A Guide on How to Perfect Go-Kart Drifting


go-kart drifting

One of the unsung heroes of the racing circuit is the Go-Kart driver. These small but powerful one-person carts can be exciting to watch. They jockey for the position often, and bumping and drifting around corners are significant parts of the game. Are there ways to learn how to perfect Go-Kart drifting?

Drifting is one of the hottest up and coming autosports. When you combine that with the thrill and speed of go-karting, you have several overlapping theories that could be confusing for the newly initiated driver.

Don’t sweat it! Read on and learn everything you need to know to perfect go-kart drifting.

How to Drift a Go-Kart

The steps to drift a go-kart are:

  • Attack the corner from the outside lane
  • Speed into the turn
  • Lean away from the turn
  • Swing the kart towards the inside lane, hard
  • Feather the brakes and gas
  • Straighten the kart

Attack the Corner from the Outside Lane

Approach the corner from the outside lane. This should be the one closest to the track wall. Keep a few feet between the kart and the wall as space will be needed when the kart begins to slide around the corner. Take note that some tracks will have a darker coverage area in the outside lane; use it as a guide.

Using all the space in each corner is very important when drifting. The kart’s rear end will swing, making the kart twice as wide as when it entered the turn. Being too close to a corner will mean that if the turn’s angle is too steep, the go-kart will crash into the wall and spin out. 

Speed into the Turn

It cannot be stressed enough how vital the 40mph barrier is to drift. Gain all the speed you can before heading into the turn. If you aren’t traveling fast enough, you will take the turn normally, which is ok but not what we are shooting to perfect.

With enough speed, you will begin to feel the back end of the kart slide when you gently apply the brakes. This is generated by the rate and abrupt changes in speed that come with steering and braking. Always keep your foot on the accelerator to enhance the drift. Maintain speeds above 40mph, and you should be just fine.

Lean Away from the Turn

Leaning away from the turn will place the rider’s weight on the outside tires forcing them to the ground during the turn. This leaning gives you all the space you will need to make the turn and have traction slippage. Slippage means that the tires glide over the track instead of clawing forward.

Leaning over the tires shifts all the weight of the driver to that tire. The grip will increase and hold the kart closer to the track, which is a massive part of drifting. While the other tires skitter across the surface, the one wheel is held closer to the ground to continue moving the go-kart. 

Swing the Kart towards the Inside Lane, Hard

With the correct speed and lean, turn sharply into the corner to face the flow of traffic on the track. This moment in the drift is critical. Pay attention, not to over or understeer, which will cause the kart to spin out.

The swinging motion works to throw the rear end of the car parallel with the front. Use all the momentum that you can to lunge and swing the kart to get it moving laterally instead of horizontally; as you continue to improve, you will know when and where at each turn that you should be swinging the kart. 

Feather the Brakes and Gas

Another complicated part of the move is to apply the brakes and gas. It takes a light touch on the pedals to make the kart drift. Don’t jump on the brakes and keep the throttle steady. If the turn is longer, you will have to apply more gas and less if it is shorter.

Pushing both pedals at the same time will lock the brake and spin the wheels of the go-kart. It would help if you focused on giving slight ease on the gas while lightly touching the brake pedal. This easy touch will slow the wheel instead of completely locking it as stomping on the brake. 

Straighten the Kart

Once you have the correct amount of gas and brakes, the tiny car will skid across the pavement like skates on ice. This time is crucial to steer the tail of the kart tail and maintain a sharp line on the track. If you lose momentum, keep your head on a swivel for other karts coming down the path. 

As the kart glides around the corner, take extra care to learn how to steer out of the fishtail. Practicing how to drive out of a skid is essential for driving, no matter the vehicle or roadway. Start slow as the feeling can cause your stomach to feel as if it is dropping away. 

The delicate balance of gas and brakes makes the go-kart glide around the corners but doesn’t make it move faster. Drifting is all about the show and the feeling of weightlessness as you travel. Don’t expect drifting to make you any quicker. 

Additional Know-how to Go-Kart Drifting

One of the things you must keep in mind while attempting to drift is that you must be traveling more than 40mph to get the effect to work correctly. If you are going too slow, the kart will fishtail or spin-out and leave you stalled or stopped in the middle of your run. Stalled or slowed karts are prone to be hit in the side, which provides little safety for the rider.

Skills to train before drifting a go-kart are:

  • Observe experienced go-kart drifters – It should go without saying that watching someone, live, or on YouTube, who knows how to drift a kart, will give you a good idea of what is expected of the driver. Knowing what the kart is doing will give the driver some peace of mind when things get out of control.

Many kart drivers say that keeping your cool in this ‘controlled chaos’ situation is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. Take the time to study other drivers and research what they do to make their karts dance across the concrete. Also, talk with other karters and see how they learned how to drift. 

  • Use practice laps often – One of the joys of go-karting is getting out on the track and putting the pedal to the medal for some close-up face-to-face racing action. It would be best if you weren’t doing that now. Take the time to feel the track’s surface and find any blind turns or imperfections that would cause the kart to flip on the track.

Go-karting is just plain fun. There are tracks across the country that offer patrons several different types of track. The slick tracks are some of the most fun in that they are designed to have less traction. Take every chance you can get to run some practice laps and get the cornering and steering down. 

  • Learn to use your bodyweight – The go-kart is such a small machine that the driver moving around in the seat can add extra weight to the wheels when needed. Lean back against the seat with a straight back and lean into the corners to aid in drifting and cornering. Moving around inside the kart will take time to master, but it will be worth it. 

Moving in the seat is going to be another small part of what makes a drift work. Shifting your weight is the easy part, and paying attention to the effect that weight change has on the drift will take some practice. More weight on the wheels means more traction on the course. 

Once you are confident with your kart skills and can keep it above 40mph, you are ready to jump into the world of drifting. Drifting will force the weighted end of the kart to swing and slide freely during turns. Drifting creates a sliding effect that is fun and exhilarating to pull off. Entire racing leagues have sprung up around the sport in only a few short years with no end in sight.

Tips for Improving Drifting

Like any other skill, there are things to concentrate on to improve your ability to drift. Every driver has something that they need to work on, and karting is no different. Above all, the thing that will improve your ability to pull off the drift is going to be time. Take every opportunity to hit the local track and improve your drifting ability. If that doesn’t work, try the following driving tips:

Know Your Equipment

If you are taking a few laps down at the local go-kart track or jockeying for position in your souped-up race kart, knowing what your machine can do is going to mean everything. 

The ins-and-outs of a good kart begin with the chassis. It should be straight, and all the metal tubing should be cleanly welded and sanded. The engine should have no problems starting and not smoke or leak any fluids. The tires should be slick if you are planning on drifting and move smoothly around the axle.

Control Braking and Acceleration

One of the best things to learn about how to drift is learning to feather the gas and brakes. Some more powerful karts can benefit from using the pedals at the same time. Using the pedals at the same time will force the kart to slide and lose grip and could help with drifting. Power is everything in the go-kart racing game.

Controlling the gas and brakes will take time, and you should know that pressing them will be a big part of the process. This wears the brake pads down something fierce and will overstress the engine if taken too far. Wearing on the engine leans back on the previous rule of knowing your equipment. 

Choose Spots for Road Signs

Knowing when and where to accelerate/decelerate can be a game-changer when it comes to perfecting your drift. Choose colored areas on the track or anything you can easily recall making yourself a guide. Often the tracks will have streaking from tire marks in the corners. Use these to gauge your drift.

Learning to drift means that your regular pulse-pounding trips around the go-kart track become more than competing against the other drivers. Use the time to learn things about the track’s surface or the corners for a considerable edge. Find places around the track to improve how you drive, and these competitions will be forever in your favor. 

Turn Using a Steady Motion

While there will be some adjustments needed on the drift’s backside, use a quick and controlled movement when steering into the turn. Being deliberate with the turn commits the driver and kart to make the exaggerated curve drift correctly. 

Jerking the wheel while driving any vehicle is never a good idea. Make sure that you take a deliberate and methodical turn from the outside lane. If the turn is jerky, you can expect the kart not to drift around the edges. It will only move sluggishly and try to regain lost momentum. 

Kart Upgrades to Improve Drifting

Improving yourself can only go so far. Hours and hours spent at the track cannot overcome a lousy kart. If there isn’t enough power or a deep enough angle on the steering, the go-kart could not perform the high-speed maneuver. Take the time to go over the odds and ends of your kart to make sure it isn’t holding you back from drifting glory.

  • Notch the tie-rods – One of the most challenging things to learn about drifting is steering. If you steer too much, you spin out. Too little, and you don’t drift. By notching the tie-rods on each side’s front forks, you can make the turning radius almost 90 degrees. With this extended turning area, the kart will glide like skis over the water.

This process could need a cutting torch to complete. Use the appropriate tools if you have them and hire a professional if all else fails. It is better to pay someone to do it the right way than to lose the use of a kart because you made a dumb mistake. 

  • Beef up the engine – Speed is another essential element of drifting. It would be best if you were above 40mph to create the effect, and any speed above that is the icing on the cake. There are torque converter kits scattered across the internet that will give you extra boost and speed by adding springs or enhancing the carb. Motor alterations should be completed by a professional.

One of the easiest things to do in karting is to buy a replacement engine. Companies are littering the internet with high-performance engines for any style of kart. 

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  • Buy racing tires – Go-karting has become a gigantic sport in the last couple of decades, and there are tires explicitly made for drifting. Buying these tires with a slick tread decreases friction on the track and will increase the likelihood of drifting. These tires can be quite expensive. There are cheaper alternatives for the non-racing kart crowd.

Slicks on a go-kart might seem like a weird option, but they have an unusual reaction to the concrete. Having a good set of slick tires will make drifting seem like an afterthought.

  • Install a drifting stick – While this option might not be available on the higher-priced and better-equipped models, installing a drifting stick could be a quick fix. It works like a hand brake that can be pulled and send the kart into a slide across the course. They are found on lower-powered karts at carnivals and fairs.

This shouldn’t be an option for larger racing go-karts. As horsepower increases, the chances for injury climb through the roof. Keep anything from dragging behind the kart to protect you and the other riders.

  • Find a better steering wheel – Being able to grip and spin the wheel as needed to make the high velocity turns is essential for a kart. Choose a wheel with a bit of tack to the touch and is easily gripped with both hands at the 10 and 2 positions. Often, tracks will have a square wheel that has hand grooves melded into the plastic or rubber. 
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Conclusion

Let’s face it; one of the coolest things you can do on a racetrack of any kind is drift. The sweeping motion of the kart gives it the appearance of hovering inches off the pavement. Learning how to drift takes a combination of fast feet and wits that can only be found at the local go-kart track.

While you can learn everything there is to know about drifting and practice; sometimes the kart could need to undergo upgrades to drift at all. Notching the tie-rods and adding extra power to the engine can give you a steeper turning radius and provide the much-needed horsepower to keep the kart above the 40mph threshold. 

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