Your first Race
Right! So I've practised. I've paid my entry fee. I think I'm ready to race. What can I expect on race day?
Nerves! ... it's quite normal to have butterflies, even after seasons of racing. Beat the nerves by knowing you are ready. Prepare your kart a few days before the race. Set it up to your "standard" setting which you have determined works well at that specific track. Avoid "all nighter" prep sessions the night before a race; if you break something or find something wrong, it doesn't leave you any time to get the spares you need. If possible, load up the kart and spares the night before the race. Avoid rushing in the morning. (You'll find that karting requires some pretty early starts!)
When you get to the track find your allocated pit (don't steal someone else's pit!) and offload your kart. Get documentation done before fiddling with the kart. For documentation you'll need your license, your original entry form (assuming you faxed your entry in) and a pen. Don't lend it out as it will never come back. Sign on the Driver Entry form at the table, hand in your license for "signatures" (you need to collect three and do a simple test before getting an Unrestricted License), and get your Scrutineering Book signed ... What! You don't have a Scrutineering Book? They cost around R70. Attempt to buy one from the ladies at documentation. You probably won't have much luck, but they'll at least give you a signed page. (Be prepared to go through this same routine at least 3-4 times. Also be prepared to go through the same interrogation each time at Scrutineering.)
Make sure that your timing transponder is fitted and charged before you go on to the circuit. If you don't own a timing transponder you will need to rent one from the organisers. In the long run it is cheaper and far more convenient to own your transponder.
If you intend to get some laps in during "free practice" (normally around 7am - Aarghh!) remember that the track is cold ... and therefore slippery ... and you should bear this fact in mind, lest the first corner rise up and smite you. There are few things more embarrassing than terminally damaging your kart during free practise on race day. It's also a good idea to slip your scrutineering book (which you bought at Documentation - ha ha) down the front of your race suit - Not only does this keep you warm during winter, but when you come off the track into the weighing area you will have everything you need for scrutineering, thereby saving you a trip to your pit (your fire extinguisher should be in your trolley for scrutineering).
Between coming in and scrutineering, check the weight of you/your kart on the scale. Make adjustments to the weight later if required. Rather be a kilo or two too heavy, as your weight tends to vary during the day (you will be excluded from any timed practise or heat if you are even a f
After scrutineering you should have time to relax or fiddle (some drivers can only relax when they are fiddling), before drivers briefing. Driver's briefing is compulsory so listen carefully. Driver's briefing can be tedious. Take a chair. Try not to nod off in the warm sunshine.
After drivers briefing the program moves straight into Timed Practise. If you are first on the roster, try to have your kart on the dummy grid before drivers briefing .... saves rushing around. It also gets you out near the front, where the clear track is. Remember, you are not racing. Be courteous and let faster guys by, but concentrate on getting in as many clean laps as you can. Avoid sitting directly behind another kart. You can only go as fast as them ... no faster. Don't spend 2-3 laps trying to get by. Wait 'till the straight and back off (after ensuring it's safe to do so). Wave other karts by if necessary, and then put foot once you have enough clean track ahead of you for 1-2 clean, unobstructed laps. Timed Practise is not important ... it's critical! Qualify poorly and you'll spend the rest of the day fighting through traffic. However don't have too high expectations while you're a novice. Remember that most of the other drivers out there are probably more experienced than you.
Now for Heat 1: Wherever you qualified, try simply to improve on your position steadily throughout the day. You have three heats to get through. Initially think of them as three mini survival courses. You can't improve if you don't finish. Avoid kamikaze tactics, and try rather to make your way steadily up the field. Most heats are around 10 laps. Not much. But three of those gives you 30 laps in which to improve your position. Think of it like that, be smooth, stay out of trouble, and you should fare quite well.
Karting uses rolling starts. Here's a tip. Don't fixate on the back of the guy ahead of you! Try to look a few karts ahead. Always be aware of the "concertina" effect that occurs when guys are trying to heat up tyres and clean their plugs during the warm up lap. I said there were few things more embarrassing than a good crash during free practice. Well, this is one of them. Spin off or drive over the guy ahead of you during the warm up lap, and you're sure to be noticed. Don't expect to get your license signed. Don't expect any kind words when you finally get back to the pits. There won't be any.
The start of any race is important, but for now, while you are learning (well, we are always learning, but you're at the bottom of the heap, as it were), try to survive it. There's nothing quite as mind-numbingly exciting as being amongst 40 karts rushing into the first corner (which is designed for 2) .... and therein lies the problem. Mind-numbing. You will forget that your tyres are cold. You'll also forget that your brakes are cold. Some will completely forget to brake. Others will even forget to turn. Don't laugh! It happens. That's racing.
Be cautious, but don't be a nerd. Try to sit right under the bumper of the kart ahead of you running up to the start line. If the guy behind is gently "nudging" your bumper, he's trying to tell you to close the gap. A gap at the start spells trouble. Someone will try to pull into it. There will be an incident. Also, don't tap off in the "start zone" (the 90 m zone before the start line, marked by a yellow line), or you'll have a kart run over the top of you. You and the other driver can then haggle over blame for causing the red flag and restart. Don't laugh. It happens.
Another tip when approaching the start. Look for the front runners raising an arm. They're not waving to their fans. They're passing on the "1 more lap" signal, given to them by the starting officials. When the "1 lap" signal is given, and the start is on a straight, expect everyone ahead of you to rush off as if the race had really started. They're cleaning their plugs. They will suddenly come to an almost stop at the first corner. Try to be ready. Otherwise you'll run over the top of the kart ahead of you. If the start line is near a corner, expect the same behaviour on the very next straight section.
The "1 lap" signal is given extremely frequently. If the karts are not in formation, or they are approaching the start line too fast for safety, you will be sent around for another lap. And sometimes another. And another. And eventually, when you're really distracted, and you're worrying about running out of fuel, they'll actually start the race. Try to be ready. Otherwise you'll have a kart run over the top of you.
Approaching the first corner. Don't thunder punt the three karts ahead of you off the track. Remember to brake slightly before your normal braking marker (you know, the one that you picked out during your many practise laps). Use your peripheral vision to keep an eye open for karts spinning off further around the corner. Forewarned is forearmed. If someone spins ahead of you, give them more room than you imagine they need. They seldom go the direction you expect, so the more room you can give them the better. Also, try not to brake too hard or tap off too much ... someone else will ride over the top of you. Remember when I said it was important to walk the track? Well, you walked the track, and you know where you can cut across the grass in an emergency, without damaging your kart or becoming a danger to others. Sure you do. Do what's necessary to avoid the carnage without creating more. Just don't get stuck on the grass ... you'll feel stupid. Remember, the primary objective in the first few corners of your first few races, is to survive. Later in your career you can focus on picking up places, but for now, surviving where others don't is a surefire way of picking up a few gimmee places.
After the first two or three corners, settle down into a rhythm as fast as possible. Try to put in a few smooth, fast laps to shake off those guys on your tail. Until you're racing for position (i.e. points), concentrate on driving smoother, faster, rather than driving defensively and trying to keep everyone who's behind you ...well, behind you. If the guy behind you is genuinely faster, you're wasting your time trying to keep him back. You'll succeed for a few laps, but those guys who got ahead of you on the start, your real opposition (they got a lucky break), they'll be gone, no hope of catching them and picking up a few well earned positions.
You'll also succeed in frustrating the guy behind you. If you're lucky, he'll push past, wave a fist and that'll be the end of it. Maybe he'll say something to you in the pits later. Listen to him. Most, if not all, the guys racing are decent enough. If you're new to racing and you're getting a lecture, it's probably because you did something wrong. Don't get defensive. Learn from it. If it was your mistake, identify it as a weakness in your technique and learn not to do it again. If it wasn't, well, that's racing!
However, if you frustrate the guy behind you by constantly looking over your shoulder and balking, weaving, check-braking etc, and you're unlucky, you may get bumped off in a corner as he tries to push past. You may get thunder punted right off the circuit if he loses his cool and tries something desperate (of course, being a faster, more experienced driver, he won't do something dodgy ... yeah!). Situations like this generally end up with one or more bent karts, and sometimes a few bent drivers.
As an aside, the rule about overtaking in karts is that the guy in front has the right to the corner. However, remember that, if a kart is inside of you going into a corner, and you can see him, where is he going to go when you close the door on him? Tick tick tick ...Yes, he's either going to go through you or over you. Who do you think wins this standoff? No-one. Who do you think loses out least? That's right! The guy on the inside (if you don't lock wheels and both get upside down). He's forced to use the outside guy as a brake. Since he's going slower, he can turn tighter and hopefully stay on the track. The guy on the outside is going faster. He goes off the track. His race is probably over.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Going into a corner, if you can see the guy behind you from your peripheral vision he's probably 2/3 the way down the inside. Give him some room. But only enough room to avoid tangling. Try to use your modified line to get a run on him through the very next corner (works well if it's in the opposite direction). If you're the guy on the inside, be prepared to take a tighter line out of the corner. Don't go wide and ride the other guy off the track. One day he will be in a position to repay the favour.
There are faster guys. There are slower guys. Figure out which is which and treat them appropriately. Don't treat the fast guys like gods. They aren't. But don't become a moving roadblock in the vain hope of proving you can beat them once. Let them by, learn from their lines, store up this knowledge and then, if you really are talented, beat them many times.
The procedure for Heats 2 & 3 are similar to Heat 1. Except there are only 30 of you fighting for that first corner. The others have bent their karts along the way, and are now spectators. You, however, have steadily improved your position because you were prepared, you knew what to expect, you knew what action you would take when it happened, and you have survived.
At the end of the days racing, give yourself a pat on the back for finishing. No matter where you finish, you still did better than those guys who fell off along the way. If you didn't finish, try to figure out why. If you crashed out, why? Why did you get involved in an incident? Could you do anything in future to avoid a repetition? If it was it a mechanical fault, could you have avoided it by better preparation? Sometimes you can .... sometimes you can't. THAT ... is racing!
During the next few races, set yourself some realistic goals. A finish in the top 70% of the field. A finish in the top 60%. A finish in the top 3 ... yeah!
After the race, thank the officials. It's a sh*tty job and you can't race without them. Oh, and don't forget to collect your signed license from the control tower after the meeting. It's amazing how ratty the officials become when they have to baby sit your license between races.
Motor sport can be dangerous ... don't make it more so. Be safe. Be competitive. Above all, have fun!