Karting speed secrets

Everyone wants to be fast: faster than they’ve ever been, faster than the one in front. How exactly do you do that? Karting magazine speaks with a number of current and former successful racers to reveal the secrets of their success.

(This article was first published in Karting Magazine in April 2015)

Terry Fullerton – Former British, European and 1973 World champion: “There are two elements which you cannot do without in order to be quick and successful: firstly you need the determination and obsession to succeed. Secondly you then need the in-born ability and natural gift to be able to drive quickly. Nigel Mansell wasn’t the most gifted driver but he was so determined that it made him a Formula One world champion. I never used to walk tracks and I only do it with young kids to help them learn which lines to take. When they reach 13 years old, it’s no longer important in my opinion.”

Jake Dennis – 2010 Under 18 world champion and 2012 Formula Renault NEC champion: “Fitness, both physical and mental, is so important now. Karting has progressed so much overseas that you have to be at the top of your game. I have a psychological coach, they help to give you the confidence to succeed and make you focus for longer periods. All the top drivers are at the World Championships, so to come out on top requires the finer details. You also need dedication, researching each circuit is a must. I never really ran data when I was in karting, but it has advanced since I left and I’ve seen how it can help young drivers.”

Dan Hoy – Club100 Clubman Heavies champion: “Even at the arrive and drive level, you have to be mentally strong. I’ve discovered that I’m able to read situations well and react quickly to incidents in front. If you have the right mental approach to the racing, the racecraft naturally improves which then increases your speed. But you have to be hard on yourself. When I was younger I drove in the British Championships and drivers did walk the track but I prefer to learn the limits inside the kart.”

Jordon Lennox-Lamb, CRG factory driver: “Have trust in your kart. Give yourself time to think when you drive, don’t just race round as hard as you can as that will create mistakes.”

Oliver Hodgson – 2013 Rotax Max world champion:  “There are lots of tiny factors which can make a difference, but making the effort to ensure you’re prepared throughout a weekend is key. You should want to be the fittest driver on the track as that makes it easier for you to continue to concentrate further as the race goes on. You should also have the determination to succeed and want to put the effort in to make yourself better. You can never do a perfect job. If you put more effort in than your competitors, you’ve got a good chance.”

Lee Harpham – Former British 250 and European Superkart champion: “You need to be as smooth as possible and have good exit speeds. It’s crucial to have good corner speed in 125 Superkarts as they have less horsepower than the 250 machines. Consistency throughout a race is crucial and if it’s my first time at a track I’ll walk it to look for undulations and bumps. Sharing data within the team helps to create the ideal lap and pinpoints areas to improve.”

Jack Harding – Club100 Clubman Lights champion: “In our Sprint series format, you have to get through the pack during the heats as quickly as you can. To do that you need clean passing moves, but it’s quite tactical as to qualify higher up the grid, you need quick lap times. If I’m struggling in one qualifying heat or the first final, I’ll drop off the driver in front to give me clean air so I can go for pole position for the second final. Although we don’t use data, some drivers at our level do use helmet cameras to monitor their performances.”

George Russell, double European kart champion: “Always steer smoothly, concentrate on your exit speed. Never give up, keep practicing and pushing. One day it’ll all come together.”

Charlie Eastwood – British, European and World Rotax champion: “The number one secret in my opinion which covers all sections of motorsport, is laps. You need to be in a kart as much as possible. You’re not going to get any worse by getting seat time. That’s the way you gather speed and consistency. Then you have to keep your head and handle the pressure. I didn’t win the Worlds on outright speed. You need to know when to push those in front of you, and you preferably don’t want many of them. I was always the last to get to the grid and put my helmet on. I didn’t want to sit in the kart overthinking the race and looking for the perfect lap. That’s not going to happen.”

Tom Joyner – 2013 CIK-FIA World KF champion: “You have to focus on yourself, not what any other drivers around you are doing. Forget what setups they may be on and which engines they’re running. I spend a lot of attention on data now compared to when I was younger, it’s very important. Familiarising yourself by walking the track along with your engineer and team boss can help to discuss certain areas in which to attack.”

Mark Litchfield – Former British champion: “It’s not all about being quick, it’s more a focus on consistency and experience. The more seat time you have and the more laps you’re able to get, the faster you’ll go. Having someone to point you in the right direction is also key. You may have habits which you didn’t know you had, and having someone there to tell you where you’re going wrong can be the difference between a podium finish and becoming the champion.”

Ben Barnicoat – Former British and European champion: “You’ve got to have the natural ability to go fast. But once you’ve found that you do have that ability on track, you’ve then go to be clever and be able to use tactics. You have to know when to pick the right time to pass, you don’t want to make a wrong move and then be fighting with others around you and possibly lose out.”

Jake Hughes – Former Easykart driver and BRDC Formula 4 inaugural champion: “Preparing yourself correctly before you head out onto the track is critical. The training is massively important as it will improve your concentration later on throughout a race. External factors such as simulator work, if you’re fortunate enough to have it, can also add to your ability. I began my career relatively late and not having any previous family connections in motorsport, I find that I’ve benefited from the support of those around me, such as the engineers and driver coaches.”

Gavin Bennett – Former European 250 Superkart champion: “In long circuit karting when you’re travelling at speeds of up to 150mph, you don’t want anything to come loose on the machine, so kart preparation is key. You need to have confidence in the reliability of the kart. When I had an injury a few years ago, my fitness hindered me through the season. It has only picked up since I’ve been able to get back in the gym. In long circuit racing, making clean overtaking moves is important, getting the timing right is crucial and slipstreaming helps to get you quicker to the person in front without hurting your tyres.”

Sean Babington, British and European Rotax champion: “Listen to your team boss and mechanic as they watch you out on track and have a different perspective to help gain the upper hand on opponents around you.”