I am fortunate to race a 125 Superkart at Killarney in Cape Town. There are two classes racing together: 125 Superkarts (for over 30s) and 125 Shifters (for drivers 20 to 29 years old). I am in the latter category, with the younger and less experienced drivers. Fortunately the classes race on the same track at the same time, which gives the younger drivers the chance to race against more experienced competitors.
The performance of the karts is phenomenal – acceleration and braking forces are brutal, and cornering speeds defy logic. Speeds around 200 km/h are possible depending on gearing, and that’s in a vehicle that is light enough to be picked up comfortably by two people. Driving one of these tiny beasts is an enormous thrill, and racing wheel to wheel in them is exhilarating.
Not only is the driving experience extremely satisfying, but it is also surprisingly accessible. Karts can be purchased second-hand for around R15,000 (less than $2,000 and not much more than £1,000). Once the equipment is purchased, a season can be completed on a budget of R15,000, including race entry fees, fuel, oil and most regular maintenance. As racing goes, this is about the most cost-effective series around.
And the racing is of a high quality. The drivers are competitive, pushing themselves and each other to the limit in pursuit of victory. Off the track, however, all those involved are as close as family, and the post-race prize-giving and party are as enjoyable as the racing.
The 125 Superkarts and Shifters will be racing at Killarney race track in Cape Town on 17 November, for the final event of the season. The championships are already wrapped up, and the club has chosen to open the day to competitors with single event licences in order to offer them a taste of competitive racing in the format of a normal race weekend.
This video was produced in 2011, before the introduction of the under-30s Shifter class, to provide some insight into this highly competitive yet affordable racing formula:
On Saturday, I had my first wet weather racing experience. A 125 superkart, slick tyres, and a very wet Killarney race-track in the morning presented a somewhat steep learning curve.
The kart is small and the track is big, which makes avoiding the large puddles quite easy. So aquaplaning was not a problem. The major issue was tyre temperature. Getting heat into the front tyres is essential to limit the inevitable understeer that occurs in the wet. Rear tyre temperature is essential for traction. But temperature proved elusive.
Until Saturday, I had no proper comprehension of the importance of rear tyre temperature. It became apparent in a straight line, at half throttle (maybe a little less) in third gear, when the power came in and the rear wheels spun up. The kart went a bit sideways, but a small correction sorted that out. Nonetheless, my eyes were opened.
Before getting out on the wet track, I had expeceted to be fighting the back end of the kart under acceleration and braking. The reality was that there was so little grip with cold tyres that I didn’t have the confidence to put the power down or brake hard.
In the dry on a warm day, driving smoothly has proven beneficial. It minimises driver effort, wear on the tyres and fuel consumption, and allows for incremental improvement in laptime as confidence builds. In the wet, that approach is useless, resulting in cold tyres, cold brakes, and no way of rectifying that situation. What is required in the wet on slicks is some aggressive, almost reckless warming of the rear tyres, and a complete lack of fear of spinning. Only then will there be enough temperature available in the tyres to attack the race-track.
At this point, it’s worthwhile talking about Formula One drivers. They drive in the wet, with over 750 horse-power available, and immediately get the maximum available out of the car in the conditions. Andallof them do it. In the dry, the difference in laptimes between the drivers is a few tenths. In the wet it’s the same, which is frankly astonishing. Occasionally a genius like Ayrton Senna makes everyone else looks silly, but such talent in the wet is the exception.
Driving a racing car is not easy. Formula One drivers just make it look simple because they’re that good at what they do. I’m an amateur driver, racing for fun, but the limited experience I’ve had on the track has already shown me just how incredibly talented F1 drivers are.