduardo Martins are from Brazil, and Kelly Baker is from Seattle.  I’d be willing to bet they all have substantial experience and success in the rain.  It would have been interesting to say the least.

All is not lost however, as Ethan Wilson, who I’ve raced against before in the ProKart Challenge and who has since moved over to the TAG Masters class with much success (ProKart Challenge Champion in 2010, SuperNats Winner 2013), used the Rain Set Up I outlined in the Trial Issue in his 3rd Heat Race.  I saw Ethan the day before the rain and told him I had printed FKI Trial Issues with the rain set-up and he should at least check it out.  He agreed and took a copy back to his tent.

Ethan came back to my tent the next night and with a huge smile on his face and gave me one of the nicest compliments I could receive by telling me, “I did everything you said in the Newsletter and won my heat in the rain!”  But what is more interesting to me and one of the main reasons I started the Newsletter is what he said next.  “You know, its funny, I am looking around at the other karts on the grid and thinking, I’m not doing that…, this is different…, that’s an interesting direction…Then I thought, what if all of those guys are wrong and I’m right?  So, I just put my helmet on and went for it!”  Congrats and thanks Ethan, nice work.  Now would be a perfect time to delve into how I arrived at the rain set-up…

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Yes, you can tune your go kart with tires just like the big boys do (you hear about it all the time when they interview crew chiefs after a pit stop.) More importantly, you can dial yourself out of the ball park if you don’t understand how tire pressures affect the handling of your go kart. Before you read much further, however, I highly suggest you read last month’s article Tires 101 and Beyond to be sure you have prepared your tires for maximum performance before they hit the track.

To simplify the basic premise of tire tuning, once you are in the tire’s optimum psi range, think of tire pressures as follows…

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Before you read this article and install your seat, be sure to read the Seat Position and You article in the November FKI newsletter to determine how and where to place your seat.  While the Seat Position article addresses how to determine where to place your seat if you are starting from scratch (new go kart, new seat), I would advise that if you are replacing an existing seat, before you remove the old seat, take all the measurements listed in the article to give you a starting point for your new seat.  Keep in mind any factors that may make you adjust those measurements before you settle on your final seat placement – i.e. you bought the kart from a smaller guy and you’re a bigger guy or you are replacing a factory seat with an aftermarket seat that is a different shape/and or size etc…

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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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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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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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