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AutoMatters & More: Do You Want to Race Wheel-to-Wheel? Try Karting First

01757a-20190303 Racing with the Mustang Club of San Diego at K1 Speed in Carlsbad-iPhoneX
K1 Speed in Carlsbad, California
(Jan Wagner)

In autocrossing, individually we are pretty much solely responsible for our results, whereas in wheel-to-wheel racing, competitors can literally have a big impact on our results too.

In my K1 Speed practice session, I familiarized myself with their electric go-karts and the twisty track layout. The karts were more or less equal in performance, so to get my quickest lap times I used my autocrossing skills. I reduced speed as late as possible before each turn, approached wide and then clipped the apex to straighten the turns. I ended up having the second quickest single lap time of my practice session group.

Mustang Club
Getting ready to race Jan Wagner

In the qualifying sessions, our quickest lap would determine whether we would race with the quickest group or the other group, as well as our starting grid position in that race.

Slow traffic in front of us would spoil our qualifying lap times. Our driving became more aggressive.

On one lap, just past the exit of a turn, my kart suddenly and inexplicably lost all power and rolled to a stop. The driver of the following kart did not see me in time, and he hit me. An instant later, another kart slammed hard into him. The impacts were so forceful that they shoved me into the outside barrier and sent the contents of my shirt pocket flying.

I was dazed and instantly had a headache. Our qualifying session was stopped. A track worker rushed over to assess the situation and offer help.

He asked me if I wanted to continue or leave the track. My headache had begun to subside so I decided to continue. I was glad that I did. I scored the quickest qualification time in my group.

Drive racetrack
Driving out onto the racetrack. Jan Wagner

I began the quicker group’s race in the third position on the starting grid. Since our karts were comparable in power, keeping up to these quick drivers would be critical, so that I would be in position to pass them if and when the opportunity presented itself.

I carried out that plan well for a lap or two, all the while looking for an opportunity to overtake. However, I was still driving my qualifying lines, which would prove to be my downfall.

Approaching turns, I stayed wide to set up for quicker, straighter lines through the tight turns. Unfortunately, my doing so created openings for those behind me to brake late, cut inside of me and thus take away my line. In retrospect, I understand that I was not defending my position.

Intense competition
The competition can be intense. Jan Wagner
Race results
Everyone receives comprehensive race results. Jan Wagner

As I stayed wide to prepare to take my preferred, quick line through one of these tight turns, the driver of the kart behind me braked late, lunging forward and shoving his kart between mine and the apex of the turn. He was probably moving too quickly to make the turn if he had been alone, but since I was on his outside, he was able to use my kart as a barrier. He spun me out, taking over my third place in the process. My kart lost all power and stopped for what seemed like an eternity.

A track worker rushed over to restart my kart, but the damage had been done. The field was not bunched back up for the restart, and I was in last place. In the short time remaining I was only able to claw my way back up to eighth. Afterwards, the driver who had spun me out ame over to apologize.

Despite my disappointment, my karting experience had taught me essential differences between negotiating a racecourse quickly on a clear track and using the racecraft necessary to successfully race wheel-to-wheel.

For more explanation, see

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Copyright © 2019 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #581r3

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