Back in the days: who liked the front brakes at KF steering wheel?

Columns: Opinion
Several drivers who now are in F1 World Championship or PRO drivers, sat behind the steering wheel of karts with a lever on it that allowed them to operate the front brakes

The front brake was a short-lived novelty, whose "luck" is comparable to that of the – for some - "dark" phase that karting underwent during the period of the 125cc KF engines, which in 2007 - it seems like a lifetime ago - had replaced the 100cc engines, by then considered unreliable. If on the one hand, the objective was to reduce the costs of karting and make the vehicles more modern and suitable for the times, the introduction of many elements such as the electric starter and the clutch only complicated – for many - the issue of reliability and, paradoxically, increased the costs of the sport.

At the same time, on these chassis they began to use an 'auxiliary' braking system that somehow made the kart a different vehicle from what had been seen until then. If it was common for shifter karts to have brakes on the front wheels due to their higher performance, the brakes on the front wheels of the single-speed karts risked being a true revolution that was going to modify their behavior under braking (and consequent drifting with the rear sliding) that was somehow a trademark of karting. If you add to this the fact that this brake was operated by hand, then it is clear that the solution would have been controversial.

In KZ, in fact, the action of the front brakes can however be defined as "by pedal", that is, as is the norm, due to the pressure of the left foot on the brake pedal. In KF, this brake was operated by a lever positioned roughly where the clutch lever is used to start in KZ. From the driving point of view, this type of brake introduced a modus operandi in braking never seen before on 4-wheel vehicles that were not intended for drivers with disabilities where the controls became manual for objective reasons.

One manufacturer who went against the tide had a system tested, a system they tried to homologate that would activate the front brakes of the single-speed, namely Giancarlo Tinini, CRG owner, noticing that the kart, with the new engine, actually made faster, could be considered "safer" precisely because of the greater effectiveness of the braking system that, aided by front disc brakes, reduced the braking distances. The system he had conceived was - incredibly - rejected by the FIA which, a month after the tests, said it was "unsafe". And yet, analyzing the behavior of the single-speed kart with front brakes, it seems that the use of the "by pedal" brake could really make the vehicle more controllable in a critical phase such as braking, even while engaged in an on-track tussle.

«They defined our system as not very safe and therefore it could not be homologated, when, instead, my opinion is that it was precisely the opposite, in case of a problem with the rear brake. Operating a ‘hand brake’ would certainly have implied a longer reaction time, so if we are talking about safety, truth is that system had made the karts faster.» recalls Tinini.

Basically, analyzing the behavior of the vehicle, the advantage of the front brakes was that they permitted much more powerful braking in long, hard braking sections, those in which you brake "straight out". With the fact that it was operated manually, however, it allowed you to manage mostly those braking sections of the track that were more driven - where you were braking practically inside the curve, and in this case, you used the front brake or lightened it up, as the case may be (in some cases it was not used). The problem was that in this way it had become too easy to overtake: it was enough to "slam the brakes" even if you locked your wheels inside the curve because the important thing was to overtake. In this way, however, you lost ground to those in front, and so during the race, you could see small groups forming in which you overtook each other, but lost ground from one group to the next.

As a matter of fact, these braking systems had started to give a clear improvement with the increase in minimum weights, so it was better to have more braking power and the safety issue could start to make sense. It is difficult, however, to find a real meaning to their introduction, in the sense that a brake "at the steering wheel" had nothing educational or propaedeutic about it because it doesn't teach you anything you could then use in the transition to cars, for example. From this point of view, it would have been better to have a system with brakes on all four wheels, all "by pedal" as Tinini had conceived it, more immediate and useful in teaching how to adjust their distribution on the two axles, even if, for the above-mentioned reasons, it did not give the same advantages of the "hand-operated" system.

To talk about it again today, with the speed performance that single-speed karts have achieved, could make sense: some solutions among electric karts are in fact starting to propose the front brake by pedal in single-gear.

Created by: fmarangon - 22/03/22

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