May 5, 2022

How to drive on different tire compounds

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Ryan Norberg

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In events where I have raced in different classes, there wasn’t much difference between the engines, but the tire compounds were vastly different, and I had a little trouble adjusting. So, in this blog I’d like to highlight the different driving techniques associated with soft- and hard-compound tires.

Braking

Braking on a harder-compound tire is probably the most difficult thing to do, because the tire doesn’t really dig into the ground like a softer compound does when you hit the brakes. They lock up more easily. So, when you’re on a harder-compound tire, make sure you brake in a straight line. Now, obviously at every track there are different lines you have to take into the corner, but even if you’re bending the kart into the corner a little bit, the straighter your braking, the better. There’s no room for error on a hard compound. Any slight mistake you make going into the corner greatly affects lap time. The back end is always going to be dancing going into the corner.

You want to minimize lockups on a hard compound tire because you end up just skating past the corner. This is why I always tell people it’s better to learn your braking on a harder tire, because it maximizes your mistakes as you enter a braking zone.

On a soft tire, you have some room for error. When you go into the braking zone, you can bend the kart into the corner. What does that mean? It means when you’re braking, you’re actually braking toward the apex. You can blend braking and turning at the same time when you’re on a softer compound, because the back end is not going to step out on you. You can get away with little mistakes when you’re on a softer compound.

Driving on a softer compound isn’t easier. You have to brake a lot later than you would on a harder compound. You have to be pushing the kart hard into the corner because you have that extra grip, which means you can go deeper into the corner and use that grip as you enter the corner. A lot of drivers feel more comfortable on the harder compound because they can brake a little bit earlier and everything’s a little bit calmer entering the corner. When you’re on a softer compound, you have to be aggressive.

When you go from a harder compound to a softer compound, your braking is going to be arced into corner and you’re going to be braking later.

The Racing Line

The line changes quite a bit when going from a hard compound to a soft compound. When you’re on a harder compound, your racing line has to be a lot straighter. When you go into the braking zone, you have to make sure you make one turn for the corner, and then you’re straight on acceleration off the corner.

You’re going to turn in later for the corner than you would on a softer compound. Because of that, you’re going to be able to slow the kart down more and get the kart pointed in the direction you want to go, and accelerate earlier off the corner. You don’t have the grip that you do on a softer compound, so you have to make it up by accelerating early off the corner.

Your minimum speed is going to be lower because of that. You’re going to have to get on the gas earlier to make up that time difference on the exit of the corner. So to do that, you have to go into the corner and turn in a little bit later, have the kart pointed straighter off the corner so that when you get back on the gas, you can get on it and not have to worry about the back end stepping out on the exit of the corner. The less input you have on the exit of the corner, the better.

Steering Input

The last thing we need to address is steering input going into the corner. On a harder-compound tire, you have to be much smoother with your hands the entire time. Here’s why.

A harder-compound tire will punish every mistake you make. So if you’re choppy on your hands, it will result in a slower lap time. Whenever I’m on a harder-compound tire, I always push on the outside of the steering wheel to minimize excessive input. I want to minimize the chances of the back end stepping out in the middle of the corner. Focus on smooth hands and pushing on the outside of the steering wheel going into the corner.

On a soft-compound tire, you can be more aggressive. I always tell drivers when they’re on a softer-compound tire, if the kart doesn’t turn, just keep turning because eventually it will turn. That’s something about the softer compound that you can get away with. You have to manhandle a kart on a softer compound. There’s lot more grip than you think, so you have to be pushing the kart in every corner.

Of course, there are limits. However, on a softer-compound tire, you want to make sure when you do turn into the corner, it’s aggressive and it’s strong because if it’s not, odds are the kart is going to buck back in the other direction and you’re going wash out wide off the corner. There’s a lot of grip, so it’s going to want to fight back in the center of the corner. And if you’re not strong and aggressive on your initial input, it’s going to kick back. Pushing on the outside of the steering wheel is important on a soft compound as well, but it’s super important that you’re strong on the steering wheel and you hustle the kart.

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Ryan Norberg

5 Time Pro Karting National Champion

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