The Hidden Secret Behind Driving Smooth
"I try to be as Smooth as possible. When I go into a corner, I turn the wheel enough to get to the Apex, but then I make sure I have the wheel centered in the corner as much as possible." Davide Fore - Multiple World Karting Champion
Davide Fore sums up the whole philosophy of elite kart driving perfectly there for you. The meaning of life for the advanced kart driver is to adjust the steering angle during cornering as little as possible AND to have the wheel as close to centred the whole time.
Now, it seems fairly obvious that driving smooth is fastest. You'll hear Martin Brundle complaining about drivers sawing at the wheel too much on F1 coverage, or marvelling at how smooth Jenson Button is. It's pretty much general knowledge that driving smooth is the way to go, but telling someone how to drive smooth is useless without telling them how to drive smooth!
It's easy to drive smooth, my gran drives very smooth on the way to Sainsbury's but she aint fast!!
Anyone can drive smooth and slow, so the act of turning the steering gently and carefully isn't a problem for any driver when the kart isn't on the limit. It is when drivers start to push that smoothness goes out the window. There are a few reasons for this:-
- Lack of fitness.
- Drivers feel that to go faster they need to apply more effort to the wheel.
- Smooth accurate steering starts with a smooth and accurate right foot.
- The driver lacks an appreciation of the huge significance of load transfer.
The First Key to Smoothness is Strength and Fitness
When you first try to drive smooth it is hard work. Holding the steering straight in a corner against the will of the kart will drain you, and it is far less effort to flick the kart into a corner and lazily hang the rear out. Yes, sliding the rear around is the lazy way to drive! You heard it here first. There is some good news however, once you master load transfer and the art of smoothness it suddenly becomes very easy physically, but you won't get to that stage unless you get fit, and have incredible upper body strength and core muscle strength.
Use Your Will Power and Determination Away from the Track to Get in Shape - Not on the Track When You Drive!
When you get into your kart to drive, you need to have done all the hard work already in training and studying your art. Push ups require hard work and effort, but the actual act of driving takes finesse and care. If you don't train for driving, but show up at the track with the attitude that you can make extra efforts while you drive to win, then you will likely overdrive and be slow.
Accurate Throttle Control Determines How Smooth Steering can be.
If you struggle to be smooth on the exit of a corner, no matter how much you concentrate on using the wheel carefully, then you should shift focus on to what your right foot is doing. If you are aggressively trying to get onto the throttle early and too quickly before the kart is ready then you will unsettle the kart. Apply the throttle exactly when the kart is ready, rather than hitting the gas and hoping you can control it.
The Tricky Bit for Advanced Drivers - Load Transfer
Car driver coaches get right on my nerves when they spout the following nonsense:-
"Kart drivers come into cars without a clue about load transfer, karts don't have suspension and therefore hardly any load transfer, and karters just think they can throw a car around and get away with it"
In fact karts are extremely sensitive to load transfer, and are completely dependant on load transfer in order to go around corners at all. The best karters have an accute awareness of load transfer and it is the key to driving a kart with the minimal steering inputs possible.
Quick Explanation of Load Transfer for Karts
When you brake the load transfers to the front of the kart, the weight on the front wheels increases. When you turn right the load transfers to the outside of the kart, i.e the left wheels (and the opposite side for left handers) When you accelerate the load transfers to the rear wheels, so the weight increases on the rear tyres.
Key Point for karts
When you turn into a corner at first, the castor and jacking effect starts the process of lifting the inside rear wheel. Once that initial turn in is done and you get into cornering, then load transfer to the outside of the kart takes over the work of lifting the inside rear wheel. This is because the front of your kart is more flexible than the rear and all that load transfer deforms your chassis enough to keep the inside rear tyre off the road enough to allow the kart to turn.
Phew, boring bit done. But that particular characteristic of karts is what allows Davide Fore to straighten the wheel most of the way around corners. Once the kart is loaded to the outside wheels (which means the initial turn in is done and the kart is cornering steadily) then the chassis deforms under that cornering load and can't help but lift the inside wheel. Just having that inside wheel pressuring the ground less then the outside driven wheel is enough to allow the kart to turn around the corner with very little steering angle.
How to Take Corners Smoothly Step-by-Step
- Brake a little bit early, and gently releasing braking pressure as you approach the turn in point.
- Before you turn in properly, introduce the kart to turn in by starting to steer as small a degree as you can manage (almost like taking up the slack in the various steering components).
- Begin to turn in to the corner, turn the wheel as gradually and slowly as you can, imagine you are gently loading up the chassis with cornering load and that the front of the kart is steadily bending with that load
- Once you have turned the wheel enough for the kart to make the turn, hold the wheel at the same angle until you pass the apex. The kart is now loaded like a spring, if you adjust the steering now you could overload the spring or release the spring suddenly and destroy your corner!
- As you pass the apex gently unload the kart by slowly straightening the steering wheel. You are now gently allowing the inside rear wheel to meet the track again and as you do this you will feel the traction increase and you can accelerate away rapidly.
All the time imagine the kart chassis as a spring that you need to load and unload gently. Any sudden opposite lock movements can unload that spring suddenly and ruin the corner. And as you get better and better at this process you will find you use less and less steering, eventually getting to the standard of Fore where you can corner with a straight wheel.
By Terence Dove EvenFlow Driver Coaching