“What exactly IS the fastest way through the track?”
Back when I was running leagues, I would often wonder what exactly IS the fastest way through the track? If I just knew that, then maybe I could repeat it over and over. And the good news is, I found a really easy way to work that out!
Simple, you just record your best laps with a go pro camera and then pull the session up in a video editing package and study that fast lap, frame by frame and step by step.
You would be amazed at what you can learn.
This beats a data logger like Micron or abstract tools like GPS generated charts. The reason is that you can look at the video itself without having to translate into meaningful information.
So I have created a couple of videos to help you out. In the first video I break down how to set Vegas Pro Editing software up to analyze laps. In my second video I take a look where you can get the software and the go pro camera for the best price.
WHERE do you get kart racing analysis gear without spending a fortune?
As you can see in my video, the best thing about Vegas Pro is the ability to set markers to define your laps. Once the markers are set, you can use hotkeys to select and measure sector and lap times.
The hotkeys also allow you to easily jump between laps and to step 1 frame at a time through your video. This is extremely powerful. That’s because it allows you to see in fine detail exactly what transpired when you gained or lost time.
For example, want to know the exact line of the fastest lap? Just step one frame at a time and look carefully at where your tires are on the track relative to cracks and marks. Pay special attention to the exits of turns because exits are the best way to know if you are slightly on or off the racing line. You can also use exit information when you’re actually on the track.
A word of caution here. DONT try to go cheap with “Vegas MOVIE Studio”. In my experiments the hotkeys don’t work properly, but worst of all it lacks the ability to measure sector times and lap times, which makes it kind of useless. You want Vegas PRO, and either Sony Vegas Pro or Magix Vegas Pro will work.
I have linked to the lowest cost version because you don’t actually need to make videos and edit sound here. You only need to see the video and analyze it. But if you want to go on and create videos the latest versions are excellent. (I actually use Vegas Pro 17 for my analysis and video editing.)
Why I use Go Pro Video for Data Capture.
Go Pro was just about the first action camera around and I started using them before the Hero series was invented.
The important thing about a video capture system is that it MUST be able to capture at least 60 frames per second (FPS). Frame Rate is much more important than video resolution. Some cameras can capture at over 100 frames per second. As a rule ‘more is better’ when it comes to frame rate.
The nice thing here is that even the older Go Pro’s in the hero series can capture at 60 fps.
If you are going to go for an alternative capture device then make sure you have at least 60 fps. Also make sure you get some form of image stabilization because action film can be very unstable.
Take a look at my video for more information about exactly how I set up Vegas Studio Pro for race analysis. You’ll see I use a split screen method so you can compare every lap to your fast lap. It’s very powerful. I hope this allows you to make the most of your Go Pro camera so that your off track sessions can be just as meaningful as your on track time.
Imagine you had a magic trick to make your straights longer and your corners shorter. You’d be able to hit higher top speeds, no matter which kart you drove. Also, you’d be able to go through a bend faster than others. This article has the perfect tip for public rental karts where some karts are just slower than others. This trick will allow you to make up the difference.
I’m going to describe a throttle modulation trick that lets your kart hit higher top speeds down straights and through turns.
Terminology of racing corners
Wait up for a sec, let’s get some terminology out of the way first.
What is an Apex?
Check this satellite image of a race track, the racing line has been painted over the top in yellow. We travel this track in a counter clockwise direction. The red dots are the Apexes or the middle points of the curve of the corner.
What are Early and Late Apexes?
Note that the apex are at different positions in the corners. The term ‘Early Apex’ means a center point that is before the middle. A ‘Late Apex’ means a center point past the middle. A ‘Middle Apex’ or ‘Mid Apex’ is in the very center of the curve.
Note how on some corners the apex is in the middle of the turn, while on others the apex is past the middle point or what we call ‘Late’. Yet on other corners the red dot is before the middle of the turn, this is what we call ‘Early’.
Why are early and late apexes important?
The need for an early, middle or late apex depends on where you want to be on track for the next turn. For example on the ‘Late’ corner (pictured and labelled ‘Late’) we have a sharp right hander which leads into a left. We don’t want to apex this left too early because it tend to throw us wide on exit, and this will cost us time.
We also don’t want to enter the left hander from too far to the right of the track, because this will cause an early apex. To compensate we sacrifice exit speed on the first corner (right handed ‘Late’ corner) and allow ourselves to exit mid track in prep for the next left handed corner.
Considerations for Corner Entry under brakes.
Let’s think about what happens as you go through a typical corner under brakes. Usually you have to slow down first, this causes all the weight to shift to the front of a kart. Now keep that point in mind as we go through this because weight shifting is the key making this trick work.
Now because the weight shifts forward the back gets light, and this takes your rear traction away. Losing rear traction makes it difficult for you to get back onto the gas. That’s because if you try to accelerate before you have rear traction, (rear downforce) you will slide. And as a rule, sliding is slow.
To fix this problem my advice to new drivers is not to accelerate too early. I tell them, “wait until you reach the apex before getting on the gas again.”. This is a sure fire way to avoid sliding and to maintain maximum traction through a turn. It lets you approach a turn at maximum braking power, then gradually transition through the middle of the turn by coasting to the apex. When the front of your kart hits the apex, you can get back on the gas and rocket out.
This will be fast for a newer driver, but it is not the FASTEST way through a turn.
How to make your straights longer and hit higher top speeds.
Okay so we know that under brakes our weight has shifted to the front and we have diminished rear traction as we enter the turn. This is typical of a high speed turn that requires straight line braking. To compensate we are delaying our acceleration so that our rear can gain downforce again. So here is the trick.
BLIP THE ACCELERATOR before applying the acceleration.
Blip once. or blip twice. THEN Squeeze slow and smooth back onto the accelerator.
By blipping on briefly you achieve several things. The short burst will momentarily return power to the rear of your kart and balance it out again. But by coming off the gas instead of holding it down you will stop the power and the kart will be able to grab traction before it starts to slide.
Now here’s the magic of this. Because you now have traction you can get back on the gas earlier! And because you can get on the gas earlier your acceleration zones are extended. This is why we can say your straights are longer. The advantage to this is that you can reach a higher top RPM and higher top speed.
When applying this trick, after some practice, you will feel the weight of the kart shift towards the rear. It becomes a timing thing. I usually count in my mind, “one and squeeeeeeeze”.
You can experiment with this and try different techniques.
The goal is to allow yourself to get back onto the gas as early as a kart length or more earlier.
Conclusion, introducing the “Double Blip”
So what we have described is what we call around our local track, “The double blip”. The idea is to give yourself a quick short burst of power before you try to re-apply the acceleration during the exit of a turn. Give it a go. I’ve used this trick for years to dominate the racetracks that I visit. It works for me, and will work for you.
Correct hand position can make the difference between being stable and consistent and all over the place. But what IS the correct hand position?
Correct Hand Position
Over the years I have noticed many drivers use different techniques to manage their steering and body position. Some pull at the steering some push, some lean in and others lean out.
Now as for hand position some people say your hands should be at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, but I find in a rental kart you’re not always able to reach this far because the seat is set so far back. For this reason I set my hands at 9 and 3.
I think the important thing is that you’re consistent because I have seen some drivers who are very fast who set their hands at 8 and 4, take Adam Kellerman for example, who is arguably one of the fastest indoor kart drivers in USA.
Now when you consider the actual geometry and mechanics of the kart, I think there is a clear optimal method to position yourself for corners and braking. When steering, Pushing with the outside hand, should be more favorable than pulling with the inside hand. So hands above 9 and 3 should win.
The reason it’s important is that we want to help the kart chassis flex (although indoor karts tend not to flex much at all). The idea is to bring the inside front wheel down and to create cross tension between the front and rear wheels. This causes the kart to have better traction.
Is it a huge advantage? Probably not, but a lower inside front wheel and lower outside rear wheel gives you a small advantage that will add up over a session. And everything adds up.
So what are your thoughts on this, where do you hold your hands?
Over the years I have considered at depth, what makes the difference between the fastest kart racers and the rest of the drivers? One afternoon a thought came to mind…
Here’s a question for you.. “What is the difference between a drunk driver and a sober driver?”
How about …
These give us 4 strategic dimensions to work on your kart racing.
Improve Stability and Balance through posture and mechanics.
Improve Timing, through track awareness and timing techniques
Improve effect of bad reflexes through track awareness, timing and racing lines.
Develop race craft through tricks and techniques to passing. (better judgement)
Now that we have some targets we can think about exercises that we can develop to work on each area. Note that not every dimension requires us to be on the track. We could work on timing and balance in a numerous ways. If you get creative you can really open your possibilities.
There are many subtle little tricks we can learn to develop small advantages within each strategic dimension, these little advantages accumulate to become an overwhelming edge that bring consistent speed and position in race situations.
I wont go into detail on each dimension but if you are looking for areas that you can develop to improve your ability then these are 4 areas to begin.
I will say, how you sit, how you turn, how you use the steering and brakes. How you try to use timing instead of reflexes, how you use your eyes and how much you try to prepare in advance and pre-empt the track ahead. All of these things accumulate into an accumulation of advantage.
This makes the difference between driving something like a drunk driver vs driving like a well balanced driver who knows in advance what is coming.
Sliding: It looks cool, feels fast, but the truth is, it is slower than molasses and is a sure fire sign of an inexperienced racer.
Fix the slide, and it’s the surest way to beat all your buddies, qualify for advanced status, and challenge the veterans for fast lap honors.
Added Bonus! This applies to real cars as well.
Why is slding slow?
Indoor karting is all about managing a very small amount of energy, because you have very little horsepower in your engine you can only build your energy up slowly. Once you have momentum you have to bring that energy into a turn, carry it through the turn as you rotate the kart and then make use of whatever you have left on the exit of the turn. Every little bit makes a difference because if you can save energy in a turn then you need less energy to get back up to top speed.
Sliding throws your energy and momentum away in the turn.
After a slide, on the exit of the turn, you have to kind of start all over again building up your momentum energy.
If you slide, fast drivers will just drive around you like you are parked still, and in many cases a slider WILL be parked still.
There are 3 types of slide. 1. The Entry slide 2. The Middle slide 3. The Exit slide.
Just about all drivers are guilty of losing speed at some time to these three types of slide, even the pros. But here’s what you need to know to fix them.
By Entry, Middle and Exit, we are talking about corner phases.
In the image above we are approaching from the left and exiting on the right.
It is important to start thinking about how each phase also has an optimal assigned purpose, and although they seem obvious they have profound consequences on your ability to be fast.
Goals for the Entry.
Our assigned purpose is to SLOW DOWN! We do NOT want to also be doing anything in the middle and exit that causes us to slow down, we want ALL decreases in speed adjustment to happen in the entry phase.
Goals for the Middle turn.
Our purpose is to Balance, or to get control of the kart and spread the forces evenly between the front and rear tires. This will let us maximize the momentum and lock the kart to the ground without sliding. This sets us up for the next phase. It is not so much about acceleration here, as it is about balance, many pros only coast through this phase and wait wait wait for balance before trying to accelerate out. Remember if you are doing it right, you are already at the limit of traction here.
Goals for the Exit.
We want to be doing things to Accelerate us. As a base line, until you get the hang of it, you should wait until you have passed the very middle “apex” of the turn, which is about when you pass the middle of the inside bumper, before you start to apply the gas. Do this and you will always be balanced before you accelerate. And Don’t rush it! Squeeze on easy and steady.
Fixing The Entry Slide. This is a slide that begins on the entry, it might carry on through the middle and into the exit, but it begins on entry.
On Entry we need to SLOW DOWN. Seems obvious right? But it is NOT just braking, there are actually several things things you can do to slow down, whether you know it or not, many drivers ALSO do these slow down things in the other phases of the turn, and this is where the mistakes begin that lose you speed. These are ALL the slowing actions…
Letting off on the gas
Turning the wheel MORE into the turn, (includes wiggling your hands when IN the turn)
Sliding the rear
Note that each idea has different degrees of slowing potential, so the transition times can be gentle or violent. And in general we want our transitions to be precise, but smooth and gradual, and where possible as gentle as handling a vial of anthrax.
So in an ideal situation, ALL your slowing actions happen in the ENTRY phase of the turn.
For example “Turning the wheel MORE into the turn”, you only want to be adding steering when you are in the entry phase, if you are adding more steering in the middle and exit phase then you are making a mistake that is slowing these phases. If you think carefully about what you are doing in turn where you seem to be slow, you can find these mistakes on your own.
The second goal of the entry is to get your kart SET for the turn, in an optimal way. In almost every situation, with very very rare exceptions (which won’t matter until you are seasoned pro), you should be LEANING OUT OF A TURN – NOT INTO A TURN! And you do this on the straight before the entry – NEVER after you have turned the wheel in, always before. Take my word for it, it’s critical to speed in an indoor kart. There are very real reasons for this that any pro can explain to you.
If you slide beginning on entry, it almost always just means you are coming in too hot, or braking too late. Generally here we mean your rear wheels are sliding. It is possible that your front wheels are sliding too, but generally this does not happen until mid turn. It’s the same cause though, coming in too hot. So start slowing down earlier!
The fastest deceleration will happen in straight lines, so in general if you want to brake late and more effectively, you should look for ways to brake in straight lines BEFORE you turn the wheel. You have rear brakes so lean backwards when you brake to put your weight on the rear – YES it makes a difference – the easy way is to lift and keep your head up high when you apply the brakes.
Fixing The Exit Slide. This is a rear slide that begins on the exit, after a stable entry and a stable mid turn entry.
Before we discuss the middle slide, we will look at the most common error, the exit slide.
Exit slide almost always means you are getting on the gas too early, but it can also mean you are offline and turning in too early. In general though, with even a little practice we can make any line stable with the right foot and hand work, so the exit slide can be a little deceiving when you are chasing the last .100 seconds. Even being slightly off line you can still qualify if you fix this one, you just won’t beat the fast guys until you fix the line.
So if sliding on exit, the first thing to try is to just get on the gas later. And the next thing to ask is, “Should I turn in later?”. You will know if you need a later turn in, because the other drivers will seem slow on the entry but pull away from you on the exit while you are still stuck trying to turn.
If you find you can not get full throttle until you are way past the middle of the turn, then you DEFINITELY have a bad line. You need to turn into the turn later, so delay your entry a bit and wait a bit more before you turn in. Start by deciding EXACTLY where you will turn in, and make sure you can hit that spot consistently. Then make adjustments, if you think you need to get on the gas earlier, move your turn in point forward by about 3 inches at a time, until it feels right.
Remember now you might need to slow down on the entry a little bit more to make it work. Don’t let that bother you, as any pro will tell you, the secret trick is to be SLOW IN and FAST OUT. As you will soon learn, fast in and fast out, generally doesn’t work, because it places you too close to the limits and messes up the balance and transition phases. Fast in-fast out strategies are very inconsistent and unstable, and the regular mistakes result in catastrophic loss of speed. Also the only way to make fast in fast out work, is to drive a big wide sweeping line, which makes the track so much longer, that you never make up for the time lost. That’s when you experience the feel of drivers pulling away from you in turns while you are still stuck rotating in the turn.
Fixing the Middle Phase Slide. This is a slide that begins after you have slowed, are approaching the apex and getting ready for the exit.
Take note of the shape of the driving line in our diagram, note that it arcs more in the Entry, then it opens out in the Exit phase and is almost straight in the exit. This is the classic slow in fast out line, with a slightly late apex.
Remember TURNING INTO a turn slows you down a little, so TURNING OUT should speed you up a little. Note the shape of the arc through the middle, it almost holds steady through the middle, without increasing, while it starts to open at the apex.
If your entry was stable and you start to slide in the middle, it could be several reasons, but generally it means you did not get set up for the turn early enough, and you are still trying to make radical inputs.
In general you should be all set by the middle, and not need to be slowing down or speeding up, or changing lines. You should be holding steady and either coasting or making very very very subtle movements to maintain control and balance.
The reason coasting the middle works so well, is that during your entry phase a lot of the weight is thrown to the front of the kart, which makes the rear of the kart light. You have almost no traction at all in the rear, if you are doing things right. By coasting, the weight gently returns to the rear wheels and evenly distributes between front and rear wheels, giving you maximum rubber to carry the turn. As you begin to release the steering input more weight shifts to the rear and front pressure drops and the rear tires are given downforce to accelerate you out.
Hit the gas too early, before that weight has balanced, and you lose the back end (slide). OR another type of problem can happen, called the push, because the back plants and the front gets TOO light, you lose front steering. OR another problem called the BIND, where the back wheels plant – the weight shifts rearward and all four wheels fight causing a braking effect as you try to accelerate out. SOLUTION: Be patient – wait for the balance.
As you become a pro, you will learn to develop ‘the feel’ to be able to push the limits, and there definitely *tricks* that can be taught to cheat the balance, but it all begins with mastering the balance in the middle through coasting first.
Review of kart sliding problems and solutions
1. ENTRY SLIDE – COMING IN TOO HOT – SLOW DOWN MORE!! – BRAKING TOO LATE – SLOW DOWN EARLIER
2. MIDDLE SLIDE – OFF BALANCE – COAST MORE – ADJUST YOUR SPEED EARLIER**
3. EXIT SLIDE – GETTING ON THE GAS TOO EARLY – PATIENCE – OFFLINE – APEX LATER
Remember the purpose of each phase Entry = slow down Middle = Balance Exit = GO GO GO
Advanced TIP: Middle slide often happens because we are able to get into a corner with stability, but then in the middle suddenly realize we need to make an adjustment. Already being at the limit, even with a slight throttle blip or fractional twitch of our steering, we lose traction slightly. If you find consistent mid turn instability, begin by asking yourself what the adjustment is that is causing it, and then resolve to do that adjustment earlier, even if you don’t think you need it yet. You almost always find after this modification to your line that you get more acceleration through a turn. This will really help you in a sweeper turn.
If you find Indoor Karting fun, and want to learn from the best drivers, come and jump into the racing leagues, they’re open to all skill levels and you are guaranteed to get faster.
When I first hit a go kart track I had challenged another driver to a race. Little did I know back then, but this guy had raced for years in the Skip Barber series and had even trained with Bob Bundurant.
At that time I took great pride in my ability to be able to control a car under a slide. I thought this was some kind of skill.
What happened next was a complete embarrassment, the guy began to destroy me and lap me like I was a grandma on sleeping pills.
I was completely confused but amazed, how was he doing this? Why was he able to do this? What the hell was going on?
That began a lifelong journey for me, I was making pretty much all of the mistakes I mention here. But I’m going to save you the years it took me to learn about them.
In this article we look at 10 mistakes that kart racers make when trying to drive fast. There are many things that can slow us down in a kart, but eliminate these and you’ll be much faster in no time.
Mistake #1 Sliding
A cardinal rule of karting is that “Sliding is Slow, Traction is Fast”. There are many reasons why we slide and we will look at some of those here. The problem is that when we slide it practically puts the brakes on the go kart. You could almost say that the ‘anti slide’ design is a safety feature of the design, but it’s actually a design intended to allow a go kart to be faster in corners.
A go kart has a solid rear axle, and that means that both rear wheels must always rotate at the same speed. That’s a problem in corners because the arc travelled by the inside wheel must always be less than the arc travelled by the outside wheel. And so because the wheels are the same size, the left rear and right rear tires go into a battle for control when in corners.
In a standard car this is handled by a mechanical marvel known as the differential. The differential allows each wheel to be able to travel independently of each other.
And so the inside wheel of your car can travel more slowly than the outside wheel. But a go kart can not do what the differential allows and if both wheels are flat to the ground then one of them must act something like a brake, skipping and losing traction.
To facilitate this the go kart is designed to ‘tripod’ or tip over onto 3 wheels, where the inside rear wheel lifts off the ground. This allows the inside rear to spin freely while the outside rear handles traction and rotation of the corner. A go kart is able to go quickly through a turn. because of that inside rear wheel lift.
But now consider what happens when the kart slides. That inside rear wheel that is lifted into the air, all of a sudden, comes slapping down onto the ground. At the same time the kart twists and the rear steps out. The rotation of the kart must now deal with two rear tires in battle because when they are flat the kart wants to go in a straight line, not turn.
All of this effectively puts the brakes onto the kart and it is not uncommon to see a kart come to a dead stop after a slide. It is also not uncommon to hear the engine bog down under load as the kart struggles to complete the turn.
Even a very slight slide is going to place a minor braking effect on the kart and throw energy to the wind. At the upper levels of racing it is often just a battle to see who micro-slides the least as they push their karts to edge of the limits.
Mistake #2 Turning and braking at the same time when under maximum brake.
To facilitate this rear wheel lifting the kart is also designed to shift the weight forward while under brakes and to lift the rear inside wheel off the ground when you are turning slightly.
When under a lot of braking pressure BOTH wheels actually become light. This creates a problem that can take half of your braking power away when you turn the wheel.
Now while trail braking (turning and braking at the same time) is an advanced braking technique, many drivers don’t know how to do it correctly and end up coming into turns way too fast and spinning out of control.
The correct way to brake at maximum force is to lift your head up, lean back, and brake in a straight line. Note how the back wheels become light and effectively lift off the ground when under heavy braking.
Mistake #3 Getting on the gas too early
So now that we have established that sliding is the enemy and why let’s consider what happens when you get on the gas too early. In a nutshell, you slide.
The reason is because the forward weight bias created under braking needs time to settle the rear wheel down force again. Usually this is handled by coasting for a short while to allow the back wheels to seat themselves.
As a general rule you should wait until you reach the apex (The middle of the turn) before you attempt to reapply the gas.
Consider the kart in the middle of the image here. The rear wheels are still slightly light and effectively without downforce, while in the middle of a turn and before reaching the apex. If you try to apply gas at this stage of the karts imbalance you will induce a slide.
The solution is to wait, and don’t get back on the gas too early.
Mistake #4 Braking Too Late
There is a common misconception amongst intermediate drivers that the trick to being faster than others is to apply the brakes later than others. Indeed it has the potential to make your straights longer, so why not?
The problem is that it increases the forward bias and jarres the weight transfer violently when you slam on the brakes at the end of a straight. It becomes impossible to maintain control and balance after a certain point.
The best way to brake is to find a moderate point at which you can begin squeezing and slowly increase the pressure with a smooth consistent build up. Then use timing and a “brake point” at which you begin to control your speed into the turn. If you find you are coming in too fast, (because you have a loss of control on entry) then move your brake point forward and brake earlier. If you find you can easily take the turn then you can move your brake point forward.
By dialing your brake point in like this, you can eventually have perfect brake control on every turn.
Mistake #5 Getting off the gas too late
This mistake is somewhat related to mistake #4. Before you can brake you will want to get off the gas. You dont want to be braking and accelerating at the same time either. So at some point you need to make the transition from racing and accelerating to decelerating. Sometimes we have to coast before we make the transition to braking.
In some turns we dont brake, we only lift off the gas and coast for a while before getting back onto the gas. A common place where this kind of mistake occurs is in sweeper turns. Sweeper turns are deceptive because as you enter them you are at no risk of sliding, but as you get more into the turn the lateral forces build up and eventually you have to release the gas or suffer a loss of control.
But it is often the release of the gas that actually causes the loss of control. This is because as you lift off the gas while in the sweeper your weight shifts forward and the rear wheels lose their downforce. This is the classic case of ‘snap oversteer’ and it is caused by getting off the gas too late.
On the contrary the faster driver lifts off the gas early and as he enters the sweeper for a brief moment. This causes the kart to dip forward and tilt over, establishing firm front and rear outside grip first. Next the fast driver reapplies the gas as others with less experience have to lift and lose control.
As a result the pro travels at full acceleration through zones that others are sliding and scrambling to maintain control.
Mistake #6 Leaning Into Turns
This is a very common problem of new drivers and even some more experienced drivers. As you go through a turn the inertia is going to want to throw you to the outside of the turn, so why not fight it like a motorcycle rider and lean over and into the turn?
There are several problems with this mistake. First the rear inside wheel has more trouble lifting, so we force the rear wheels to stay flat. That causes the binding effect and drag of the rear wheels. It also hinders the kart from gaining maximum roll speed through the turn.
The next problem is that the lateral forces created by your body have a tendency to push the wheels outwards, this makes you more susceptible to sliding.
Here is what happens when you lean out of a turn. You assist the rear inside wheel to lift. You also change the lateral down force so that instead of pushing the weight laterally you push down on top of the wheel. This gives you extra grip.
The important thing to remember though is that you MUST lean out BEFORE you enter the turn. If you start to lean when you are in the turn or going into the turn then usually this is too late, and will upset the kart balance.
So if you are going to lean then do it early, while you are still on the straight.
Mistake #7 Not Knowing and Not Looking Where You’re going
This is a common mistake amongst newer drivers who tend to look either directly ahead or directly at the driver who is just in front of them.
There are always very specific places on the track where you need to focus your attention and your eyes. Those points are your apexes, or the mid points of your turns. You need to know where those points are down to the fraction of an inch if possible.
Mike Smith (US indoor national karting champion) used to be fond of saying, ‘the kart will go where your eyes are looking’. That means if you’re staring at the kart in front of you, and you’re faster than them, you’re either going to hit them or hit what they hit. If you’re looking at the corner, you’re probably going to go around the driver in front of you and not into them.
In the image below the cross hair shows where the apex is for this turn and this is exactly where your eyes need to be. The white line on the track also shows an imaginary path, this is what you literally have to paint onto the track with your imagination so you can drive your wheels over the line. We call this the racing line and it is basically built from the apex and turn in point.
The important thing is to find your apex and to focus your eyes on that point from as early as you can possibly see it.
Mistake #8 Turning in too early or too late.
Another name for this is ‘racing into turns’. This is a common problem among new drivers who are in the ‘racing’ mode. You can imagine the situation, there’s a race on and in the hurry the driver turns in early.
In the image below the red line shows the consequence of turning in early, while the white line shows the preferred line. By turning in early the exit is choked and the driver is out of position for the next turn, which is now extremely difficult to take quickly. The white line driver on the other hand has sacrificed his entry for an accelerated next turn. These kinds of trade offs are considered and made on every track. There is a perfect optimal turn in point at every turn.
Mistake #9 Moving your hands around while in a turn.
This is a common mistake made by drivers who like to “drive by feel”. I often see the front wheels of these drivers flapping around like fish. The only thing I can liken this to is driving a ‘nautical mile’.
Now imagine for a moment that you entered a turn within a split hair of losing traction, you are finely riding the absolute limit of possibility. That is the optimal fastest way to travel a turn. But now what happens when you start quivering your hands around? Those micro movements will displace the weight and push you over the limit.
For this reason you should always look for a way to be able to take a turn by holding your hands steady on one long sweeping optimal arc. You might have to make some adjustments on entry or slowly unwind your exit but the main highest G force portion of the turn should be made and held with one steady input. This will stop you from sliding.
Mistake #10 Trying to drive by reflex and not timing.
Another problem with driving by feel is that the standard human reflexes have about a 200th of a second response time. Even in a relatively slow indoor kart, and a top speed of around 15 meters per second you will travel 3 meters before you can even twitch a response to what you are feeling.
That might as well be a mile off mark. For this reason driving is more about timing than it is reflexes. This means you need to get your bearings early, on straights before turns, and as much in advance as you can.
Always look for ways you can use timing rather than reflexes. One way to do that is to look for marks and markers around the track that you can use for timing. Cracks in the ground, paint and objects on the sides (preferably objects that wont move). This is a cheats way of staying on line, but it works very well.
I remember once while racing in the 24 hour enduro of Charlotte at VLK raceway. I was botching one of the turns every time, and I had a teammate on the radio with me asking “what’s up with that turn?”. I was in the seat for an hour and for the first 15 minutes missed the apex just about every time.
There was just something about that turn that made it impossible to naturally hit the apex.
So I started to time my turn in point by using the tires on the entry as markers. I chose a tire that was somewhere about right and decided I would turn in at that tire. I came through the turn and early apexed. That’s okay I decided next turn I would turn in at the next tire.
Again I came through the turn and early apexed, but not as bad this time. I moved my marker ahead one more tire.
This time it was different, I came through the turn and nailed the apex perfect. I kept my focus on that turn in point marker for the rest of the session and nailed the apex perfectly for the rest of the hour.
That’s how you use timing to beat feel and beat reflexes.
That’s the first 10 mistakes that slow you down in a go kart, that come to my mind. Almost all of them are basically related to avoiding the slide and staying on the driving line. I hope these ideas will help you to find speed on your track.
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.