No matter where you go, you’ll always find two different types of kart circuits: indoor and outdoor. If you’re a beginner to the sport, you may wonder what the differences are between indoor and outdoor karting.
The biggest difference between indoor and outdoor karting is the top speeds of karts on each circuit. Indoor circuits are shorter and therefore karts cannot get up to very high speeds (about 40 mph at most). Outdoor circuits are longer, which allows for a higher top speed (often 70+ mph).
There’s so much more that differs between indoor and outdoor circuits, and we explore these differences in more detail below. We’ll also try to answer the question of which one is best for you and your experience level.
Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Top Speeds
Track length has a lot to do with how fast the karts can go. Having longer stretches of track gives you more time to build speed, whereas a shorter circuit will limit how fast you can go before you have to brake for the corners.
Outdoor tracks tend to resemble real automotive racing circuits and some can even host road races. This means that the corners are more variable, there are more straights to bomb down, and overall, it’s easier to maintain higher speeds.
By comparison, indoor tracks are a lot more winding and generally smaller than their outdoor counterparts. The track itself isn’t as wide or sweeping, and is instead geared to get as long of a lap as possible within a limited, indoor space. This will, of course, limit how fast a kart can go.
The Karts Themselves
Indoor karts are typically powered by electric motors, which are quieter and don’t emit fumes into a closed environment. Electric power also provides an immediate burst of power, while traditional kart engines don’t offer this instant torque. They are also more built-up in terms of bodywork, because the barriers are all rather close on an indoor circuit and they need to take a lot more punishment compared to the average outdoor kart.
Outdoor karts are composed of a lightweight chassis and small parts of bodywork, which protect the essential parts like the engine. They run using gas engines of varying displacements, and they need to cover a lot of ground to reach their top speeds. Because outdoor tracks are wider, there isn’t as much risk of bumping and damage, so these karts can really rely on stripped-back weight.
Electric vs Gas Karts
If you were to directly compare electric motors and gas engines respectively, the former actually has greater acceleration and early speed potential. When you hit the gas, the power you receive is instantaneous, which is why you’ll often see electric cars beat out gas cars in drag races. However, over longer distances, electric power will fall off as a gas-powered engine gains momentum and torque.
It makes sense why indoor tracks use electric engines for their go-karts, as the last thing you want is to be choking on petrol fumes while trapped inside. The tracks are shorter too, so that the batteries in the karts don’t drain too soon.
Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Techniques
Overall, you can transfer driving skills between both types of circuit with ease. Driving smoothly, lifting for corners before powering through, tucking behind other drivers for slipstreams – all of these techniques can be used on indoor and outdoor tracks, but there are some slight differences to keep in mind too.
Indoor tracks are typically made with a smooth surface, which puts you at risk of drifting and spinning more compared to an outdoor track, which is laid with grippy asphalt.
Less Is More
Because of that, indoor track drivers will tell you that driving slower is actually faster. If you’re maxing out your power, you’re much more likely to make your tires lock up on the slippery track, therefore losing precious lap time. More than ever, you need to drive smoothly and actually hold back from full power a lot of the time.
Another key aspect of indoor driving is the lack of space you have to work with. As such, slipstreaming behind other drivers is far more common and overtaking is considerably harder to pull off. You really have to balance your power and stay behind drivers for as long as possible until you’re sure of the ability to overtake, and there’ll be a lot fewer chances due to how narrow the track is.
Comparatively, when you’re racing outdoors, you still have to drive smoothly because jagged inputs will lose time, but you have a lot more leeway to slam the power down and really punish the brakes to shave speed in the corners for more overtaking opportunities.
Your ability to reach higher top speeds makes overtaking a lot easier on outdoor tracks, but it will be harder to catch other drivers due to how long the circuit is. When behind fellow drivers, you’ll still need to slipstream your way to victory, but the whole process is less of a guessing game as you have more time and space to maneuver.
More Room To Play With
Compared to indoor track racing, you can push the envelope a lot more with outdoor karting. You can find later and later braking points, hold maximum power for longer, and generally gain more speed. Provided you aren’t reckless and dive down the inside into other karts, you also have a lot more scope for making mistakes and learning without causing crashes or going into the barriers.
Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Weather Conditions
Something else that will be rather different in terms of how you drive and what speeds you can achieve is the weather. For indoor karting you won’t even have to consider this factor, but for outdoor karting, it’s absolutely pivotal!
I’ve just gone over how outdoor karts can reach higher top speeds, but this is very much dependent on the weather conditions you have to face on any given day. Pouring rain with a wet or damp track will force you to drastically alter how you drive, and your racing line will change too.
The Issue Of Rain
You’ll have to be more mindful of how your tires warm up, with the process taking longer during frigid or rainy conditions. And even when the track dries out, if you’re at an all-day event, it won’t necessarily be a predictable affair!
The racing line you learned during driver briefings is thrown out of the window, because rubbered-in parts of the track are basically an accident waiting to happen when they’re wet. All of a sudden you have to drive a lot more conservatively with lower speeds, and an entirely different, slower racing line.
This is often seen as a fun aspect of challenge for outdoor kart drivers. However, for a lot of people, the idea of being soaked to the skin in an open-air motorized vehicle is pretty abysmal. So, if you want a karting experience that isn’t affected by the weather, indoor is the way to go!
Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Experience Levels
Another huge aspect of the comparison between indoor and outdoor karting relates to how much prior karting experience you’ve had. One better lends itself to beginners, whereas the other is better for intermediate to experienced drivers.
Typically, indoor karting is considered best for new go-kart enthusiasts who haven’t had much experience driving the motorized machines before. This is because you don’t have to fret much about high speeds, the karts are well-protected, you have less chance of injury, and overtaking is very difficult to do thanks to the nature of the circuit.
Combine all of that with a smaller track and shorter race times and it’s a much more manageable experience for beginners, compared to the somewhat intimidating long road circuits of outdoors.
As you can likely guess by now, outdoor karting is considered best for more experienced kart drivers. This is for a collection of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that professional and semi-professional kart racing is hosted at such tracks and overall, outdoor tracks aren’t as common as indoor varieties. This makes them less accessible to beginners.
Outdoor circuits are also longer, wider, and they run at higher speeds, which can be quite intimidating for beginners who’ve never been in a kart before. Even many rental karts at outdoor tracks are stripped back like real racing karts, so it might not feel as safe as the indoor variety.
But that isn’t to say that indoor tracks are only good for beginners and outdoor tracks are only good for experienced drivers!
Both Are Great
Personally, I started go-karting on outdoor circuits as a 5-year-old and they aren’t as intimidating as some indoor track fans would have you think. Provided you’re taught proper track safety and abide by the rules, you won’t have crashes or be at more risk than you are at an indoor track.
But on a more general note, I would certainly recommend brand-new kart drivers to try indoor karting first before jumping to outdoor.
KEY POINTS• Outdoor karting tracks tend to be longer and faster than indoor circuits
• Indoor tracks are best for beginners
• Both can still be incredibly fun to race on
Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Costs
Outdoor circuits are often used for professional and semi-professional kart races. You will often be bringing your own kart along, so by default the monetary impact will be higher than rental karts and going along for a fun outing at an indoor track.
However, for the purpose of comparing both types of karting on a level playing field, I’ll look solely at rental costs and anything else that might contribute to this, such as travel.
Indoor Tracks Are Cheaper
No matter where you live, you’ll likely be able to find indoor kart circuits at least semi-nearby with relative ease. They’re overall cheaper to run due to the smaller size of the location, and less staff are required for upkeep and running the place. That allows them to charge a reasonable price for drivers to race.
You can expect a price range between $15 and $30 per person, which obviously depends on where you’re located. The price will raise if you hire out the track for a party or event of course, but if you’re just turning up for arrive-and-drive to race against others who also simply turned up, it’s a fairly cheap way to race.
You likely won’t have to venture too far either. As such, your travel costs won’t be anything out of the ordinary, making indoor karting the most affordable of the two. Outdoor tracks can be few and far between, making travel costs much more important to consider for outdoor karting.
Why Outdoor Tracks Are More Expensive
By comparison, outdoor circuits are often vast locations that need to be maintained on a daily basis. Debris needs to be swept off the track, the grounds need to be looked after to avoid overgrowing grass, and marshalling races will need more bodies out on the track. As such, they have higher running costs and will need to charge drivers more for the experience.
Depending on your location, you can expect to pay between $40 and $70 for an arrive-and-drive experience at an outdoor karting track. This will often include multiple race stints, and can sometimes include food and drink costs and race wear hire. Nevertheless, it’s notably more expensive than indoor karting.
Indoor vs Outdoor Karting: Which Is Best?
There are pros and cons to each type of karting, and everyone will have a type that they prefer to partake in. On a personal level, I would rather go karting on an outdoor circuit if I possibly can. This is largely down to my background as a kart racer who grew up competing with others on outdoor tracks, but even when I was simply learning as a kid, there was something much more exciting about driving outside.
As I got older, I went indoor karting with friends who were casual drivers that liked arrive-and-drive events, and I always had fun. But I just don’t get the same rush of excitement that I experience when driving an outdoor kart with its roaring, petrol-powered engine!
I’d say that the bottom line is simply to do what you’d have the most fun doing. If you’re strapped for cash but still want to experience karting, go to indoor circuits and you’ll still have a blast. If you’re looking for a more competitive racing experience, outdoor tracks are the way to go.
Having raced on both throughout my years of loving karts and motorsport in general, I can happily say that I enjoy both indoor and outdoor karting. However, indoor tracks are definitely geared more towards beginners, and outdoor tracks are best for those with more experience.
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