Simple tips to help you win your team’s go-karting event
Indoor go-karting has long been a popular team-building event for companies, but who cares about bonding… it’s all about winning, and here’s how.
TO FIND OUT how to make your workmates jealous of your track skills we visited Melbourne’s newest go kart centre, Hi Voltage Karts in Ravenhall, about 15-minutes drive west from the West Gate Bridge. Hi Voltage run electric karts – more on that later – but they’re also quite focused on providing a challenging experience, then coaching drivers to perform at their best. The team has seen thousands of people do their very best to win, so their advice is worth taking:
- Look well ahead – so you can see where the next corner is, so you can adjust the kart’s attitude and line. This also helps you avoid accidents. Get your head on a swivel!
- Ask for advice on the racing line – it’s not obvious which corners to go wide on, or keep tight unless you’re a highly experienced karter, and most of your ‘expert’ mates won’t be. Ask the staff for help, and here’s the big tip…with the right lines you can often be quicker than more skilled drivers who aren’t taking an efficient way around the track. I slashed over a second off my best time just by asking for advice (and then following it!)
- Don’t brake too late – smoothly release the brakes before the corner, then drive around the corner. Only accelerate as you’re unwinding the steering wheel. Going in too hot and fast saves a little time into the corner…but wastes far, far more on the exit and on the way to the next bend. This is also known as ‘slow in, fast out’.
- Learn from session to session – most kart events have multiple runs, so after your time on track analyse what you did right and wrong. Focus on just one or two things to fix for next time. Ask the staff to keep an eye on what you do and offer advice when you finish.
- Learn from others – every driver you see on the track will teach you something, whether they are faster or slower. If slower than you, work out why are you faster…and keep doing it! If faster than you then look at where they’re driving, and follow those lines. Ask them what they’re doing, and maybe how they got past you.
- Don’t battle for qualifying – kart events run qualifying where the fastest lap for each driver determines their grid position for the race, and a good grid position is critical if you want to win. So, back off, find your own space and focus on your lap instead of battling for non-existent positions which just slows you down.
- Consistency is king – in the race, it’s better to reel off several quick but not blinding laps rather than be on the limit every corner and make just a couple of mistakes which will take a long time to recover.
There’s way more to karting and driving fast than just a few tips, but that’ll do as a start. The next step is practice! To help, here’s four examples of what to do and not to do, based on Hi Voltage’s track map:
And here are those four sections, explained:
1. The green line is a mid-corner entry to the right-hander, having compromised the previous corner a bit. This means a wide radius turn can be made – that means fast – and yet a short, tight distance is travelled around the corner. In contrast, the red line is where you have gone in fast and deep on the previous corner, forcing a much wider line around this one, and that’ll hurt all the way through the right-hander down to the hairpin left which is #2 below. Slow in, fast out is the way to go, give up a little speed on one corner for more speed down the next straight.
2. Green slows down more and takes the left-hand corner tighter, exiting on the left, ready for another long full-throttle section around the right-hander down to #4. Red dives in faster, but takes a very long way around the corner. The title image for this post was taken at this corner, and you can see the second kart (driven by the track owner!) is taking the green line, tighter than the kart in front.
Everything Electric, and now go-karts too!
Hybrid and electric vehicles are here now, and they are becoming increasingly common even if Australia isn’t as keen on them as the rest of the world. Hi Voltage run purely electric karts, and these are quite different to the usual petrol models. They’re only 4kW vs the 6 or 7kW the petrols can deliver, and weigh around 275kg compared to the petrol at 110kg. So, horrible slugs you might think?
Not a bit of it. Electric motors develop a lot of torque (turning force) at very low engine speeds, so you get a definite feeling of torquey acceleration (we’ve covered why power has nothing to do with acceleration). These electric karts definitely feel quick, and to get a driver’s view we asked Matt, freshly crowned winner of his group’s event.
“I weigh 100kg. Petrol karts felt sluggish, so the little blokes zipped off. But these electric karts have more get up and go, quick acceleration. You put your foot down and it goes! With the petrol it had to think about it. I was also impressed with the grip, good braking and speed.”
So the electric karts are a far more equal playing field for drivers of different weights. That’s because they weigh much more, so the driver’s weight is a much smaller percentage of the overall mass. And there’s so much grunt you can’t go to full throttle out of corners anyway, regardless of weight. The Hi Voltage team say that guys weighing 130kg have won events, not something you see at many petrol kart races. The electric motors are simple and easy to maintain, so this also helps keep each kart consistent with every other, something that is the bane of every indoor kart racer.
Aside from being heavier and having a stronger engine at lower speeds, the electric karts also run a differential as opposed to the fixed axle on petrol karts. The reason is that the heavier electric kart cannot lift an inside wheel around a corner as the lighter petrols are designed to do. While heavier, one advantage of any electric vehicle is flexibility with battery weight distribution and in this case that means the kart’s centre of gravity is very low, and there’s a equal 50/50 side-to-side weight balance, something that’s much harder to achieve with petrol karts where the engine must be offset to one side. So with all these differences in design, there’s a different driving style too.
The open differential means that tighter lines can be taken at lower speed, and the torque of the electric engine means that there’s no need to keep revs up and high in the powerband. The weight of the kart means it cannot be thrown into corners, so what works is a very smooth style, and not being afraid of slowing the kart for tight lines. The Hi Voltage guys reckon it’s a bit like driving a petrol kart in the wet.
I had a drive, and I reckon they’re great fun, but different to, rather than better, than petrol karts. In favour of the electric go-karts; the lovely torquey feeling of acceleration and the subtle, creamy-smooth driving technique needed to coax the best from the kart, less “digital on the throttle” to borrow a Hi Voltage catchphrase. Many drivers will also appreciate the fact that the electrics are less fatiguing as they’re smoother, cleaner and quieter, sounding a bit like a small modern-day Formula 1 car which now use tiny engines and hybrid drives. There’s also no hot exhaust or exposed moving parts to worry about, so all you need to do is focus on your fun!
In favour of petrol go-karts; the noise, drama, mechanical involvement and relative roughness helps create a sensation of speed and excitement, and the lighter weight means you can more delicately balance the kart on the limit of grip. The thrill of a petrol engine reaching high revs cannot be equaled by electric vehicles even if the speed is the same.
Both types of karts can be rotated under brakes and if you really want to, thrown around. The electric karts can appear to understeer more because of the greater torque at low speed, and I did feel there was more higher-speed understeer than on the average petrol kart. That means you must be patient to pull the nose around and gently accelerate rather than rotate in and slam your right foot – there’s another good tip for your event, don’t get on the power too early! You’ll know if you do as you’ll need to wind more steering on after you accelerate, or come off the throttle after you’re started accelerating out of the corner.
We took a mix of drivers down to test the electric karts, and here’s some of their comments:
“I ended up backwards twice… think I braked while turning too much. These karts demand a lot of attention!”
“The acceleration feels faster than other karts. I know they’re heavier, but they feel light.”
“Wow…I used every muscle in my body! I had no idea what lines to take, but I learned. Really surprised at the grip, just holding on all the way around”.
The karts can operate for about 20 to 30 minutes which is good for around 30 to 40 laps when driven skillfully but conservatively at speed. Interestingly, a skilled driver and smooth driver uses less battery power than a less skilled one doing it all wrong, mostly turning the steering wheel too far, creating drag and then adding power to compensate, as well as slowing too much too often. When the driver lifts off the accelerator the battery recharges, but there’s no harvesting of energy from the brakes.
For the races laps are limited to 14, over which there is no drop off in performance, and then the karts require only about ten minutes to recharge. Each lap takes around 30-35 seconds so there’s about seven minutes of driving which doesn’t sound a lot, but anyone who has done any form of high-intensity driving (karting or otherwise) knows that it’ll feel like a lot longer. But after your kart – and you – have been recharged, you’ll want to get back out there and shave off those last few tenths of a second!