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Drive your own race and stay out of trouble!

One of my subscribers asked if I could address how not to become so emotionally involved during a race that you end up just following guys instead of getting around them.  He went on to say that for him personally, he becomes so fixated on the guy in front that he starts to turn-in too early and pinches off the corners during the heat of battle.  After the race, he can’t even recall how his go kart was handling so he is at a complete loss to make any changes to improve the kart before the next race.  So the question is, instead of just going to the track and pounding around with his buddies, is there anything he can be working on to address the above issues?  The answer is yes.  In fact, there are a number of things you can work on so this will be the first in a series of kart driving drills designed to not only help you improve your times while on your own, but help your racecraft as well.

But first, a little history.  When I started karting, I had the privilege to kart with Page Jones, son of Parnelli Jones, 1963 Indy 500 winner; 2-time Baja 1000 winner; Trans-Am, Sprint Car, Midget Champion, and one of the best drivers this country has ever produced.  We are family friends with the Jones’ so I lived at their house, prepped my kart at their shop etc.  One of the best things about this experience and the reason I mention it is Parnelli would occasionally come to our tests and races and would give both Page and me advice whenever he thought we needed it whether we were at the track and at home.  As I was brand new to karting, he gave me a lot of advice.  As I write this I realize that everything I mention here, I’m just reiterating what he told me…

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The CIK bumper – not the prettiest piece on the kart but definitely worth having.

The CIK rear bumper.  I first saw one in Europe before they were mandatory here and I have to admit I didn’t like them.  I thought they took away from the beauty of the kart’s lines and looked like a clunky afterthought.  Then, after the 2006 SuperNats, even if they hadn’t become mandatory I was going to get one.   Here’s why:

At the 2006 SuperNats, I qualified 9th but had a better race set-up so I was able to move up in my heats.  In the second heat however, as I hit the brakes to go into the first corner on the first lap, two drivers hit me from the rear.  One climbed up my right rear and took out my pipe, the other climbed my left rear and took out my radiator.  In a split second I had a $1,000 accident and a DNF that I couldn’t avoid from a driving standpoint.  What I could have prevented was being taken out mechanically by having the CIK bumper instead of the old style tubular bumper that leaves the rear tires completely exposed.  So, instead of starting the main in the top 5 (this is where the driver who qualified 8th started because he stayed out of trouble and finished every heat), I started 15th, blowing any chance for a podium (finished 7th).  This is the main reason I now have a CIK bumper on my kart and seeing how it has been caved in behind my rear tire twice now after I finished a race I otherwise might not have, it is worth every penny.

The CIK bumper will change the way your kart handles so don’t expect to just bolt it on and go.  You are going to want to spend a few sessions testing different combinations to get the desired handling effect you are looking for….

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It’s freezing cold out, your track may be covered in snow, and you haven’t even touched your go kart since your last race.  Now is the perfect time to perform an Annual Checkup on your go kart.  While I recommend going through your kart before every race (I’ll cover this subject in a later issue) there are still some things you should definitely look at annually to be sure you don’t miss something to prevent a DNF during the season.

To that point, one of your new year’s resolutions should be no “preventable” mechanical DNF’s for 2015.  By “preventable” I am talking about mechanical error – forgetting to tighten a gear or carburetor, a fuel line falling off because it  hasn’t been checked it in two years etc.  If your gearbox breaks midway through a rebuild, that’s bad luck.  I’m talking about the stuff you can control.   I personally don’t think preventable mechanical DNF’s should EVER enter into your karting equation.  The races are short, it’s a single-piston engine, and you have enough time to prepare the kart between race weekends.  Have I had a preventable DNF?  Yes, and it has cost me a race win (and obviously many hours of much needed therapy, but I do feel better writing this).  All the above being said, this is what you should be checking and replacing on your go kart this off season…

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It’s the New Year, time for resolutions, and after a couple of weeks of really bad eating and most likely the consumption of way too many adult beverages, you promise yourself that this year you will be in better shape.  No more just hanging on instead of attacking in the Main.  No more declaring the last race “a two Red Bull main” and then seeing what happens (I’ve done this before, the Main went OK but I didn’t sleep for a while).  This is the perfect time to start talking about how to train for karting.

It’s funny, when I was racing in Europe you never really heard anything about drivers training until Michael Schumacher burst onto the scene.  Obviously his blinding quickness helped bring attention to this subject but mostly everyone seemed amazed that he would be on the podium and not even sweat after an entire F1 race.  The next thing you know there are a plethora of articles on how it makes sense to be sure your driver is in shape so he can take advantage of the $2 million the team just spent last month developing a new aero package to gain 3 tenths.  What’s the point if the driver’s laptimes are going to fall by 3 tenths midway through the race because he is tired.

I figured I would start this series with the one exercise that, given a choice, I will pick first and focus on when I know I have a race coming up.  I have always said that the more I do this exercise, the better I feel in the kart, especially toward the end of a 20 lap Main…

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In the Seat Position & You article from the November 2010 Issue of FKI, I discuss how to determine if your seat position is incorrect.  I mention that if your kart is unresponsive to major changes and consistently has the same handling issue regardless of a variety of changes you make, chances are the seat position may be the cause.  For instance, if the seat is too far forward, your kart will suffer from perennial oversteer – so move the seat back and up.

 

This is a perfect example because I had been battling an oversteer condition since I bought my new kart.  Having tried many changes to rectify the oversteer, I felt my current seat position is too far forward  so I vowed to move the seat farther back and up and do a follow-up article here…

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Categories : Chassis Tuning
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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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Categories : Chassis Tuning
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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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