OnTrack: KartSport North America – Arrow X3
Australian chassis manufacturer continues development and success - spearheaded by established operation in North Carolina
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 United States Pro Kart Series, their Friday practice day presents the perfect opportunity to work directly with a race team and chassis brand to get a true understanding of what the team and the kart is like under race weekend conditions.
Our first outing was with the KartSport North America operation at their home facility at the GoPro Motorplex at the end of April. KartSport North America was formed in 2010 by racing veterans Justin Marks and Eric Jones. While spending the previous seasons as the Team Manager for BTK Motorsports, Jones helped to build and develop the Arrow Racing Karts market in North America, and eventually signed KSNA as the exclusive North American importer of the brand. The Arrow kart is manufactured in Australia by DPE Kart Technology. Based in Victoria, DPE has been shipping Arrow karts to North America for nearly two decades. As a competition highlight, Arrow was the 2010 EKN Constructors Championship winner, and can be seen at kart tracks throughout North America at all levels and age groups.
In 2005, Super Kart Illustrated Editor Tim Blaney had the chance to sample an Arrow machine at the famous Rock Island Grand Prix, working with Terrance McCall of BTK Motorsports and famed tuner Shane Shipley. A little under 10 years later, I was given a chance to sit behind the wheel of the quality Australian manufactured marvel with the help of KartSport North America during the opening round of the United States Pro Kart Series in Mooresville, North Carolina at the end of April.
I arrived to the GoPro Motorplex facility on Thursday afternoon, which is move-in day for competitors. All the trailers were parked and the tents had been erected by the time I arrived, and most of the competitors were putting the final touches on their rides as the first on-track action was scheduled for Friday morning. I met with the KartSport North America crew inside their shop at the facility. In total, they had 10 drivers in the shop from all different parts of the country, running an assortment of equipment including Arrow, FA Kart, and Praga drivers.
KartSport North America’s Brandon Jones oversees the progress of each driver within the building, discussing set-up and strategy all weekend long. Jones comes from a karting family that includes his father Ron ‘Pops’ Jones and brother Eric – KSNA’s President. Brandon is a successful driver in his own right, jumping in the seat every once in a while to compete at the same level with the top drivers of today. He is flanked by a solid group of mechanics in the shop, who work from sun up to sun down preparing all the KSNA machines for the upcoming events. Among this group is karting veteran Tim Pappas. In the early days of Superkarts! USA, Pappas was instrumental in the early careers of AJ Allmendinger, Matt Jaskol and many others, running with the Paul Tracy Kart brand. I was fortunate enough to have him help me during the test, along with other key KSNA personal.
Based in Race City USA, the staff at KartSport North America is first class as these guys are focused and determined. It was an honor to work with the entire group, from the drivers to the mechanics and the entire KSNA family. The Arrow X3 chassis I was scheduled to test was ready to go when I arrived, minus the Yamaha engine that was serviced by Comet Racing Engines. After a long winter, we had Mark Dismore Jr. and Brandon Jenkins take a look at the dust collector sitting in the Cole Racing garage. After a quick trip to Greenfield, Indiana – the Comet crew brought over the engine to Mooresville ready to go. – More on the engine rebuild in another future article featuring Comet Racing Engines.
On Thursday, KSNA’s Carlos Plaza gathered the remaining parts we needed to strap on the Yamaha and have it ready for Friday morning practice session. They fitted the chassis with a new Kartech seat. When I placed my ‘out-of-shape’ torso into the seat, I felt comfortable right away. The sides are much deeper then your standard seat, allowing for my body to remain in the seat, rather than trying to escape. With everything set, the day finished with a great dinner alongside KSNA and IAME USA East’s Eric Jones, discussing the past, present and future of the sport.
Friday morning came quickly, and it was time to hit the track for our first session. Yamaha Pro was second in the order on the day, with Mini Rok Cadet first on course. We hit the track knowing it was going to be a green course and that this would be a session to learn a track that had never driven. Unfortunately, I spun coming out of the pit lane after hitting the throttle with just a little too much force, considering the monster power the Yamaha engine possesses. Thankfully, it was my last spin of the day, as from then on, I was able to keep all four wheels on the course and pointed in the correct direction. Once I regrouped, it was onto learning the course and the layout. Walking the track is much different from actually driving it, and you feel the elevation changes a lot more when you’re behind the wheel.
The GoPro Motorplex is a replica of the Kartdromo Parma in Italy, which hosted a number of European and world championship events during its history. The main straight is a fast downhill run into a 90-degree opening corner, that goes into a kink turn two. The curbing on the exit of turn one, marking the inside of turn two, is laid down just enough to where you hit the left tires over to make the corner much more straight to set you up to just miss the curb on the inside of the track to mark the exit point. You then set up to the left with an up-hill straight that is certainly more of an incline then what you see from the sidelines or on-board videos. Turn three is an off-camber corner that drops off at the exit, which sends you to the extra section of the course. The pavement extends past the rumble strips that mark the actual course layout. The gentleman that I am, the first session I stayed within the course markings, but was quickly told after my session to use all the asphalt possible. The back straight leads downhill into the turn four Carousel. In the Yamaha, it is flat out for the top drivers. As the day went on, I was able to get through there with little to no burping of the throttle.
The exit was different for everyone I followed. You can either swing wide and then come back, or hold a tighter line to set you up for the turn five Esses section. I learned that holding the tighter line was better when following someone. The Esses were probably the most difficult section of the course to get through. The curbs were not built to hit hard, and if you did, it sent your kart in the direction you didn’t want to be. You had to get through there fast in order to set up for the following corner, so it is a crucial component of a fast lap.
Once past this complex, it takes a quick reaction to brake, setting up for turn six. The tight left-hander was more than 90 degrees, and was the home to many of my driving errors on the day. The mantra of ‘slow in, fast out’ was the key for me to get through the turn without dropping all four tires off the rumble strip and into the plastic barrier just on the edge of the course, which is there to stop drivers from using the access asphalt. In the rain, it provided some excitement, and during the dry, it was a key corner that could make or break your lap. Turn seven is a flat-out kink that, if you didn’t get out of turn six correctly, could be a passing point. If not there, it was into the tight turn eight hairpin.
From the first time I came to the GoPro facility to cover events, it was clear that turn eight was the number one passing opportunity on the course. Not quite 180 degrees, the entry is tight but the exit opens up. If you have trouble, you may get passed in the left hand kink that follows the exit point and leads into turn nine. The double-apex corner is slightly uphill, with the first portion tight and the second wide open. If you miss the first, you are likely to get passed in the second. That leads to the final straight and into the final corner. A slight kink toward the braking point keeps your wheel somewhat turned while under braking, and the slight rear-end slip out may occur. The final corner is up to the apex, and down to the exit point as far as elevation. Again, if you overdrive the corner, you are liable to make a mistake and slow you up for the run to the checkered flag.
Now that I’ve detailed the track, let’s have a look at my day at the GoPro Motorplex, sampling the Arrow X3. During the opening session, the rear end of the kart felt like it wanted to go around on me the entire time. We began on some older tires, and the track was lacking grip so early in the day, so I just kept on trying to learn the track as best as I could. Back in the shop, we immediately began working toward dialing grip in the chassis. Carlos loosened the two seat bars on the left and the one on the right, while tightening the bolts connecting the side pods to the chassis, along with the rear bumper. The air pressures on the MG Tires were set a little too high as well, and we lowered them down to roughly 12 psi all around. To help with more front grip, we narrowed up the track width by one spacer each on the spindle hubs.
The second session was much better in terms of understanding the track, and the grip level with the Arrow X3. My continuing struggle was a loose condition mid-corner in the high-speed carousel and exiting the tight hairpin. To address this feedback, we took caster out of the front geometry, and narrowed up the rear track width. Session three was time to see really where we stood, as I was more comfortable with the kart, and with the track. Grip level was there, but as I followed other drivers, I found that I was losing time coming out of the low speed corners. I clocked in a best time of 54.2, which was about one second off the lower end of the top-five. A gear change from 77 to 79 would help gain the speed, and we added new MG Tires for session four.
After three sessions, I was able to put down my best lap of the day in session four. New tires and getting a draft helped me land a 53.6-second lap and place me 10th overall. I was certainly thrilled with the lap time, besting Mooresville regular Chuck Tate, who has hundreds of laps around the course and myself with about 40 at that point. The Arrow X3 had grip all over the place, and felt locked down in the fast carousel corner turn four. We went to work changing the axle to an extra soft cut, and changed to a bigger front bar. Before hitting the track for Happy Hour, we lowered the tire pressure as well.
Amped up by my performance in session four and wanting more speed, I was never able to get a perfect lap in. The kart was certainly better early on, but I over-drove during the early laps and fatigue finally set in. The grip level went away toward the end after I calmed myself down, and I was only able to match my fast lap time of 53.6 to sit 12th overall, one spot ahead of TJ Koyen. Overall, I ended up eight tenths off the quickest time of the session. Debriefing with the KSNA crew, loosening up the side pods and the rear bumper to take it back to the original setting could have helped the chassis set up in the long run, and adding one more tooth to an 80 may have helped the lack of mid-range speed.
Arrow X3 CIK Vegas
Front width: 47”
Rear width: 53.5”
Camber: +2 per side
Ride Height: standard
Axle: Kartech 50mm Extra Soft
Hubs: 80mm front / 90mm rear
Tires: 5” MG FZ Yellow – 4.5 fronts / 7.10 rears
Wheels: Douglas Wheel magnesium
Seat: Kartech L
Engine: Comet Racing Engines Yamaha
Overall, the performance of the Arrow X3 was very impressive, along with that of the KartSport North America operation, who made me feel at home. To be within range of being competitive in my first on-track action since September 2014, I felt that the results were positive. The front end of the kart seemed to have much more grip then previous karts I had driven. For me, it was trying to slow down my input to let the kart and chassis do the work, rather than trying to manhandle the steed. When I put less input into the steering, I was rewarded with a smooth and fast exit. The versatility of the Arrow kart is evident, as the same Arrow X3 chassis I used has been quick in the TaG category, winning at the SKUSA SuperNationals two years straight. Leaving Mooresville, I know the GoPro Motorplex is certainly a ‘bucket list’ type track, and the Arrow X3 is among the best karts on the market today.