Tuesday, May 27, 2008

(16) Not quite sure people understand...

A lot of people I've been talking to don't quite understand what a kart is. It seems like the first mention of "kart" conjures up images of carnival go-karts with 2 horsepower. If you've been following this blog, then you're probably a "petrol-head" and you probably have an idea. But a lot of people seem to think that it's kids stuff. Not dangerous. Not fast. Not serious. "It's just the baby steps in motorsport". You could say that, an you'd be half right. It is the intro, the beginning, but that doesn't make it laughable. I'll explain why.

Obviously from the pictures I've posted they look different. Being mostly because they don't really have a body. Which is fantastic because you can see every component. The steering, the chain, the brakes, the linkage, etc. There are disadvantages, too. I mean, the gas tank is right in your crotch, your elbow is an inch from the intercooler, and when you're driving fast on a warm day, bits of the front tires fly off and hit you in the face, along with all the rocks and anything else.

But the other difference is performance. Obviously, being so light, the karts are pretty quick off the line. To give you an idea a 2007 Honda Civic Si does 0-60 in about 6.8 seconds. Now that's not slow, but it's not fast either. The karts will do 0-60 in about 5.5 seconds (the new Rotax motors have more torque and are quicker than the old Parillas). That's getting there. But acceleration isn't the most impressive stat, oh no. That's the brakes.

The karts are equipped with a single brake disk on the rear axle. Doesn't sound like much. I mean, it's not even independent to each wheel. And each rear wheel is linked by what can only be described as a steel girder. The Ford Model A has a similar set up. But it's amazing what they can get out of that girder.

To give an example, most cars can, on average, pull to a stop in around 250 feet from 60 MPH. A Chevy Corvette Z06 (the hot one), with it's leaf springs (again, Model A territory), can pull up from 60 MPH in 108 feet. Now that's amazing. The car pulls about 0.7 G when it's stopping that fast. That's enough to make your face hurt.

But what is absolutely astounding, is that the kart can pull up from 60 MPH in around 30 feet. With one disk! I'm not smart enough to do the calculations, but it's enough that if I wasn't standing on the brake pedal, I would go flying out of the seat (because there's no seat belt). I have to really brace myself on the steering wheel to keep myself in the seat. That means I'm pulling well over 1 G under braking. If I wasn't wearing a helmet, my face would come off.

Then there's the cornering speed. We race a small, tight track. I doubt even a Formula race car could get around it faster than we do, even if it did fit. Even so, we're traveling at around 30 MPH through these turns on average. That doesn't sound like much. But if you took an ordinary road car, like a Miata or something like that, you'd have to slow to about 10 or 15 MPH to make these turns. The track is truly minuscule.

But why am I writing all this? Just take a ride for yourself on the National track.

That guy's got front and rear brakes and it's a shifter so he can stop faster and accelerate a bit quicker than us in the sprints. But that's basically it. You see now why I've warmed up to karting? I thought it would be kids stuff, too, before I got involved.

Monday, May 19, 2008

(15) The Game Plan (ver. 1.0)

During the last week or so, I've been submerging myself in information. I'm basically just munching on any kind of basic racing info I can lay my hands on. In the past week I've gleaned how to (more or less):

* Build a sponsorship package and apply sponsorship to cars/jackets/suits/helmets/trailers, including where to get decals and patches made.

* Buy/build a racing car, and the various prices of each class in each sanctioning body (SCCA, NASA, etc).

* Get a racing license and race in the appropriate series.

* Put together a functioning racing team and logistics (trailer, transport, etc etc etc).

And any other scrap of basic knowledge I can find. The internet is not the best place for racing info.

Now obviously I don't need any of this info just yet, considering I have 5 more races and months to go before I need to leave school and play with the big boys. Doesn't hurt to have a plan though, does it?

A long time ago in a post now buried under the archival wastes you see on the right side of your screen, I said "I don't want to spend more time in karting than I have to". That still holds true, but the context may have changed a bit. I'm willing to spend a few years in karting if I have to. The truth is, I can't see any other form of motorsport being galaxies more fun than karting. Yeah, I have no doubt that shooting down the pipe at 170 MPH in an F3000 car is a lot more exciting than our measly 80 MPH sprints. But the basics are all there in karting; speed, competition, the lot.

What I'm saying is I'd be willing to spend a bit more time in karting than I had originally hoped to get my name established.

I still don't know how much professional karting drivers are paid, but I'm sure there is money to be had at the top levels. That's my main problem right now: money.

Karting is cheap. A starting sportscar series is not. From what I can gather, a good, winning car (used) for the US Touring Car Championship in NASA is anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 dollars. That's a lot. A year-old 125cc Honda-engined sprint kart, though, is only around 5,000 dollars.

At this point I have to assume that I can't get sponsors. Not big ones. Not enough to buy a big Mustang or a Corvette or something. Besides, you can't go to a sponsor and say "I'll put your name on the car if I get enough money to buy it". That's not good enough. Sponsors want to see the car, see where their name is going to be.

So, back to my main point. I need karting to get my name out, and start winning. That will bring the sponsors and money enough (hopefully) to catapult me into professional sportscars or prototypes or something like that. I figure anywhere from 2 to 5 years in karting.

I still haven't got a clue, though. I'm still a rookie.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

(14) Movin' up... or down.

Really good day today.

I got put in Group B, and from now on the groups will be determined by races I think. So guys that are having trouble in A will move down to B, and vice versa.

Standing on pit row, having strange delusions of being a Power Ranger.

At the start the weather was pretty much perfect, the track was relatively warm. Had some good warmup sessions and corrected a lot of little mistakes that had been growing on my laps like a nasty fungus or something.

Early in the day in one of the first races a ProKarter turned over in the corner we call "Kramer" (cause it's just whacko, hairpin, downhill and off-camber, meaning the pavement slopes away from the apex). From what it looked like to me, he rolled over another kart's wheel and flipped upside down, where he skidded over the curbing on his back and head. He walked out of it. Then it happened again with another group in the first corner. I didn't see that one, but I heard he was okay.

For qualifying I set out on a great warmup and had some really good runs. We were running the "National" track again. Personally, I like the other one better (I think it's called "International").

Waving "bye" as I leave pit lane for qualifying.

I qualified 4th with a time of 57.086 seconds.

The "Best Speed" result seems borked on that site. I assume it means "average speed", because we easily reach 70 miles an hour down the straight. But even for average speed it's off because on the timing sheets we got at the track I was doing over 43 MPH average, but the site says I was doing 30 MPH average.

Well whatever. On to the race.

We had to sit and wait for the ProKart guys to finish their race. Unfortunately, a PKC guy turned over in the first corner and the race was stopped. So we waited longer.

As I said before, I qualified 4th, which I was really pleased with. I had a good start, gained a spot to 4th ( I technically crossed the start line in 5th, almost nose to nose with my line partner but just a bit behind), then had a massive slide, and I can't remember where. Which is a shame because it's a mistake I wouldn't like to repeat. The first half of the race was kind of a blur, as I was fighting off a lot of guys. We were all in a real tight bunch during the first half.

But, my consistency kept falling and I kept dropping back. I started getting my act together about two thirds of the way through, but the damage was done. I finished in 7th. But I only lost 3 positions, so it's not that bad. Not bad at all for my 2nd race. And I got my time down to 56.9, so yay for that.

Supposedly next month they're going to run the Reverse National, and they haven't done that before. So with new chassis, and a new track it's going to be a real test of our adaptability and since no one's driven the track before there will be a lot hanging on how you are as a driver in general. There should be a lot of different lines and tactics being used.

I'll post again when pictures come in, probably in a few days.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

(13) Ooooooo....

It's the dreaded 13th post.


But not really. Actually, I'm fine. Unless you count the possibility of breaking my neck in a horrible (but epic) kart crash this weekend. But that wouldn't be very nice for the Jim Russel staff, so I think I'll refrain.

But a big ugly blob of bad luck did actually strike today; the new chassis weren't ready for this practice (or this race).

So, I just settled for getting better in general. And I ended up taking a second off my time (now down to 57.2 seconds on the National track). Right now I'm about mid-pack in terms of timing. The really quick guys are doing 55-56 seconds, but there aren't many of them, about 4 or 5. Most of the guys are 57-58.

My only slow lap of the day was just a hair over a minute, but that was because the track was cold, the tires were cold, the air was cold, the brakes were cold, and I was cold. Basically, it was cold. I was having to brake twice as far from the corners than I usually do. Then, since the track and tires were cold, I had to take the corners themselves at a slower speed. AND add the fact that I was in a kart I wasn't familiar with, and the brakes felt weird (not because they were cold, that would just be silly).

Overall though, a really good session. I didn't leave the pavement once (though very nearly a couple of times), had a couple of spins, and also a couple of scares when the kart went sideways at 60 MPH from hitting the curbing and bouncing during a full-throttle corner. But I held it. Yeah, I'm cool. *puts on dark sunglasses*

I did end up switching karts from 41 to good ole faithful 42, which, after driving a number of the smaller karts (41, 42, 43 and 44), I think I like 42 and it's bling-bling chrome pedals the most. 42; the meaning of life. A coarse engine, kick-in-the-back powerband, sharp turn-in, and most of all (for me), informative brakes.

Each kart is different. For instance, 41 had a really smooth throttle and the powerband was somewhat laid-back, but the turn-ins were a little more sluggish and the brakes were... numb. I think of that kart now as kind of the lay-z-boy of the pack. Not really me. I mean, I am a lazy boy, but not really my personality. It's not a slow kart, all the karts are the same in terms of speed, but that's just what it feels like to drive.

I like 42 because it's really kind of... poised. Tippy-toe. Light on it's feet. But with anger problems. The powerband kick-in is comparatively barbaric. It's like being punched in the kidney; exciting, but a bit sudden.

It's not as big a difference as I'm making it sound. It's like, if you write a line of "K"s on paper, then compare each and find the differences. Subtle, but there.

One of the instructors, Wes, is a national kart champion and he was out on the track presumably testing a kart. He overtook me and I was excited to find that I was keeping up with him. Only, 3 corners afterward he took off and just rocketed away. I guess I'm not quite that fast yet.

After the session was over, we (yes, we; remember, I don't have a license), went over to a shop in Novato about 5 minutes away and picked up an entry-level set of gloves and a suit. I like'em.

Anyways, I'll probably post again on Sunday, after the race and I'll try to get a bunch of pictures. They'll have some professional photographers there taking pictures of the race, hopefully I'll be in some (they didn't get me last time). Remember, it's not just us JR students that race, they have a bunch of different classes in the NorCal ProKarts.