OUT­SIDE LINE

Ex­otic ma­chin­ery is all good, but the big­gest thrills of­ten come from the sim­plest of things

Evo India - - DRIVEN - RICHARD MEADEN @Dick­ieMeaden

LAST WEEK I DID SOME­THING I HAVEN’T done for many years. I drove a kart. Noth­ing ex­cep­tional in that, I’m sure you’re think­ing. And you’d be right, were it not for the over­whelm­ing im­pres­sion it left on me. In fact I’d go so far as to say it was a bit of an epiphany.

I used to do a bit of in­door and out­door kart­ing back in the day, but never too se­ri­ously as it was al­ways for a bit of amuse­ment with a bunch of mates. Since then I’ve been ut­terly spoilt by hav­ing lots of fast road cars to set lap times in for evo, not to men­tion test­ing and rac­ing all kinds of his­toric cars. Fac­tor in a creaky back and a bit of pie-re­lated suc­cess bal­last and I’ve had plenty of ex­cuses for steer­ing clear of karts. What a fool I’ve been.

All the big, sexy, noisy kit is ut­terly se­duc­tive and a mas­sive ego trip, but as I re­cently redis­cov­ered, the most en­joy­able and re­ward­ing thing with four wheels and an in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine is a kart. If this mo­ment of rev­e­la­tion seems like an odd one, not to say a bit ob­vi­ous, all I can say is some­times it’s the best things that you to­tally take for granted or sim­ply over­look.

Put an­other way, if you’re read­ing evo (at least the printed ver­sion) then you’re prob­a­bly a thirty or fortysome­thing. You’ve earned a bit of money and chased a cer­tain dream. That might be buy­ing a 911 to en­joy on the road, or hon­ing a hot hatch or Elise or what­ever to use as a week­end/track­day toy.

There’s noth­ing wrong in as­pir­ing to some­thing you couldn’t af­ford when you were cut­ting your teeth in car own­er­ship. We’ve all done it. But, for the price of a set of tyres and brake pads on your GT3 you could do years of ar­rive-and-drive kart­ing, or maybe even buy a se­cond-hand one and take it a bit more se­ri­ously. How­ever you ap­proach it I’ll guar­an­tee you’ll be com­pletely se­duced by the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, while not spend­ing a packet on con­sum­ables will be a weight off your shoul­ders.

What I can also guar­an­tee is that what­ever you own, driv­ing a kart is next-level stuff for sheer en­joy­ment. Not only that, but it will also mas­sively im­prove your feel, tech­nique and speed. This, too, may seem like stat­ing the bleed­ing ob­vi­ous, es­pe­cially as the big­gest cliché in au­to­mo­tive jour­nal­ism is the phrase ‘kart-like han­dling’, but hon­est to God I’d for­got­ten just how good it is to spend some time driv­ing your heart out in a kart.

My op­por­tu­nity to re­dis­cover the orig­i­nal thrill of driv­ing came at the end of a me­dia track test of a re­ally rather se­ri­ous race car. It was an im­promptu de­ci­sion, born largely from the fact the tests were done, the me­chan­ics and other team per­son­nel were bored and the cir­cuit owner sug­gested we all blow off some steam at the ad­ja­cent out­door kart cir­cuit. We didn’t need ask­ing twice.

From the mo­ment I stepped up to the kart and did that slightly awk­ward wad­dle as you grab the steer­ing wheel and drop your­self into the seat I was won­der­ing why I’d left it so long. The driv­ing po­si­tion is per­fect and two ped­als means you have to left­foot brake, and no gears means you fo­cus solely on your line and feel­ing the speed.

For the first few laps I was over­driv­ing; big stabs on the brake pedal and too much steer­ing in­put send­ing the lit­tle, low-slung ma­chine zig­ging and zag­ging wildly, squan­der­ing pre­cious for­ward mo­men­tum. An­noyed at my ham-fist­ed­ness I did what I should have done from the start and lis­tened to what the kart was telling me, which was to let it do the work, but be ul­tra-pre­cise and truly com­mit­ted, both on the brakes and on the power.

The process was so ab­sorb­ing that the first ses­sion (I think it must have been 20 min­utes) went in a flash, so I went straight back out for an­other go. With ev­ery lap I formed a tighter and tighter bond with the kart and the track, sniff­ing for grip and feel­ing for the sweet­est line that pre­sented the path of least re­sis­tance and max­i­mum for­ward mo­men­tum. No road car comes close to the level of con­nec­tion, nor the sat­is­fac­tion from string­ing a per­fect se­quence of cor­ners to­gether, no brak­ing and flat on the throt­tle, per­haps save for the slight­est lift just to in­duce a direc­tion change. It was with­out ques­tion the sim­plest, purest and most mag­i­cal time I’ve spent be­hind the wheel for many years.

We have reached a point in au­to­mo­tive his­tory where the As­ton Martin Valkyrie could re­al­is­ti­cally raise the bar for road car per­for­mance so high that it will never be sur­passed. We’ve also reached a point where more peo­ple sit at home in their spare bed­rooms rac­ing on­line than have ever gone out and ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced what it is to drive a car (or kart) on an ac­tual track.

Noth­ing against sim rac­ing, or in­deed Adrian Newey-de­signed hy­per­cars, but I think there’s some­thing rather won­der­ful about the fact some­thing so sim­ple as a glo­ri­fied lawn­mower en­gine mounted to a ba­sic welded tube frame can still de­liver the best driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence you’ll ever have. ⌧

‘It was the most

mag­i­cal time I’ve spent be­hind the wheel for many years’

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