Kenton Koch column: From karts to cars, a tricky transition

The story of Kenton Koch's rise through the ranks.

Kenton Koch column: From karts to cars, a tricky transition
Kenton Koch, JDC Motorsports
Karting action
Kenton Koch
#88 Wheel to Wheel Karting: Bill Judy, Bruce White, Kevin Jordan, Jack Vintartas, Ryan Glisson
#34 Alara Racing Mazda MX-5: Christian Szymczak, Devin Jones, Kenton Koch, Randy Pobst
Callum Kirkpatrick karting
Kenton Koch
Stirling Fairman @ homestead karting
Kenton Koch
Media/drivers karting race: Alex Brundle

There is a point in a young driver’s career where he or she makes the jump to cars. The timing of this jump is crucial to the development of the driver. One might think that making this transition is quite easy since cars and karts both have four wheels. One is just smaller than the other. You are correct in this assumption, but how the two different vehicles are driven is somewhat different.

Typically, aspiring race car drivers start out in karting when they are as young as 8 or even 5 years old. These young whippersnappers then develop their race craft and car control. Karting is a stepping-stone into cars and has played a key role in many drivers' careers. The greats in this world, like Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, and Fernando Alonso, all started in karts. It goes to show just how important karts are to a driver’s career.

Timing is everything

Timing the transition from karts into cars is tricky. If done too early, it can negatively affect how quickly he or she develops their ability in and out of the car. There are a lot of technical aspects to cars and not being able to understand those can play a role in whether you make it to the top or not. But you may have a shot if you jump into cars when you have matured enough to understand all the things that are involved with becoming a professional. Some kids are ready at 18; others may be as young as 14 or 15. Karting is all about driving, and cars are much more than just driving; with more expense there is the need for more partners/sponsors. Being mature enough to understand that is important. The proper transition from karts to cars isn’t just about how fast you are but also about how you act off the track.

On a technical level, karts are completely different compared to cars. Yes, they both have four wheels and an engine, but a go-kart has no suspension and is very light. You drive these two machines similarly but for different reasons.

A kart uses its frame as suspension; it flexes and twists to get the kart around a corner. Since the kart has a solid rear axle, in order for the kart to turn, the inside rear tire must lift off the ground or the kart will either slide or push. Driving a kart requires you to brake in a straight line and come off the brake pedal to turn in, then get to power halfway through the corner. That coasting phase lets the kart flex and allows the kart to turn.

However, cars depend a bit more on the brakes and using them as a tool to aid the car on turn in. In a car, you brake in a straight line, release pressure and drag some brake into the corner to put weight on the nose in order to turn. Without going too in-depth, a kart relies on letting the kart flex to turn, and the car is depending on weight transfer to get the car to turn.

Breaking the habit

The two are similar to drive, but bad habits can carry over from one to the other. One habit karters have when they jump into cars is horrible brake pressure modulation and very fast hands. There is no finesse with the brake pedal, and the aggressive hand movements in karts can be OK in some situations. This transition can be easy for some and hard for others.

Karters should make the transition to cars when they are mature enough to understand the other factors involved. Having guidance from experienced people in this sport can help determine if you are ready. The timing is very important!

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