As part of our special investigation into the world of karting, we got former karting star and now McLaren GT factory star Ben Barnicoat to walk us round a lap of one of Britain's top tracks, PF International.
Circuit Focus: PF International
Length: 1.382 kilometres/0.859 miles
Number of turns: 10
This begins the lap with a right-to-left corner that's fairly easy and flat-out in all classes in which I've raced. The key is for your hand movements to be nice and smooth, and to keep off the kerbs so that you don't upset the kart and scrub speed off as you go underneath the bridge.
There's a slight right kink here after the bridge before a long left-hander. It requires only a small dab of brake as the gradient of the banking is quite high. You can smoothly throw the kart in and let the banking catch you at the apex. Again, you want to be as close to the inside kerb as you can without running over it. As you hit the apex, you're then back hard on the power. You don't want to run too wide on the exit. The trick is to actually stick more to the inside kerb to keep the distance as short as possible as Turn 3 approaches quickly.
This corner is all about setting up for Turn 4 to get a good run down the back straight. There's a small brake on entry and a fairly late apex. You need to get as close as you can to the kerb, which allows you to stay to the left side of the track over the bridge and in prime position for the entry to Turn 4.
Once again you only need a very light bit of braking for this corner. Some drivers don't brake at all, but I prefer to as you can get the kart turned quicker and be back on to full throttle just before you hit the apex to maximise your speed down the back straight. This also helps you to overtake into the track's first hairpin, which is the best opportunity to do so on the whole lap.
The braking is the hardest and most crucial element to this corner. You brake for a long time, making sure that you get the kart stable before turning into the hairpin as it's a fairly slow corner. You hold the brake until the apex as you start to turn in. You've also got to use your body a lot here. It's hard to get the kart down to the optimum speed before you turn in. So as you press hard on the brake and begin to turn, you have to put a lot of pressure on your outside arm to make the outside front wheel dig in and produce more grip and better speed through the corner. This technique makes the inside rear wheel lift off the ground and makes the kart rotate faster, working as a differential would in a racing car.
This is one of the easier corners on the track. Similar to the previous hairpin, except you're not approaching this at the same high speed. This allows you to brake that little bit later and you're not relying on your body as much to help turn the kart inwards. You also get a slightly later apex here than in Turn 5, which allows you a better exit and a run down to the Turn 7 chicane.
Bruno Ferrari Esses - Turn 7
This is one of the toughest corners at PF International; you can gain or lose a lot of time here. Having exited Turn 6 with a lot of speed, it's a quick corner which requires quite hard, but short, braking before turning left for the first part. As in Turn 5, you use your outside arm to push on the kart and make it get up and over the apex kerb. This allows you to stay over to the left side of the track and opens up the second part of the chicane, the right hander which you can take flat-out. This gives you a better run towards the 90-degree Turn 8.
Bobby Game Corner - Turn 8
This is a very tricky corner as it leads directly into Fletcher's Loop and the final section of the track. If you make a mistake here, it really does ruin your lap. You brake and turn in slightly earlier than you would expect. It's very important that you get to the apex kerb so that you don't run too wide on your exit. Once you're at the apex, it's hard on the throttle. You want to use as much of the track as possible, but you really don't want to run onto the exit kerb otherwise it compromises your entry into Fletcher's Loop.
Fletcher's Loop - Turn 9
The hardest corner on the track. You have to enter smoothly with a lot of speed, and rely on the front of the kart to slow you down. With the corner being so long, you don't want to brake too much and kill the speed immediately; you can let the kart slow itself down. After a dab of braking, you clip the apex kerb at the start of the corner and then let the kart drift out slightly so you have room to rotate it as the corner tightens up. It's very important that you again force your outside arm onto the steering wheel to turn smoothly inwards as the kart will want to straighten up here. Make the kart do what you want it to do, rather than be lazy. You then exit the Loop with a smooth, flat-out flick left-hander where you keep as close as possible to the apex and let the kart flow out onto the exit kerb.
As you enter the final corner, it's all about preparation. You have to again ensure that your steering action is smooth as you take the penultimate left-hander. You guide the kart up the inside kerb to give yourself an extra foot of track before coming off the kerb, lifting aggressively and using your body to turn the kart to the right for the final corner and have it pointed towards the final straight. This opens up your exit and allows you to carry more speed at full throttle onto the straight to complete the lap.
What about in the wet?
Like all tracks, once rain hits, grip levels severely reduce. With only four small tyres and no suspension, the grip level that a kart provides is incredible. The biggest challenge for many drivers is to have the confidence to allow the kart to be out of control. This is the key to unlocking a quick wet lap. You don't have to mind the machine moving underneath you. That's where you rely on the feeling that comes from your backside and lower back to know when the kart has the grip and when it doesn't.
Braking is generally done earlier and you can never get the kart slowed down enough, meaning you intentionally run wide. The racing lines at every corner are different than in the dry. You have to keep off the traditional racing line, which is full of wet, slippery, ingrained rubber and more polished.
Braking is done in the middle of the track rather than on the outside. Once you've exited the corner, you'll then come back across the dry racing line and turn in later from the outside of the track, missing the slippery inside kerbs. Wet-weather racing, and being able to master the conditions, is what separates a good karting driver from an excellent one.
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