Let me guess — you read my boring article and went Go Karting with your friends. Then you got your ass whupped and now you seek revenge. Worry not, because Bad Directions delivers. For the sole purpose of regaining your lost honour, I’ve been analysing the satellite images of the Hakone track. Bad Directions is proud to present the definitive racer’s guide to Hakone Go Karting Track. Just pray your friends aren’t reading this.
In A Nutshell
- Start off from the pit lane and apply full acceleration and follow the green racing line in the image (open it in a separate window for easier viewing).
- Break off immediately (DO NOT brake. Brake only at the red lines) after corner #1 to to kiss the opposite wall, setting up the line to late apex corner #2. After corner #2, stay close to the left hand side until you actually enter corner #3. This corner must be taken as late as possible and is quite similar to corner #2.
- Apply a hint of brakes as you enter corner#4. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, pace yourself in the early laps with a greater degree of braking and drop it down to the optimal amount.
- If you’ve controlled your speed by way of optimal braking, you should be in line and stable for corner #5. This series of corners is the hardest bit in the circuit and will probably need a few laps of practice. Accelerate hard at the apex of corner #4 (the blue line) and as soon as you’re past it, start braking. Floor the brakes here because the karts do not allow any modulation. Remember; underbraking this corner will put you in a potentially catastrophic slide.
- Accelerate slightly after the apex of corner #5. If you accelerate too early, you tend to drift which can drop your speeds. Again, go towards the other end of the wall and stay strict on the racing line. If you do so, the rest of the track is one massive straight.
- Follow the line accurately and you won’t have to brake until corner #9. The queasy feeling at corner #8 is understandable but there’s enough room to make the turn without dropping speed. At corner #9,brake early in order to build up speed for the next lap. After this, it’s mostly rinse and repeat.
To dive deeper into the Hakone circuit and understand why this works, read on!
The Hakone karting track is fairly balanced with its share of straights, inclines, and curves ranging from the easy to a very challenging S-curve that culminates into a hairpin bend. The designers have done an excellent job at stuffing the relatively tiny circuit with enough variety while incorporating three straights. Tricky ones like corner #9 and #5 require accurate braking and a precise racing line to get the best lap times. It’s also important to note that the track gradually slopes downwards from the starting line and culminates into a steep incline by the hairpin at the corner #5. After this, the track again ascends up a slope between corners #7 to #9; the slope becoming steep after the 8th corner. However, due to the piss poor acceleration and the pitiful top whack of the karts, almost all of the track can be navigated without lifting the right foot off the throttle. If you follow a correct racing line, you have to brake only at the 4th, 5th and 9th corners.
The lack of brake modulation and poor pace of the car pretty much nullifies the need to explain the finer points of race car driving, like trail-braking for example. However, expect to be primed on the basic racing essentials that you’ll encounter here.
Notice how everywhere the racing line engages a corner from the outermost edge of the track and then continues to kiss the inside edge of the corner to finally break off to the outside edge again. This is because such a racing line forces the kart to take the longest route, reducing the severity of the turn and thereby allowing us to carry off higher speeds than normally possible.
Again you might be curious as to why at corner #9 we touch the inside edge of the curve very early, whereas at corner #4 we touch it very late. The process of touching the inside edge of a curve is called apexing in racing parlance. With the exception of trail braking, an apex divides the corners into two halves wherein you brake in the first half and accelerate in the other. Varying the point where you apex a corner is a function of determining the kind of speed you can carry off the corner. Apexing early at corner #9 affords us a longer acceleration phase. Therefore we apex earlier in a corner that terminates into a straight as it subsequently allows us to achieve higher speeds. On the other hand, corner #4 terminates into another sharp corner #5. In such a corner, a very short acceleration phase is required, which is why we apex very late into it. Late apexing also allows us to carry off maximum speeds through the corner as the braking is spread over a longer time.
The next phenomena that you’ll encounter are understeer and oversteer. Consider a car going around a circle. A car is said to understeer when the nose of the car drifts away from the centre of the circle and towards the outer edge of the road and this happens when the cornering forces are greater than the available front-wheel grip. In such a scenario, trying to compensate by turning sharply is unwise, because increasing the cornering force against the centrifugal one will only cause the front tyres to lose traction completely. This is tackled using weight transfer brought on by braking. Doing so shifts the weight of the car towards the front and thus supplies more grip to the front tyres making them oversteer.
Oversteer on the other hand makes the nose of your car turn towards the centre and the rear end begins to kick out of line. Oversteer can put your car into a spin in no time. It’s compensated by accelerating the car to transfer its weight towards the back. This unloads the front tyres and reduces their grip making the car understeer. In addition to this you have to turn the car in the opposite direction (opposite lock) to compensate the inward motion of the front portion of the car. Since the turning radius of the kart is limited, you’ll have to turn oversteer to your advantage to take the sharp corners effectively.
- After parking your ass in one of the karts (hopefully not #9), you’ll exit the boarding terminal and enter the pit area. This is where you follow the green throttle line, foot firmly floored onto the accelerator, 10m to the first corner where you apex early to get ready for a long acceleration and unwinding phase.
- Break off immediately after apexing the first corner to kiss the right hand side (RHS) wall 15m from the apex. Carry on hugging the wall for another 7m when you break off to late apex the second corner. If you follow the racing line faithfully, you’ll find yourself hugging the left hand side (LHS) wall for 20m when you break off right at the end of the straight to negotiate corner #3.
- Apex corner #3 extremely late, catching the corner just at the point where it begins to straighten out; very similar to how we took corner #2.
- Notice how so far we’ve completely avoided using the brakes. However, after corner #3, the track attains a dangerously steep incline. Even though corner #4 can manoeuvred despite the brakes, it’ll send us wide along the track and seriously compromise our line for corner #5, costing us valuable seconds. Therefore continue for 10m along the RHS wall after the third corner and start braking moderately as you turn in to late apex corner #4.
- Proper braking will have stabilised you by now and also put you in line for corner #5. Accelerate hard as soon as you apex the fourth corner for 5m and start braking hard as you turn in for the hairpin. Braking should last 10m, and by the end of it you’ll be oversteering with the other side of the corner visible. This is where you floor the accelerator to shift weight onto the rear wheels, thereby understeering the car. This will line your nose up properly with the road. Continue accelerating towards the LHS wall 15m away.
- If you’ve followed the line properly, you will not have to turn at all for corner #6 as it opens into a massive 60m straight.
- Turn gently at corner #7, throttle still floored, to touch the LHS wall some 30m later.
- Continue another 8m up the incline along the LHS wall to break off right to apex corner
#8 very late. Even though corner #8 is near 90 degree, there’s no need to brake as the steep incline bleeds enough speed to negotiate the curve without a sweat.
- Continue 30m after the apex to hug the LHS wall briefly. Break off immediately with your left foot hard on the brakes as you turn in for the final corner of the lap. After nearly 10m of braking, you’ll apex the final corner early to start a long acceleration phase to build up speed for the next lap. Corner #1 is supposed to be apexed late henceforth following the blue throttle line instead of the green one.