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Road to car racing starts from cart circuit

By: Chris Willson

Date Posted: 2001-10-23

It is a sad but irrefutable fact that not everyone will realize his or her childhood dreams and ambitions. My best friend never became an astronaut, my sister isn’t married to Sean Connery and I doubt that I will ever be the first choice of the Ferrari Formula One racing team.

There are a few logistical problems with me becoming a racing driver. Okinawa is crowded with cars and even its best roads aren’t quite German autobahns. My 15-year-old truck doesn’t exactly accelerate but instead gradually picks up momentum. It takes more time to stop than an oil tanker and the “pit crew” at my local gas station need a little longer than 10 seconds to fill it with fuel let alone put on a new set of tires.

There are some people in Okinawa however who are still able to spend their weekends hurtling along the asphalt, skidding around corners and fighting for pole position. To enter the world of competitive motor sport you need to start where many of today’s professional racers began their careers, in the seat of a racing kart. If you want to drive fast you need to get off the public roads and on to the track. Only then can you find out if you are the next Michael Schumacher or if you should just stick to driving on your Playstation.

There are several types of karts used around the world the most common being single-engine 160cc carts but in Okinawa you are more likely to find the less powerful 50cc models. These smaller carts have a top speed of about 40 miles an hour, which may not sound all that fast but on a small windy track it’s screaming.

It is important to remember however that like any motor sport there are inherent risks. Driving fast and in fact driving at all can be dangerous. Helmets are a necessity as is a good degree of common sense and self-preservation.

The handling characteristics of the cars are like those of all single seat racing cars, if you go into a corner to fast or break at the wrong time you’re going to spin. As you take corners at speed the karts understeer and then as the rear wheels loose traction and go into a slide you need to carefully control the oversteer. Last minute breaking on the straights, feathering the throttle and then accelerating hard out of the corners will in theory keep the competition at bay while keeping you on the track.

“It’s great, I want to do it every weekend,” said Hiroshi Tsuji, 28, with a manic grin having just tried karting for the first time. “The karts accelerate so fast. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.”

“I spun out on the same hairpin every time. It’s really quick for just a little lawnmower engine,” said Sgt. Seth Dapaah, 26, who was managing to slide the kart around most corners like a pro on his first time at the track.

“Just watching got my adrenaline pumping,” said Becky Benians, 27, viewing the action from the sidelines.

So if you are feeling the need for speed, then give karting a try. You never know it may be the start of a new career in motor sports. I however will not be contacting the Ferrari team just yet.

Circuit Mugen on Ikei Island (tel 977 8900) is open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day and costs ¥1,000 for five laps on the 600 m track. To get to Ikei Island, drive towards Katsuren and White Beach. At Yonashiro Town, there’s a sign pointing left to Ikei Island. Circuit Mugen is located next to Ikei Big Time Resort. Other tracks on the island such as Gushikami have racers there at the weekends and it is sometimes possible to rent one of their carts.

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