It’s that time of the year, where most of my autocross and road racing friends are packing up their cars for the fall and winter. During the ‘off season’, they would love to be able to get more practice time in, but when you’re running a club racer like a Spec Miata or a Spec Racer Ford, getting practice time is an incredibly expensive premium.
Very few people have the resources to simply rent a full-size track, afford transportation and manage the regular consumable costs in order to practice sufficiently between big races or during the winter months.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. A racing kart.
Now before we go any farther, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to convince you to quit car racing to come karting. (I mean, karting is awesome, but that’s not the point of this post.) What I’m trying to do is make you aware how useful a race kart can help you become a better and fitter car racing driver.
Whether you’re behind the wheel of a race kart or a race car, seat time is seat time. So the more you can get, the better.
You hear often that karting is the sport that gave some of the world’s best drivers their start into the larger motorsport world. What gets overlooked is the fact that karting is one of the most accessible forms of grassroots motorsport. The affordability to purchase, availability of track time and performance capability of a competition kart provide all drivers a potential opportunity to improve their driving skills, if they take proper advantage of it.
Competition karts are simple and affordable to maintain and run
Thanks to the scale of a racing kart, they are more affordable to purchase and maintain than your average club racecar. This allows you to spend less money on your vehicle purchase, and more towards being on the track practicing.
Depending on your class of kart, an average used kart can cost between $1500 – $6000. However, the performance envelope in what you’re purchasing is quite huge, between a 10 LO206 to a 45hp+ six speed shifter kart.
Let’s put the above into “car terms” for perspective. Just how it’s not required to have a Dodge Viper for a practice day track car to get seat time means that you don’t automatically need to go straight to a shifter kart to take advantage of the benefits of karting.
The world of karting can be wide and confusing when looking where to start. So for the purpose of this article, I’m going to direct ‘new’ people toward the LO206 entry-level package just to get them started as a useful practice tool for the winter season.
The LO206 is a four stroke engine package developed by Briggs and Stratton. It’s basically the ‘Spec Miata’ of the karting world. Each motor is hand assembled to tight tolerances by Briggs and Stratton in Milwaukee. It is then sealed before being shipped. If you’re looking for an affordable track day tool, the LO206 is incredibly simple to maintain, and has national level class racing if you’re interested in competing with it.
The LO206 is one of the most affordable racing packages you’re going to find in motorsport. Once you include the engine mount and a clutch, it’ll cost you about $1100. Typically, four-stroke karts do best on a softer chassis as it is more compliant for the low horsepower, so expect to pay about $1000-1500 for a used rolling chassis. A new set of tired generally runs just over $200 but you will find for training and conditioning you will be able to use older tires. For racing, Most LO206 series require a control tire to keep costs down, and a set of MG Red tires are about $230 dollars.
So, for $2800 dollars, you could have a competitive entry-level racing machine that allows you to practice at kart tracks all over the country. Of course, a larger budget can get you a faster race kart, but the LO206 shows how accessible getting into kart racing can be.
Track time at kart tracks is ample and affordable
For car racers, track time is normally the largest expense. Most car-racing tracks typically only have certain times of the year that they are available to allow club racers to use the track for practice days. The cost of track rental fees requires clubs to pull together large groups of people to divide up the costs to make it even relatively affordable.
Fortunately, the majority of kart tracks are run by local or regional karting clubs whose membership fees help to keep the track costs affordable. Karting tracks typically have longer seasonal calendars which they stay open, and practice fees are relatively inexpensive compared to even a HPDE track day.
Depending on the club, you’re looking at $60 or less dollars for a day of practice, compared to over $300 for a track day in a car. That is just a basic example, but simplistically that is a five times increase in the amount of seat time right there.
The performance capabilities of a racing kart are higher than most competitive racing cars.
One of the strongest reasons that a racing kart is such a good driver development tool is the level of performance such a small racing machine can deliver. A racing kart can place up to 2.5 to 3 lateral Gs on the driver in a corner, which is the performance level of some formula racecars. In more powerful karts, a full race session can be a true workout, especially to the uninitiated.
Due to the scale of the typical karting tracks, the sense of speed will feel faster than a comparable “big track”. The benefit of that is when you get back behind the wheel of your Spec Miata, your brain will have been trained to take in more information, which effectively ‘slows things down’ for you. This will give you a massive psychological advantage over your competitors, knowing that you physically can manage a much more intense racing environment than those around you.
Simply put, karting can become one of the best tools to improve your racing skills. Think about the bigger picture on how to maximize your practice time by leveraging karts and cars together. For a fraction of what you spend on your overall car racing budget, you will have access to a greater amount of track time, which will allow you to become a better driver.
After all, that’s what this game is all about.
Photo credits to Jacob Janders and Andrew Byrne.