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Archive for Driving Techniques/Tips

The Start – by far and away the best part of karting! Once you take your first start, you’re hooked!

So you are sitting there with your new kart, hopefully you have gone to the track to check out a local race, and want in.  Then you think, wait, these guys are pretty fast and are running really close to each other at speed, am I ready for this?  That’s a great question and one that I have thought about a lot because I have not only had friends get into the sport but recently coached someone who was just starting to race.  This made me examine how I would do it over given a clean slate.  There is a definite plan of attack you can follow. I will outline it below…

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While the goal of the FKI Newsletter is to help you tune your chassis so you don’t have a handling problem, realistically, there are going to be times when you are still fighting an unbalanced kart in race conditions.  In this situation you have to do damage control and drive around the problem until you can make another change before the next heat.  That’s great you say, but how exactly do I drive around a huge understeer or oversteer?  Well, there are a couple of tricks….

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The Start! Are you ready for the race? (Photo Courtesy On Track Promotions)

Let me ask you a question.  What are you doing on the Warmup Lap to prepare for the race?  If your answer is simply warming up the tires, you are leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.  I remember the first time I saw Fernando Alonso bring his Renault up to the line with that signature violent wiggle (as opposed to everyone else’s weave.)  At first I thought, that’s a little over the top.  Yes, it is an impressive display of car control (900hp, cold tires, and full-tank weight being rapidly transferred from side to side).  Now I realize that Alonso has revolutionized the art of the warming up an open wheel race car.  Everyone has copied him and there is more to his method than first meets the eye…

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Having just returned from the Indy 500, it felt as good a time as any to discuss how to approach and maximize fast corners.  In addition, I have just recently finished coaching some drivers including some lead-following in the go karts and realized fast corners are a common area that is challenging many drivers.  Fast corners are tricky not only because of their sheer speed and intimidation factor, they also requires precise timing.  Consequently, after following drivers on practice nights for many years and from my recent coaching experiences there seems to be three basic errors that many drivers make when it comes to negotiating fast corners.  These errors actually conspire to reduce your confidence making the process of conquering fast corners a vicious psychological circle.  Once these errors are addressed and rectified, fast corners actually seem easier and more comfortable to negotiate even as you start going faster and faster.

To wet your appetite, I have included a link to an interesting video sent to me by one of my subscribers regarding Schumacher and fast corners (Click here to see the video).  Pay particular attention to the data segment of the video.  I’ll explain how to translate what you learn in the video to your own driving on the track…

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For those of you that missed it, I ran some data analysis on the SuperNats.  Here’s some highlights:

  • Average Size of each Class:  49 Karts
  • Average number of karts to qualify within 1 second of pole:  29
  • Class with most karts qualified within 1 second of pole (Tag Senior):  40
  • Average number of karts to qualify within 1 second of pole by percentage: 70%
  • Highest percentage of karts to qualify within 1 second of pole (S1):  100%
  • ENTIRE 22 KART FIELD IN S1 WAS COVERED BY 0.827 SECONDS!!!

It’s fair to say that qualifying has always been important.  Given the stats above, I would argue that over the last couple of years qualifying has been more important than ever.  Three or four years ago, two tenths may have only cost you a spot or two, now it can cost you ten.  Furthermore, if you race on a narrower track where passing is more difficult, qualifying could be the race.  Add the fact that a lot of series give you extra bonus points for pole and you start to get the point.

So how do you optimize your go kart for qualifying?  Well, we’ve touched on a number of issues before but I will tie them all together here so you have a concrete plan to put your go kart toward the sharp end of the grid…

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These guys are going to want to know what’s going on with your car during a race, so will your tuner, so should you.

To refresh your memory, I started the “How To Drive Your Own Race” series at the request of one of my subscribers who wanted help in this area.  One of the things he stressed was his inability to recall what his go kart was doing during the heat of battle in a race.  Consequently, he was unable to make any meaningful tuning changes to his go kart before the next heat because he felt he would just be guessing.  So how do you focus on what your go kart is doing and still focus on the race – establish a proper test procedure.  I’ll explain the correlation below.

By establishing a proper test procedure you are ingraining a natural instinct to think about what the go kart is doing while you are driving so you can analyze the feedback and make the go kart better for the next session or race.  Your goal is to make this a habit so that you are automatically thinking about what the go kart is doing regardless of whether it is a test session or the main.  How do you get there?  Change the way you practice/test…

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If your braking in any way resembles this picture, you are Lazy Braking and leaving time on the table.

Lazy Braking. If there is one bad habit I fall into more often than I would like to admit, its Lazy Braking. What exactly do I mean by Lazy Braking? Lazy Braking is when you brake early and/or brake under your go kart’s braking threshold. Why? Because it feels safer and you are less likely to go off, especially if you have a kart with only rear brakes. How do you know if you are braking at the threshold and if you are not, what can you work on to make sure you are? Well, there are a couple of things you can do plus there are some instances where Lazy Braking may actually be faster…
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At the 2010 SuperNats, I and three other drivers I race with decided to work together and share information with great success.

If you continually get caught out on your set-up over the course of a race weekend due to the changing grip levels, this article is for you. It is widely thought that multi-car teams out perform single-car teams at every level of motorsport. Why? Because the drivers and engineers on multi-car teams share information and cover twice as much ground in half the time to arrive at an optimum set-up quicker. How important is this at the karting level? Well, the three other guys I race with felt it was important enough to all be on the same exact chassis for the 2010 SuperNats that two of us, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and I, bought new chassis to match the ones owned by the other two drivers on our “team.” It was also fortunate that three of us ran in the morning sessions, three classes apart, and the fourth driver ran in the afternoon session (more on this later).

Just so I am clear, I am not suggesting that you need to buy another chassis or convince your friends to take up karting to “form” a multi-kart team (although your kart shop owner will love you). It is possible to accomplish the same goals even if you are on your own at the track. Let me explain…

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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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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 car 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 ok, 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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