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Indoor vs Outdoor Karting: What Are The Differences?

No matter where you go, you’ll always find two different types of kart circuits: indoor and outdoor. What’re the biggest differences between these mediums? I’ll be shedding light on all of the differences so that you can make a decision about which will work best for you!

This 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. Outdoor circuits are longer which allows for a higher top speed.

There’s so much more that differs between indoor and outdoor circuits, so don’t feel like the question has been entirely answered just yet! Let’s go further in-depth about more factors that influences these differences.

Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Top Speeds

I already touched on this fact to begin the article, but it deserves a more thorough look to really understand the differences in speed between the two types of karting.

Sure, 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 subsequently brake.

Typically, outdoor tracks resemble real automotive racing circuits and can even host road races, depending on the types of venue they are. This means that the corners are more variable, there are more straights to bomb down, and overall, it’s easier to maintain higher levels of speed.

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 as speed is built over time.

Another huge part that influences just how fast each type of kart can go is… well, the kart’s build itself!

Indoor karts are typically powered by electric engines which are quieter and don’t emit fumes into a closed environment. Electric power also provides an immediate burst of power rather than a build-up. 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, however, are composed of a lightweight chassis and small parts of bodywork which protect the essential component parts. They run on gas engines of varying displacements, and need a lot of ground to be covered in order for their top speeds to be realized. 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.

If you were to directly compare electric 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; hence why you’ll see electric cars beat out gas-ran cars in drag races, as an example.

However, over longer distances, electric power will fall off as a gas-powered engine gains momentum and torque. Add some corners in there and you’ll see a very different story!

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 you won’t feel a power drop-off unless the battery starts to drain.

And on the flipside, gas engines are best suited for long distances to get the full performance aspects out of them. Nothing really beats the satisfying roar of a petrol-powered engine, either, and you can enjoy that outdoors without being gassed out!

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 slipstream… all of this can be used on indoor and outdoor tracks, but there are some slight differences to keep in mind, too.

Indoor tracks are made with a typically slippery, smooth kind of surface which puts you at risk of drifting and spinning more compared to an outdoor track which is laid with grippy asphalt.

Because of that, indoor track drivers consider 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.

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 less chances due to how narrow the track is.

Comparatively, when you have heat in your tires on outdoor circuits, you’ll have grip stacked on top of grip! 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.

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.

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 by… well, going faster! Provided you aren’t reckless and dive down the inside into other karts, you 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 which will be rather different in terms of how you drive and what speeds you can achieve is the weather. Or rather, for indoor karting you won’t even have to consider this outside factor, whereas 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 make you drastically alter how you drive, plus the entire racing line which is normally used.

You’ll have to be more mindful of how your tires warm up, with the process taking longer during very frigid or otherwise rainy conditions. And even when the track dries out if you’re at an all-day event, it won’t necessarily be an even or predictable affair!

Your typical racing line that was learnt during driver briefings is thrown out of the window, because rubbered parts of the track are basically an accident waiting to happen. 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.

This is a huge differential and talking point between kart drivers as a whole, and why outdoor karting is considered to be a more skill-reliant form of the sport.

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. It simply depends on the person, however, but let’s take a quick look.

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 and you have less chance of injury, and overtaking is very rare/ difficult to do.

Team all of that with a smaller overall 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. It’s more of a trek and therefore doesn’t make them as accessible.

Outdoor circuits are also longer, wider and run at higher speeds; something which can be quite intimidating for beginners who’ve never been in a kart before. Even the rental karts are stripped-back like real racing karts, too, so it might not feel as safe as the indoor variety.

That isn’t to say that indoor tracks are only good for beginners and outdoor tracks are only good for experienced drivers!

Personally, I started go-karting on outdoor circuits as a 5-year-old and they aren’t as intimidating as indoor track personnel would have you think. Provided you’re taught proper track safety and abide by the rules, you won’t have crashes nor be at risk any more than you are at an indoor track.

At a more general level, however, I would certainly recommend for brand-new kart drivers to try indoor karting first before jumping to outdoor. You’re more likely to find indoor tracks closer to home than outdoor varieties, too.

Indoor vs Outdoor Karting Costs

This is quite the tricky thing to consider for a number of reasons, but it’s important to compare the average costs of each type of kart racing for a proper look at their differences.

The reason why I say this is a tricky subject is because outdoor circuits are 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.

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.

Depending on where you’re situated in the United States, you’ll be able to find indoor kart circuits with relative ease. They’re overall cheaper to run due to the smaller size of the location, and less staff required for upkeep. And that allows them to charge a reasonable price for drivers to race.

You can expect a price range between $15 and $30 per person, again, dependent 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 simply turned up, it’s hardly an expense at all.

If you couple that with the fact that indoor kart tracks are more commonly and easily found around the country, 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.

By comparison, outdoor circuits are often vast locations which 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 more running costs and will need to charge drivers more for the experience.

Again, depending highly on your location, you can expect to pay between $40 and $70 for an arrive-and-drive experience. This will include multiple race stints, of course, and can oftentimes include food and drink costs, plus racewear hire. Nevertheless, it’s notably more expensive than indoor karting.

And then there’s travel. Unless you’re like me in Washington State nearby Seattle, you’ll likely have to travel in order to reach outdoor circuits. They can be well over an hour away, and if you’re in smaller States, you might not even have an outdoor track to drive around.

One of the big reasons I’ll always encourage friends and family to try outdoor karting, however, is the aspect of realism that indoor karting generally lacks. It’s a big, exciting experience every time you go, and you’ll feel like a real racing driver!

Indoor vs Outdoor Karting: Which Is Best?

If my previous points haven’t made it obvious, I’ll say this to be very clear: this depends heavily on personal opinion above all else.

There are pros and cons to each type of karting, in my eyes, 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 driving and racing, but even when I was simply learning as a kid, there was something infinitely more exciting about it.

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, call me a traditionalist if you like, I just don’t get the same rush of excitement that I experience when driving an outdoor kart with its roaring, petrol-powered engine. Electric engines just aren’t the same.

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 realistic, racy experience, outdoor tracks are the way to go.

Final Thoughts

So, there we have it, readers!

I tried to go over as many points of comparison as I could so that you could get a better picture of each type of karting that’s offered. Having done both throughout my years of loving karts and motorized sports, I hope that I’ve given you all a good overview and that you’ll soon be calling up your local track to give it a go for yourself!