Fastest laps - Tenths of a second?
Your lap times:
I am very experienced within motorsport having enjoyed it for most of my life: My late uncle's rally-cross cars, single-seaters and 12 classes of direct -drive and gearbox karts. I have won over 100 races. I don’t race very much these days but I still hold an MSA National "A" Race Licence and do some testing of circuits and karts - producing quite quick lap times so I hope that any advice I can give has a degree of credibility! The purpose of my writing here is to emphasize to our less experienced drivers that fastest lap times, in themselves, are not the be-all and end-all of motor racing!
Reading your lap times:
We always publish every driver’s fastest laps from all of their races so, when you are looking at your own times (and comparing those times to others), what should you deduce? Always be encouraged, and rather pleased with yourself, if you have a fastest lap – that is great! However it may not necessarily mean that you are the fastest driver – it just means that you were capable of putting it all together (you had the skill) when you had the right kart and the opportunity to do so. Do not be disappointed if your lap was not faster than your main rival as there are so many variable factors not within your control:
• Weight of driver – a critical factor in 4-stroke!
• Tyre condition
• Steering geometry set-up
• Engine wear/performance
• Clutch wear/efficiency
• Brake wear/efficiency
• Centre of gravity of kart + driver
• Amount of petrol in tank (weight)
• Track surface conditions (changing)
• Air temperature – affects grip of tyres
• Atmospheric humidity - affects carburetion
• Variable wind speeds – particularly headwinds
- Blocked in front or defending from a driver behind you
Clear space in front/opportunity to put the hammer down
These are not excuses for poor lap times as they are all important!
All of the above factors (affecting fastest lap times) can change from kart to kart and from race to race and all can mean anything from +/- 0.01 to +/- many seconds per lap! At round 3 of our 2007 Championship I was 1/100th second faster than Peter Realf who recorded a 54.670 in his first race against my 54.660 in my second race. Who was the faster? We are the same weight but it’s too close to call! If the variable factors were against Peter he may well have been faster than me! However, to be just 1/100th (0.01 second) apart, on a fast 1-kilometre circuit like Glan-y-gors Park is nothing and a very good indictment of the racing at COVKARTSPORT - and this example is not unusual! The 4-stroke karts we use are all highly susceptible to performance variations due to all of the above factors and, with a lot of our drivers so closely matched, those factors can make all of the difference! (These karts, however, are also the most reliable!)
At COVKARTSPORT we are so competitive that frequently you might have 15 drivers, in any of our classes, within 1 second of each other and sometimes 10 who are separated by less than 0.5 of a second - over a 1km circuit!!! Just as long as your lap times are competitive with an average lap time (not the fastest in that race) you have nothing to be really concerned about. Compare yourself to drivers of similar weight and look to be within 1 second of them in the dry. Try to be consistent in your lap times as well. It’s no good getting fastest laps if you are wildly inconsistent. Better to pump out smooth lap after smooth lap. Drive within or just at the limit of your capabilities aiming to speed up gradually over the course of a whole season. A good driver will still make a bad kart go fast but he/she won’t get fastest laps out of it! If you are seriously adrift of the pace then obviously you still have plenty to learn so get into the wheel-tracks of our faster drivers and try to spot where they are gaining time! (Note that lap records usually come in cool dry conditions!)
Air conditions always change throughout the day – so the same kart will perform faster or slower from one race to another!
Don’t be discouraged if you never get a fastest lap. At the end of the day lap times can only be a rough guide. They mean far less than Championship points! A bad workman may always blame his own tools – however, you may have slower machinery from time to time (throughout the season your competitors will as well!) and you just have to adapt quickly and extract the best time that you can. The acid test is where you finished in the Championship table at the end of the year!
For the benefit of our less experienced drivers I have analysed my own performance at R3/2007 (Glan-y-gors Park is my most successful circuit so I do know how to drive it) but I didn't finish on the rostrum that day! -
Race 1 (9 karts): started from grid 8, rear tyres showing signs of wear. Finished: 5th.
Race 2 (10 karts): started from grid 2, all tyres very worn. Finished: 4th.
Race 3 (10 karts), started from grid 4, good set of tyres. Finished: 1st.
The first 2 karts had good engines/clutches giving good pick-up and top speed so no complaints or problems there. However, I needed armfuls of opposite lock all of the way around the double-apex bend at the bottom of the hill in the centre of the circuit. The approach into Compression corner also required heavy braking (I usually turn into this corner with no brake) and the karts were running a little bit too wide on the exit from the last corner before the run to the finishing line. So these 2 karts were running and steering well but were just too loose on some of the corners. Knowing this I was forced to moderate my speed into some of the other corners too. My lap times were competitive so the tyre condition is not an issue I would complain about.
My 3rd kart was excellent in every respect and, whilst I was a little slower – as everyone was – due to changing humidity and air temperature, I was flat out for 90% of the circuit with almost no braking required at all and little or no opposite lock! In this kart the only place I was braking was at the bottom of the hill into the double-apex bend. I won in this kart but I am satisfied that my driving had been consistent in all three karts. I made no serious mistakes at all and I was racing the line I wanted to race. I couldn’t hold off the likes of Vince Cogzell and Dean Porter in race 2 but I had no difficulty at all in race 3 – it’s just the way the cookie crumbles and I enjoy it!
In the light of these facts my lap times actually mean very little other than to confirm that I was competitive.
Most drivers know when they are making mistakes and when they are off the line they really wanted to be on. Equally, you know when it is all coming together and you just couldn’t go any faster! Nick Stanley.