Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kart racing

One of Beloved Wife's colleagues organised an evening of petrol and testosterone last week over at the Dubai Kartdrome. Around twenty wannabe racing drivers showed up with various aiders and abetters who would cheer the drivers on from the grandstand.

The format for the evening was to dress in the correct kit, including closed shoes, gloves and helmets. This was then followed by a pep talk about how overtaking was forbidden when marshals were waving yellow flags, and anyone who behaved particularly badly would get a black flag and have to retire. Driving Demolition-Derby style is a good way to get black-flagged. There were also dire warnings about how Turn 1 was full throttle, but failing to slow down for Turn 2 would mean an appointment with the Armco. The same would apply for Turns 9 and 10, hairpin bends following some fast turns and a long straight.

The first session was timed practice. The slowest driver would get five laps, but faster drivers could potentially get a lot more. Electronic timing established each kart's best lap time, and this would be used to decide where the karts would be lined up on the grid for the first, ten lap, race. A second race would then follow after a brief pee break. This would be in reverse order, with the slowest drivers at the front so that there would be plenty of overtaking opportunities. Twelve laps this time.

I've not been karting for over 20 years, and that was in Fuengirola, Costa Del Sol, on an oval track. The Dubai kartdrome vehicles were a lot quicker and on a much more interesting figure-eight track. The karts all have four-stroke lawnmower engines producing 13.5 ponies and are, on an absolute scale, not very powerful. Apparently top speed is around 60kph, but this can be quite thrilling with one's butt about one inch from the asphalt. There's no gearbox either: hit the gas with the right hoof to engage Drive and let the revs rise. There are only two permissible positions for the loud pedal, and one of those is tickover. The brake pedal is under the left hoof, which makes gentle application a mite tricky if you're used to using this one for the clutch. The brakes only work on the rear wheels too, so braking while cornering will inevitably provoke a spin.

Anyway, off we went for practice. Do karts oversteer? Is the bear a Catholic? The slightest twitch of the steering wheel caused rapid changes in direction, requiring opposite lock to prevent a spin. Even so I managed to spin and then get T-boned at Turn 2 on Lap 2 of the practice. Ooops. And then again at Turn 9 on the last lap of the first race. More oops.

Both races were a lot of fun, and I managed to overtake a respectable number of other karts. I think my main problem may have been applying the gas too early out of corners, resulting in oversteer and drifting which in turn kills off the speed. And being fat and forty-four, I was a little timid, at least at first. Although the track is wide, the racing line is about the width of a gnat's todger. Deviating from the correct line is a guaranteed way of getting slow lap times.

The kartdrome lap record is less than one minute. I bet it's not in one of the supplied karts! The consistent winner in our session was Joe, who turned in laps of around 1'17". I started with 1'30"s and got down to a fairly consistent 1'22". This represents an average speed of around 53kph. I came seventh. Joe, who weighs in at about 50kg dripping wet, has power to weight ratio and youth on his side, along with the fact that he races at the Kartdrome regularly. Practise practice...

The whole session cost Dh290 per person. This doesn't match what it says on the website, so I've no idea how our session was arranged. I must remember to bring my own leather-palmed gloves if there's a next time. The supplied woolly gloves provide no grip on the steering wheel, and my hand, wrist and arm muscles are still aching.


dubaibilly said...

I did this about 5 years ago down at the track near the Jebel Ali Hotel - God it's hard work, but it's a whole bunch of fun!

El Casareño Ingles said...

Geography lesson; Fuerteventura is nowhere near the Costa del Sol, about 2,000 km away in the Atlantic Ocean! Perhaps you meant Fuengirola, though there's no kart track I'm aware of there now.

There's a kiddies' kart track in Tivoli World, Benalmádena which my son uses every time we go. He's good enough to consistently finish first. I have the same problems with ptw ratio myself as I'm about 15kg heavier than him.

Grumpy Goat said...

Yes you're right. If course I meant Fuengirola. I've now edited the original post.


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