OnTrack: Margay Ignite K3

Spec chassis-engine combo with popular Briggs LO206 engine a hit at Rock Island Grand Prix

For the eKartingNews.com staff, the 2015 season is about getting back behind the wheel. Racers at heart, our goal is to work with teams and chassis importers that offer the best products and services here in North America, all while sampling some of the best facilities that karting has to offer. This will be an effort to help give our readers a first person viewpoint. Thanks to our trackside partnership with the Rock Island Grand Prix, we were able to take part in the annual Labor Day weekend street race once again behind the wheel.

Since 2004, I have been coming to the Rock Island Grand Prix. It was one of my first introductions to the sport outside my normal routine of the road racing tracks in the Midwest. I had been to a couple street races before as a kid, watching my father race, but the Labor Day festival was nothing like I had seen before. At the time, the RIGP was a destination for many of the major teams and kart shops throughout North America. The event was at its peak, with big tents full of drivers from all across the country, along with pilots from other countries making their way to the Quad Cities to take part in the largest street race in the world.

Margay Ignite K3 ready to rumble at the Rock

Margay Ignite K3 ready to rumble at the Rock

The numbers and size of the paddock may have dwindled over the past 11 years. That does not take away from the passion and excitement for those who still compete for the prestigious Rock trophy year in and year out. I got my first taste of the driving at the event in 2006, and was just too far out of my element. When I was old enough to finally make the Masters level category in 2007, my performance improved as I prepared myself more for the challenges of going 70mph down a 25mph street. I returned to the seat at RIGP in 2012 when the new Briggs LO206 category was introduced. It was a blast and I come back for the next two years.

The 2015 event quickly arrived, and a busy schedule kept me from focusing my efforts on putting together a solid package to race. I was in the process of piecing together an old kart with a newer Briggs package when I got the call from the bullpen. EKN Editor-in-Chief Rob Howden gave me the word just days before the event that I would be needed to take his place aboard a new Margay Ignite K3 package to take part in the new Ignite Shootout that was part of this Rock Island class line-up this year. Aside from trying out the Ignite package at the Simraceway Performance Karting Center earlier in the year, I had never raced a legendary Margay kart. This was going to be a first.

The Margay name is synonymous with American karting as the leading and longest lasting chassis manufacturer in the United States. Margay was founded in 1964 by Elmer Freber, who developed a quick-change gearbox for the kart racing market. A purchase of the Milwaukee-based ‘King Kart’ led to the addition of their own karting chassis. Margay has continued to innovate and maintain its winning ways for decades, and into its third generation of the Freber family at the head of the company. Elmer passed the management to Don Freber in the mid-1970s until Keith Freber took over in 1990. Keith has continued the quest to make Margay #1 in the sport, and its new Ignite program has taken the brand back to its grassroots level.

The Ignite K3 package is a product of all the history and knowledge that Margay has garnered over the years, and put into one chassis for every level of karter to enjoy. The chassis is very similar to the same models that are manufactured in-house and shipped across the continent to racers of all levels and ages. The standard components help to keep retail price down, but still give the kart great adjustability for the simplicity that is Briggs racing.

Track walk Friday night conducted by Margay's Keith Freber and 11-time RIGP winner Jason Birdsell

Track walk Friday night conducted by Margay’s Keith Freber and 11-time RIGP winner Jason Birdsell

Margay Racing went all out to welcome racers from all corners of the country to take part in the inaugural Ignite Shootout, as well as other categories at the RIGP. We arrived to Rock Island early, and the Margay crew was already set up under the weekend tent getting the karts and pit areas set up for the 16 Ignite drivers. The karts were ready to go, aside from adding a gauge, EKN decals (worth at least a tenth of a second), and adjusting the gear ratio. The G-Seat fit perfect, and we added just a little bit of padding around the bolt heads and went ‘ironman-style’ without a rib vest. Once all the drivers arrived on Friday afternoon, we took an hour to walk the track with veteran karter and 11-time RIGP winner Jason Birdsell. All of his victories came on a Margay, and his vast knowledge of the sport and racing at the Rock helped calm the nerves of the event rookies.

During Friday night, it was discussed to do the ‘double’, racing both the Ignite category and one of the regular LO206 divisions in my K3 kart. After racing the Medium division for the three previous years, it was my goal to race that category, however, there was only one class in-between the two in the class order. Thus, I elected to compete in the Heavy division, however, I’d have to place 25lbs. of ballast on the chassis between sessions along with changing tires and gearing – in addition to covering the event for the website and producing the live broadcast. Let’s just say while it looked like a fun adventure on paper, it turned into a long two days.

LO206 Heavy was the first class on track Saturday for the first round of practice. I spent the session getting adjusted to the course layout. It obviously has been the same for the past 21 years, however, each year the barriers are placed differently so finding the marks at the six different corners is key. The Ignite chassis felt great and after a few laps the new Bridgestone YLM tires provided solid grip level for the dirty track. We got done with the session and it was taking the weight off and putting on the spec Bridgestone YDS for the Ignite session. Margay’s Birdsell jumped in the spare kart to help get a better baseline to help tune for the entire Ignite field on hand. It was a fun session including him, Chris Prey, Jeffrey Dolian, Jeremy Remick and a few others. With the harder compound tires, I was not a flat-out around the track as I was last year when I chose a softer tire. Less grip meant getting off the gas and setting the kart to make the corner. That put a lot of the emphasis on the driver, which would separate the class from the experienced to the beginners.

After two rounds of practice, the Margay Ignite K3 package was rolling in both categories

After two rounds of practice, the Margay Ignite K3 package was rolling in both categories

Back to the paddock for round two of practice, we swapped out tires and added the weight to get a better understanding of what we needed for the LO206 Heavy class. Confidence was high after the session, as I clocked in as the third quickest in the category, just a tenth off veteran RIGP competitor and Margay driver Tony Neilson, piloting a Brava 4.15. Making the in-between changes, we went out for the final Ignite practice before the heat race. The kart was perfect, as I was the only driver to dip below the 40-second mark. The challenge for Rock Island GP really comes down to gearing, and having the right setting. With the Briggs LO206, you want to stay off the rev limiter, but try to get as close to possible to pull out the most RPMs out of the engine. Drafting is a big factor and it seemed we had the right baseline moving forward. Things looked really positive for both categories heading into the heat races.

For the first time in the history of the Rock Island Grand Prix, heat races were conducted on Saturday to set the grid for Sunday’s main events. Each driver drew for their starting position in the heat race. The LO206 Heavy group was split up into two groups with those drawing even numbers in one race, the odd numbers in the other. I drew ‘2’ and was set to start the race from the pole position. Another first was the dual LeMans-style start with karts on both sides of the front straight to begin the race from a standing start.

Lined up on the dirty side with the ‘pole position’, the start to the heat race was clean with two drivers coming from the outside lane to drop me to third through the opening corner. Behind me, Matt Pewe locked on my rear bumper and helped to push me past the top two drivers and into the lead by the end of lap three. After pacing the field for the first time ever in my RIGP career, both Pewe and Jordan Bernloehr worked past me after a small mistake in turn one. I settled in behind, determined to not lose their draft to achieve a strong finish.

With the Rock Island GP standing as the only time I have been in a sprint kart under race conditions for the last three years, my experience is not high, and unfortunately, I let my emotions take control. So focused on staying with them, I got overly excited and on lap seven, I turned in too early at turn three. I corrected it before hitting the apex, however, my focus was on the rear bumper of Jordan’s kart, and not on my exit point. By the time I realized he drifted wide on the exit, I was looking right at the barrier. It was a quick 50mph to zero, as the barriers quickly stopped the kart, and eventually sent me out the side when it came to a rest. Quickly, I gathered myself and jumped out of harms way as the excellent RIGP crew went to work carrying my kart over the barriers and off the track surface. I spent the remaining laps high on adrenaline, trying to convey what was damaged on my body. Upset over my own mistake, I walked back to the pits when the checkered flag was waved while the kart rode back on the ‘loser cruiser’.

I walked right to the ambulance to have them look at my leg and knee. The whiplash of hitting the barriers with the right side sent the kart 90 degrees, taking my body into the plastic wall and onto the street. The left side took the majority of the damage with cuts on my hand and along my shin and knee. The medics dressed the deep cuts and advised staying off the leg for the rest of the weekend. Back to the paddock, the kart suffered a damaged spindle, tie-rod and steering shaft, and the entire Margay crew was all over the kart to get it ready for the Ignite heat race. In a lot of pain, I sucked it up and hit the track for the second race.

Waiting for the Ignite heat race to begin at the historic Rock Island Grand Prix

Waiting for the Ignite heat race to begin at the historic Rock Island Grand Prix

I pulled the second lowest number to give myself the outside pole position starting spot. After the opening corners, I came out with the second position with a comfortable lead over third and trailing the leader by about one second. I settled in for the 10-lap event, or so I thought. Heading into the rough turn five corner, I began the turn-in and saw something flying up at the left-front. The kart then stopped turning and began pointing directly into the barriers once again. I quickly locked up the brakes, spinning the kart backwards into the wall. The kart whipped around to end up with the nose in the wall again, slamming my all-ready battered limb against the steering shaft and fuel tank. The culprit was determined to be the bolt connecting the tie rod to the spindle on the left front, either breaking during the race or left loose during the scramble to get the kart ready.

The kart survived with minimal damage once again, however, my body took its toll. Instead of partaking on the RIGP nightly festivities, I bunkered down in the hotel with ice on the leg, trying to get as much sleep as possible.

Sunday was a another rough day for me, completing what was probably my worst luck at the race track. I originally thought of just racing the Ignite class, and went out for warm-up. I completed the session feeling good, and the Ignite kart was quick once again thanks to the hard work of the Margay crew. I decided to take a chance at the LO206 Heavy feature race, starting from the back of the 30-kart field. Working together with Greg Jasperson, who also was starting from the back, we began to knife our way through the field. We were looking to break into the top-15 when I attempted a move past another group of drivers. I made the wrong choice of diving behind a pass attempt late, with the outside driver coming across the front of the kart. Slamming on the brakes, I made contact with his left rear tire and sent the front of the kart up in the air. When it landed, the right front tire was flat as the valve stem broke off in the contact, ending my race three laps from the finish.

Thankfully, there was not much repair needed and I gridded up 14th on the grid for the Ignite main event. I took the first couple corners easy as the Bridgestone YDS tires needed time to heat up, and I did not want to take a chance on ending my race early, or take someone else out in the process. After the field filed down on the opening lap, I began moving forward with lap times similar to the leaders. I eventually found myself closing up on the fight for P5, including RIGP veteran Al Cram at 72-years-old, karting veteran Dicky Wilson, and sports car instructor Chris Prey. Cram was leading the group and I put myself right on his bumper. Trying to find a way past, we were bunched up heading into turn five and Prey’s front bumper locked up with my rear bumper, sending me around. I kept the kart off the wall and everyone coming back through missed hitting me, so it was the best moment on track for the day. I went on to take the checkered flag, finishing the first race of the four on the weekend. Here is a RECAP of the Ignite Shootout.

The final laps of the Margay Ignite Shootout, the K3 machine kept ticking (Photo: Mark Schwigen)

The final laps of the Margay Ignite Shootout, the K3 machine kept ticking (Photo: Mark Schwigen)

Original Set Up
Front width: 30mm spacing inside rim
Rear width: 50.5”
Caster: Neutral – 15 degrees
Camber: Neutral
Ride Height: Positive rake (rear end high)
Axle: 40mm B
Hubs: 65mm Aluminum (rear)
Tires: Bridgestone YLM (LO206 Heavy) / Bridgestone YDS (Ignite)
Wheels: DWT Alumilite – 130mm DSM (front) / 210mm (rear)
Seat: G-Seat ES1 #3 soft
Engine: Briggs LO206
Gearing: 19-62 (Heavy) / 19-64 (Ignite)
Clutch: Hilliard Flame (4 white springs)

Final Set Up
Front width: 30mm spacing inside rim
Rear width: 50.5”
Caster: Neutral – 13.5 deg LF / 16.5 deg RF
Camber: -0.5 deg negative
Ride Height: Standard
Axle: 40mm B
Hubs: 65mm Aluminum (rear)
Tires: Bridgestone YLM (LO206 Heavy) / Bridgestone YDS (Ignite)
Wheels: DWT Alumilite – 130mm DSM (front) / 210mm (rear)
Seat: G-Seat ES1 #3 soft
Engine: Briggs LO206
Gearing: 19-61 (Heavy) / 19-63 (Ignite)
Clutch: Hilliard Flame (4 white springs)

Throughout the sessions, one thing was consistent, the Margay Ignite K3 was fast. My only concern was the kart felt like it was bottoming out between turns four and five, thus why we raised the ride height. We also tried to take away some grip to help slow the back end of the kart from coming around earlier on in a session. Jason Birdsell and Greg Digness were all over the kart, making sure both the chassis and engine were ready to go. The Briggs engine came straight out of the box, with only a break-in session done at the Gateway Kartplex in the St. Louis area prior to the kart/engine arriving at Rock Island. The Margay crew did a fantastic job wrenching on the kart and working with all 16 of the Ignite drivers, along with their regular customers in attendance competing in Briggs, Clone, Yamaha and TaG divisions.

There is nothing else that can bring people into the sport like the Ignite program. Tracks across the country should and need to offer this type of program for their rental fleet, schools and even a competition class to help bring in new racers, or bring back some elder racers who want to scratch that racing itch once more. Simraceway in Sonoma, California is one facility, Gateway Kartplex in St. Louis is another and now the new Bushnell Motorsports Park in Florida and MSquared Karting in Utah are among the first to offer and promote the Ignite program. The category got the attention of a number of people at the Rock Island Grand Prix.

A similar Arrive-N-Drive program is being offered from Margay Racing for the upcoming WKA Daytona KartWeek. WKA has added a Briggs LO206 Senior and Junior class to the Manufacturers Cup Series roster for the December 28-30 event inside the Daytona International Speedway. For more information on the Arrive & Drive program, please call 1-800-562-7429 or visit their event page. If you have never had the chance to race at the World Center of Speed, now is you chance to do it with Margay Racing.

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