By on July 27, 2012

“Drives like a go-kart”. Is there a more time-worn, hackneyed cliche in automotive journalism? Although this phrase is meant to heap praise on a lightweight, nimble vehicle that offers superlative handling, I can’t think of a more damning insult to saddle a modern road car with than to liken it to a proper kart.

See, road cars have a few things that karts don’t. Suspensions, for one. Brilliantly engineered dampers and springs and control arms and bumpstops, all designed to help isolate you from frost heaves and speed bumps, while also helping the car corner in a specific manner. Karts have suspensions, but they happen to use things like your tail bone. Ever hit a bump at 40 mph and have the impact travel from your butt to your spine? Any curiosity I had about Max Mosley’s peccadilloes in a Knightsbridge basement were put to rest at that moment. The only 50 Shades of Grey I’m interested in now are the sweaters in my dresser drawer.

I’d have never even gotten the opportunity to experience a bit of four-wheeled S&M if it weren’t for Mosport International Karting‘s arrive-and-drive series. This time last year, I decided to enroll on the advice of a friend who used it to help keep his skills sharp during his absence from racing real cars. It was cheap, a good way to enhance my skills behind the wheel and helped take my mind off a broken heart without resorting to drugs or alcohol. My area is home to a number of these series, but I chose Mosport because its proximity, and the historic nature of the track. All in, a season of arrive and drive karting costs around $1500 for the entry fees and equipment (helmet, suit, shoes, gloves). The fuel, tires and maintenance of the karts are all taken care of. To go any faster, one would have to spend thousands more on a chassis and Rotax engine, plus the cost of consumables and an engine rebuild or two.

To be clear, we don’t actually race on “the big track” or the Driver Development Track”. Mosport has its own karting circuit, with multiple configurations, long straightaways, big elevation changes and banked turns that are apparently too severe to allow for the track to be FIA certified. Mosport is now owned by a syndicate that renamed the place “Canadian Tire Motorsports Park”, but the karting series, run by a Mom-and-Pop outfit (they are a husband and wife team) still feels decidedly old school. In a world of overly permissive parents (many of whom bring their kids karting) and fuzzy rules for social conduct, discipline is the defining theme here. Everyone, from the 6 year old rookie to the 25 year karting veteran, is given the chance to go fast, so long as the safety of other participants is respected.

Of course, fast is a relative term. The 125cc four-stroke karts are nowhere near as fast as, say, a 2-stroke shifter kart that real badass racers get to pilot around, but they also make the quickest indoor karts feel like a Geo Metro with a missing spark plug. Top speed is rumored to be around 55 mph – in a “go-kart” like Mini Cooper, for instance, this would be considered a dreadful speed to wheeze along at on the freeway, as one is passed by irate drivers of big-boy-size autos.

In a kart, 55 mph is a transcendent experience, life-altering experience, like the first hit of a psychedelic drug. The 125cc Honda motor takes its time to spool up (of course, it could be my 180 lb lard-ass as well) but once you’re going, you have no choice but to look up – way up, as any track day instructor has told you countless times – and try and cope with the scenery that seems to be constantly flying at your face. Did I mention that the bumpers, restraints, padded seats and steering wheels are all absent? Amusement parks karts they ain’t.

Economy of motion is the name of the game here; only the finest hand motions are required to change direction, and overzealous braking is rewarded by a phenomenon you won’t find in any road car; brakes that actively try and kill you. If you’re too abrupt with the binders, the back end locks up and sends you in a lurid spin, like something out of Mario Kart. There’s no better lesson about squeezing on and off the brake than getting pitched into the grass after an enthusiastic application of the single, axle-mounted stopper and watching whatever ground you built up evaporate in mere seconds.

The kart comes alive in the most challenging sections of Mosport; flat through the rolling hill and then into the banked “bowl”, feeling the it stick to the turn like a rodent in a glue trap. Going two-wide into a 180 degree left-hander, looking for the crack in the pavement that denotes your brake point, and being just a bit sloppy with it, making the back end come around more than necessary. Nailing the last tire, using the leftover rubber on the inside to get that perfect exit and then being blown away on the straight by someone weighing 50 lbs less. Even in defeat, it is a joyful experience.




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10 Comments on “Capsule Review: CRG F1-K 125cc Kart...”

  • avatar

    Does the Mosport Kart track only do arrive and drive for a whole season? Do they have a single day package?

    You should also come see the U of T FSAE shootout there in October. They’ve been hosting the 1 day “autocross” style shootout for FSAE cars at the Mosport Kart track since 2005. They get teams from S. Ontario, Quebec, and US schools from NY, OH, MI, and even MO….

  • avatar

    There’s an indoor/outdoor kart track outside of Boston named F1 Boston that I went to with my buddies. We did 2 10 lap races and what a blast. I had more fun in those 10 laps behind the wheel of that go-kart than I ever did behind the wheel of my 88 Prelude SI. And talk about physically exhausting. The physical effort that goes into aggressively steering and driving that kart to the win shocked me. 10 laps and I was breathing relentlessly and dying of thirst. It’s all part of the fun. I was glad I had a grand marquis at the time because I went in knowing how to use oversteer to my advantage and it helped.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second that the track is wonderful. The karts are a bit, uh, sturdy and take a lot of effort to steer, let alone set fast lap times. In my experience, they’re not maintained for parity. That would be an ideal track to race your own kart at.

  • avatar

    The best races I’ve ever had were in fairly heavy four-stroke rental karts. It’s all about walking that tightrope between scrubbing speed and chickening out.

    4-stroke, 8 hp karts top out around 55 MPH. They’re great fun, as described in this article.

    2-or-4-stroke, 14 hp karts top out at almost 70. That starts to give some real thrills and chills and long braking zones on slick surfaces.

    2-stroke, electric start, 25-28 hp karts can go 100 or run autocross courses faster than any street legal car. This is serious stuff now, and the tires you’re allowed to have keep getting stickier as you pick up power. A 15-kart TaG start is a FRIGHTENING experience especially if you start 9th. Driver fitness is a real issue in these karts and if you cannot play a full tournament day of Ultimate Frisbee you will be seriously wrecked by the time the final rolls around.

    Don’t even think about a shifter kart. They are habit-forming to the point that they really shouldn’t be legal. An ICC/KZ2 kart has 48 horsepower in a 385-lb package including the driver, corners at 1.5g+ on a flat and green skidpad and up to 3g on a rubbered-in kart track, requires upshifts on the straightaway every second, can go well over 100, and has the highest pilot workload of any racing vehicle on earth. On medium-size road courses they are faster than anything short of an Atlantic car. Some people are crazy enough to rent them out for a few hundred dollars a day. It won’t cost that little, simply because you cannot take just one hit of that stuff…

  • avatar

    I have always wanted to give these things a whirl. I wonder if they would benefit from a suspension. Thats prob the thought that spawned the Ariel Atom

  • avatar

    I autocrossed a 100cc two stroke clutch kart last year. Easily the most difficult vehicle I have driven on an autocross course in my 20+ years of autocrossing (and I have driven pretty much every class of car the SCCA has.)

    Can’t even imagine adding in shifting into the equation.

  • avatar
    Matt Fink

    I used to work for SKUSA putting on professional karting events and it was awesome. Seeing guys from F1, NASCAR, and Indycar racing 2-stroke 125cc karts inches apart was amazing. They weren’t even the best drivers on the track most of the time. I drove a similar kart to the one you used once and your description, “only the finest hand motions are required to change direction, and overzealous braking is rewarded my a phenomenon you won’t find in any road car” was perfect. I recall my first (and only) time in a kart going into the first turn and braking at “the last possible second”… only to come to a stop 20 feet before the turn. Oops. It’s hard to even describe the handling of a kart like that if you haven’t experienced it.

  • avatar

    Given the braking characteristic its no wonder why all those F1 guys started out in karting. Every review I’ve read of any person driving an F1 machine can’t believe how good the brakes are.

  • avatar

    Anyone know of any “Arrive and Drive” karting in the Houston area?

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