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Archive for Editorials

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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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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Proof that I actually drove at Indy (same helmet scheme)…Oh, and that I can hit my apexes!

Ahhh, the month of May.  If you consider yourself a serious race fan, the month of May can only mean one thing – The Indy 500.  To this day I get asked what it is like to drive at Indy.  I will do my best to convey that unique experience in a second but will say this, driving at Indy is unlike any other track and is beyond fast – it brings fast to the ridiculous.  You as a karter, have a deeper insight into that experience than you might imagine.  I’ll explain.

I think the best way to begin is to start with something they said to us in our rookie orientation meeting.  Brian Barnhart, chief steward at the time, sat us all down and proceeded to tell us that although we are all fast, experienced drivers, keep in mind that the fastest we have gone is most likely 190mph for a split second on the fastest straightaway at the biggest track we have been on (true).  Brian continued to stress that, “Keep in mind that here, once you get going, your MINIMUM speed on EVERY lap will be around 217 mph (also true).  If you go into Turn 1 and feel a wobble, don’t take it into 2, put your hand up, get off the fast line, pull it into the pits and sort it out with your engineer.”  In a nutshell Brian just laid out the other big rule at Indy – when you crash, it’s everyone’s problem.  You can’t just jump off the throttle and hit the brakes at 200+, the car becomes extremely sensitive and responsive at those speeds…

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Unfortunately for many of us in the US, the option to race your ICC powered kart is vastly disappearing.  While you would think switching between two shifter motors would be a simple matter of bolting the new motor on and you’re off, there’s a lot more to it than that, especially if you are buying a used Honda.  The big difference is that while the ICC is self contained except for the water pump, everything but the water pump is an external component on a Honda.  Consequently, you need to find a place to securely mount many of the fuel and ignition system components somewhere on the engine or your kart.  I think I fell into every pitfall you can imagine while making the transition to Stock Honda.  Luckily for you, I will recount it all so you don’t have to…

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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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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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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 2017.  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 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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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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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.  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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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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