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SKI 2001 WSK
How it all started...
Thank you Art!
FROM A RECENT RACE AT LAGUNA SECA:
Photographs by John Rettie
Superkarts are miniature marvels of performance engineering,
metal-matrix-compound brake rotors and
carbon-fiber rear wings.
A BRUISED & DIZZY DRIVER
|By Preston Lerner
| When Eddie
Lawson told me his superkart was "a kick in the butt," I
didn't think he meant it literally. My mistake. After
driving it for 90 minutes, my body was dotted with ripe
purple bruises -- though I was having too much fun to
notice. The only reason I called it quits was that all the
lateral Gs I was pulling had my head flopping around like a
newborn baby's. Not to mention that I couldn't focus my
vision on the road in front of me -- no small concern when
you're zipping along at better than 110 mph with your
keister two inches from the pavement.
generously arranged this test session at a racetrack carved
from the Mojave Desert a few miles west of Edwards Air Force
Base. The first order of business was to warm up the
high-strung engines, which tend to explode if not romanced
properly. Before long, the air was redolent with the aroma
of burnt castor oil, which is mixed with 110-octane race gas
to lubricate the internal moving parts of the two-stroke
After Lawson turned a few shakedown laps, I
squeezed into the formfitting seat. He gave me a push start;
once rolling, I shoved the shift lever forward to engage
first gear, goosed the gas pedal, and the kart scooted
forward like something out of a Road Runner cartoon. After
about, oh, two seconds, it was time to upshift. When I
pulled the lever, second gear engaged with a satisfying
thunk. Downshifting was easier still: I banged the lever
forward and -- voilą! -- no muss, no fuss, no clutch and no
need to master the tricky racecar technique of
heel-and-toeing to match engine and gearbox revs.
| At low speed there
was nothing to it. But when I nailed the throttle, I was
like, "Holy horsepower, Batman!" Third gear, fourth gear,
fifth, sixth and still pulling strong. I was too overwhelmed
to scan the digital tach on the steering wheel, but I later
realized that the power-band began around 8,000 rpm, and the
screaming little engine didn't run out of steam until
closing in on 13,000 rpm.
Approaching a corner, I
squeezed the brake and the superkart slowed so dramatically
I lurched forward in my seat. Emboldened, I went deeper into
the next turn and hammered the brakes. The rear wheels
locked and the tail started to come around. No problem: I
made a quick steering correction and the kart snapped
smartly back into line. Soon I was sliding around like a
stunt driver on a frozen lake. Nothing I'd ever driven
responded so intuitively. There were no springs or shocks or
complex aerodynamics to muddy the conversation: I felt a
direct, almost telepathic connection between my nerve
endings and the contact patch where tires met pavement.
Superkarts come with awkward baggage: Limited racing
opportunities. Minimal sex appeal. Zero driver protection.
They're also hard on the wallet (by kart standards) and even
harder on the body (by car standards). But short of spending
hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, a
superkart is as close as most of us will come to the
experience of driving a Formula 1 car. By the way, I was a
full 12 seconds slower than Lawson. Talent, unfortunately,
doesn't come with the kart.
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