From go-karts to karting
Originally known as go-karts, karts are miniature racing vehicles with engines as small as 85 cc. Despite their miniature specifications and relatively modest performance, karts are a nationally and internationally organized form of motor sport. The technology of modern karts is well advanced from the early machines but they retain the simple construction and traditional appeal that make them an inexpensive way to enjoy motor racing in a safe and controlled environment.
The opposite extreme of motor sport from kart racing is truck racing, in vehicles with engines as large as 12 litres. Truck racing was established in New Zealand in 1989 and in 1991 the first Trans-Tasman truck race, known as the Thunder Down Under Challenge, was held and became an annual event. Truck racing drivers have included former Formula 1 world champion Denis Hulme. In 2012 truck racing took place mainly on raceways in Timaru, Christchurch and Taupō. These races were said to attract the largest crowds of any motor sport in New Zealand.
First karting clubs
Karting in New Zealand dates from 1959. Several clubs claim to be the oldest in the country, including the Tauranga Go Kart Club, formed in July 1959. The New Zealand Kart Federation was formed in 1963 and, as Kartsport New Zealand, was recognised by MotorSport New Zealand in 2002. Through that body it had delegated authority from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s karting commission for control of the sport in New Zealand. Race meetings were run by 20 affiliated clubs on permanent sprint tracks, motor-racing circuits, speedway ovals and off-road venues (‘grass karting’).
Drivers from six to 70
Kartsport has a good safety record and appeals to drivers aged from six to 70. Several generations of the same family sometimes compete in races. Drivers are required to wear purpose-made and approved driving suits or leathers and other safety wear. Karts have an inherently safe design, with a low centre of gravity, making them very difficult to turn over. Being so close to the ground, the impression of speed and excitement is high.
Types of kart racing
Kart racing takes three main forms:
- sprint events, where competitors race on permanent circuits ranging from 400 to 1,000 metres in length
- superkart racing, which takes place on full-sized motor-racing circuits
- dirt racing, in which sprint kart chassis and engines race on dirt or clay speedway tracks.
There are many classes of kart racing – junior classes start from six years old and seniors from 15. All have strict rules and regulations to ensure that competition is as even as possible. Engine sizes start at 85 cc and go up to 250 cc for superkart classes.
From low to go
Many international Grand Prix drivers started their careers in karts. Top New Zealand drivers Scott Dixon (who went on to win the Indianapolis 500 in the US in 2008), Greg Murphy, Craig Baird and Jonny Reid all spent time racing karts. Aucklander Wade Cunningham won the Karting World Championship in Italy in 2003.