Review: Kart School at Allen Berg Racing School

Posted by: Shelton Kwan onSeptember 5th, 2013

In a city of over a million residents, boasting the highest exotics per capita in Canada, it’s a surprise that motorsports have been on a decline in Calgary in recent years. With the loss of Race City Motorsports Park two years ago, and the loss of autocross venues this year, there hasn’t been a true venue for us gearheads to put our right foot down. While there are two proposed racetracks just outside of the city, these projects are realistically years away before they even break ground. When they finally come to fruition they’ll only cater to those with a sizable bank account for the usage fees. The days of affordable motorsports is slowly coming to an end.

Back when I was a college student, I didn’t have a lot of money, and I would spend my days at Race City watching in envy the exotics ripping around the track lap after lap. On a tight budget, I spent every spare dollar racing around in karts at the old Kart Gardens Airport track, honing my driving skills and getting my adrenaline fix. When the city tore the track down for expansion, there was nothing to fill the void. Today, we have electric karts at Speeders, but for those old enough to remember Kart Gardens Airport, it doesn’t come close.

This brings us to the last of the outdoor high speed kart tracks in this city, Varsity Chrysler Speed Park, located adjacent to the old Race City track, and home to the Calgary Kart Racing Club. While this track is mostly used by the CKRC, Allen Berg Racing Schools runs a karting program here, and we had a chance to run the program last month. I’ve heard many great things about this program and the track, but never had a chance to give it a try, and I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner.

ABRS offers two programs, a one day program, and upon completion, an advanced program for those that want to get into kart racing. We showed up bright and early on a Friday morning at 8am, signed our lives away (waivers), and started off with the classroom program. The session began with the basics, oversteer/understeer, countersteering, trail and threshold braking, and the traction circle. I really liked the focus on tires, particularly racing slicks, and how it reacts compared to a street tire once it loses grip. It’s a little overwhelming for beginners, but we’ll get back to that.

Once the classroom portion was finished, we suited up and headed out to the karts, where the instructors explained the controls of the karts, how to safely get in and out, and separated us into groups. From there, we were out on the track in a lead-follow session. My first impression was that these karts are pretty quick, even faster than the ones at the old Kart Gardens Airport. We ramped up our speed in the lead follow exercise, and were easily clearing 70km/h on the back straight. We weren’t even trying hard yet.

The next session was the track walk, where we were greeted by Allen Berg himself, a former F1 driver that raced against F1 legends such as Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, and of course, the late great Ayrton Senna. Berg walked us through the track, showing us ideal lines, where to use the curbs, and even went to lengths on how to tackle the straights to shave off a tenth off our lap times. While this isn’t a regular occurrence (several of our moderators ran the program after us without Berg’s attendance), and again, while a bit overwhelming for beginners with the attention to detail, I soaked up every word Berg had to say.

Finally, the real fun began as we started our open lapping sessions. It took a few laps to really get a good feel of the track, and I was surprised at how fast these karts were, now hitting over 100km/h on the back straight. I mentioned earlier that beginners would be overwhelmed by information and driving technique during the classroom session. This really becomes evident during the open lapping sessions when there isn`t an instructor leading the pack and setting the race line and pace. At 100 km/h, you don`t have a whole lot of time to recall what you are supposed to do when your kart oversteers or understeers. Our group, which consisted of more seasoned drivers, translated the classroom information to the track quite well as much of the material was a refresher but a group that was taking the same course as us a few weeks later had a much different experience. The classroom material was likely too advanced for beginners as they were not able to execute the advanced driving techniques that were taught without losing control of their karts. Drivers were spinning every lap, to the point where the trail braking techniques taught in the classroom had to be banned. Those without prior performance driving experience will find that it will take more than just one day to really understand all the nuances of driving at the limit.

Our group of drivers was quick right off the bat, and allowed us to clock some respectable lap times in the 58 second range. Between sessions, the instructors gave us tips on where we can improve, and even risked their limbs standing at the apex and braking zones, showing us where to slow down, while we tried our best not to kill the poor guys. Feedback was relayed via radio from the instructors out on the track back to the instructors in the pit lanes. This immediate feedback was definitely useful and by the end of the day, we were able to drop our lap times by almost four seconds. By the last sessions, we could barely handle turn 10, a banked and bumpy corner, flat out. Our bodies were sore, our hands were numb, and we were left with the best karting experience you can find in this city. ABRS is the ultimate adrenaline rush.

Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end. Much like our other motorsports venues, this is the last year for Varsity Chrysler Speed Park, as it’s scheduled for demolition at the end of the year as the city expands its recycling and composting facilities. And with that, there will be no karting program for ABRS next year. There is hope, however, as the CKRC is working on several locations (one in the city, two in nearby towns) to bring a brand new track for us. Much like the racetrack projects, it will be some time before we see approvals in place and construction to begin. For now, there’s a month or two left to sign up and run one of the ABRS programs before it’s all over. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Allen Berg Racing Schools –

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