02 Jun BEHIND THE SCENES: KARTING
Kart racing, or simply karting (don’t call them go-karts!) began more than 50 years ago as an entry-level sport for primitive little vehicles devoid of suspension or bodywork, driven by Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engines, but has developed into one of the most competitive and tightly controlled disciplines in the world, catering for drivers from five to 75 and producing the closest racing of any motorsport category.
It’s run on tight, technical circuits, typically about a kilometre in length, with no straights to speak of. This places the emphasis on driver skill and the agility of the karts, rather than outright speed – which is why most of today’s Formula 1 drivers started their racing careers in karting, notably world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Killarney’s original 700 metre kart circuit was laid out on the inside of KFM Corner in 1963, and extended to its current 1000 metres in 1987. Karting differs in many ways from main-circuit racing, as does its organisation.
In overall charge of each racing event is the Clerk of the Course, assisted by the Race Secretary, the Chief Marshal and a team of about 15 marshals. Each kart category, however, is defined by very strict rules. Only one type of engine may be used, and may not be modified; the chassis must pass very tight technical specifications, which in effect restricts the choice to one or at most two makes.
Chassis may also not be modified, other than built-in suspension adjustments, and most telling of all, the minimum weight requirement includes both kart and driver – which means that the smaller competitors in each class may wind up carrying ballast to prevent their size from giving them an unfair advantage.
Thus the scrutineering department at the Karting circuit includes not only the usual officials checking for safety and eligibility requirements, but a Technical Consultant for each class who has all the specifications for the karts and their engines to hand and is able to check everything from chassis dimensions to illegal engine modifications.
There is even a dedicated weighbridge officer, checking that each kart and driver combination is up to the minimum weight for the class.
All racing kart engines are two-strokes; since two-stroke engines are very sensitive to fuel additives, the Technical Consultant (always shortened to TC) also carries out checks on fuel samples provided by the competitors to ensure that every kart on the starting line is running on clean fuel of the specified octane rating, with no illegal chemical enhancement!
Karting classes range from 50cc Bambinos for drivers from five to eight years old, to the DD2 class for adults, powered by 125cc Rotax Max EVO engines producing 25kW and driving via a two-speed paddle-shift gearbox. The minimum combined weight for kart and driver is just 180kg, so the performance of these karts is astonishing – particularly as, with no suspension travel to allow for, the driver sits less than 50mm off the tar.
All categories, however, as just as tightly controlled, which is why the karting officials are a very special group of motorsport enthusiasts, and why kart racing produces the world’s closest and most exciting racing.