As a go-kart racer myself, the goal of this article is to help you get a better understanding of how to drive a go-kart for the first time or as a beginner. Whether you just want to drive as a hobby or you want to race regularly, I’ll teach you all you need to know about driving go-karts.
Driving a go-kart as a beginner involves everything from preparing the kart and getting the essential gear, to actually driving it and maintaining a focus on multiple different things all at once. Driving a go-kart requires concentration, proper footwork, and an understanding of racecraft.
Below, I’ll go through everything you need to consider when driving a go-kart for the first time and how to prepare for hitting the track. I’ll also give you my top tips for driving a kart and some things to avoid as a beginner, so be sure to stick around to the end!
Is It Hard To Drive A Go-Kart For The First Time?
Driving a go-kart for the first time can be a real challenge. Don’t expect to send the kart around the track and set the fastest laps straight away. The reality is that driving a kart is completely different to driving a road car or driving on a racing simulator. There are so many different factors to keep in mind when you drive a kart for the first time, and it’s very physically demanding too.
The main reason driving a kart for the first time can be hard is that it’s so different to driving a car. While a car is primed to have a smooth ride and make the driver as comfortable as possible, karts are designed to be extremely lightweight and offer a raw driving experience. So, there’s no suspension or power steering to make driving easier.
This is why it’s often easier for someone to drive a kart if they have never driven a real car before. Drivers who have no previous driving experience don’t have traditional driving habits that they need to unlearn, like braking with your right foot or trying to turn the steering wheel too much.
So, driving a kart for the first time can be tough, but it’s worth it for the enjoyment factor alone! Let’s go through what you need to know when driving a go-kart as a beginner.
How To Prepare To Drive A Go-Kart For The First Time
I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to be properly decked out in safety equipment when driving go-karts. At the end of the day, this activity is a motorsport and has all manner of hazards that come with it because of that, so the least you can do is minimize your risk of injury by being prepared.
Key pieces of karting safety equipment include:
- Crash helmet
- Race suit
- Race gloves
- Race boots
- Rib protector (optional, depends on personal preference)
- Wet weather racing suit (depends on weather)
Getting Comfortable In Your Go-Kart
Go-karts are designed to be as universal as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments to enhance your ability on the track! Even more than that, you need to be comfortable and be able to reach all of the controls at your disposal at any time.
Note: If you’re renting a kart, you won’t have any luck in getting the seat moved closer to the steering wheel or anything like that
Kart tracks often provide padded seat inserts that can move you closer to the steering wheel, while also minimizing how much you’ll rattle around in the seat. If you’re the owner of your own go-kart, you can tweak the seat position to your heart’s content.
When you reach forward to hold the wheel, you want to have a slight, easy bend at the elbow. Adjust your seating position until you achieve this.
Also make sure to grip your steering wheel symmetrically, whether that be hands at 10 and 3 or at any other position that feels comfortable. This will mean you should never have to move your hands on the steering wheel, something absolutely essential for a smooth drive!
Similar to reaching the steering wheel, you want your feet to comfortably work the pedals with a slight bend in your legs. Spend some time extending your feet all the way onto both the brake and gas pedals to make sure you can fully utilize both when needed.
What To Expect When Go-Karting For The First Time
When you go to a karting track for the first time, you’ll likely have a safety talk to listen to, especially if it’s at a rental track. As for how it’ll actually feel when you’re on the track – prepare to take a bit of a beating! Karting is a lot more physically demanding than many people think, and a few laps of the track can leave you exhausted if you’re not used to it!
However, you’ll have a great time, and after a few sessions you’ll begin to become ‘race fit’ and start getting used to the physical aspect. But now let’s talk more about how you should actually drive your kart as a beginner!
KEY POINTS• Driving a go-kart for the first time is tough, but it’s also a lot of fun!
• Before you drive your go-kart, you need to ensure you have all the necessary safety gear
• You also need to set your kart up for comfortable driving
How To Drive A Go-Kart As A Beginner
The Proper Driving Position
I mentioned above that you need to be in the right position in the kart. Go-karts are built to be aerodynamic and lightweight. It goes without saying that you’ll be the heaviest addition to the kart itself! Because of this, how you seat yourself is very important. Adhere to my tips above and ensure you can reach the steering wheel and pedals.
Hunching or reaching too much will disrupt the aerodynamics of your kart and badly affect your body, which are two reasons you want to uphold that position throughout your drive. If you begin to slouch and adjust your posture while driving, you can develop bad habits that will inhibit the finer points of how much you can improve your lap times.
Don’t Press Both Pedals
One of the biggest no-no’s in go-karting as a whole is to have your feet pressing on both pedals. This will reduce your speed by a huge margin, and you’ll actually do damage to the brakes by doing this. Make it a conscious habit to press either the gas pedal, or the brake pedal, but never both at the same time.
Until you feel more comfortable in the kart, you don’t even want to attempt a technique called ‘feathering,’ where you quickly alternate accelerating and braking for quicker cornering. People who do this are very experienced and have disciplined themselves to never press both pedals simultaneously to begin with.
Similar to how carrying too much speed into corners will have you spinning off the track, pushing both pedals can cause a lock-up of your wheels and almost always ends in tears!
How Much Braking & Acceleration You’ll Need
When you’re on a straight portion of the track, your gas pedal should be pressed to the position we call ‘flat out,’ basically down to the floor. This will give you the optimum acceleration needed to carry your top speeds, ideal for overtaking other drivers and otherwise giving you good lap times.
Go-karts do best when they’re driven in straight lines since they carry extraordinary speed when they have little resistance acting on them. While driving on straight parts of the track, don’t weave around, and try to keep the kart planted firmly on the side of the track you’ll need to take when turning into the next corner.
Don’t be snatching at your steering wheel or making harsh movements with it. You should also never have to move your hands on the wheel, even if you have to make a hairpin turn. It will disrupt the smooth, clean lines of your steering input!
Braking For Corners
Now, when it comes to braking for corners, you never want to be slowing down on the corner itself. Apply all of your braking power before the corner and remember that go-karts like straight, clean lines.
Because of this, you’ll be taking most of your corners by staying wide of the corner and then turning into it, as opposed to staying on the side of the track where the corner actually bends around. You’ll struggle to hit the apex using this latter method, and you’ll make the kart turn far more than it wants to (check out our guide to racing lines for more information, or the section below).
When it comes to knowing the right application of brakes for a given corner, this will come from experience at the specific track you’re driving on. The sharper the bend, the more speed you’ll have to shave off before attempting to turn around it.
But cornering in a go-kart doesn’t mean braking to the proper speed and then staying off the accelerator. Remember the critical saying of how you should never press both pedals at the same time? After reaching your cornering point, you want to slowly and gently apply that accelerator again, increasing it slowly to get a clean, fast exit out of the turn.
Using Racing Lines
Racing lines are not painted lines on the track below you. It refers to the fastest way to go around the track. These lines will all differ depending on the track you’re driving on, but there are a lot of ways to pick out the fastest line from the get-go.
First and foremost, actually look at the track. There are relatively distinct sections of the track that look darker in color compared to other parts, and you typically want to stick to these darker parts of the track. These visibly darker parts have been raced on more and had more rubber laid down on them, and you can bet that this is the line you need to take (in the dry anyway – they become slippery in the wet!).
During your driver’s briefing, most tracks will have a map of the circuit with racing lines drawn on it. If you stick to the racing lines of a track, your lap times will rapidly improve compared to if you were driving on what is known as the ‘dirty side’ of the track.
Tire degradation during races and drives will happen all of the time, and the deposits of the worn-away tires land on the sides of the track around that distinct line which will attach to your warm tires and slow you down considerably. These are often called marbles, and you want to avoid them!
Driving A Shifter Kart
Finally, while unlikely for beginners, if you’re driving a shifter kart, your experience on the track will be different from the typical one or two-speed karts because you have gears to worry about. As such, your braking points and top speeds will differ by quite some margin.
However, as this guide is aimed at beginners and first-time kart drivers, we won’t go into detail here. We have a separate guide all about driving shifter karts.
KEY POINTS• Learning how to effectively brake and accelerate is key when karting
• Don’t press both pedals at the same time
• You should also learn to use racing lines
5 Go-Kart Driving Tips For Beginners
1. Try Settling Your Nerves
The first one might seem a bit obvious, but it’s one that is incredibly difficult to remember in the moment. If you’re driving a kart for the first time you’re probably going to be nervous and a little overwhelmed. This is especially true if you’re getting into a racing kart rather than a rental, as these are faster and louder.
It’s easy to get lost in the moment when you sit down in your kart, your heart rate will probably increase and your mind will start to race. For many drivers, the nerves become so bad that they even lose focus and zone out. Others find that they become a bit shaky before they get into the kart.
Nerves often come from heading into the unknown. The butterflies in your stomach and the tremors in your hands are signs of your body priming itself and getting ready to do something it’s never done before. Some people shut down when this happens, but it’s essential that you try to control your nerves, especially since you will be driving!
There are lots of ways to control your nerves, and different things work for different people. For some, it’s getting distracted by music or a video. For others, it’s about getting in the zone with breathing exercises. You’ll always feel some nerves (and it’s totally normal), but just try to keep them under control just before you start driving – they’ll likely disappear when you get going!
2. Focus On The Basics
Once you’re in the kart it’s important to focus on the basics. Most people will start thinking about how they can overtake other people or how they can start braking later. But that’s not what you want to be doing when you get into a kart for the first time. Your first time in a go-kart is a learning experience, and you shouldn’t worry about going as fast as possible yet.
The most basic thing you need to keep in mind is your racing line. When you approach the corner you want to be on the outermost edge of the track. You turn into the corner and when you reach the apex you turn out of the corner and exit back onto the outer most edge of the track. See my notes earlier in the article for more on this.
3. Improve With Each Lap
Once you’ve got a feel for the kart and you’re following the racing line closely, then you can start focusing on getting better. Remember, it could take a couple of sessions in the seat above before you get a feel for the kart and how you need to get it around the track. You need to take your time and get as comfortable as possible with the kart.
Once you’re comfortable in the kart you’ll think less about where it needs to go and how you can keep it out of the barriers, which gives your brain more capacity to think clearly and be conscious of what you’re doing in the kart. It’s difficult to explain, but you’ll notice this transition once you’ve got a couple of laps (or sessions) under your belt.
Remember, smooth is fast! You need to try and keep your steering, throttle, and brake inputs as smooth as possible. Being aggressive and sliding the kart through corners might feel fast, but it’s not. Take it easy at first, and remember to focus on the basics!
4. Follow The Experienced Drivers
You should always follow the more experienced drivers in karting, as you can learn a lot from them. These drivers know what the optimal racing line is, and they know where to brake and accelerate to get through the corner as fast as they possibly can.
Following a more experienced driver can give you an idea of where you are lacking. For example, if you find that the driver is pulling away from you at the exit of the corner, it means that you need to work on your corner exits. That could mean that you are braking too late or you aren’t accelerating early enough.
You can then identify your weaknesses against these drivers and pinpoint the areas you need to improve. Ultimately, this will help you improve your lap times and general pace out on track.
5. Have Fun!
The most important thing you need to keep in mind when driving a go-kart for the first time is to have fun. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and nerves of the moment and feel like you need to be going faster than everyone else, but the main purpose of karting as a beginner is to have fun while you’re driving the kart.
So many drivers are too focused on being competitive and being the fastest driver on the track. But the reality is that when you’re having fun in the kart, the speed will naturally follow. Try to enjoy every lap and every corner as if it were your last in the kart, and then you’ll find that you will naturally drive the kart faster and faster as you improve at the basics.
Even at a competitive level, drivers often forget the element of fun in their racing. When you don’t have fun in the kart, you will start getting frustrated and annoyed at different elements like the kart being too slow or the fact that you keep making the same mistake at the same corner every lap. So, remember to enjoy yourself!
Let’s finish up with a few quick things to avoid when driving a go-kart.
3 Beginner Kart Driving Mistakes To Avoid
1. Don’t Go Too Fast
The first mistake that most beginners make is that they drive too fast, too soon. There are loads of drivers who think that they are the next Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen only to spin out when they reach the first corner on cold tires. Remember, if it’s your first time driving a kart, no one is expecting you to break lap records.
Start off by taking it slow and getting a feel for the kart. You don’t need to impress anyone if you’re a beginner in karting. You just need to make sure that you keep it facing the right direction, and more importantly keep it out of the wall!
2. Don’t Drive It Like A Car
One of the biggest mistakes that beginners make is that they drive their karts like they drive a car. Cars and karts are completely different and aside from having four wheels and an engine, they have very little in common.
For example, in a car, you would turn the steering wheel all the way around while going through a corner. But in a kart, you’re likely just going to turn the steering wheel a few degrees, and it will be fairly straight even when going through corners. This is why it can be difficult to start karting if you have experience in road cars.
On top of that, you need to remember to use your left foot to brake rather than your right foot. Because we’re so used to using our right foot to brake when driving on the road, many people have a lot of trouble with this. So, don’t try to drive your kart like a car, and you’ll find it much easier to get the basics down.
3. Don’t Be Too Proud
Pride is something that every racing driver has. Without it, we wouldn’t have incredible racing drivers like Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso. All of these drivers take a lot of pride in their driving. They believe that they are the best and that no one else on track can beat them.
It’s a good thing for a driver, and it’s something that will carry you a long way in your motorsport career. But if you’re just starting out, you can’t be a proud and arrogant driver. If you are, you’re going to get eaten alive out on track and no one will have any respect for you. Most drivers who start out this way don’t get very far.
The reality is that you’re new to the sport and you need to learn as much as you can from other drivers. Whether that’s picking up on racing lines or working on kart setups together, make sure you’re open-minded and friendly with other drivers. You’re going to need to make friends along the way if you want to focus on improving your abilities.
Drivers that are too proud and arrogant believe that they are the best on the grid and that no one can teach them anything. There are many drivers who take this approach, and it very rarely works out in the long run. Once you start proving yourself and winning races, you can begin to let your pride kick in, as it can be a very powerful motivator – and a great marketing tool for getting sponsors!
Go-kart driving is a complicated sport that involves keeping track of multiple distinct elements at once, ranging from the health and well-being of your go-kart to the act of actually driving the vehicle, all in addition to the element of keeping track of other racers on the circuit.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.