This week on Norcal Karters we did our weekly updates podcast. We also caught up with Gary Carlton, Team Owner, http://www.gfckarting.com, to recap his success in Las Vegas for the Rok the Rio event.
Leading up the the Rok the Rio event, we also had Mark Morrison, President of http://www.nckroadracing.com, to reflect on his weekend in Las Vegas as the road racing segment from Norcal headed to the SpeedVegas facility.
In this article, we will dive into the Comparison of Road Racing and Sprint Kart Racing. For those that are new to karting, Road Racing is defined as karts racing on full size car race tracks purpose built for full size cars and formula cars, with a circuit length of 2 – 4 miles in length. Sprint Kart Racing is also a Grand Prix style layout, with both left and right hand turns, but is purpose built for kart racing with speeds typically under 80 mph and circuit length less than 1 mile. The sprint track is smaller and tighter than your Road Race tracks.
For this article, we will also use the engine platform of a Stock Moto, or Stock Honda CR125. The reason for this selection is it is widely used at both the Road Racing events and the Sprint tracks. We will make the assumptions that both comparisons are using the same brand tire, fuel, and chassis. If you are competing under different rule structures or associations, you will be responsible to make sure your equipment is in compliance. This article is not going in depth on the comparison of rules from each racing association.
As background to this article, I have competed in various shifter kart applications at many different levels, in both the 80cc and 125cc classes. I consider myself a sprint kart racer, while dipping my feet into the road racing segment. I have raced my current shifter kart set up on both Sprint and Road Race tracks. I am utilizing a TBKart S55 shifter chassis with a SwedeTech Stock Honda CR125 equipped with 1999 cylinder and built to NCK IKF rules. I have used both MG and Evinco tires for both sprint and road racing. The biggest changes I have needed to make when going from the sprint tracks to the road race tracks is
Jetting – you must run richer (larger) jetting for Road Race
typically approximately a 5% jetting increase
Example – 175 Keihin Main Jet for Sprint, would then change to 182-185 Main jet for Road Racing
Gearing – typically I am running around
Sprint – 1.466 – 1.566
Road Race – 1.20 – 1.30
Chassis – I made no changes going from sprint to road racing on the initial chassis setup, I just did my first couple of track sessions as baselines and made some fine tuning on the front end.
Tire pressures – I started a little lower on tire pressures because I didn’t know, but I was targeting a hot pressure of 14-15 lbs.
For my first session, I was only looking at doing 3-5 laps so I could get a feel for the layout, the speed, and a feel of my kart. I came in and checked tire pressures immediately and then I put the kart on the stand and checked my jetting and looked at my MyChron data for RPM’s and Water temps. Admittedly, I had a lot of help and mentorship from some fellow road racers. Once I felt comfortable at speed I was able to do some lead follow laps that allowed for a quicker reduction in my lap times.
NCK usually has multiple open practice sessions the morning before the race. This allowed me to have plenty of on and off track time to take in the new experience. Initially, the biggest difference for me was the amount of open track time before the official timed events. Practice started in the morning and ran for a few hours, with a few breaks to allow for track clean up and kart retrieval. In sprint racing, I’m used to 1 or 2 short lap practice sessions before rolling into an early qualifying. With the Road Racing, we did not have a qualifying session, the idea is that you have 20-30 minutes of track time to allow the fast guys to move to the front, and the slower guys to stay where they are.
As a new guy, I didn’t care because I was going to put myself in the back anyhow. Even though my lap times were progressively getting better, I was not comfortable starting in the mid pack, until I knew what to anticipate in the few opening laps. I am still not comfortable on the starts for road racing. The road racing starts are rolling, in motion, and the drivers do an excellent job of spacing each other from competitors, but it’s just a new experience for me. On a sprint track, I live for the standing starts of shifter racing, it is my only attainable feeling of F1.
Once we completed a few laps after the start, I started to become comfortable with closing speeds and spacing on the track. I was able to move through the back half of the field fairly easily, and this helped with my confidence and made the experience more enjoyable. As we did more heat races, I started to start further up in the field.
One of my biggest concerns with the road racing is going off the official circuit or racing surface. I had one big off in turn 2 of the Thunderhill West track. There was no contact, it was purely a driving mistake due to my lack of familiarity with the track. I went out too wide and collected debris on my tires, then just kept going straight. The only pucker factor I had was as the dust was clearing, another competitor was heading right for me.
My initial thought was, “What the hell are you doing way out here?”. Luckily we didn’t have any contact and both of us were able to keep our karts running and pulled back onto the racing surface. After the race, I inspected my kart for damage and there were only a few unused tabs that were bent, assuming from the speed and lack of clearance while going off. As I drove off in the weeds, the kart just slid through the infield. I didn’t flip, crash, or get hurt in the process.
What I find is the sprint track is much easier and accessible for new racers to have track time without having to enter into a race. The sprint tracks are purpose built for karts, so generally they do not have to share the track time. For road racing, my biggest apprehension was not having enough track practice time to become comfortable. Over the past few years, I have entered a few road race events, and I’m finding that although I personally still want more practice, there is sufficient time before the event to get a solid shake down.
For our next section, we will compare the cost of road racing vs sprint racing. My costs will assume no discounts for being a member of a track or association. It will also compare like fuel and tires to keep differences to a minimum. If prices are used, I have sourced them from online searches, vendors, or association websites. This is not an article on how to go race for as cheap as you can or how to race like an F1 team. It’s a down the middle approach to costs and comparisons.
“Road Racing is SO Expensive!!!”
So I will address this immediately. If you are only concerned about the dollar leaving your wallet
Racing of any form is not for you
Road Racing is not for you
Shifter Racing is not for you
Racing is an EXPENSIVE hobby, Karting is the cheapest way to enjoy this hobby
Entry Fees – Non Member
NCK Entry Fee – $425.00
Avg Norcal Sprint Track Entry Fee – $60.00
New Tire Sets Used / Consumed – Race Day Only
NCK – 1 Set – $222.00
Norcal Track – 1 Set -$222.00
Fuel VP C12 with Motul Kart Grand Prix – $21.50 per gallon
NCK – 10 Gallons – $215.00
Norcal Track – 3 Gallons – $64.50
Time Racing on Track (does not include practice)
NCK – 53:16 – 53 Minutes, 16 Seconds
Norcal Track – 17 Minutes, 30 Seconds
Cost Per Minute
NCK – $16.18 per minute of track time
Norcal Track – $19.80 per minute of track time
What I did not factor into this equation was the cost of wear and tear on equipment due to track time. In my opinion and experience, this can change based on how the owner treats the equipment. For example, on the Honda CR125, sprint racing applies much more frequent cycles of load on the engine parts. The engine will rev faster, the down shifts are faster, the frequency is more often. In road racing, the engine is accelerating at a much slower pace due to the final gear ratio. The engine is also sitting in a specific power band range much longer. One could argue this is less wear and tear on the components.
Another reason I stayed away from wear and tear in this particular article was from a chassis standpoint. From my experience, the chassis stress was much less in the road racing element vs the sprint element. I was not hard on the brakes in every single corner as I would be on most kart tracks. In fact, with road racing, I used the brake more to settle the kart for steering, than to actually slow down.
And finally, the last comparison of wear and tear, on the driver. Over the years, I have definitely fallen into the category of “keyboard” karter. We all have priorities in our lives away from the track. When I was younger, the track life was my priority. I’m now married with a child and family activities become more of a focus, while my track time is “let me out of this place” time. I love driving the shifter kart on a sprint track, but it requires an amount of physical dedication that I am no longer putting into the driving, myself, etc to make it the most enjoyable experience. Over the past few years, my dad and I picked up a couple of Briggs 206 karts for the local tight sprint tracks, and to be honest, it has made the racing much more enjoyable.
One of the huge surprises of the road racing scene was the physical energy to be competitive. I won’t over inflate my skills as a road racer, but I was a solid front of the mid pack guy. If I was going to be on the podium, I would need some “luck”, but I wasn’t staring at number panels all day either. The 20 and 25 minute heats were just long enough for me to ask, “where’s the white flag?”, but I was able to get myself out of the kart at the scales and still had ambition and energy to work on my kart for the next heat race. For the sprint tracks in my 125cc shifter, I’m huffing and puffing, and crying for the oxygen bottle (which on practice days, I live for this).
It is no wonder you see more “aged” karters in the road race scene. The overall experience is honestly, just much more relaxing, which I find is much needed when karting becomes a hobby or recreation versus a path to the big cars. If you are like me and looking to enjoy the sport of karting again, but you have never tried road racing, give it a shot. Before you ever take a lap, look at the Norcal Karters Calendar, http://www.norcalkarters.com/calendar/, for the next NCK Road Racing event. Call a friend or two, pick up a few sandwiches and drinks for the road, and head out to the track to watch and take it in.
Walk around the pits and talk to the racers, they are a very inviting group. Then, layout your plan for the next race with your equipment.