x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pole Position: Racing karts are the first step on the ladder to F1

Specially designed, these karts handle much the same as a single-seater racing car on slicks, with its comparable power-to-weight ratio.

School careers advisers always tell pupils to find work experience, while the alternative to the academic route into some industries is an apprenticeship. In both cases, the pupil soon finds out if they've got what it takes to pursue a successful career in that particular environment.

Karting provides the perfect apprenticeship for young drivers considering a professional career in motor racing or motorsport engineering. The UAE now has six kart circuits - in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai. But we should differentiate between driving a rental kart and kart racing.

Rental karts are typically hired for 20 minutes for very little money and are great fun to drive. And when you're sitting two inches from the ground, even 30kph will seem very fast.

Recognised by their heavy four-stroke generator engines and all-round bumper bars, rental karts come in both adult and junior sizes and have been responsible for inspiring many youngsters to take up motor racing.

But whereas the simple rental kart has only three controls - a steering wheel plus accelerator and brake pedals - the racing kart is very different.

Lighter in weight, superior chassis design, softer tyres and more powerful engines mean that racing karts handle much the same as a single-seater racing car on slicks, with its comparable power-to-weight ratio. Driving one is an unbelievable experience, especially with a two-stroke engine producing about 25hp at more than 10,000rpm.

In addition, entering a kart race event run under the auspices of the CIK, the governing body, provides important experience of driver's briefings, dealing with strict safety rules and officialdom, and the rigours of practice sessions, qualification heats and finals.

But here's the thing. You can make more chassis adjustments on a racing kart than on most racing cars.

With race cars, you only have to manage understeer and oversteer. Karts don't have a differential, so they exhibit a third phenomena called binding. Trouble is, it takes time to gain the knowledge and experience to know how to use the kart's adjustability to your advantage. That's why the best drivers almost always have the most experienced fathers or mechanics. And that's a barrier to progress in the UAE as the fathers that have this knowledge are rare.

Tyres have the most bearing in terms of adjustments on competitiveness but there's so many factors, such as tyre pressures, tyre circumference, caster, toe, rear axle material and thickness, front and rear torsion bars, camber, front and rear track width, ground clearance, corner-to-corner weight, seat stiffness and position, seat stays, wheel rim material (aluminium versus magnesium) and gearing. Even the amount you tighten the bolts that hold your seat to the chassis will have a noticeable difference (to the experienced driver). And by the way, it's pretty normal at the higher level in Europe to take at least three engines to an event. Do this for two or three seasons and you'll be ready for a single-seater.

Pole Position is written by Barry Hope, a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSport Racing.