Braking is probably the one skill that sets the fastest indoor karters ahead of the fast indoor karters, or at least the karters who win all the races.
In this article I will go in depth about braking, and different types of braking under different conditions. We will take the development of your braking technique in 3 stages.
Stage 1. No brake at all technique.
Stage 2. Straight line threshold braking technique.
Stage 3. Trail brake technique.
Now for stage 1 of your training I suggest working on a no brake at all technique. The reason for this is that you have to learn how fast you can actually roll through a turn before you can know if you are hitting the brakes too hard and rolling too slow through a turn. You have to learn the limits of your traction. You might be surprised how fast you can actually roll through a turn.
In order to execute a no brake practice session you have to first pick a mark as your starting “let off the gas” point. Drive up to this mark, let off and coast. Now if you slide on the entry of the turn, then you got off the gas too late, you’re coming in too fast, and you have to get off earlier and try again until you don’t slide the entry. If you slide on the exit, well that’s usually getting back on the gas too soon. We are also going to assume here that you’re on line and not turning too late or too early. If you can get through the turn without sliding, then try to push your let off point forward a bit.
Your goal here is to develop the “feel” for the limits of your traction. This is how fast you want to be rolling AFTER you have hit the brakes to slow for the turn. The nice thing about a no brake turn, is that it is usually very stable, and so you can really feel what it’s like to load up the wheels and coast at the limit of traction.
First my advice for standard braking is not to fall for the drama you see on TV as you watch Formula One racers making crazy late braking moves down the inside straight as they make a pass. That late braking move is NOT fast, even though it’s enabled them to pass another driver. It’s actually very slow and inconsistent. It’s slow because they’re way off line, and it’s inconsistent because it pushes the limit of the threshold and runs the risk of breaking loose. And anytime you break loose on an entry you can expect to vary your lap times by 300th of a second. And you don’t want variance like this, it will get you passed.
As always my golden rule for indoor karting is no sliding allowed, so the goal is *almost* always to brake without inducing a slide. Yes there are exceptions to the rule, but it is very rare that an entry slide is going to be the fastest approach to a turn.
So there are two main things you want to strive for with your braking. Consistency, smooth weight transitions.
You want consistency because it’s better to take a corner 100th of a second slower than the fastest lap possible, if that fastest lap involves a late threshold brake with a high risk of losing it. What you’ll find when you study videos of those sessions is that your corner times are going to be all over the place, and your average is going to be less than the consistent approach. Mike Smith was always a big advocate for smooth consistent braking. He was never the fastest lap, but always the champion. And he took that idea to he nationals and won.
So now you have a no brake technique down, and you’ve had a chance to do some sessions and feel the limit of traction, lets go to stage 2, straight line braking.
Now we are going to move our brake point ahead a bit.
The most important thing though for a consistent braking experience is to have a consistent braking point for each turn. I usually use a marker on the side of the track, maybe it’s a dark patch of oil, or a crack in the track, a tire on the side, sometimes paint on the track, and some tracks will let you arrange cones on the sides of the track. Use that mark as your starting point for your brake zone.
For consistency I start with a steady but moderate braking pressure, which I will increase as the speed comes down and the risk of breaking loose comes down with it. This gives a smoother weight transition, with your inertial mass moving from center balance to the front wheels very gradually. This is important because it sends you into the turn with very steady balance and a high level of grip. This allows you to consistently hit a turn at greater speed. It is better to brake a little bit earlier than try to push your limit right up to the last inch.
Now again if you find you are sliding on the entrance then you are coming in too fast, and you need to brake earlier. Note I didn’t say, brake harder, I said earlier.
Now if you manage to make it stick and you are getting through the corner easily, then you can move your brake point forward. I usually move in increments of about 1 foot forward and backwards, but once you are close to the ideal mark, you can try moving +/- 3 inches. But again, I suggest you don’t try to push your luck with a brake point if you want to be consistent.
Now in stage 2, we only want to brake in straight lines, we don’t want to brake and turn the steering wheel at the same time. This is because the wheels are already doing the maximum work trying to slow you down, now if you add an extra load on them to turn as well, you’re running a high risk of losing the back end and going into a slide.
So in stage 2, you will brake in a straight line and as the turn in starts, you’ll release the brake and go into a coast. You’ll coast all the way to the apex, and then you’ll get back on the gas with a squeeze.
You should know by now what speed you need to carry through the turn so you should find this is very fast. This is the technique Mike Smith used to win the nationals, so it’s really fast. But it’s not the fastest.
The other common problem with an entry slide is that you are turning the wheel and braking at the same time. This is called trail braking. And this is an advanced braking technique that I will now. For now, you don’t want to start with this, you want a straight line braking system to work for you first. That’s because a trail brake is a very hard thing to master and can take years to get consistent. But let’s talk about it now.
Stage 3, the trail brake.
Now you are basically going to do the same thing as stage 2, only now you are going to move your brake zone forward even more and continue to brake past your turn in point. So you brake down the straight, then through the turn in entry. Again if you can’t stick it, then you brake earlier, and maybe even softer. If you do manage to stick it, then you can push your brake point forward even more.
For this I like to brake fairly soft and steady so the weight can transition slowly and build up on the front of the kart. In some corners you’ll want to brake all the way to the apex. In some corners you’ll only brake for a little ways into the turn before releasing for a coast. The magic of a trail brake is that it will allow you to enter a turn with a good portion of your weight baring down on the front wheels and it sets you up nicely for roll speed through a turn.
Again the risk here is that you lose go over the threshold and lose the back end. This happens easily because all the weight has shifted to the front of the kart, and the back is light. You’re going to need to get the rear weight back down in order to be able to accelerate safely.
Sometimes a trail brake that throws a lot of weight forward can delay your ability to get back on the gas, and so you can lose feet as you try to get the rear to gain traction again.
For this reason I like to use a blip on the gas (or two) before I actually start to squeeze on the gas. The idea is that the blip will force a more rapid weight transition back to the rear wheels, BEFORE you start to accelerate. This can allow you to compensate for the extra forward load, and balances the weight more quickly. The idea of the blip is that it will only cause a small inertial weight displacement, shoving the kart forward a little bit, but not cause the rear wheels to break loose and spin out. If you were to say quickly, ‘one and then two’ This is about the timing that you need to do a blip and squeeze application of the gas.
And so that’s my tips to develop advanced braking techniques in an indoor go kart.
Good luck, see you on the track.
I’m typically a heavier driver. In my proudest moment, I ran a full league season against our strongest class of drivers, starting at 30lbs over the weigh in, and miraculously won the season. That was truly amazing because at least 3 of the drivers were ranked in the top 20 US indoor karters at the time. Mind you, I went on a keto diet the night we started the 8 week race season and finished my last race at legal weight, but for 7 of those races, I was over the weigh in.
Anyone with any karting experience knows that even just a difference of 10lbs will essentially rob you of about 0.015 of a second per corner. While that’s not much, it adds up when you have like 6 to 10 corners to deal with. And it really adds up when you’re at like 210lbs racing against a 180lb driver. We had 7 corners in our series so I was running at a 7×0.015 x3= 0.315 second handicap per lap. And our races are 50 laps long!
So how did I pull that off?
Well let’s look at how extra weight in a go kart causes problems and what you can do about those problems.
The problem is acceleration zones and corners. Without getting too scientific about it, basically Newton’s laws of kinetic energy are working against us.
(Stuff it, I have to give you formula, K=mv^2/2. Kinetic Energy = Mass x Velocity squared, divided by 2. This formula tells us how much energy is required to reach any speed.)
The problem is that to reach the same velocity a heavier driver requires the engine to deliver more energy than a lighter driver requires, and the engine can only deliver the same amount of horsepower per second to both drivers. The lighter driver has a serious acceleration advantage. And that means the lighter driver can slide around and will be forgiven. You, the heavier driver, will not be forgiven for a slide.
But fear not, most drivers have no idea what makes a kart slow or fast, and so make loads of mistakes. Your job as a heavier driver is to not make those mistakes, and to approach it with advanced knowledge of your machine and how it works, so you can drive it with control and purpose.
So tip #1 . DO NOT SLIDE!
That means you have to be very accurate with your turn in timing. You need to have very clear marked out turn in points, and you need to hit them with absolute precision, every time. One way to work this out, is to walk the track and find marks and angles from the outside of the track to the apex. You want about a 45 degree turn in point to the apex. Mike Smith the US national indoor karting champ (of 2007 I think) would stand at the apex then count the steps to measure the width of the track. Then he would turn 90 degrees and walk back down the track the same number of steps, then turn around and his foot would be at 45 degrees to the apex. That was his turn in point. At least the starting turn in point from which he would adjust according to how his kart handled.
The way I handled the problem was I got a go pro and I captured my fastest laps from a helmet cam. Then I went home and studied my fastest laps in slow motion and worked out exactly what happened, where I turned in, where I exited. And I took note of marks on the track that lined up with my wheels. Then I could go out and hit those marks every single time.
So Tip #2. Get a helmet cam and study your fast laps in slow motion.
One of the other reasons people slide is that they are not steady with their hands in a turn. A big part of being steady is just getting your turn in timing right, but it is also making the conscious decision that you are going to go through turns using as little hand movement as you possibly can, once you’re loaded up and going through the turn. You might need to fiddle about a bit on your turn in to catch your balance, but your ultimate goal is to get smooth and steady and to not be wobbling your hands around like you’re trying to counter steer every little bump and slide. I see many beginners driving what I call nautical miles. Like they’re trying to drive over the waves of the ocean. You can literally see the front wheels of their karts flapping left and right as they go through a turn. Don’t do that.
Tip #3, Aim to keep your hands steady and fixed through the greater part of the turn. Do not wobble the steering wheel all through the turn.
Now the best way I have found to achieve this, steady hands and steady front wheels, is to first realize that you actually have full visible access to those front wheels. This is not like a car where you can’t see where your wheels are pointing. A kart is more like a formula one car, you can see where the wheels are pointing! I can’t stress enough how important that is, you need to use this to your advantage.
What you do is put your eye directly on the apex, with the intention of aiming your front wheels right at that apex so you can get as close to it as possible. Remember your goal is not to try and use steering tricks to counter sliding through a turn. Your goal is to have no sliding and just flow through the turn under a steady G force.
So this gives several tips.
Tip #4. Put your eye on the apex as early as possible from way up on the straight, not as you turn in (that’s too late).
You need your eyes on apex early, when you are back on the straights. Looking at the apex too late is the major reason for people missing the apex.
Tip #5. Watch where your front wheels are pointing through the corner of your eye, (while your eyes are on the apex). Then just deliberately point your wheels at the apex, making the minimal adjustment needed to keep them pointed.
When you do this you become very smooth and consistent. You will find you are able to approach corners faster because you don’t break loose as easy or as often. So you don’t need to slow down as much for turns.
Tip #6. Always try to get your kart as close as possible to the apex, every time.
The reason for always being as close as possible is that any distance at all off the apex, makes the track longer. There is pretty much NEVER any speed advantage to being off the apex, and there is pretty much a 100% chance that you’ve made the track longer. How much longer? Well consider a 180 degree turn, if you are 2 feet off an apex, then you have to travel 2 feet further down the approaching straight. Now you have 2 extra feet to travel to get back on line as you go down the exit straight. That 2 feet off the apex, cost you 4 feet of track length, with no advantage in speed. This is probably the number one reason that races are won and lost, the fastest drivers are actually driving a shorter track, while going the exact same speed. So while you still need to get out wide for most turns, in an indoor kart situation you need to be looking at how you can make your turns just slightly tighter than your opponents, without losing traction.
Next we will talk about ‘the bind’, and how it can effect heavy drivers.
Now one of the major problems for a heavy driver, is that an indoor kart has a solid rear axle. This means that both rear tires travel at the same rotational velocity at ALL times. That means that the rear wheels when both firmly planted on the ground want to push the kart in a straight line at all times, even when you turn the steering into a turn. If you try to turn the steering wheel and push a kart in the pit, you’ll see what I mean, it’s like the brakes are jammed on, it doesn’t want to roll. This is known as binding, and it is a major loss of momentum energy. When you turn the wheel the front wheels and the rear wheels go into a fight, and if all 4 wheels are planted down flat and hard, unless the rear has lost traction, the front wheels are going to lose the battle.
This describes what happens when a kart is “pushing”. It also describes what happens to a kart when it slides, because essentially the outside rear tires have lost grip. The loss of grip causes the inside rear tire to slam down, because there is nothing resisting the lateral inertia. And so a kart that has just slid, has totally lost it’s geometric advantage, which I will describe now.
Now the kart is actually designed to deal with the solid rear axle problem by setting the front steering geometry up in a way that causes the kart to twist and tip over when you turn the steering wheel. Kind of. The inside rear wheel (when you are decelerating) lifts off the ground when you turn the steering wheel. So a properly functioning and operated kart is actually on 3 wheels through a turn. One back wheel on the outside, and two front wheels. In this case the solid rear axle, is no problem, the inside wheel just spins in the air. This works best when you are decelerating into a turn.
But if you are accelerating out of a slow turn, that rear wheel is much less likely to lift off the ground, because it does not have the forward weight bias to push the front wheels down and lift the rear wheels. This means that a heavier driver is more subject to an effect that we call ‘the bind’. The bind is where the weight bias due to the effect of acceleration is pushing the rear wheel down before it gets a chance to develop lateral inertia (the sidewards G force you feel in the middle of a turn). The heavy driver is extremely handicapped by the bind, much more so than a lighter driver will be.
So here’s the answer to the binding problem when under acceleration. You have to learn how to, violently and rapidly snap at the wheel when you begin your turn in. The pro drivers call this, ‘the snap in’ technique. It can be achieved in several ways, one way is similar to ‘the Scandinavian flick’ a trick that is used by rally drivers where you kind of initially turn away from the turn to load your weight onto the inside before turning back into the turn to cause the weight to aggressively transfer to the outside of the vehicle. This works best when there is a lot of traction on your track say from built up rubber and the bind is out of control. My preferred method is to over turn the steering wheel on initial entry with a very fast snap at the wheel, and then to release that pressure half way, and then return to a steady mid point. In timing it’s about 1/2 a second total from 1. snap in, 2. recoil, 3. aim at the apex and hold. If you can imagine the weight jarring quickly from one side to the other, which tips the kart up onto 3 wheels, and now you have to catch the momentum or things will get out of control. Mind you, the Snap In is NOT for corners that you are approaching quickly and decelerating into because there is no need to worry about binding in these situations. You should always be on the alert for situations that are causing binding, and thinking about how you an tip the kart over to deal with it.
So Tip #7, learn how to snap at the wheel when you’re accelerating into a turn, in order to tip the kart over sideways onto 3 wheels. This will give the heavier driver roll speed that he would not normally have due to his binding handicap.
Now there is another place where the bind can happen, and that’s on the exit as you accelerate out of a turn. If you have not achieved a 3 wheel tripod effect, then you’re going to bind your exit. You’re going to have to analyze your weight transfer and listen to your engine to know if you’re in this situation because different things can cause it, and it’s not always easy to realize you’re binding on an exit. But lets talk about some of the things that can cause it. Of course the usual culprit is that you’ve slid the rear out, ever so slightly, and you’re slipping a little as you start the exit. It’s hard to catch yourself doing this. But as general rule, the cause is from getting on the gas too early. Well that’s the easy fix, just coast more, and get on the gas later.
When you coast through a turn you maintain the 3 wheel tripod so much easier, and we call this ‘roll speed’. So you should really practice this first because it is very fast. But, it’s not the fastest way to get through the turn, and as a heavier driver trying to beat a lighter driver, now I’m going to tell you something that breaks this rule. But really, you need to master the coasting technique first.
Okay, so the reason we are binding our exit acceleration in the last example is because we are sliding ever so slightly, because we pushed for too much acceleration too early. The problem with pushing for acceleration too early is that the forward weight bias that is created by a deceleration into a turn has not had the chance to settle and return the weight bias to middle or rear. So the back is light and does not yet have adequate down force to accelerate through and out of the turn. This is why we coast, we are waiting for the forward weight bias to return to an equilibrium. But here is the thing, when you are in a turn there are actually many things that will cause the weight to shift forward and rear quicker or slower. For example if you were to hold the brake down longer and deeper, then the weight will stay forward biased longer. If you brake for a shorter distance, then the weight will stay forward biased longer, because you will throw more inertia towards the front of the kart. As opposed to say if you extended your braking distance by say just 3 more feet earlier. You see the weight transition would be smoother and more gradual. That would actually allow you to trail brake into the turn and load the front wheels up more carefully. That actually allows you to roll through the corner more quickly and ultimately it allows the weight bias to return to equilibrium sooner.
So that’s one way, don’t slam the brake hard at the last split second. Think about how that’s going to effect your weight transfer and loads and traction. Your goal under high loads is to smooth and slow the weight transitions.
As another example, now when you turn the steering wheel into a turn, those front wheels act a bit like brakes, ever so slightly, the turning is causing the weight bias to push towards the front of the kart. Now if you release the turn in, the weight bias will gently release back to the rear of the kart. Or at least to the middle. It ever so slightly releases forward weight pressure. That means if you release your steering pressure, just before you begin accelerating, you get a rear downforce bonus at the split second you release steering. That means you dont get the little slide that breaks you loose, and you get to get back on the gas earlier than if you waited and held your steering steady. The trick is that once you have acceleration started, you reapply the steering pressure that you had initially. Do you get it? We call it the 1-2-3 because it kind of happens in a 3 phase process, again it all happens in a split second, maybe a second at most. The acceleration rate by the way is not usually a stomp it’s a squeeze, so you don’t induce slide.
so Tip #8, learn to release steering pressure ever so slightly before you accelerate, and then squeeze the gas and reapply steering pressure. This allows earlier acceleration without sliding.
Now if you understand what we just did, then you’ll understand the next thing I’ll explain to you. Notice that we just caused the rear downforce to return to our rear a little bit sooner by releasing the steering before we accelerated. But there are other more aggressive ways to do this too. I should mention here that the reason we need to have all kinds of different methods is that in a rental kart scene, we have all kinds of different broken karts. Some karts you have to be very gentle with, others you can do aggressive things to them and they’ll grip up for you. You have to feel your way, and adapt as conditions change and tires temps and pressures change.
So the final expert advanced method to induce an early rear down force is to double blip and even triple blip the gas before acceleration. Now this is my favorite trick because it lets me get full throttle way way earlier than normal. As much 6 to 8 feet earlier, and that means your acceleration time and straight length is much longer. This allows a heavier driver to compete with lighter drivers but you have to be very careful not to overdo it and slide anywhere. You are really going to be on the edge here. So I’ll explain what I believe is happening here. You’ll typically see the apex about a kart length to a kart and half in front of you when you start this move. And normally say with a coasting technique, you can’t touch the gas until the front of the kart has reached the apex. You begin by blipping the gas briefly. Now if you were to hold it down, you would slide out for sure. But you don’t hold it, you just go blip(1), release(2), squeeze(3). The whole 3 moves are done in about one second timing. The actual timing you will learn to be able to feel. You’ll actually become sensitive to the weight transition to the rear during the first blip. I can feel it as an increase and change in the feeling of the seat against my back. As that pressure increases I start to squeeze the gas. That first blip throws the weight to the rear, but because we release the gas, the tires just down force and grip up. Now you can squeeze on the power with traction and power out. Be very careful not to slide though, because if you do, you bind, and then any acceleration bonus is cancelled out.
Tip #9, Learn to double blip the gas before accelerating and you’ll be able to start accelerating a kart length earlier than normal, without sliding.
Now we have talked a lot about binding being caused by the dragging of the inside wheels. And here we are talking mainly about indoor karts, which have thick strong chassis’, and are much less flexible than outdoor karts. There is another trick that helps with indoor karts which involves using your heavier weight and strength to your advantage. Basically when entering a corner, you have to push your heal in against the base of the stirrup towards the inside of the turn. So if you are turning left you push your left heal down towards the turn. And likewise if you are turning right, you push your right heal down. What you are trying to achieve is cross tension across the frame. It’s a bit hard to explain why this works, but basically it assists that inside rear wheel to lift off the ground and assists your kart to roll through turns with extra downforce in the places that it is needed. If you do this while on a set of scales in an outdoor kart, you can see the wheel weights change as much as 20lbs from left to right. You have to push fairly hard. It’s pretty unnatural to do this, so it takes some practice but it can really help with karts that are broken and twisted, particularly karts that push and are bound up. For a heavier driver that can be bound up through sweeper turns, pushing in with your heal to twist the chassis can make a huge difference to roll speeds. If you think a bit about what it does, you’ll realize why. Imagine you are pushing with your left heal, and you pushed the front left wheel down on a left hand turn. That would cause the outside rear wheel to push down, and inside rear wheel to lift up. That’s what cross tension does.
Tip #10, Learn to use your heals to create cross tension across the kart.
Now being a heavier driver it is very important how you distribute your body weight in the kart. In short, you have to LEAN OUT of the turns, DO NOT LEAN INTO TURNS. This is so super critical it can’t be over stressed, it should probably be lesson and rule #1. To explain, it goes back again to that solid rear axle, but it also relates to the direction of down force and lateral force on your wheels. Remember that solid rear axle requires us to lift up the inside rear wheel. Otherwise you bind up as the inside rear wheel drags. So it follows that leaning outwards will lighten the load on that inside rear wheel. A 200lb person can easily shift 50lbs from one rear wheel to the other, even if the wheel doesn’t lift off the ground. But now we have to also consider the angle of the lateral forces from that weight. It’s best explained with an image. If you are leaning out then the angle of force on the rear outside tire is more downwards, which promotes traction. But if you are leaning inwards then the angle of the force is more outwards than downwards, in this case you are inviting the kart to slide out. Drivers who lean into turns, are more loose and prone to slide, and then they bind up. Drivers who lean out, have more traction and therefore less slide and are less likely to bind up. It takes some practice to get used to leaning out, because you have to resist the urge to fight inertia, but once you have it down, it’s very natural. Note also that when you lean out of a turn you DO NOT LEAN OUT WHEN YOU ARE IN THE TURN, LEAN OUT WELL BEFORE THE TURN IN, WHEN YOU ARE ON THE STRAIGHT.
Tip #11. Lean OUT of turns, DO NOT LEAN INTO TURNS!!!! IMPORTANT.
My last idea is to be very mindful of how the weight transfers from front to rear when you release the gas from full throttle. This is important for sweeper turns, or fast turns where you basically enter at top speed and hope to fly through. Often in these turns you find the kart going into a slide at the apex and just not able to hold full throttle through the whole turn.
The slide we are talking about here is known as ‘snap oversteer’. It is caused mainly by the shift in weight from the rear to the front as you get off the gas while you are at maximum inertial load in the middle of turn. The release of gas lightens the rear and back goes into a drift.
In these cases people usually get off the gas WAY WAY too late. It seems counter intuitive, but you usually have to get off the gas way early, WHEN YOU ARE ON THE STRAIGHT or just ever so slightly after turn in. That seems way early, you have no risk at all of sliding on the straight, what gives? The reason is that releasing on the straight causes the weight to shift forward BEFORE the turn in. As the front wheels bite down and you start the turn in you can now reapply the gas, and you can stomp down fast and hard. The whole kart geometry has changed from being flat biased in the rear with a middle biased center of gravity, to lifting the inside wheel and establishing the correct 3 wheel bias for roll speed, the slight drop in velocity on entry tips the kart forward and over as you turn in. Now if you have leaned out correctly and early, and you are pushing in with your inside heel, the center of gravity will create downforce and grip on the outside wheels. Now you can push full throttle through the whole turn with no risk of sliding and no need to release the throttle. Again your eye is on the apex, and you are aiming your front wheels with a steady hold of the wheel. Sections like this are usually where I pick up a lot of time on other drivers as I watch them lose traction every time they lift up.
Tip #12. If you are sliding pr binding in a turn that should be taken at full throttle, blip off the gas, when on the straight, just before turning in. Blipping off the gas creates forward bite and tips the kart over, releasing bind. This increases roll speed, and traction.
The trick is to be very mindful about how shifts in the weight are caused by getting on and off gas, or by steering input, and how these might create slides when at full loads, and then to think about what kind of geometry might be in play at that time. Then you can think about what you can do to change the geometry and weight distribution in advance. You will find that things like trying to make adjustments to your body position when you are in a turn already is probably too late. Note also that many of these tips involve manipulating the weight transfers to give you the ability to hold the gas down full when normally you cant.
These are actually not only tips for heavy drivers, they’re tips for any driver. The good thing is that lighter drivers are usually not effected by bind and sliding as much, so they don’t work on it as much. But for heavy drivers, getting these things perfect are really your only hope of evening the odds. The good thing is that when race time comes and ballast is added you will dominate your weight class.
Tip #1 Don’t Slide.
Just get it in your head now, SLIDING IS SLOW. Sorry to break it to you, because it’s a lot of fun, but sliding and stomping full throttle through a turn like a Dukes of Hazard rerun, is going to get you into an accident and passed by any above average driver. Every slide is going to cost you between 0.100 to 0.500 of a second per corner. Sliding through turns is the number one thing that makes newer drivers slower.
How do you not slide?
So as a general set of rules.
If you are sliding on the entry. You came in too hot and fast. Slow down.
If you are sliding on the exit. You probably got on the gas too soon, wait wait wait and coast to the apex.
Wide Slow Entry, Tight to Apex, Wide Fast Out.
We go wider, so we can carry more momentum from one straight to another, it’s a basic way to lower the G forces on the tires so they can have more grip.
But why tight to Apex?
Tip #2 As close as possible to the apex, every time.
The apex is the very middle of the corner and you want to travel as close as possible on every corner. Now this is a bit of an advanced idea because ultimately this is what sets the fastest drivers apart from the faster drivers. That being said, it’s also what sets the slowest drivers apart from the slow drivers. That’s because slow drivers drive down the middle of the track. Lets say for argument sake that you are on a 180 degree turn, and you are 2 feet off the apex when you are in the middle of that turn. Now there are only 2 ways you could have got to that point, you either made the oncoming straight 2 feet longer OR you turned in early and drove a straight line towards that point.
Let’s take the first possibility into account. Now you’ve made your incoming straight 2 feet longer, now the only way you can get back online is to make the exit straight 2 feet longer as well. By adding 2 feet to your apex, you just added 4 feet to the total track length. Even if you maintain the same speed and curve as the fastest driver, you’re still going to arrive at the finish line 4 feet behind, and all from a single corner. Do this on another 5 turns and you’re now 24 feet behind the fastest driver in a single lap, while travelling at the same speed.
Now the second possibility, that you turned in early. Remember that the whole purpose of a corner is take a kart that is travelling in one direction, and completely turn it around and send it the other direction. You have to do this while maintaining as much of the energy and momentum that you entered the corner with. Now the tighter the corner, the more energy is going to be scrubbed away, so steady wide corners allow you to carry the most momentum, in and out. As you get more advanced the width of corners becomes a fine tuned trade off, but as a general rule, wide turns win races. So basically when you turn in early, you’re forcing the kart to rotate within a tighter circle because you will kind of drive straight at the apex and then do all your rotation on the exit. This will be slow, so not only would you have made the track longer, but you are also going to be slower through the turn, which means you’re losing a lot more than 4ft in this turn. It’s much better to spread your rotation out over a wider area and that means turning in, not too early and not too late, but just right. Which means, you need to perfect your timing.
So it’s not about reflexes! How do you perfect your timing?
Tip #3 Find marks so you can time your actions perfectly.
So this is how we perfect our timing. We use some kind of mark on the track to determine our brake point, our turn in point, our let off point. We even look for marks on the exit that we can judge our last turn for accuracy. Using cameras on your session is a great way to handle this, because you can examine in slow motion marks on the entry and exit of corners during your fastest laps. This will give you targets that you can aim for every time. Basically in an indoor kart you have view of your front tires at all times, so you can use this to point your wheels at targets, and line them up with targets. And the primary target for speed is the apex, which brings us to the next tip.
Tip #4. Eyes on Apex, early and always.
The most critical point on any corner is the apex. You need to be as close as possible every time. Now the expert drivers are going to be within a centimeter of the apex every time, and quite often you’ll see their tires hitting the walls of the apex. If you’re even off by 2 inches, you’ll lose feet of track every lap.
So how do you do it? You look at the apex early from way back up on the straight. Now you still have to use marks to time your turn in and your brake points, that’s fine, you just do it with your eyes on the apex and watch for marks out of the corner of your eye.
Many pros turn their head towards the turn in advance, which allows them to see down the inside of the corner, in case people come diving in. But the head turn in allows you to get oriented for the apex well in advance and as he corner approaches there will be a point at which you are not looking out the corner of your eyes, but directly straight ahead. This is your turn in timing mark. It’s a little different then lining up your tires with a wheel, crack or mark on the road, but it’s a very effective and consistent method for timing your turn ins.
Another reason you want to look at the apex early from back up on the straight is that no matter how fast your reflexes, you still have about a 1/5th of a second reaction time. If you find yourself looking at a brake point, applying the brakes and THEN turning your head to locate the apex, then it’s too late you can’t possibly be smooth and steady and direct and on. Once you find the apex, then you have to start controlling the steering and.. sorry you’re going to miss it by miles. This is probably the #1 cause for newer drivers to miss the apex even when they’re trying to, they did not have their eye on it early enough. That’s usually because they were looking at the kart in front of them instead. And that’s a mistake that will cause you to be only as fast as the guy in front of you. When you catch up with someone, don’t look directly at them, look at the apex instead.
Tip #5 Don’t lean in, Do lean out of turns.
This is a bit of an advanced tip and it has to do with the mechanics of the standard rental go kart. The reason is because karts are made to go faster when they are rolling with their weight biased towards the outside of a corner. When you lean in towards the center of the turn, you actually create a braking effect on the kart. This is all a very technical thing and you can go and research about solid rear axles and how leaning in causes a braking and sliding effect. It actually reduces your traction and acceleration when you lean in, and improves your traction and acceleration when you lean out. Now the thing is, again you have to lean early, you don’t want to wait to the last minute because you’re going to mess up your balance and timing. And the thing to remember is that balance is everything. Perfect balance means you can increase your roll speed through a turn, which means you can push the limits and go faster without losing control.
So how else do we achieve balance?
Tip #6 Steady hands, don’t wobble the steering wheel when in a turn.
Now in the very middle of the turn you are likely to have the highest G forces and the only thing keeping you from sliding is the down-force on those tires. The problems come when people try to adjust their steering in the middle when under maximum load. The other thing intermediate and newer drivers will do is change their acceleration and braking in the middle of a turn instead of keeping it steady. The more steady you can keep things then the more traction you will have because as the weight rocks around left to right and forward to back, you will only have as much traction as your weakest moment. Once you lose it, you’re in damage control. So how do we do this?
When you have a perfect turn in point and get your timing perfect, there is a kind of set and forget process. You set your turn in, the weight shifts a bit, you steady it, maybe with a little counter action to balance out. Then you get ready to hold steady through the turn and ride it out.
If you turn in too early you wont be able to do this, you’re going to have to add more steering input as you go through the turn, particularly on the exit. If you are doing this, then you are definitely slow.
If you turn too late you might have to miss the apex completely or keep adding more steering input on the entry than you need.
Ultimately once you reach the apex you want to be either holding steady or releasing the steering pressure (preferably). Because if you are releasing steering pressure then you are accelerating.
This is the typical process of slow in, fast out.
Tip #7 Head up, lean back for hard braking zones.
This tip really makes a difference for shortening braking distances, and is especially helpful when passing. It is common for newer drivers that are racing to lean forward more and more. The problem is when you do this you take downforce away from your back tires and you become loose. John Kimbrell the multiple US indoor national champion, always pushes his seat all the way back and leans back, no matter the kart. As you become more experienced you will be able to tell a difference when you lean forward and backwards with your braking and your cornering.
That being said, sometimes a kart is really bound up, and it wont accelerate out of turns. In this special case you want to try and lean forward to get the weight off the rear so the kart will not drag out of turns. Usually though a kart that drags out of turns is because you got on the gas too early and did not allow the weight to stay biased towards the front enough to roll through the turn. Remember when you get on the gas the weight will shift to the rear and if you have not completed the turn fully the rear axle, being a single solid bar will push both rear wheels to the ground at the same time. In this case the kart will start wanting to go in a straight line, because the axle is solid and both wheels must travel at the same speed. Now you are in a situation where the front wheels want to turn and the larger rear wheels want to go straight. They will fight, and often the rear wheels being larger will win. If the rear don’t win, then either the inside rear wheel will drag and spin, or the outside will drag and brake. Either way, this is a situation where you are slow because the rear wheels are dragging the kart down.
Tip #8 Sharp and Snappy inputs when entering turns under hard acceleration.
For slower corners with hard acceleration on entry.
This is the kind of corner where you haven’t had time to get up to full speed and you’re still accelerating, it’s usually one of a complex of turns. In this case it’s a very different situation because your weight is going to be rear biased, and the front wheels are going to struggle to steer. You wont need to brake for this kind of corner. Instead of being slow and steady and soft, you actually want to be snappy and jerky with your inputs. You will want to jarre the kart into and through the turn but you do NOT have to worry about getting on the gas too early because the back will not be light. The back only get’s light when you are entering a corner under high brake pressure. So be mindful of the difference.
Tip #9 Slow and steady inputs when entering turns under heavy deceleration.
For fast corners with hard braking on the entry.
Don’t rush in too fast, try to brake a little bit earlier, softer and steady without jamming on the brakes hard. Just give yourself a couple more feet than you think you need. If it’s a heavy braking corner, then brake in a straight line and don’t try to brake AND turn at the same time. As a general rule try to coast into the turn once you have completed braking, and give the kart time to re-balance and settle the weight back down into the rear. This settling is important because if you jam back on the gas too soon and too hard, you’ll go into a slide. As a general rule, wait until you have reached the apex before you get back on the gas. You can stomp as hard as you like then.
The main idea here is that you want your weight transitions to be slow and steady, you want the inertial pressures to build up slowly and steady. Ultimately you want to attain a point of balance where you can hold steady through the turn and make the most of your rolling speed.
Tip #10 Be mindful of how the weight shifts from front to rear and side to side, maintain balance, and you maintain traction.
Now we get to the really advanced stuff that you can work on for years. The ultimate driver is very mindful of all the things that can shift the weight of the kart. Subtle effects can cause slides when you are under maximum loads. Take a sweeper for example, these are usually very easy turns to get into, you just blast into them at full throttle, usually from a straight. The sweeper is a large corner with slowing down needed, or is there? Often at the very peak of the sweeper it just gets too much and you pass the limit of traction. Knowing this most drivers will let go of the gas and give in. The problem is as soon as you let go of the gas under maximal load, your weight will shift forward just slightly. But that’s all that’s needed under maximal load to create a slide every time. A lot of drivers think this is normal. But often it is not, the expert drivers do not slide here. How do they manage it? They know that modulation is probably needed in the turn, so they modulate their throttle on the straight before the sweeper, even though there is no chance whatsoever of losing traction on the straight. You see the weight shifts before the turn, lifting the inside rear wheel up lightly. The front wheels bite down and the rotation into the sweeper starts in earnest. Then they the expert stomps on the gas and accelerates into the sweeper with an enhanced outward weight bias that raises his outside down force on the tires. They then drive full throttle through the section that everyone else slides in. This is how the expert is mindful of the weight transfer and subtle ways the weight shifts around under maximal load. You see any input will shift the weight, be that brakes, gas, steering, and the movement of your body.
So the tip here is that when you are analyzing your sessions and thinking about where you are sliding a little, think about what you are doing to move the weight around in the kart. Come up with a strategy to create the weight distribution that you need for optimal traction and control. It’s not always easy to implement these strategies because they often seem counter intuitive, you will find yourself accelerating when you are usually letting off the gas. This is what sets the expert record crushers apart from the above average drivers.