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3 biggest mistakes beginner drivers make

We’re going to look at the three biggest mistakes that beginners make in kart racing. As we know, kart racing can be quite daunting. You've just gone out, bought a brand new package, and you don't really know what to do. So, when you go to the track, what are the three key areas that you can improve on when you start in kart racing?

The first mistake you want to look at is the drivers who use both the pedals at the same time. We’ve got the accelerator, we've got the brake pedal, and we want to try and use these simultaneously. So, we want to accelerate into the straights, then want to use the brakes as we approach a tighter corner. But when we start to use that brake, we don't use both the pedals at the same time.

If you think about it, if you're driving a road car, or if you're a kid and you're watching your parents, when they're driving a road car and they're coming towards a set of lights or to indicate to turn into a street, as they start to apply the brake, they start to release that accelerator. If you've got two things working against each other, so you're accelerating, you have to use the brakes a lot more aggressively to bring that speed down. Also, your brake's going to overheat very quickly in the go-kart as well, because it's going to take a lot more force to try and slow that kart down to get around a corner.

So just think that when you want to press the brake pedal, try, and release that accelerator, then hit the brake. Once you finish braking, then you release that pedal and get back onto the accelerator.

A way that you can try and identify if you are using both the pedals at the same time is, if you can smell your brakes or you can smell something burning when you're driving, it's very likely that you've got the brakes on at the same time as the accelerator. The second way that our mechanics or our parents might be able to identify whether a child or a kid that we're helping is riding the brakes is that if you can hear this sensation of the engine working against the brakes, so it's sort of like accelerate, brake, and accelerate.

That's when you can hear the accelerator hasn't been released but the brakes are on at the same time. And so, once the kart's been brought back into the grid, what you'll notice is that the axle will be very, very hot, so I wouldn't just go and clamp your hand right around the axle. I'd start to get close towards the axle. If you can feel a lot of heat coming through the axle towards where the brake disc is, then that's another sign because if a driver is just releasing the accelerator, releasing the brake when they need to, you'll actually be able to put your hand right around the axle. It will be warm, but you should be able to do that. If you've got a driver who's using both the pedals at the same time, you aren't going to be able to get close to the axle as there's going to be so much heat coming out of the brake pads and the brake caliper that's then exerted out towards the axle. Be mindful of that.

A way that I had to find out the hard way a little bit was that my dad was saying to me, "Mate, just try and put your hand close to the disc," and obviously it was very, very hot. And then when I'd go to do it to another kart that wasn't doing it, you could actually touch it, like very quickly just touch the disc and you could feel a difference between a lot of heat and a warmer disc. That's an area that, as a driver, you want to try and get out of quickly. And some of the reasons that we are using both the pedals is because we're nervous to go fast, so obviously the tendency when we're starting is just to use the brakes to slow down.

If you hit the brakes too hard, what tends to happen is you tend to spin out because you lock up the brakes, the rear of the kart slides and you spin out, where if you've got a little bit of accelerator on and a little bit of brake on at the same time although it's not ideal, both the pedals on can actually keep the kart quite stable. So it acts as a bit of a safety blanket, but it really restricts how fast you can get to. A lot of drivers get sucked into, it feels stable, I'm doing okay, I'm not spinning out, which is good, and they get to a decent speed on the track, but then they really struggle to get any faster because they're not driving the right technique.

Just be mindful that drivers could be getting a little bit crouched in the kart as well, so their pedals could be extended out a little bit. That's another way that my dad started to adjust the brake pedal a little bit further away than the accelerator so that I couldn't just rest my foot on there and rest my foot onto the brake, which is engaging it. And as a driver, I didn't realize I was actually engaging the brakes in my session sometimes. We're talking 10 to 15 millimeters, not a lot, but just enough to get it away. That could help also.

The second mistake that we see a lot of beginners making when they're first starting in karting is looking behind too much. Now we know that when you're starting out, you're going a little bit slower, so there's other karts going a lot faster than you. You need to be mindful of looking behind to at least see where some of the other faster karts are coming from. Like I said, that's fine, but we only need to do it once a lap.

What we see is that we get a lot of drivers that start to lose concentration quite quickly because they look behind once, they can see a kart might be 50 meters away, then two corners later, they look behind, kart's 45 meters away. A couple of corners later, kart's 40 meters away. When you've got a decent size gap and as long as you are going at a half respectable speed, you don't need to look behind every corner or multiple times on a particular straight. You want to just try and focus on your race lines, your apex points, your braking markers, your accelerating markers. As long as you just keep on holding your line on the track so that you are not looking behind, because when you're starting out, you don't realize that as you turn your head over your shoulder, sometimes you turn the steering wheel a little bit in that direction as well.

So if you start to turn your head over your left shoulder and as you start to turn your eyes, without realizing, you've just pulled down the steering wheel a little bit and you actually start to veer across in front of where karts may be going. So, a good rule when you're starting out is just hold your line. So, whether you're on the right line or the wrong line, as long as you're not swerving across from the inside to the outside of the track, just hold your line and the faster karts, although they might get a little bit impatient around you, they'll find their own way around you, they've got more experience and they've got more speed.

Now, with extra speed, that's what makes it easy to overtake a slower kart, but we just need to have the slower karts trying to maintain their lines on the track so that we can get around you nicely and safely as well.
Our cadet drivers who are just starting out, a lot of them have neck braces on, some of those neck braces restrict the driver from turning their heads. Good and bad. Like I said, sometimes you actually do need to look over your shoulder just to see where some karts are, but we want to keep that to a bare minimum. Once a lap or maybe twice a lap is the absolute maximum we want to be looking behind.

The last mistake we want to touch on with our beginner drivers, and that's turning into corners too early. Having coached, I don't know, I'm only guessing, 1500 drivers in the last 10 years through group sessions and internationally and so on, it doesn't matter whether a driver is starting out at six years of age, 15 years of age or even 40 years of age, they tend to always turn in too soon.

Now the biggest thing that we see when drivers are turning in too early is that their vision is too close to the front of the kart. When we're traveling at speeds of say over 100 kilometers an hour on a straight and we are leading into a hairpin corner, we're traveling a lot faster than what we think, and if our vision isn't far enough in front of us, that's what forces us to turn in too early because we're not actually opening up our horizons to see, the track is actually eight meters wide. We can turn in a little bit later, open up the start of the corner, hit our apex point a little bit further around the corner and get a good exit speed. But with drivers so focused on what's happening at their feet, they tend to drive where their eyes are looking. If they're looking just down in front of them, they tend to turn in too early.

Where that really comes into place in our cadet classes, especially turning in too early, that's the biggest thing we see, but they're not flowing the kart on the exit. You've turned in earlier so instead of using eight meters of the track, you're only using five and a half or six meters of the track, and then you've apexed at the same point as everyone else, but then you've actually pinched off the exit as well and you've used another two meters less than every other driver who's more experienced. Straight away, two meters less on the way in, two meters less on the way out, you're probably going 5-10 Km’s slower around that corner.

Now, cadet class, lower horsepower, not as much speed on acceleration, that really, really costs you time coming out of the corners. So the reason why, especially with the exit as well, it's the same thing, you get to the apex point and you're not looking at the exit curbing. You're just looking at the actual racetrack because you don't want to come off the circuit. You're basically looking in the middle of the track where it's the safest place and the less likely that you're going to end up in the grass, and that's where your kart drives. As soon as you start focusing further on the corner and looking at that blue and white paint on the exit curb and go, okay, my eyes are there, we can see that there's an edge of the racetrack and we want to try and put our outside tires as close as we can to the edge of the racetrack.

Suddenly, your eyes are driving the kart and basically your hands are just steering the wheel. They don't have to turn too much because they know that there's a limit to the track and they can actually see where that limit is, and that's where the kart gets placed. Straight away, as you get more experience, you start using more of the racetrack, so eight meters on the way in, hit the apex, eight meters on the way out. We're going 5 Ks faster through the corners and by flowing the kart more around the corners, we're using less steering input. When we turn in early and turn sharper to use less track, that means we're turning way more aggressively on the steering wheel. What does that do? It throws around the back of the kart. So all of a sudden, we're actually more out of control when we're starting out. We're using more steering input, which is creating more mistakes, less consistency.

Then as we get more experience, we're actually going to use more track, less steering input, and carrying more speed and we're in more control. Keep that vision up as best you can. Look further around the corners and look at where the edge of the track is, and that should really help out your consistency, your smoothness, and less steering inputs as well.

A little recap on our three biggest mistakes that we see beginner drivers starting to make, is that we are looking behind a little bit too much, we're using both the pedals at the same time, which is something we want to try and avoid, and it's just turning in too early because our vision isn't fixated far enough up the track as well.

If you guys are just starting out in your kart racing and you think, my son or daughter or a kid that I'm helping is really struggling in these areas, it's probably perfectly targeted towards our Beginner Program.

We focus on where to look on the racetrack. Look for your braking markers, your apex points, your throttle point, and your exits.

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