The art of driving a kart in the rain

Columns: Focus
Rain has always been one of the factors that complicate a race weekend, from Formula 1 to every category on 4 wheels: the ability of drivers to manage the situation is born, once again, in karting.

Among the various preparatory or propaedeutic capacities inherent in karting, that of learning to drive in extreme conditions such as when it rains, should not be underestimated at all. Every Formula 1 race in the wet confirms this, as in these conditions, the driver's skill and sensitivity can truly make the difference.

There are many aspects to be considered when driving a kart in the rain, some of which are aimed at facilitating the learning curve, while others make things even more difficult. In this last sense, just think of the fact that the kart driver is completely exposed to water, which comes both from above and... from below! The water raised by the wheels of your vehicle and those of others is a substantial part of the whole. It sometimes happens (those who have competed in the rain can probably confirm this) that so much water is raised that you can't see anything and you can't even breathe. In practice, from their very early days as kart racers, drivers are indeed used to extremely bad conditions, so it is perhaps unfair, as often happens, to accuse the current generation of Formula 1 drivers of being "fancy-asses", when it is and was always the race direction that prevented them from going on track when the conditions seemed too unsafe. Even when you are perfectly equipped with a waterproof suit and whatever else, the situation for kart drivers becomes physically difficult and creates an additional difficulty compared to just the driving itself. Not that driving becomes less demanding, on the contrary: you have to be able to interpret the conditions of the road surface in the best possible way, that is, not only avoid puddles or water stagnation points, but also the roughness, texture and grip of the asphalt, combining everything with the creation of racing lines or trajectories that are actually do-able.

It goes without saying that with poor road holding conditions you cannot make sudden changes in trajectory, so it is often a matter of finding a compromise situation, choosing what will make you lose as little time as possible in a curve that may offer three possibilities, all with some downsides or negative consequence. For example, the smoothest trajectory in a curve (which can be to go outside of it) may at the exit take you to an area where you can't even accelerate because there is a complete lack of traction grip, or where there is a potentially perilous puddle. There are, in other words, many possibilities and you have to understand and choose what’s best, the "least bad" aong all possible choices. Not only that, but we must also be able to find alternatives if we are fighting with another driver and we must find a solution that allows us to attack or defend ourselves.
In short, it's not easy at all and often you have to "adapt" to the moment, know how to adapt to conditions that often change during the race (it's not necessarily raining constantly and evenly). Not to mention some extreme situations such as when you start on an extremely wet track, but the sun comes out to dry the track during the race, having to constantly change trajectories from one lap to another. Or when it rains when the race has already started and we have to manage the slick tires in the wet.

Racing a kart in the wet is, to say the least, a difficult situation that requires a lot of effort both from an athletic point of view (due to the continuous corrections) and from a mental point of view (great concentration, reactivity, and analytical skills are needed). Fortunately, there is also an aspect of the matter that "helps", especially the first few times you race in the rain, and that is how the lower speed often allows you to make mistakes without too many consequences. Maybe not in certain fast corners, since if you end up off the track onto the wet grass, which is very slippery, you feel like you are never going to stop and can crash quite violently. However, on the slower corners, you can do some "experiments" to understand how it works: how to use the steering, how to look for the best line, and so on, often managing to stay on the asphalt even when the kart gets out of hand.
An important part of the teachings offered by karts, after all, is also that of being able to make mistakes without too much damage, isn't it? This is a consideration that applies to all situations related to karting compared to all motorsport, after all, and it bears repeating: it's better to make mistakes - and thus learn not to make them - when you're still racing karts than when you're already racing cars. Because as the episodes in Formula 1 show, when you "lose" a single-seater in the wet, the speeds, the effects - and the costs! - are quite different...


Created by: fmarangon - 26/04/22

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