Go-karting is a great way to get into motor-racing.
Racing Edge teamed up with Parker Thompson, Canadian professional race car driver and Drive To Stay Alive advocate, to bring you our latest series: Get Into Racing!
Through this series, we aim to bring you advice from one of the quickest professional drivers around! Parker’s love for motorsport began when he was five and his karting career started in 2009. He has raced open-wheel in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship and has competed in both the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and Canadian Touring Car Championship. Parker now runs his own go karting series called the Parker Thompson Challenge in Alberta, Canada.
Why is go karting a good way to get into motor racing?
Go-karting is the grass roots of motorsport. It is the best way to learn the fundamentals of motor racing. Most go karting tracks (indoor or outdoor) hold orientations where you can learn the basic rules of racing, like what each coloured flag means – the universal language of motorsport!
You’ll learn how to brake and apex, and about specific terms used in racing. If you take that next step down the line, you won’t get caught out.
Parker Thompson said: “This is a huge part of when we talk about the barrier to motor racing – it scares a lot of people away. Nobody wants to be embarrassed or not know what’s going on. Racing has so many specifics to it that you never pick up on TV. The racing etiquette, how to come in and go out of pit lanes. There are so many unwritten rules! It’s nice to be in a general environment where everybody is there to learn.”
Go-Karting – where do I start?
If you’re new to racing, rental go karting is a good place to start. Rental go karting allows you to try the sport without making a huge financial investment like buying your own kart, helmet and race suit! It’ll give you time to learn the rules of racing or join a racing school.
“Normal go karting comes with a lot of costs,” Parker Thompson said. “Not just start-up costs, but barrier to entry costs. The maintenance keeping a go kart up to date. When you’re an 8-year-old kid you don’t know how to do that work. If I had to do it all over again, I’d go rental karting. It’s a great way to get into the sport.”
“Learn the basics at the rental go kart track over a few months. Get the learning done.”
The Next Steps
Now you’re at a stage where you’re ready to move on from rental karting. However, it isn’t as simple as Googling your local track and turning up to race.
You’ll need to choose a series and buy a kart. And you’ll need to get a license. Each track will have a race director – they’ll need to evaluate you before you race. Let’s break down those next steps:
Determining your class
Before you buy a go-kart, you need to decide what class you want to race in. Class is determined by age, type of kart and engine. Some classes only use certain engines, so do your research. Find out what classes your local go track supports.
“If you’re new to the sport, you should look at the four-stroke class,” said Parker Thompson. “The nice thing about these are they are stock racing engines. So you’re not having to worry about finding a competitive engine builder. You’re sticking to the basics.”
“Remember that every track has different classes – so make sure you buy a class of kart that your local track offers.”
Buying a go-kart
Buying a go-kart is a big investment. Test a number of karts before you decide which one is for you. Rental go-karting allows you to try different karts and engines to find what suits your driving style. Remember, go-karts are like snowflakes: no two are identical.
Parker Thompson says: “If it’s your first time buying a kart, it’s not like you need a brand new, name-branded go-kart. Why not buy used? It’s going to be a lot less investment. If you’re new to go-karting, a used kart is not going to lose you time. It’s going to get you appreciation. You’re going to have to put some work into it, give it some TLC to make it your own. That’s part of the sport.”
“Don’t rush into it. Too many times we see people jump in with two feet when they don’t know what they’re getting into. As soon as they get into it, they drop it. That’s the worst part. That’s why I suggest going rental karting first – keep the fun in driving.”
“There will be a lot of people racing for themselves, and a lot of people doing it for their child. I could not disagree more with a father or a mother who makes the investment for a child, throws them into racing and then does nothing for them to appreciate the sport. That’s why I think you should send your child rental karting no matter what – you can see the effort they’re putting in. You can see if they fall in love with the sport. You can see all that before you invest a ton of money.”
Where/how do I buy a go-kart?
Go-karting tracks usually have online forums, which should have a ‘For Sale’ section. Most teams at your local track will be selling used karts. This is a good place to start.
Parker Thompson said: “Avoid buying a home-made kart with a home-made engine. You have to look at your category and its rules – you have to make sure your kart is eligible to compete in that category.”
Getting a licence
Before you unleash your new go-kart on the track, you’ll need a race licence. In order to get one, you’re going to have to complete ‘X’ number of laps, usually overseen by a race director. Every karting club is different when it comes to this.
Parker Thompson said: “In my experience, I needed 200 laps and each one had to be documented by the race director. They had open test days where the race director was present.”
Buying your helmet/safety equipment
Another big thing to factor into your budget is safety and racing equipment. The beauty of rental go-karting is it teaches you about qualified helmets. You can also rent the equipment until you’re ready to buy! This is where you can fall in love with the sport without investing a lot of money or jumping in blind. It makes the crossover easier.
Also consider buying rib protectors. Parker Thompson explains: “When we talk about karting equipment, just about everyone I know wears rib protectors. You can easily break your ribs without knowing it because the kart is acting through you while you’re driving.”
The crossover from rental to competitive go-karting is the hardest part. This is the point where a lot of people give up the sport. But the rise of rental karting has helped: it gives people the opportunity to hone their skills and learn about the sport before making big financial investments.
Rental karting also helps people appreciate the machinery behind motorsport, which is crucial.
Parker Thompson said: “If you don’t have that appreciation for the mechanical ability of the kart, what is really pushing you to work on your go-kart? When you make that transition from rental karting to actual karting, you realize the more work you put into your kart, the more maintenance you do, the more you tune the handling – the more time will come. So many people jump into motorsports and think ‘Hey, this doesn’t need maintenance, it’ll last this race.’ You need to understand why you’re putting in the money and the effort.”
“That is my biggest challenge to people – be self-critical. Get your skill level to a point where you can appreciate the difference in handling between go-karts. Once you’re at that point, you’ll have a better understanding of what it is you’re looking for from a go-kart. That’s when you’ll want to put the work in to make your go-kart handle a specific way. You start making the maintenance fun. Because now you’re tuning for performance, not just for the sake of tuning. You actually know and understand what it is you’re looking for.”
If you’re consistently in the top 10 times range at a rental track, this is a good time to move over to competitive karting.
Joining a team
Why should you join a go-karting team? It’s a personal choice. Some people prefer to be their own mechanic. You should never think that you need to join a team.
But there are benefits when it comes to support staff.
Parker Thompson said: “There’s going to be a point in your karting career where, if you’re competitive, you need to start focusing more on the driving and less on the mechanics. That’s why in professional racing we have engineers and a crew to take care of the car.”
“The biggest thing about working on a go-kart during a race weekend is that all the basic maintenance should be done before you show up. So you’re not rebuilding engines on race weekends. You’re possibly changing an axel in between qualifying and the race. New tires for qualifying. In between practise and qualifying, which in most cases will only be one hour, you need to change tires off rims, and you need to set the new tires to the right pressure. I don’t want to see drivers getting caught up with all the work to the point where they lose focus on the driving.”
“When it starts to become overload, that’s when you should look at either joining a team or getting a mechanic to help you.”