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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.  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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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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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.  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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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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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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This may be my most controversial article.  Why?  Because if you go to any kart shop, go online, or talk to people at the track, they will have conflicting views on how to tune with axles.  Some will tell you that if you want to reduce rear grip, you have to soften the axle.  Others will tell you, quite categorically, that the only way to reduce rear grip is to stiffen the axle.  So who is right? Funnily enough, depending on which chassis you run, they could both be right.

I will give you a perfect example of how this is possible.  In the Tony Kart chassis lineup, they have two chassis that share the exact same frame geometry but have different tube thicknesses.  The Racer EVR uses 30mm tube thickness while the Krypton KRX uses 32mm tubing.  I have attached their homologation photos below.  (For those skeptics in the audience, print them up on thin paper, hold them over each other, and yes, it’ the exact same geometry.)  Anyway, if you want to reduce rear grip with the 32mm Krypton chassis, you need to soften the axle.  If you want to reduce the grip with the 30mm Racer chassis, you need to stiffen the axle.

Great, you say, that doesn’t help me at all.  You’re right, it doesn’t, and this is where the websites, shop owners, and fellow drivers end the conversation.  It’s their way or the highway.  So how do you tell which direction to go on the axle, I’ll tell you and the answer is simpler than you would ever imagine…

TonyKart Racer EVR (30mm Chassis) Homologation Drawing.  Same geometry as the chassis below but uses exactly opposite axle change to achieve the same goal!

TonyKart Krypton KRX (32mm Chassis) Homologation Drawing.  Same geometry as the chassis above but uses exactly opposite axle change to achieve the same goal!

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