A lot of drivers have been asking whether there’s anything they can do on their opening laps to help improve their race results, so let’s dive right in.
Warm Your Tires
The best thing you can do to improve your opening lap is warming up your tires. I've always done this over the years, but I never really understood it until just recently.
Sliding the kart out of the pits doesn't actually build temperature in the tire. You're basically just eating off that freshly softened layer of rubber on the top of your tire. You want to build the core temperature of the tire because that's what gives you grip when you're driving around the racetrack. The way to build the correct temperature in your tire is to load the kart through the center of the corner. This is really the only way to build temperature in the core of the tire.
When you're entering the corner, toss the kart in and really load the sidewall of the tire. Slide to a complete stop and allow the tire to build temperature into it. The load that you get in the center of the corner builds the core temperature of the tire and allows you to get more grip. Sliding the kart around does a little bit to build temperature, but you're really not getting any more grip. This is why you see some of the good drivers just putt around the racetrack for a while, and then in three corners they're up to speed and ready to go.
In those few corners, they really load the kart, drive it in hard and turn the steering wheel and load the back of the kart into the ground. That's what builds that temperature and gives them that grip on that opening lap.
Focus on the Front Tires
When you're just throwing the back of the kart around, the front tires aren't really getting much heat into them. A lot of drivers warm up their rear tires on the straightaway, and then wonder why the kart won’t turn. It’s because they haven't warmed up the front tires.
When you’re going into the corner, turn the steering wheel hard to load those front tires. Again, we're trying to build core temperature in the tire — not just the top layer. To do that, you have to go into the corner hot and turn the steering wheel hard and allow them to load up and build grip through the center of the corner. Do a few corners that way and you'll feel more grip from the front tires.
Play the Long Game
If you set your tire pressures correctly, at the beginning of the race, the kart is going to be on the free side. You don't want it gripped up in those first couple of laps, because obviously at the end of the race, you're going to be slow. So focus on keeping the kart underneath you early in a race so that your kart will perform better at the end of the race. To do this, all you need to do is brake a little bit earlier in the opening laps.
You know where the braking zone is, and you know your kart can't go that deep into the corner, so don't drive it in that deep. Brake just a little bit earlier, allow yourself time to get the kart underneath you so that when you get on the gas, you're applying power and you're getting out of the corner faster. Sliding is not only hurting the tires, but it's also hurting your lap time. Whenever the kart is not going straight, it's slowing itself down, and if you're sliding off of the corner on the power, you're eating up your tires and you're eating up valuable time.
Keeping the kart underneath you in those early laps and warming your tires up correctly will help you play the long game, because your tires going to be actually warmed up. Like I said, the kart is going to be on the free side at the beginning of the race. Braking just a little bit earlier and getting on the gas that little bit later is definitely going to help you and improve your race as a whole.
Keep Momentum Going Forward
There's one rule in racing: Pass or be passed. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. In those opening laps, you want to take advantage of any situation you can, because if you're not moving forward, there's somebody behind you who wants your position. Even if you don't pass the driver in front of you, you're going to fall victim to other drivers trying to advance. This can snowball from one position to four or five almost immediately. That’s seconds of time during your race that you just lost because you didn't make a pass in the opening lap.
This is why you see drivers start at the back of the pack and come through the field and rarely get passed back by anybody they're passing. This is because they have a freight train of momentum going forward. And it's almost like you don't want to get in their way because you feel like you're just going to get run off the racetrack.
When you start from the back, there's no one to worry about on the start passing you back. It's only pass and move forward. It's best to keep that going and keep that speed going forward. Remember, pass or be passed. Go forward or go backward. There's no in between.
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