From The Inside: The Issue With Multi-Engine Classes
Since its inception more than sixty years ago, karting has evolved into its own “micro-community” separate from the rest of the motorsports community. From specialized race teams and shops to engine manufacturers to marketing and management firms, the world of karting has become truly that: its own world. Part of this stems from how different karting is from car racing, which is an often overlooked characteristic of the sport. For example, in sports car racing, many different types of cars can be grouped together in the same class and, for the most part, find a fair and equal balance in overall performance. However, in karting, this sanctioning method has not been successful, and there are many reasons why.
Having multiple engines and karts to choose from should be a good thing. It creates competition, which, ideally, keeps prices from being jacked to unreasonable amounts for customers. In sports car racing, pitting different cars against each other in a single race is commonplace. The race promoter or promoting organization simply balances each car out to a relatively level playing field, most of the time by either increasing or decreasing the minimum weight requirement for the car. This works for car racing because there is quite a bit of space in a car to place lead ballast to increase the weight, and there are quite a few more variables that come into play besides the engine’s power curve.
However, in karting, there are two main reasons why this does not work.
First off, the engines themselves are extremely simple when compared to their sportscar or formula car counterparts, and all of the chassis are built to a small window of specifications. This means that a slight disadvantage in engine ability shows like a sore thumb on the time charts, especially at a top-level event. This stems from the fact that at national races, there are many drivers with the driver ability and kart setup insight to win. In many cases, the last determining factor is the engine ability.
Secondly, unlike the factory karting teams in Europe, no kart team or individual kart racer is directly aligned with a single engine manufacturer. In professional car racing, the team is usually linked to a single engine manufacturer via contract and are forced to run that engine package all year. If they aren’t, usually the investment in the car(s) and inventory is too great to make a switch over to a completely different vehicle. This barrier is also nonexistent in karting, as the most expensive engine packages tip the scales at barely more than $5,000. What this does in karting for multi-engine classes at the regional and national levels is it practically requires the participants to buy all of the engine packages offered in a single class on the off chance that one of the tracks the series visits one of these engines is a head up on the rest.
What This Means
Sadly, this hurts the invite of karting because it takes away the concept of simply finding a used go kart off of craigslist, taking a motor commonly run (or not) and putting the package together to take to the track. Sure, there is no problem with doing this for test days, but when you look into competition – which is where the largest group of karters lie – you will either find that your club offers a multi-engine class that’s dominated by only one of the engines offered, or the engine on your kart is not even available to be raced.
With the constantly swinging pendulum of which engine manufacturer is in control of the market share in your area, you will find that it is extremely hard to be able to find an engine that will still have a strong market resale value within a couple of years due to the popularity of single-manufacturer classes. A different manufacturer may take over control of the race series and instantly drop the used value of your engine 50% or more by making it either at a severe speed disadvantage or simply making it no longer eligible to be ran.
This then requires you to then purchase the new engine at either new or near-new pricing, which heavily increases the overall cost of karting and the monetary barrier to entry.
Unfortunately, there is not a great one at the moment. Multi-engine classes normally start off well for a few years, but after racers begin to exploit the different powerbands of each engine by purchasing all three the class dies off fairly quickly. Single-engine classes have become all the rage now, but if you allow one to completely take over the country, you are vulnerable to the manufacturer jacking up the prices or refusing to solve major faults in the package.
Currently, the best of the worst options is the status quo, where each engine manufacturer backs a separate sanctioning body (or creates their own, in the case of Vortex/Rok Cup USA) and racers have the option to choose where to race. While there is no single national championship under the format, its pros still outweigh its cons in comparison to the alternatives listed above.
Driver, Driving Instructor, Race Director, Announcer, and pretty much anything else that might get me to a racetrack.