Whether you’re new to the motorsport or somewhat seasoned, what can be handier than a guide to the different racing classes of karting? Not much! In this article, I’ll give some insight into kart racing itself and look at each racing class.
So, what are the different kart racing classes? In a very simple sense, the different kart racing classes are:
- 50cc Kid Karting
- 60cc Cadet Karting
- 100cc TaG
- 125cc TaG
- 125cc Shifter
- 250cc Superkarts
Depending on your area and level of involvement you want to participate in, there’ll probably be a lot more than this somewhat small list mentioned above. But these are the most common/easiest classified classes out there! Let’s jump into all things racing, shall we?
Kart Racing: What Is It?
Before I go in-depth about the different classes of racing in karting, I thought it’d be worth spending some time going over more general aspects of racing, and why it’s such a popular past-time.
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This all comes down to how affordable go-karting is compared to other motorsports. Formula One drivers start in this medium to learn the ropes of racing, so it’s an amazing springboard for great things down the line. And you won’t have to take out another mortgage on your house to participate!
Another very exciting aspect of kart racing is how open-ended the sport is. Depending on where you’re located, kids can jump into the driver’s seat from as young as 5-years-old. To get involved, you don’t need a driver’s license or other such factors, making it a fun hobby as well as something competitive to invest in.
In the United States, we have a lot of governing bodies that organize go-kart races and general regulations. These include: The International Karting Federation (IKF), Karters of America Racing Triad (KART), the USPKS (United States Pro Karting Series), and the World Karting Association (WKA).
No matter where you race in the US, one of the above organizations will be involved in the safety and endorsement of those events. Unlike European kart racing, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, AKA International Automobile Federation) isn’t involved and instead, everything is managed by kart-specific organizations.
As with any other racing, however, you will be required to get yourself a racing license. There are specific ones for karting, so don’t worry! They cost less than full road car racing licenses, and the process of getting one isn’t as complicated by a long shot. To accommodate for all age brackets of karting, your kids can nab one as soon as they want to start competing.
Kart Racing Formats
When somebody says the word “go-karting” to you, you’ve probably got a pretty clear image in your head of what that means to you, right? Typically, people imagine a small, road-like circuit where they do short races with lots of overtaking.
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There are actually a couple of different formats for kart racing, and each one has different popularity depending on where you’re located in the US of A!
The most commonly thought of and most popular is the sprint-style race format. Tracks range between ¼ mile up to almost 2 miles, dependent on location.
Participating in a sprint race format will have you taking part in a number of, believe it or not, kart racing sprints around the track for good lap times and track position. You will typically have a qualifying session, where the best lap time lands 1st place on the start grid, and so on. Then, you’ll race in 15-minute sprints to ascertain a winner.
Some races will only have a qualifying run followed by one sprint race, but a lot will rely on two, three or even four sprint races before averaging the results to determine a winner. It all depends on how your specific race series organizes things, because even though race classes are universal to a point, every class and sub-division does things differently.
Most international race series utilize this format of racing, one example being the Karting World Championship.
It is highly popular in the West and East Coasts of the United States, with decent popularity scattered in between.
In this race format the sessions last for a longer period, highly dependent on the specific race series, with the longest rivalling Le Mans and gunning for 24 hours of constant kart driving! Typically, you’ll find endurance racing to last for 30 minutes or 1 hour.
As you can imagine, raw speed is not the most important factor, as race strategy, driver consistency and kart reliability play huge roles.
Commonly nicknamed “enduro” in the US, the formats split somewhat between sprint enduro (30-minute races) and laydown enduro (45-minute races). Having track space to spare, you’ll find that this format is commonly held on normal road circuits.
Of the bunch, endurance racing is usually considered one of the more cost-effective ways to jump into karting. After all, you won’t be maxing speeds with an endurance kart, meaning that their component parts will last longer and will generally be more reliable.
More commonly known as ‘oval’, this race format takes place on oval tracks which are shorter than sprint varieties, ranging between 150 yards and ¼ of a mile.
Specific karts have been designed for this style of racing, very popular in the South and Mid-West of the US. They possess an ‘offset’ chassis to allow for more precise maneuvering in competitions featuring only left turns.
These races vary between 4 laps and 20 laps in the speedway format, with the longer races being used for feature/main events. Depending on the governing organization, you’ll see heat races or timed lap qualification. IKF runs the former, and WKA runs the latter.
Kart Racing Classes
With that background information out of the way, and the huge differences between race formats, it’s time to look at the namesake of this article; racing classes!
Due to how differently endurance and speedway karts are designed, they have their own categories for racing. The former format doesn’t split classes by engine displacement, for example, and the latter is split only by age group.
The more complicated and varied race classes are found in the sprint format, easily the most popular worldwide, not just in the US.
As such, I’ll spend my time going over and explaining the sprint format race classes, especially since these are the most common and are more likely to be encountered in the kart racing world.
This won’t be a definitive list, but I’ll do my utmost to outline all of the biggest classes! Every area will have a slightly different way to organize races and might have specialist classes, so it’s impossible to cover every single one. Nevertheless, my many years of kart racing experience can give you, the reader, insight into all of the biggest!
50cc Kart Racing
This category is reserved for kid karting, the affectionately-named past-time for children to first jump into this motorsport. You’ll also find these 50cc engines, unrestricted, on adult rental karts and the like. But as far as races go, kids will dominate this class.
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The biggest thing to remember with kart racing is that, in sprint formats, there are umbrella classes and then race series that are found underneath. These race series are split dependent on the engine used with the kart.
As an example, within 50cc kid karting you’ll find the IAME Comer C51 series and Honda GX35 series, with the more niche Rotax series (typically with different engine displacement, however).
In the US, kids can first start karting when they’re age 5, and this class stretches until they turn 7-years-old. Some places might use weight classifications, but most race series and classes will split everything up using age gaps.
Beginner kart drivers in this category will use what’s called a restricted or limited 50cc engine on their kart, to keep speeds around the 30mph mark. As they build their experience within this category, however, they have the option of their engine being unrestricted so that they can enter intermediate or advanced kid kart races, hitting in the realms of 40 or 50mph!
So, as you can probably tell by now, there’re quite a few ways for the umbrella race class to be split and keep the playing field level. This is all part of why go-karting is so popular, because difference in driving ability is the true factor to success in the sport as opposed to having the best engine or having a super lightweight kart.
The age requirements for this race class are very short and sweet, especially compared to others which have a much wider window, but it’s a fantastic entry-level class with huge room for development in young drivers.
60cc Kart Racing
You might think that an extra 10cc isn’t a huge step-up, but it’s crazy what that extra displacement can do!
This class of racing is set aside for the cadet age range, which spans between the age of 7 and 12. A lot of places around the US further divide this in order to make it fairer all round, but generally the only difference are the engines used in the early ages compared to the later ages in this category.
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You’re very likely to find the Micro (age 7-9) and Mini (age 9-12) classes. This is the same regardless of the engine manufacturer you use due to the fact that IAME and RoK, the two biggest engine manufacturers used in the cadet class, made appropriately named products to fit the new split.
This race class is split into many strands, as I outlined with the 50cc kid karting above, and the biggest ones are the IAME Micro and Mini Swift, plus the RoK Micro and Mini Vortex. The Micro engines reach 50mph, and the Mini engines can hit up to 60mph.
Experience level is also taken into account with the 60cc class, so even with the two separate age brackets, you’ll find beginner, intermediate and advanced brackets to add an extra layer of fair competition to the mix.
In order to accurately asses a driver’s ability and to make sure that they’re placed into the correct experience level bracket, you can expect there to be some forms of kart driving tests before they’re officially entered into the race. Otherwise, everybody races in the category that their engine fits into, and this is seen more commonly in the older age brackets of karting.
100cc TaG Kart Racing
You may or may not see this racing class, and it highly depends on your local racing scene. It’s considered the stepping stone between lower engine displacements and the highly popular, most commonly seen 125cc engines.
Now, I think your first question might be something like “but what does TaG mean?”. Let me answer that for you! TaG is a very common term in the karting world, and it stands for ‘Touch and Go’. They’re electric-start karts without a shifting feature, making them highly attractive for the simplicity of the rigs.
This is why you’ll see stuff like 125cc TaG and 125cc Shifter series, because the latter has a gearbox and needs its own race class to reflect that. Gearboxes deliver more variable torque, and therefore higher speeds.
Most commonly, you’ll see 100cc racing classes among Junior-level kart drivers, between the ages of 12 and 15. This is also a good class to enter as an adult beginner driver, because the slightly lower displacement means a lighter kart overall, and a more forgiving racing experience.
Overall, however, 125cc race classes pretty much overwhelm the 100cc class in terms of popularity. A lot of race series completely skip the 100cc class and jump straight to 125cc for Junior drivers, as an example.
This race class will be split dependent on the engine used, as per every other class, and the most commonly seen ones are Yamaha KT100 and IAME KA100.
125cc TaG Kart Racing
Easily the most popular and commonly seen kart racing classes involve 125cc engines; especially when it comes to the TaG category!
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Within this class, you’ll see Junior drivers and adult drivers of all abilities. The Junior category is between the ages of 12 and 15, and the senior category (AKA adult) is everything above 15-years-old.
The biggest difference between Junior and Senior classes of racing is the lack of restricted exhaust on the latter. Otherwise, they use the same 125cc engines which really pack a punch! Top speeds in the realms of 70 and 80mph make them an exciting rig to race with.
At this level, you’ll start to see Rotax lining up with normal race classes as they develop 125cc engines predominantly. Most commonly you’ll see divisions for the IAME X30 engine, RoK TT engine and Rotax Max EVO engine.
In most cases, both the Junior and Senior levels will have different experience brackets to make things a bit fairer overall, especially in the latter case. Beginner adults jumping into this class and racing against hardened kart drivers is hardly fair!
Overall though, you’ll have the best luck finding packed race series within this class; no matter your level of experience or lack thereof.
125cc Shifter Kart Racing
Unlike the previous class which is very open and available for all kinds of Junior racers and Senior racers alike, shifter kart racing is typically reserved for experienced drivers who’ve spent a lot of time racing in previous classes.
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Anybody can learn how to use a gear shift, but it helps if you’ve had a history of driving manual or ‘stick’ vehicles before.
It’s part of why this class became so popular with intermediate and advanced adult kart drivers alike! Most of it, however, is linked to these kinds of drivers wanting an extra level of challenge when it comes to racing, and most importantly, a higher top speed.
Due to how a gearbox handles an engine’s torque, you get a bigger variety of speed from using one. The torque is converted appropriately to the correct gear for maximum speed outputs without over-speed or over-revving. Lower gears for higher acceleration make overtaking far easier, too, making this class an exciting one to watch!
Engines that split the 125cc Shifter class into different race series are: the Honda CR125, IAME Shifter, RoK Vortex Shifter and Rotax Max DD2 EVO.
In terms of top speed, it doesn’t vary too hugely from the normal 125cc series but you’ll see a marked difference at the top line and overall speed control. You can hit in excess of 80mph, with some builds reaching up to 90mph!
It’s a great race class for the most exciting races out there, but due to the higher top speeds and more variables to focus on, you should absolutely be around the intermediate level of driving ability before jumping into this area.
250cc Superkart Kart Racing
Quite the jump in displacement, right? From 125cc to 250cc, that is. This is due to a few reasons, primarily because 150cc kart racing is very rare (only seen in master class driving) and 200cc karts barely being drivable unless they have a 4-stroke engine.
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The next biggest kart racing series is the superkart, a machine of insane top speed potential with a 250cc gearbox engine. In the US, this class of racing is pretty rare, too, but there are marked divisions for it and as such, I wanted to cover this area for you.
Unlike go-karts you’re probably used to, a superkart has more bodywork and looks far more like a regular car; just of a smaller size. The bodywork is designed for maximum aerodynamic behavior on the track, and the kart’s composition is almost as important as the powerful engine for giving it top speeds of 140mph.
Only a small handful of manufacturers exist for this class, and everybody races in the same division. It isn’t separated by engine type like the rest of go-karting is, primarily due to how comparatively small engine differences are and also due to the smaller following.
The engines you can use for this race class are the Honda RS250, Yamaha TZ250 and the BRC250.
Superkart races are hosted by the IKF and US Superkarts Championship, making it quite the organized series and immensely high-octane to say the least! In terms of driver ability, you should definitely be an experienced kart driver before deciding to delve into this race class.
As you can probably tell from this article and the numerous variables that go into every race class, go-karting is a hugely adaptive, varied motorsport that can suit anybody’s needs! It’s part of why I continued to race karts for so many years and every class is different.
I’m sure you’ll find the best class for you, and before long you’ll be totally hooked!