Thrills at the go-kart racetrack
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My arms are sore and heavy, I’m sweating and out of breath. But I haven’t been to the gym, I’ve just completed my first drive in a Rotax Kart.
I was invited to the Mt Wellington Kartsport track to have a go in a kart at the end of the club’s annual picnic meeting.
The Rotax is a 2-stroke 125cc powered sled on wheels. Putting out around 20kW (28hp) to the rear wheels and with a surprisingly basic-looking chassis, it is a handful on the tight karting track.
“People who have not raced them do not understand the physical aspect of the sport,” says kart owner Danny Gelb.
Mt Wellington go-karting track runs occasional have-a-go days. Picture / Mathieu Day
“Unfit people may be able to do one or two fast laps at best but only the fittest can put in 12 full laps at full race pace. Drivers know who the unfit drivers are and, if they are behind one of them late in a race, it is just a matter of time before they take the soft option for a corner letting a fitter person sneak past.”
After watching a series of impressive races from the grandstand, many with drivers under the age of 10 showing higher levels of skill than most motorists, it was my turn to jump in a race-suit and squeeze behind the wheel of the kart.
A Rotax is small at 2000mm long and no more than 1400mm wide, with just enough room to squeeze an adult’s legs either side of the steering column. There is no safety harness or seat-belt; the very low centre of gravity and tight seat keeps your butt firmly planted in place, just 25mm off the tarmac.
Most karts start like a lawnmower, but this kart has its own starter motor. With the twist of a knob the 150cc 2-stroke roars into life, and with the thumbs-up from an official I hit the track with some of the young racers’ dads for a ‘‘friendly race’’.
The Mt Wellington track is short by car standards, only a few hundred metres long with seven turns.
Approaching turn one it becomes immediately apparent that a kart is similar to an F1-style car.
Entering the turn at half-throttle creates wicked understeer from the big sticky tyres. The answer is more throttle, which is much more difficult than just planting the right foot. There is a tricky middle ground that you have to find with the throttle, balancing power with the bigger need to have traction. Too little throttle and you’re off the track forwards, too much and you’re flying off backwards.
The balancing act quickly proved too much for me, with too much power in the hairpin turn spinning me wildly off the track. My pride hurt more than anything else. I switched on the engine while a volunteer steward pushed me back in the right direction.
A handful of laps later and the chequered flag is waving and the short experience is over.
It’s an insane amount of fun and shows why the likes of Scott McLaughlin and co are so good at what they do.
● To have a go for yourself, search for the next have-a-go day near you at: bit.ly/1OY930w