Karting is a well-established starting point for most people looking to get into motorsport. But there’s a big difference between just frequently racing karts, and competing in a structured championship. You learn far more doing the latter than you realise. This blog looks at the benefits.
What To Look For
First of all, let’s be clear about what I mean by a “structured championship”. You should be looking for a club or venue that runs a series of organised races, usually over a period of several months, where you’re competing against broadly the same opponents at every round. And – most importantly – the series should award Championship points to drivers depending on their finishing positions.
All of these elements are critical. One-off race events or series that run only a handful of races do not provide the same learning opportunity, no matter how competitive the field might be. Equally, if you’re racing different people every month, how do you know whether you’re getting better or not?
I’m from the Midlands so here are a few good examples near me. Look around your local area for something similar – there’s bound to be someone running championships like this nearby.
Karting in any format helps you hone your driving skills and racecraft, so I won’t cover that explicitly in this article. What’s unique about racing in a championship is the discipline it teaches. We all aspire to win races – it’s a racing driver’s default setting! But unless you’re the next Lewis Hamilton, when you start racing for real you won’t be winning straight away, and only a select few can expect to win regularly throughout their careers. Going into every race weekend knowing that you will be competing for something other than a win is a shift in mindset, and don’t underestimate how difficult that shift can be.
One of the biggest reasons that young racing drivers give up early in their careers is because they place unrealistic expectations on themselves. They may make their debuts in a competitive series, race for a couple of years without ever getting on the podium, and become disillusioned. Equally, some drivers aim too low, expecting to always be near the back and so won’t set themselves targets to improve.
When I raced competitively for the first time, it didn’t take long for me to establish where I was in the field. On a good day, I’d be just inside the top 10. On a normal day, I’d be just outside it. In a one-off event, that wouldn’t be noteworthy – you’d just go out to do the best you can and enjoy the racing. In a Championship, however, it takes on a different meaning. I knew there were other drivers very similar to me in terms of performance, and I set myself the task of beating them – let the top 7 or 8 drivers battle it out amongst themselves, I wasn’t racing them!
As soon as I started setting targets for myself like this and establishing “what good looks like”, a strange thing began to happen. I stopped thinking just about me, and started being interested in what my closest rivals were doing as well. If I came home 11th, it was still a good result if the guys I was battling in the championship finished behind me. I got as much satisfaction out of a 7th place finish as the title protagonists were taking from a race win. The realisation that there was a dynamic operating beyond what I was doing in my own little bubble was profoundly enlightening. And trust me, when you come to terms with the fact that your championship can be (and often is) influenced by factors outside of your control, and that’s OK, you’ll feel a weight lift from your shoulders.
Never is this appreciation of fatalism vs. determinalism more poignant than when you suffer a setback that wasn’t your fault. A mechanical issue, or an incident that wasn’t your fault, or a bad steward’s decision can wreck your weekend and leave a sour taste in your mouth. But what competing in a championship gives you is the ability to study and analyse results in context, and reflect on the impact of a setback on your championship. And more often than not, the impact is nowhere near as bad as you thought it was in the heat of the moment.
Last year, in one particularly memorable event my kart boke down whilst I was running 8th. My closest rival went on to finish 5th. At the time it seemed like a disaster. But actually, I picked up a previous dropped score of 9th place as a result of failing to finish, so in truth I had only lost out by 1 position. I didn’t feel the need to put any added pressure on myself for the next round, and this helped my mental state massively. I felt good about the weekend and went on to get my best finish of the season. It could have been so easy to spit my dummy out and sit stewing over it between one race event and the next, but I’m glad I didn’t.
One final nugget of advice on that note – if you can, try and compete in a championship that utilises dropped scores. Most of the series you will enter as a racing novice will use them, and getting used to how they work ahead of time will benefit you. I was astonished by how many drivers in my karting series didn’t know where they sat in the table on dropped scores or who they were genuinely battling for championship position. It’s all part of your mental arsenal.
So, to summarise – racing in a structured karting championship really helps you prepare for making the step up to car racing, more than competing in a series of one-off race events ever could. To get the best out of the experience, you should constantly analyse the results, not only your own but those of others who are at a similar level of ability. Accept that your performances alone do not dictate where you finish in any given race or championship, and use this to augment your mental preparation for a race weekend. When you start racing for real, you’ll be very glad you did.