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.