OnTrack: Italian Motors – Italkart / X125T-MX

EKN’S Rob Howden samples new chassis/engine combination at SIMA

EKN's Rob Howden OnTrack with the Italian Motors Italkart powered by an X125 at the SIMA facility (Photo: EKN - Alycia Hodapp)

If there’s an area of excitement in regards to the potential growth of our sport in North America, it’s the recent development of new tracks all over the continent.  We now have an excellent facility in Mooresville, NC, right in the heart of NASCAR country, a new club-owned track in Calgary, Alberta, and the ground has been broken on an incredible venue in Houston, Texas.  New tracks provide us with the ability to introduce the sport to a whole new generation of motorsports enthusiasts, which is much needed.  And while these tracks are, and will likely be, among the finest in the nation, one of the sport’s gems in terms of racing facilities just might be tucked up in the Pacific Northwest in Sumas, WA, out of the national spotlight, just across the US-Canada border from Vancouver, British Columbia.  On a 15-acre ‘L’ shaped property, veteran industry powerhouse Claudio Valiante and his family have carved out their own karting utopia and they’re developing a strong family program and a dedicated community of racers.  The track is SIMA – the Sumas International Motorsport Academy – and EKN visited the facility back in late January for this OnTrack feature.

The Valiante familiy (Photo: EKN)

The Valiante familiy (Photo: EKN)

I’ve had the privilege of knowing the Valiante family for over 20 years, and when news broke about Claudio and his clan breaking ground on a new facility, a trip to the Pacific Northwest was immediately put onto the schedule. And by ‘immediately’, I mean three years later.  Between my packed schedule and trying to actually enjoy a little home life, my trip to Sumas always seemed to get put on the backburner.  Michael Valiante and I had bantered back and forth about me getting up to SIMA sooner than later, so a perfect date finally arose when they launched their winter series for 2015.  The PNW doesn’t get the crazy snow and cold that we ‘enjoy’ in the Northeast, so while a SIMA Winter Series may feature some chilly weather, racing is still an option. So, with the opening race set for January 30, I put a plan in place to knock out a bunch of firsts: 1) driving an Italkart, 2) sampling their new X125T-MX engine, and 3) racing on the SIMA track. It seemed like an excellent idea, and it was.  The schedule would provide some track time on the Friday test day, racing on Saturday and then the Super Bowl on Sunday.  That’s a pretty solid weekend, all around.

What awaited my arrival in the SIMA race shop when I rolled in was a gorgeous new Italkart Rapido V1, equipped with a new X125T TaG powerplant.  I’d initially asked Michael to set me up with a Briggs LO206 to race, but he had his own ideas and didn’t leave me with much choice but to enter the TaG Master class with the race package that was finishing its build when I strolled in.  Italian Motors’ team pilots don’t just drive; they’re also charged with building their own karts.  It’s a hands-on program. Scott Hargrove was on-site for the SIMA Winter Series opener, as was David Jurca, putting together a new shifter package.  This left IM team pilot Remo Ruscitti to handle the construction of my test kart, which was being completed just as I gave the chassis and engine a serious once-over.

Howden's steed for the weekend, the Italkart Rapido V1 (Photo: EKN)

Howden’s steed for the weekend, the Italkart Rapido V1 (Photo: EKN)

My Italkart Rapido V1 was outfitted with new KG FP7 bodywork, which provides a very slick look to the overall package.  The design of the three-bearing frame features 30mm tubing, 25mm spindles and 10mm spindles bolts.  Caster, camber and Ackermann are all fully adjustable.  The chassis also has three torsion bars within the frame design to provide for a wide tuning window, including a removable front bar from spindle yoke to spindle yoke, a removable left side fourth rail, and a rear bumper torsion blade.  The braking package is the EVO10 hydraulic system with a magnetic rear four-piston caliper. The kart also featured a new four-spoke KG steering wheel.  I normally like a higher hand placement on my steering wheel, right around ‘11-and-1’, but the new wheel required that I drop my hands to around ‘10-and-2’ on the clock, which I adapted to quite quickly. Bolted onto my Rapido was a new X125T powerplant, which is the package that Italian Motors is promoting at its track and throughout the Pacific Northwest as well.  The engine is included in the TaG motor line-up with TaG USA and is legal for IKF Region 6 competition as well.

It was a little chilly on the Friday of the event, but I knew I needed to get some track time on the challenging 17-turn, 3/4′-mile SIMA layout, so I jumped behind the wheel of one of the track’s Briggs LO206-powered Arrive-and-Drive karts.  They had three karts rented for Saturday’s events, which provides an easy progression for potential racers who have run the track’s rental karts.  For just $250 plus the entry fee, anyone can rent a four-cycle kart to race in a series event – powered by either a Briggs LO206 or a Clone. The track is currently making the full transition to the LO206 program, in keeping with the consistent growth and support of the engine program all over the country.  On this opening Winter Series weekend, all four of the race karts in the rental fleet were spoken for.  All in all, they had 14 drivers in the Four-Cycle class on Saturday.  My time in the LO206 was crucial.  I was able to get in two long practice runs in the four-cycle kart to get a feel for the track and the visual aspects of the layout.  After that, armed with some directional knowledge, I jumped in for one session in the X125-powered Rapido to set a baseline for Saturday.  The engine took a few laps to come up to temperature, and there was no way I was going to stand on the throttle too much until I got the temp gauge over 100 degrees.  I was NOT sticking that engine.

X125T-MX was the powerplant for this OnTrack program, a growing engine selection for TaG competition (Photo: EKN)

X125T-MX was the powerplant for this OnTrack program, a growing engine selection for TaG competition (Photo: EKN)

Once I got up to speed in the Rapido, I was in love with the chassis immediately.  The kart was incredibly neutral and easy to drive, with positive turn-in at entry.  Remo had installed their baseline set-up on the kart, and considering the fact that he likely has 50,000 laps or so on the SIMA track, it’s a pretty safe bet that it was going to make a quick set-up from the get-go. I’ll readily admit that at the time my level of physical fitness was more suited for four-cycle racing than a top-end TaG kart, so I was well aware of my limitations when it came to the number of laps I’d be able to run at speed on raceday.  The kart was just so perfect in terms of how it was handling, that I’m sure it made things easier for me behind the wheel.  My lap times were decent, as I turned a 56-flat, but I knew I’d need more for the next day. Everyone has their own personal preferences in terms of chassis handling characteristics. Personally, I love a kart with aggressive turn-in that will roll easily to the apex.  I know that the trade-off can often be mid-corner oversteer, but I think that this is a situation that can be overcome on the track, and more easily in the paddock as well.   In the end, I was happy with the kart and I felt comfortable heading into Saturday.  It was a great day, all around.

When you’re on the road as much as I am, you need to make sure you’re enjoying every part of a trip, so we capped the day in the SIMA café area with some pasta, salad, bread and vino thanks to the Claudio, Beverly and Claudia Valiante, who are always gracious hosts.  We headed back to the hotel to get in some necessary sleep, but a short visit to Bob’s Burgers, a cool restaurant/bar that was attached to our accommodations, turned into a longer stay after we ran into fellow TaG drivers Joey Maguire, Jerry Pitts and Jeff Slough.  After a few beverages and some bench racing, it was off to bed.

The Sumas International Motorsport Academy circuit layout

The Sumas International Motorsport Academy circuit layout

Saturday race day dawned clear, but chilly again, and morning warm-up was all about getting into the groove of the track and pushing my limits.  Turn 1 at the track is a quick right-hander that Maguire told me needed to be flat-out, so I worked up my corner speed until I could nail the turn with 100% throttle.  Man, that felt good.  It’s a great corner to set-up the lap. This new pace drastically increased my closing speed into T2, but that was handled by simply shortening my braking zone and rolling more corner speed; trusting the chassis by doing essentially what every driver does when coming up to speed on a new track. You have to constantly push for more.  I really do love the feel of finding the fast race line.  I was able to cut a second off my fast lap from Friday and posted a 55.041 in TaG Master qualifying.  This positioned me P2 in our 11-kart TaG Master grid, but I was still almost 0.8 seconds behind Italian Motors driver Ron Hyde.  Ron has a ton of laps on the track as well, and can be counted on as a top-10 Masters guy on the national level, so I wasn’t complaining.

We dropped a little tire pressure for the heat race as the morning warmed up, and I was able to get a good jump at the start to slip into second from the off-pole, hanging onto Hyde’s bumper as we jetted off to the second corner of the race lap, which is actually turn seven of the layout.  Ron was more consistent over the first five laps, and eventually pulled a few lengths on me by the midway point.  The kart was still consistent over the second half of the run, and while it was a little flat in the hairpin, I was able to match my qualifying time.  For the 12-lap main, Remo suggested that we loosen the third bearing to free up the rear of the chassis so that it could jack more weight as it transitioned from apex to exit.  This adjustment proved to be perfect, as the kart was able to rotate even more as I navigated my way around the three hairpins at SIMA in the main, making it easier to get back to throttle and point the kart to the exit.

Howden was 'pieced' into the official IM Team Driver roster for the weekend (Photo: EKN)

Howden was ‘pieced’ into the official IM Team Driver roster for the weekend (Photo: EKN)

I got jumped at the start of the final, once again taking the green from the off-pole position.  I slipped to third when Pitts was able to follow Hyde through, and it took me five laps to set up the pass to get back into second. By that time, Hyde was long gone.  The chassis adjustment made the kart even easier to drive, and I laid down a fast lap of 55.120 on lap 5.  The difference in my fast laps over the three official sessions of the day was just 0.079, less than eight hundredths of a second.  I was extremely impressed with the consistency of the Italkart and the power delivery of the X125.  The run through the RPM range is incredibly smooth and there is decent bottom end grunt before the mid-range power hits, which is impressively strong.   As a reconfigured KF powerplant, the package features the simplicity that people like in a standard TaG package and with the rev limiter peaking the engine at 15,500 rpm, reliability and durability are provided.  This also brings the engine into an equality window with the other TaG powerplants, which has allowed it to be deemed TaG-legal in both the IKF and TaG USA rulebooks.  I personally loved the engine and the great power through the end RPM range.

The end of my outing at the SIMA Winter Series opener was surrounded by a packed kart shop of smiling faces, those belonging to many racers who call this facility their ‘home track’.  The Valiantes are providing a fantastic venue to enjoy the sport of karting, one that supports four-cycle, TaG and shifter categories and one that is bringing new people into the sport, and keeping them in it as well.  My experience in an X125 powered Italkart will hopefully not be my last.  I felt quickly at home in the chassis, and the engine was a thrill to drive.

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