Karting in the wintertime

- Close Up
First races of 2024 season are about to begin with typical weather forecasts for this period. What solutions should be adopted on karts when temperatures are close to, or even below, zero?

After the holiday break, the 2024 karting season is about to start with rather clear weather forecasts: it will be very cold (speaking about Europe and most of the North America during wintertime), and temperatures well below zero are expected, especially during the last weekends of January. If drivers need to cover up to protect themselves from this cold, opting for undergarments that insulate from the wind rather than just the cold, technicians will have to do the same to safeguard the engines and optimize the performance of the chassis in these particularly challenging conditions.

Keep an eye on the engines!
Liquid-cooled engines, now used in all categories except for Minikart where air-cooled engines are used as mandated by the technical regulations, have the advantage of maintaining a stable operating temperature and, consequently, consistent performance and reliability. Drivers have learned to manage the temperature by adjusting the amount of air directed to the water radiator: to do this, it is sufficient to check the temperature on the instrumentation and decide whether to raise or lower the curtain just enough, based also on personal experience, which in this case makes the difference between a seasoned pilot and one lacking the right experience. In the past, when there were no more sophisticated solutions, strips of adhesive tape were used, folded at the ends, to be torn off as you went along, and instead of a water thermometer, the radiator was touched by hand to get an idea of what was happening. Today, this practice is prohibited because, tearing off the tape and letting it fly away, it could end up sticking anywhere, with obvious problems for the safety of the pilots. The radiator can be taped, but the tape must make a complete loop around the radiator itself so that it can only be removed with a cutter and not during the race. The use of a thermostat, or a valve that limits the circulation of water when it is too cold, is another appreciated solution, with the (remote) risk that the valve remains closed, causing the engine to break due to overheating. The best solution is to teach the driver to manage the temperature with the curtain to avoid the risks of the thermostat. Some engine tuners, in extremely cold temperatures, also use smaller radiators. Both on single-speed and shifter water-cooled engines, on cold days, protections are used for the front part of the cylinder to avoid excessive cooling of this area of the cylinder to prevent unpleasant technical consequences, sometimes even seizing. And, let's remember: "cold water" seizing is the worst one can incur, with significant damage to both the cylinder and the piston and, sometimes, even the crankshaft. In the 60 Minikart, with air-cooled engines, there are no particular solutions to adopt since these engines are very little affected by external cold, except for the carburetor, which needs protection to avoid freezing with the risk of the throttle being stuck in complete openness, with consequences for the safety of the driver.

Custom carburetion
In cold weather, the air is denser and rich in combustible oxygen, and consequently, the carburetion tends to lean. To overcome power drops and seizures, engine builders use particularly rich calibrations generally not used throughout the season.

Small adjustments for chassis
Debunking myths, there are no special chassis settings except for the usual meticulous care for adjusting tire pressure, which must warm up quickly without exceeding the optimal temperature range during the race to avoid a drop in performance. Slightly opening the convergence can help facilitate reaching the ideal tire temperature when it is very cold.
 

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