Electric karts quick and green, ON, Canada





Environment-friendly racers provide same thrills as gas-powered relatives with zero emissions.

With the environment being one of the hottest topics these days, auto racing and hydrocarbon-burning transportation are not on the "clean" list for most people.

One of our dirtiest polluters is the two-cycle engine that can be found powering lawn mowers, motorcycles, snowmobiles, karts and other smaller appliances.

Kart racing is an excellent way to get a start in auto racing. It is a great test of driver skill, but karts spew out more than their share of pollutants.

I have been to both outdoor and indoor kart facilities and I am familiar with the fumes and other downsides. I distinctly remember heading home with a headache caused by the exhaust fumes after an evening of club racing at an indoor kart track.

In Toronto's Downsview Park, I found a venue, Grand Prix Kartways, promoting electric karts.

Initially, visions of plastic battery-powered kids toys danced in my head, but this place had a serious grown-up look to it. The company promotes high-speed fun, racing leagues, fine dining and a corporate VIP lounge.

Manager Brian Dixon convinced me that this was the way of the future. No fumes, no pollutants and good, competitive fast fun.

These Italian-made electric karts boast an 18-horsepower motor as compared to the standard 6.6 hp motor on most family karts. Unlike their gas-fired counterparts, these motors have instant torque and brisk acceleration. Although limited to a top speed of 45 km/h by industry standards, this is more than adequate for the turns and twists of Grand Prix's quarter-mile track.

These simple electric motors are computerized and can be programmed to be equal in performance, something any karter knows doesn't happen with the finicky gas-powered versions. Even the wheel alignments are set with laser equipment to ensure equality.

The karts come equipped with transponders, just like the real race cars from Touring GT to Formula One. Lap times, position and average speed are all available to download at the end of each run. The karts even look like Formula cars.

Grand Prix Kartways has organized several competitive race series with sponsorship backing.

Young star Matthew Peralto, 11, helped me test the karts. Matthew has been racing in a competitive kart series, using traditional combustion engines, at Goodwood Kartway.

I climbed into the next kart; buckled up, donned my helmet and set off to check the accuracy of Dixon's claims.

The rate of acceleration in these karts is impressive. One of the most important aspects of successful kart racing is smoothness.

Gas-powered karts have a notoriously poor rate of acceleration that translates into lost time if the kart slows down too much from wild slides. Keep a nice tidy race line with minimal drifting and you can keep up your speed. Huge sideways slides may look spectacular but result in lost time from going laterally and not forwards.

That is not much of an issue with these electric karts. They have enough torque that a slip of the kart does not hold them back. During a 20-minute stint behind the wheel, the karts did not lose power. Their stamina got the better of me as I began to feel fatigued from the lateral g-loads the corners demanded on my neck, shoulders and arms. I voluntarily pulled off for a much-needed rest.

The gel cell batteries are good for more than 160 laps , more than any driver could tolerate.

The grin on Matthew's face said it all. He was impressed with the acceleration and level of grip of these karts. Understandably, not as fast as his race machine, Matthew still reported that he would enjoy running a race series in these karts.

The track layout is technical with a combination of slow and high-speed turns. Knowing the fast way around and the technique will make you a winner. The building is brightly lit and combines other amenities where you can host a business function or family party. It is challenging, fun and the air is always fresh.

For information call 416-638-KART or grandprixkartways.com.